Disclaimer:  I don’t own Knight Rider or any of the characters.  They belong to Universal.

Title: Meandering in Minefields
Author: knightshade
Rating:  NC-17
Warnings:  Graphic sexual situations (m/f) and some swearing

Thanks yous:

Thanks to Darknight for explaining how to get fish in and out of a livewell.  :-)
Thanks to Scott Kirkessner for answering various KR2K questions.
Thanks to Tomy for beta reading, putting up with my whining, and being an inspiration and friend.


Author’s Note:  Meandering takes place before the last scene in Disintegrate.  It’s the story of how they got there.
 
 

Meandering in Minefields



Please, I know it's hard to believe,
To see a perfect forest,
Through so many splintered trees. 
You and me,
And these shadows keep on changing. 

 Poe – Haunted
 

Let me love you true.
Let me rescue you.
Let me bring you to,
Where two roads meet.

U2 – Ground Beneath Her Feet (words by Salman Rushdie)
 
 

Prologue

He liked it when they both slept.  Not that he didn't like their company or the careful conversation that had been flowing more and more freely as they drove, but something about sleeping humans had always fascinated Kitt.  Back in the earlier days, he had spent hours watching Michael sleep in the driver's seat.  There was something so unguarded about the process.  Over the years, Kitt had concluded that sleep was the only state in which humans were truly open and completely honest. 

Kitt had many trivial tasks to attend to while his passengers slept.  He had plotted the smoothest course along the road ahead so his friends wouldn't be jarred awake by rough gravel or buckles in the road.  He was keeping track of numerous animals that were currently wandering close to the road where they could dart out into his path.  He was carefully adjusting his cabin temperature to balance the slight climatic changes that were occurring as the black asphalt lost the heat it had acquired during the day.  These tasks, and many others, too insignificant to mention, were not enough to keep him from noticing Michael’s hand as it slipped off the gearshift. 

He doubted if his human friends knew just how many insignificant oddities he noticed while they slept.  He could tell when Michael was disturbed or upset because he slowly ground his teeth together or slept with his foot bouncing.  He knew before Michael did when he was having a nightmare.  If Kitt wanted to, he could warn Michael's lovers that he sometimes snored in his sleep.

Kitt wasn't as familiar with Bonnie, although she had fallen asleep in him from time to time, after working late.  He watched her sleeping now, taking note of the little twitches in the muscles around her eyes.  She was entering REM sleep, where humans dream.  Kitt regarded her intently for a few minutes, looking for any outward sign of what was playing in her mind's theater.  There wasn't much of an indication - there never really was, unless his friends started talking or crying out in their sleep.  Michael had done that frequently in the early days of their partnership, after his run in with Tanya Walker.  But that trauma had apparently dimmed with time, and Michael had become a more restful sleeper.

Kitt was fascinated by dreams, probably because he didn't have them - in either sense of the word.  There was no process by which he could let some subconscious and autonomous part of his processor take over and make up narratives for him.  And he was, in a way, thankful for that.  He imagined the process would be very disconcerting.  He also didn't dream in the sense of having aspirations or goals for his future.  Or at least he hadn't.  In the old days, he had been happy just to be who he was - Michael’s partner and a part of Wilton's dream.  He had been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who cared for him and respected him.  At that time there was little he wanted, and nothing different that he hoped would happen someday, the way that humans hoped for things in their future.

But then the people he cared for left.  He had been deactivated.  Only then did he discover that he did dream -- only he wasn't sure that it really qualified.  Dreams were supposed to be forward looking, but he just wanted his future to be like his past had been.  He wanted his life back.

Kitt studied the two people who were sleeping in his cabin.  Maybe it wasn't as far out of reach as he had thought.
 
 

Chapter 1

The rolling farmland of New York turned to a blur and ran past the windows as Kitt pushed the car well above the hundred mile per hour mark.  They were being careful when they came to congested areas, but in northwestern New York State on a Sunday morning, they were able to fly most of the way without endangering others.

Bonnie squinted at Michael out of the corner of her eyes and seemed to swallow a small chuckle.  When she didn’t say anything, Michael decided to play along and hauled out his best indignant voice. “What?”

“A 57 Chevy, huh?” she said, smiling warmly.  Michael was glad that she was smiling so much.  He had been worried that this trip might not go well, but so far they had all been getting along.   And despite his initial fear that talking about the circumstances of Kitt's reactivation would upset him, both he and Bonnie seemed amused by the story.

“I had to put him somewhere.  It wasn’t my first choice,” Michael answered.

“Nor mine.  It was so embarrassing, Bonnie.”

“I don’t know, Kitt, it’s a beautiful car and very unique.  I would think you’d like it,” she said, clearly egging him on.

“You forgot musty, ancient, and boxy,” Kitt groused.

“You had to bring it up again, didn't you?” Michael rested his head back against the seat and stretched out his legs, carefully avoiding the pedals.

“Sorry.”  She still had a bit of Cheshire cat grin.  “I’m just having trouble picturing it.  And when I try, well, let’s just say it’s a goofy mental picture.”

“When we get to my cabin, you can see the body itself.  That might help.”

She nodded and Michael was waiting for another complaint from Kitt, but he didn’t get one.

“So while we’re on the topic of what we’re going to do, besides my cabin, where else do we want to go?”

“I was kind of thinking it would be nice to go somewhere more scenic.  I’ve been spending most of my time in Boston.  I kind of miss wide-open spaces and mountains.”

“Fair enough.  Where?”

“We’ve never been to Glacier National Park,” Kitt suggested.  Over the years he and Michael had learned that driving through a park on the way back to the Foundation was sometimes the closest they got to having an actual vacation.  At one time they had talked about trying to visit them all.  “And it is on the way.”

“Sounds good to me,” Michael said and looked to Bonnie who nodded in agreement.  “There is one little problem, though.  We may have to cut this vacation short if Maddock insists on getting Kitt back.”

“Maddock will just have to wait.” Kitt said, petulantly. 

“Sooner or later he’s going to put his foot down,” Michael warned. 

“And then I can run it over.”

“Kitt?” Bonnie looked surprised by his obviously idle threat.

“I’m sorry Bonnie, but he’s a very unsavory human being.  And I use the term ‘human’ loosely.”

"He can't be that bad," Bonnie said looking back and forth between Kitt's dash and Michael's face.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with Kitt on this one,” Michael said.  "You're going to hate Maddock.  He's an ass.”

She shook her head.  "After a build up like this, I don't think he could possibly live up to my expectations."

"He excels at what he does," Kitt said snidely.

"We'll see, if and when, you meet him.  Maddock is very skilled at ticking people off."

"I believe it’s unrivaled," Kitt added.  He didn’t feel guilty grousing about Maddock.  The man was responsible for selling his parts to the highest bidder.  And while Michael had been at his cabin for the last month, Maddock had been eyeing Kitt greedily.  It was obvious that he was biding his time until he could have Kitt pulled from the car and KIFT reintegrated.  Kitt figured he didn't owe that man anything.

* * *

They had been driving several hours when Kitt pulled into a gas station along the highway. 

“Even though I’m fuel efficient, it would be nice to be more so,” he said as Michael got out to pump the gas.

“Did anything ever come of the fuel cell project?” Bonnie asked, remembering an attempt they made to wean him off gas entirely.  She stepped out of the car and leaned against the open door.

“I’m afraid not. They ran into trouble with size and weight and were never quite able to make it practical.  Then it was shut down at the same time . . .”

Kitt stopped, but Bonnie knew what he was going to say.  It was shut down at the same time he was.  She sighed nervously, feeling guilty about all that he had been through while she’d been away.  “It is a shame that they never came up with anything workable though.”

“I agree,” Kitt said.

Their conversation ended there, awkwardly, and Bonnie slowly closed the passenger door. She wandered into the little convenience store and then paced up and down the aisles.  She didn’t know what she was looking for, but whatever it was, she wasn’t finding it.  Michael came in to pay for the gas and joined her in the aisles.  “Hungry?” he asked.

“Not really.  I thought I wanted something, but I don’t know what.  I guess I just wanted to move a little,” she said.

Michael put a hand on her shoulder, in that old familiar way.  Bonnie couldn’t suppress her smile – it was so nice to see him again.

“I know just what you need,” he said, guiding her toward a different row.  “Snowballs,” he said gesturing to the rack of junk food.  “Perfectly light and airy for that not quite hungry feeling.”

Bonnie looked up and rolled her eyes, grateful to have an excuse to let her smile escape completely.  “I think I’ll pass on eating anything that’s fluorescent pink and spongy.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” he said as they bypassed the snack aisle and approached the counter to pay for the gas.

* * *

 “Michael, Maddock is calling.  He insists on talking to you,” Kitt said as the tone chimed from his dash.  They had made good time for most of the day and had crossed into Ohio in the late afternoon.

Michael shook his head.  “Let me guess, he wants you back?”

“No, I imagine he wants the Knight 4000 back.”

Michael shook his head at the distinction and realized it was probably accurate.  Maddock still didn’t have much respect for Kitt and tended to see him as a piece of property.  Michael felt guilty about the situation he had left his former partner in during the last month.

“I don’t suppose you can stall him?”

“I have been.”

“Put him through,” Michael said, resignation slipping into his voice.

The main video monitor in Kitt’s dash leapt to life and they were sitting face to face with Russell Maddock.  He was holding a stack of papers in his hand and deep angry lines were furrowed into his forehead.

“I have spent the last . . .” Maddock started and then stopped comically when he caught sight of Bonnie.  He frowned even further and turned his attention back to Michael.  “If you borrowed a $10 million car to pick up women, so help me, you will never set foot inside it again.”

Michael sighed.  “While picking up women with hot cars is a time-honored tradition, this isn’t one of those times.  Russell Maddock, meet Dr. Bonnie Barstow, one of Kitt’s developers and his chief technician in the 80s.”

“Ah.”  It was a sharp, choked-off sound.  “Lovely to meet you.  Michael, we need to talk.”

It was clear to Bonnie that Maddock didn’t expect her to respond in kind to the introduction.  He was obviously all business.

“I’m listening.”

Maddock looked down at the top paper on his stack.  “Identifying and Effectively Countering Terrorists.”  He pulled a page off the top of the ream and crisply set it on the desk next to him.  “Negotiating in Hostage Situations.  Effective Crowd Management.”  With each pronouncement, Maddock snapped another sheet to the side.  “High Speed Driving in Urban Congestion.”  Maddock stopped and looked up at Michael like he expected an explanation.

“Ahh, sorry, you lost me.”

“These are all the courses that Shawn is required to complete before we can continue in our role as the city’s freelance department.  Apparently, someone informed Commissioner Daniels that the freelance departments in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Detroit are requiring these kinds of advanced courses for their agents.  We won’t be allowed to work on cases for at least a month.”

Michael had to work to suppress his grin.  “I have no idea how that happened.  It wasn’t me,” he said honestly.

Russ bobbed his head.  “And the fact that it happens to free up Kitt for your little . . . excursion, has nothing to do with it?”

“No. I haven’t had any contact with Daniels.  I swear,” he said, ignoring Maddock’s scornful frown.

“If I find out you’re lying, there will be consequences.  And I want that car back sooner, rather than later.”

“You got it,” Michael said, figuring it was better to just agree – he hadn’t said sooner than what.

Maddock gave them one last scowl and the video screen went dark.

“See – ass.” Michael said.

Bonnie opened her mouth like she was going to say something and then just shook her head.  “I’m going to have to withhold judgment for the time being.  Granted, not a very good first impression, but he might, maybe, be okay.”

Michael raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, he seems like an ass.”

“You catch on quickly.”

* * *

Michael emerged from his hotel room with his hair still wet from the shower.  They had stopped at a little town in Indiana, along I-90.  There was a cute little motel with an old-fashioned diner that caught Michael's attention.  He had wanted to clean up a little before dinner, and Bonnie hadn’t objected.  He guessed she was probably taking a short nap.

Michael wandered over to Kitt and sat sideways in the driver’s seat, leaving the door open and not bothering to swing his legs inside.  It was a nice day out and he wanted to enjoy the warm air and the sunset while he waited for Bonnie.

“So, any idea how Shawn got volunteered for Remedial Police School?” Michael asked, pushing the seat back to get comfortable.

“I may have an idea,” Kitt said.

Michael looked down at him suspiciously.  “Was it you?”

“Well, put plainly, yes.”

Michael tilted his head.  “I appreciate it, but you didn’t have to do that.  We would have stalled him somehow.”

There was a long pause.  “I simply felt it was a convenient way of getting him off our backs.  It also has some redeeming value in that if I have to work with Shawn, it would be nice if she were a little more competent.”

“Are you really that unhappy having Shawn as a partner?” Michael asked.  This was something that Kitt hadn’t mentioned before.

"It isn't that so much; it's more the Foundation in general.”

“Why what’s going on?”

“It’s nothing new, Michael.  There just isn't any more for me there than there is for you.  True, I have a new partner and the Foundation is making a name for itself again, or at least trying to.  But it’s fueled more by Maddock's ambition and drive for power than any genuine altruism or desire to help the powerless.  Maddock thinks he is the powerless, or at least not powerful enough.  And he would do anything to change that.  It's vapid these days.  I have a job to do, but it’s no longer a calling."

"You have to give them time, Kitt.  Maddock might never get to a point where he’s even likable, but right now he's obviously under a lot of pressure.  And Shawn is still new to all this."

"Shawn is not you, Michael.  She admitted she came to FLAG because there was nothing else for her in Seattle.  She doesn't even like people, much less want to help them."

"Kitt, I started my life with the Foundation on a revenge fantasy, remember?  Shawn may not be Ms. Personable, but she doesn't like injustice and maybe her hardnosed stubbornness will serve her well in stopping it.  Even if she doesn’t care that much about the people involved, she can still help."

“How can you say that?” Kitt asked, angrily.  “The Foundation was always about helping people first.”

“I’m just saying that Shawn doesn’t have to be a people person to help them.  She did want to be a cop, remember?”

Kitt sighed.  "You really don't understand.  Michael, the Foundation has lost its heart, for lack of a better word.  And I am not confident that anyone there now can be that consciousness or core.  If you came back . . ."

"Kitt," Michael cut in, "I'm not coming back."

"But you agreed to help us when necessary, why not on a more permanent basis?"

"For the same reasons why I left.  I'm not that person anymore."

"Only because you don't want to be.  You have a choice.  I don't.  And you left me in this situation."

"Kitt, you were fine with this set up a month ago, why is this a problem now?"

"Because, Michael, I went into this with an open mind, but I can see that things are not getting better.  I hate the way the Foundation is turning into Maddock’s stepping stone to somewhere more important.  I said I’ve forgiven you for leaving ten years ago, and I have, but now you’ve left again.  And the situation is just as bad.  You’re the only one who can bring the real Foundation back." 

Michael tipped his head against the seat.  Why couldn't he ever escape from the bonds of his former life?  Even hiding away on a lake, he was assaulted by all he owed people and all that his life had been.  But maybe that was just the way of families – always pulling you back and reminding you who you were.

"Kitt, I can't come back.  But I will promise to do what I can to help.  Maddock still has me on contract to provide support when necessary, and I promise if he calls, I'll come.  I promise that if you think things are out of their hands, I'll help.  And I'll do what I can to try to remind them of what the Foundation was, but that can only be on a part-time basis.  I can’t come back full time, and Maddock wouldn't hear of it anyway."

Kitt remained stoically silent.

"And in a way, I think you're selling yourself short.  I think you’re fully capable of reminding Russ and Shawn what the Foundation is supposed to be about.  You can be the Foundation's heart.  You don't need me for that."  Michael waited a beat.  "I know that might sound like a cop out on my part.  I'm sorry, maybe it is, but I also think it would be good for you to come out of the shadows and into your own. You're the member of the Foundation with the most field experience.  Maybe you should start using that to your advantage."

Kitt didn’t answer and Michael decided to let him think it over.  But there was one more thing he wanted to make clear as he stood up and prepared to go back to his room.  "Kitt, I want you to understand that I’m leaving the Foundation, not you.  You're always welcomed to come visit me or ask for my help.  But the one thing I can’t do for you is come back.  Anything else, you’ve got it.  I've missed you."

Michael watched, torn, as Kitt backed up and peeled out of the parking lot without another word.

* * *

After speeding down the road for several miles at top speed, Kitt was feeling a little more at peace.  He had left the parking lot in order to stop himself from saying something spiteful to Michael that he might regret.  But he had been driving in turmoil ever since.  He had found an old dirt road that wove in and out of the trees, around the rolling hills, and past several small lakes.  It was just what he needed.  Kitt had forgotten how much fun it was to push his systems to their limit. 

He approached a sharp bend in the road and intentionally hit it with too much speed.  He felt his tires leave the rough gravel surface of the road and swing out away from him.  He knew he was still in control.  He could break the slide if he wanted to and he wasn't doing anything that would actually cause damage.  There were no humans for miles, so he was free to be a bit irrational and reckless.  And he loved it.

A hill loomed and Kitt accelerated hard as he climbed the sharp incline.  Then he gunned it again just as he reached the top and vaulted himself over the crest, without the help of turbo boost.  His tires left the road and he was briefly airborne.

Why were humans, and particularly Michael, so damn infuriating? he wondered.  How could Michael on one hand reject everything about his former life and at the same time, tell him he could always ask for help?  How could he separate Kitt from the Foundation and say that he was leaving one and not the other?  How could he hear that the Foundation was floundering desperately and still walk away?  It was completely irresponsible. 

Kitt took another small, sharp hill.  This time as he reached the crest, he activated turbo boost and sailed over the top of it, leaping hundreds of feet in the air before he crunched back to the gravel road.  Kitt fishtailed and lurched, before he pulled the car back under his control.  It was exhilarating to give himself up to the forces of physics: acceleration and gravity, momentum and inertia.  Forces he understood, even though he had no direct control over them.  At least he could predict and calculate their effects and react accordingly.  They were much more reasonable and comprehensible than human emotions.

Why did Michael seem to think it was fair to just reactivate him and desert him in that cesspool of Maddock’s making?  Michael had a choice; Kitt needed maintenance, attention, and money to keep operating.  Michael was free and he wasn't.  It wasn't fair, or right, and he deserved better.

Kitt's scanners spotted a dead tree lying in the road up ahead.  From the scorch mark that started at its base and ran through the larger branches, he determined that it must have been a victim of a lightning strike.

Kitt sped toward the tree, his nose lowering in the air stream.  He was well over a hundred miles per hour when he barreled into it, sending dead leaves and splintered wood everywhere.  Some of the debris caught in his scanner bay and there was one leaf flattened against the forward curve of his left side mirror.

But could it be that Michael had a point?  Maybe Kitt had been hoping that Michael would come riding in and save the day, solving everything simply by being there.  He had to admit that it probably wasn’t that easy and he might be expecting a bit too much from his friend.  Maybe he was selling himself short in assuming that Michael could make things better and he couldn’t, simply because Michael was human.  If Maddock was being a power hungry ass, maybe Kitt could be the one to remind him of what his real duty was.  As Michael had pointed out, he was the reigning elder. 

Kitt reached a bridge, and instead of crossing it, like any other car, he activated turbo boost again and lofted over it.  Despite this car's awful color, it was more powerful than the Trans Am, which was a wonderful feeling. 

Michael probably had valid points, but that still didn’t get him off the hook for everything.  Kitt wanted to be angry with Michael, but he wasn’t sure he had reasons that were any better than Michael’s.  He tried to determine what he felt most angry about.  It wasn’t an easy question, but Kitt was better at being honest with himself than most humans.  He decided that what really bothered him was that he had assumed that Michael would want to come back -- for him if for no other reason.

* * *

Michael had moved one of his chairs out onto the walkway in front of his motel room.  He was leaning back in it with his eyes closed when he heard Bonnie’s door open.  She glanced at him and then Kitt’s empty parking space, confused.  Michael rose and slung his chair into his room, letting the door close behind it.  “He left.”

The confusion didn’t leave her face.

“Okay, we had a little discussion.  It didn’t go so well.  Then he left.”

Michael wasn't surprised to see the old protective streak of hers spark to life.  “What did you say to him, Michael?”

“We were just talking.”

“Well obviously you said something.”  Her hands planted themselves at her hips.  “He’s been through a lot you know.”

“I know that,” Michael said, seriously, walking the fine line between wanting to work things out with Kitt himself and not wanting to make her angry.  “Look, Bonnie, there is still a lot going on between us and we still have to work it all out.  That’s not always going to go smoothly, but I’m not trying to upset him intentionally.”

She looked like she wanted to say more, but stopped herself.  “Okay.  I’m sorry.  I just don’t like to see him upset.”

“Me either,” he said sincerely.  “What do you say we head over to the restaurant and get some dinner?  Hopefully, he’ll be back before we’re finished.”

She smiled weakly.  “Okay.”

* * *

The diner was dusty and old.  One of the vinyl seats in the booth they were led to was ripped in two places and the white stuffing was pushing out of the angry gashes.  Bonnie paused to wipe away the crumbs of someone else’s meal before she sat down on the slick surface. 

Michael loved these kinds of places.  In his time on the road he had found himself searching for the neighborhood greasy spoon more often than the local chain restaurant.  He had developed an appreciation for the oddities in places, not the similarities that most people found comforting. 

After perusing the slightly sticky menus, they each picked out sandwiches and the waitress, absentmindedly twirling a piece of her hair, took their order and left. 

Michael stretched his hands out in front of him, drumming them against the flecked Formica.

Bonnie looked down at his hands, and spoke to the solid bones in his wrists and fingers.  "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for not keeping in touch.  I don't know why I didn't just call or email you."

"It's okay,” Michael said, wondering why she hadn’t.  "I could have called or emailed too."

Bonnie smiled, tentatively.  "But you didn't know where I was."

"I could have found you if I had wanted to.  I’d be a pretty bad private investigator if I couldn’t even find you in Boston."

"Well, I certainly could have made it easier."

"True." Michael paused, not sure if he really wanted to ask his next question.  "Why didn't you?"

"I don't know.  At first I didn't want to, and then, maybe it just didn't seem appropriate or something.  I guess I was afraid that I'd call you and there would be nothing to say."

Michael nodded.   "I would have liked to have heard from you."

She slowly lifted her gaze and put a hand on top of his.  "I’m sorry.  I know I should have called.  I'm glad you finally looked me up though."

“I just wish I had done it under better circumstances.”

Bonnie shrugged and looked out the window to where Kitt had been parked.    The waitress came back and plopped two platters in front of them.  Michael’s plate hit hard and sent a clatter over the din of the restaurant.

“Sorry about that,” the waitress said, setting down a bottle of ketchup with greasy oval fingerprints on the side.  “You need anything else?”

They both nodded ‘no’ and she returned to the kitchen, disappearing through a swinging door that fluttering long after she was gone.

Michael grabbed the ketchup off the table, and as he pounded the side of it, casually added, “There’s somewhere else I’d like to stop while we’re on our little road trip.”

“Sure.  What did you have in mind?” Bonnie asked as she forked a limpid French fry and examined it suspiciously.

“I’d like to go to Los Angeles.  To see Devon’s grave.”

Bonnie’s fork hand dropped a little and after a brief pause, she set the utensil down completely.  “I’d rather not,” she said, quietly but firmly.

Michael tried to hide his disappointment.  He was hoping it would be helpful to add a little closure and he had been meaning to get back to Devon’s gravesite.  He didn’t want it to go untended.  “It’s a little out of the way, but it might be nice, just to say goodbye.”

“You’re welcomed to do what you want, but I have no interest in going to his grave.” 

Michael made eye contact and she turned away from him.  This night was definitely not going his way.  Bonnie picked up her sandwich and began eating in earnest, but Michael got the impression she wasn’t tasting much of it.

*  *  *

When Kitt finally arrived back at the hotel, it was well past dark and there was a figure leaning back in a chair in the shadows.  When his headlights swung around, they caught Michael staring straight back at him, a mug of coffee in his hand.  He wasn’t entirely up to dealing with Michael at the moment, but it looked like he didn’t have much of a choice. 

Kitt pulled into his parking space and took a moment to organize his thoughts.  “Michael, I’ve had some time to think about what you said.  I don’t want to go into it all right now – there are still some things I want to think through – but I understand some of what you’re saying.  Maybe I do rely on you to solve too many things for me.  Perhaps you’re right in suggesting that I try to change things myself before I ask you to step in.”

Michael nodded and stood, stretching as he walked over to the car.  He stopped and patted the hood.  “Thanks.”

“But I still don’t like the way you’ve abandoned the Foundation.  I do believe that you have a responsibility to it.  And to me.  It’s upsetting that you don’t want to come back because I want you back.”

“I’m sorry, Kitt.  I know.  And I don’t deserve your loyalty.”

“'Deserving' has nothing to do with it, Michael.  You’re my friend, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with all your choices.”

Michael nodded.  “We can talk about it more later.  Right now I’m pretty tired, but I’m glad you’re back.  Good night.”

“Good night,” Kitt answered.

* * *

Since leaving the motel a couple of hours ago, Bonnie had been posing statue-like, gazing out the passenger window at the scenery around them.  Michael had become accustomed to the silence so he was mildly surprised when she turned away from the view and asked, "Don't you get bored fishing?" 

"No.  How could anyone get tired of fishing?” Michael asked like it was the most natural thing in the world.  "You get to spend your days out on a lake, communing with nature, enjoying sport, basking in the light of day . . . "

"Sleeping," Kitt added with a smirk in his voice.

"I only sleep some of the time," Michael said, turning back to Bonnie.  "Why do you ask?"

"I just noticed a sign for a fish hatchery back there so I was thinking about it."

"Where?" Michael asked, craning around to look behind them.

"We just past it.  Why?  Don't tell me you want to stop."

"Of course I want to stop," he said, enjoying the expression on her face as it tilted back and forth between horror and disbelief.

"You’re serious?" she asked.

"Yes.  This is how I make my living now, remember."

"Not that you earn any money doing it," Kitt said.

"We used to be friends."  Michael faked a glare at the dashboard. 

"I'm voting with Bonnie.  No fish hatchery stops.  You see enough fish at home."

"Fine," Michael said.  He didn't really want to see the hatchery -- he just enjoyed the banter.  "Since my new profession has been the butt of all the jokes lately, what about you, Bonnie?  What have you been doing all this time?"

"I told you, consulting," she answered matter-of-factly.

"I know, but what does that mean?"

"It means I work temporary jobs for whatever companies need help.  I've written software for an airline and a couple of large insurance companies.  I help out on short-term projects or projects where the company's own employees have gotten in over their heads. You might say I'm a hired gun."

"You aren't doing research anymore?"  Kitt asked.

"No."

"What kind of software are you writing?"  Kitt continued.  Michael could hear the concern in his voice.

"It depends on the project.  I updated the software that the airline used to track and schedule their planes.  That kind of thing."

"But Bonnie, you have a PhD," Kitt said as Michael realized where he was going with his questions.

"So?  That makes it easier to get hired by these firms.  They’re looking for experts."

Kitt paused and Michael thought maybe he was going to let it drop. 

"I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but it seems like you're wasting your talents."

"I’m not wasting them.  I'm still working in the industry," she said, a bit defensively.

"But it isn't cutting edge research anymore."

Bonnie didn't answer, but Michael had a feeling he understood where she was coming from.  It was temporary work.    She didn’t have to form any loyalties.  He understood that.

"It’s easier that way isn't it?" he asked.

She looked at him darkly.  "What do you mean?"

"You don’t have to put so much of yourself into it. You don’t have to be so personally invested."

"I like what I do.  I like my boss.  That's really all that matters," she answered and pointedly turned her head to stare out the window again. 

* * *

Bonnie watched as the ghostly, unearthly colors swirled along the windshield.  It was just before sunrise and the sky over the Badlands was a sea of gray and blue on the Virtual Reality Display.  In low light situations, it used an infrared camera as its source, so the view tended to look solarized and decidedly unearthly.  The rock formations were a deep green with darker blue and purple shadows that moved with the car’s angle to the crevices.  The screen was as mesmerizing as flame. 

Kitt didn't need the display to drive, obviously, but he had turned it on for Bonnie's amusement when she woke up.  They had decided to drive though the night this time, but it meant that she wasn’t going to sleep much.  Bonnie had never really gotten used to sleeping in a car.  The semi was different; they usually stopped and she had a place to stretch out. 

After deciding that she wasn’t going to fall back to sleep, she had turned her attention to Kitt's dash and had tried to memorize the unfamiliar terrain of buttons.  Even the old functions were accompanied by new colors and locations.  The Kitt she knew well was long gone.  She was aware that this only applied to the external features.  The AI she loved was basically the same, if a little older and having suffered a few more growing pains, but the new layout made her feel like a stranger.

 Michael was slumped in the driver’s seat, his head turned toward her, his mouth slack.  She watched him for a moment, feeling a bit out of place, sitting beside him while he slept.   For all that he had been through, he had aged well.  She still felt some of those old feelings that she had tried for so long to ignore.

"Bonnie?" Kitt asked quietly, careful not to wake Michael.

"Yes?"

"Would you ever consider coming back?" he asked.

Bonnie wasn’t overly keen on discussing her career with him again, but there was no point in shutting him out.  She took a minute to think about it and studied Michael to be sure he was really sleeping.  She was afraid that if he heard her express any interest in coming back, he'd badger her about it.  She wanted to make that kind of decision on her own, not because it was what he wanted her to do.  "Maybe.  It's been a long time, Kitt, but the work we did, working with you and Michael, was one of the best times of my life.  A part of me would love to come back."

"Only a part?"

She smiled at his insistence.  "I'm not sure I'm the right person for the job.  As you pointed out, I haven't exactly kept up with things and the Foundation has obviously changed.  I’d need more information to make a decision like that."

"But you'd consider it?"

"Maybe.  Why?  Don't you like the people taking care of you now?"  It was a loaded question, just as Kitt's had been.  But Kitt's situation would certainly factor into any decisions she made. 

"It's not that I don't like them.  They don't like me."

"Why?" 

"Well, technically, Michael and I stole this body.  It was meant for the Knight Industries Four Thousand.  We removed the AI from the car and installed me."

"What happened to the other AI?"  Bonnie asked, surprised that Kitt would do something like that.

“It’s been deactivated,” Kitt said with a touch of guilt in his voice.  “Bonnie, it wasn’t meant to be a true AI from the beginning.  Maddock wanted to make sure it had very little personality and what it did have was very arrogant.  KIFT was not an AI that you would have cared for.”

“But you still feel guilty about causing his deactivation,” Bonnie said, reading between the lines.

“Yes, but at the time I felt there was no other choice.”

Bonnie nodded, but shared Kitt’s unease with the situation.

"Most of the technicians seem to see me as inferior technology that destroyed their brain child."

Bonnie nodded, understanding the feeling.  She wouldn't be able to work on something that had replaced Kitt, especially under those circumstances.

"It would be nice to have someone there who I could trust."

Bonnie was elated to hear him say that, but she was also concerned.  "I appreciate that Kitt, but I'm not sure I'm worthy of your trust."

"Why?"  It was Kitt's turn to be surprised.

"For the same reasons that you and Michael aren't as close now.  I left you to fend for yourself.  If I had stayed, maybe I could have fought against your deactivation.  Maybe I could have figured something else out.  Michael isn't the only one to blame for that."

Kitt was silent for several moments.  "But you didn't know.  Michael did."

That was true.  She had assumed that Michael would never leave Kitt, that he would always protect him.  But it still hadn't been fair to leave and lose contact.  She was at fault for what had happened to him, even if more of that responsibility did lie on Michael’s shoulders.  "I still should have been there for you, Kitt."

"Why did you leave?"

Bonnie pursed her lips and looked down at the red voice modulator.  "You know Devon and I weren't getting along," she said, marveling at how benign the tip of the iceberg sounded.

"Why?" Kitt asked again, undeterred.

"Kitt, we just weren't."

"You aren't ever going to tell me, are you?" he asked indignantly.

"I'm sorry, Kitt," she said without explaining anything. 

There was another long pause and when Kitt spoke, his voice had softened.  "I wish I could truly understand what happened, Bonnie, and it hurts that I can't.  But I've accepted things. And I would very much like to have you back."

"Thank you, Kitt," she said, feeling relieved but worried.  She wondered just how alone and fearful Kitt must be to be willing to forgive her so easily.

As the sun began to rise, Kitt switched back to the normal windshield display and darkened the windows so that Michael could keep sleeping.

* * * 

Michael was glad to have somewhere to be after driving for so long.  They were only planning to spend a couple of days at Glacier, but it was nice to actually stop driving for a while.

After getting settled in his room, he wandered through the lobby of the Lake McDonald Lodge and pushed through the doors to join Kitt in the parking lot.  "So, what's on the agenda?" Michael asked as he leaned against the corner of the hood. 

"The main route through the park is called Going-to-the-Sun Road.  It's 52 miles long and crosses the Continental Divide at Logan’s Pass, 6,646 feet above sea level.  Sites along the way include waterfalls, glacial lakes, and several scenic overlooks."

"Sounds nice."  Michael said absent-mindedly.

"You don't care do you?" Kitt replied scornfully.

"It's not that I don't care.”  Michael was confused at how personally Kitt seemed to take his indifference.  “It's just nice, that's all.  It doesn’t sound adventurous or out of the ordinary, just nice I guess."

"Well, if you’re looking for danger, you might consider a hike through the glaciers.  You’ll be happy to know that hundreds of people have died over the years in avalanches."

Michael wasn’t sure if Kitt had eased up and was teasing him, or if he was being sarcastic.  It was hard to tell because Kitt’s overall tone had taken on a harder edge since his deactivation.  Michael decided it was best to play it as though Kitt was just kidding with him.  "Okay, maybe a nice safe drive is the way to go.”

Michael glanced out over the lake and noticed Bonnie sitting on the pier, with her legs dangling over the side, staring at the mountains.  Michael patted Kitt's hood, thinking that right now he preferred Bonnie’s company, and went to join her. 

Bonnie had her back to Michael as he approached, and his mischievous side couldn't resist the temptation to play a little prank.  He hoped it would be like the old days -- he missed the playful side to their friendship.  Michael stepped quietly onto the planks of the pier, being careful not to creak them.  He slunk up behind her and suddenly grabbed her around the waist, making a feint of pushing her into the water.  She was completely surprised and her hands flew up to clutch his upper arms tightly.  Bonnie whipped her head around and let out a gulp of air when she realized who it was. "Jesus, I forgot what a pain you are!" she fumed as she caught her breath.  Her hands relaxed slightly but didn't let go of his arms.  She leaned into him slightly, while he continued to hold her suspended out over the water.

"Ah, but you love it."

"Hardly," she said, laughing.  "Remind me to feed you to the bears."

Michael could feel her rapid breathing against his chest.  "You wouldn't.  You love me too much for that," he said.

"Don't bet on it.  Kitt would probably be willing to help me find a nice hungry one."

Michael smirked as he pulled Bonnie safely back over the pier and reluctantly let her go.  He moved to sit opposite of her and dangled one of his own legs over the side, leaning back to rest against a piling.  "You two complain but you missed me."

Bonnie didn't reply, and gazed back out over the water, having calmed down from her fright.  After a minute, she said,  "It's crazy.  On the drive out here, I was thinking there was nothing in Montana except hundreds of miles of straight highway through flat desert with only the occasional pickup truck to break the monotony -- but this place is beautiful."

Michael took a minute to admire the deep blue water surrounded by jagged snowy peaks.  He could smell the chill in the sunny late summer air.  The lake was fairly calm, with only a gentle splashing of waves against the pier supports.  The mountains were almost perfectly reflected in the water -- diamonds of brown and white in the distance.

Michael glanced back at the large, older-style hotel behind them.  It had all the Old World charm of some European villa.  "You know, I could see Devon in a place like this.  I can almost picture him in Earnest Hemingway style safari clothes, drinking a scotch out on the lawn."

Bonnie lifted her head and stared skyward.  "Why do you do that?"

Michael glanced at her.  "Do what?"

"Take a nice moment and ruin it by bringing him up?"

"I didn't know I wasn't allowed to mention his name."

She gave him an exasperated look and got up suddenly.  Michael caught her arm and gently pulled her back down.  "Because the guy I was supposed to catch killed him.  I didn't do my job in time, and part of me feels very guilty about that," he said, earnestly.  He realized that this was the first time he had admitted that out loud.  "I miss him and I'm not going to pretend he didn't exist."

Bonnie shook her wrist out of Michael’s light grip and crossed her arms.  "I'm not ready to reminisce about the good old days, Michael.  I can't just forget about everything that happened.  Ad I'd rather not talk about him."

Michael again found himself disappointed.  A part of him felt he had a responsibility to Devon's memory to try to make amends.  But he knew he couldn’t do that in place of Devon himself.  "Okay.  I guess we can table that topic for a while."

Michael stood and offered his hand to Bonnie.  "What do you say we forget I said anything and get something to eat?"

Bonnie looked at Michael's outstretched hand for a moment before taking it.  "Okay," she said as he pulled her to her feet and they headed back up the slope to the lodge.

* * * 

The late morning sun was glinting off the cascading waterfalls that lined a rock wall along the road.  The spray was creating little puddles of runoff that moved restlessly as Kitt and the other cars splashed through them.  They had decided to go for a drive in the morning and do some hiking in the afternoon.  It was a compromise to let Kitt participate but also let Michael get some exercise.  The views along the road had been spectacular, and Michael was glad they had gone, but he was also looking forward to actually getting out and doing something.

“If you’re going to go hiking, you should at least pick up some supplies,” Kitt chided.  “You don’t have nearly enough water and both of you are going to have to wear better shoes.”

“Yes, mom,” Michael said.

“I was just offering advice, Michael.  You don’t have to get snippy with me,” Kitt huffed. 

“I wasn’t being snippy.  It was just a joke,” Michael said, making a mental note not to tease Kitt in the future.

Bonnie frowned at both of them.  “We’ll stop back at the lodge and change before heading out.”

There was a longish, awkward pause before Kitt continued.  "There is a gift shop that has groceries at the hotel and there are several trails in the Lake McDonald area.  One follows the shore and several others branch out into steeper climbs into the mountains.”  He continued on with the travelogue until they reached the hotel parking lot.  Michael didn’t say anything as he got out and led the way inside.
 

The gift shop was typical of a place in a national forest.  There were kitschy charm bracelets, spoons bearing images of wildlife, postcard racks, and books.  A pleasant-looking woman behind the counter smiled at them through large glasses and pushed back a few ringlets of curly light brown hair. "Can I help you?" she asked, her eyes crinkling.

"We were hoping to get some water and maybe granola or something."

"There's a cooler in the corner," she said, pointing to a cluttered section of the store.

Michael went to investigate as Bonnie wandered around the little shop, picking at the souvenirs.  She stopped at a rack of bells near the front register and ran her hand along one strand.  There were three large Christmas bells evenly spaced along a thin leather cord.

"If you're going hiking, you may want to buy a set of those," the woman behind the counter said.  "They're bear bells.  They keep the grizzlies away."

Bonnie looked up at her, unconvinced.

"Really.  The bears here are pretty much afraid of people, so they aren't likely to hurt you, but if you come up on them unawares, they get startled.  And that tends to make them angry."

Michael returned with an armload of water and snacks that he spilled onto the counter in a cascade of bottles and bags.  He set a trail map on top of the pile like a concurring army's flag.

"You wear the bells and it warns the bears that you're coming," the woman continued, glancing at Michael.  "Then they stay out of your way."

"Either that or they learn that bells mean dinnertime," Michael quipped.

"Nahhh," the woman said.  "They aren't something you want to mess with, but they're not that bad.  They mostly stick to themselves."

Michael grinned and pulled out his wallet.  Bonnie plucked the cord of bells off the rack and set it down on the counter with a jingle. 

Michael just looked at her.

"A souvenir if nothing else," she said defensively.

Michael laughed.  “The bears are gonna know you’re a tourist and steal your camera.”  He pulled out a few bills and paid the woman before leading the way outside.

*  *  *

Michael reached down from the ledge where he was standing and gave Bonnie his hand to help her make the last bit of the climb. 

Michael had opted for the rougher hike up into the mountains.  He wasn't in as good of shape as he had been in his prime, but he was convinced that he could still take a good hill.   And he was surprised by how well Bonnie was keeping up.  She had always been athletic, but he hadn't really expected her to be able to move over the rugged terrain this easily.  He didn't think she had any rock climbing experience, but she had a certain balance that didn't come as naturally to him.

The ledge was a relief after the narrow, rocky path they had just climbed.  Michael decided it was as good a time as any to take a break.  He flopped down on the nearest rock and pulled out one of the bottles of water.  Bonnie wandered over toward the edge.

"Despite everything, did you ever miss it?" she asked, with her back to him.

Michael looked up, knowing immediately what she as talking about.  "Yes," he said honestly. "I missed it a lot.  But I usually just told myself that I was glossing over the bad parts.  That if I had gone back, things wouldn’t have been the same."

"They wouldn't have been," she said.  "You're right about that."

Michael set down the bottle.  "I do wish I knew how to earn back Kitt's trust though."

Bonnie turned and joined him on the rock.  "What you're doing.  Spending time with him.  He'll come around, but I think it’s going to take time."

"I know.  He's gotten better, but it's not the same."

"I don't think you can hope for that, Michael.  It's never going to be you and Kitt against the world again.  He's moved on to a new life and so have you.  It's always going to be different."

"I thought that leaving him after he was reactivated was the best thing for both of us.  I figured it would give him time to adjust to working with Shawn and I didn't really want to be around the Foundation at the time.  But I think it was a mistake.  I think he sees it as a reason not to trust me."

"I would," Bonnie said. 

Michael looked at her sharply, more hurt by that than he should have been.  He must have been broadcasting that pain in his features, because she stepped toward him and took his hand sympathetically. "Sorry, but he obviously doesn't like Maddock and he doesn't seem that keen on Shawn.  You reactivated him and then left him alone in the world.  If you want him to trust you, you're going to have to be there for him, even when it isn't easy.  Or when you'd rather be out fishing," she said, with a hint of playfulness that lightened the message a little. 

"I know.  I have to decide whether he's better off without me and leave him be, or decide to be his friend.  I guess I've been riding the fence on that too long."

"He loves you Michael.  He wouldn't be better off without you."  Bonnie picked up their backpack and started down the path again.

* * *

They climbed up another stretch of trail and came out into a sprawling meadow surrounded by peaks.  The grass was high and there were still wild flowers in bloom despite it being late summer.

Bonnie walked out into the open and turned around slowly, enjoying the view.  "I guess this is worth the climb," she said, a little tired after the hike.

"According to the trail map, there's a small set of pools up ahead about a mile that are supposed to be beautiful.  If you feel like going that far."

"Why not,” she said, "but it would be nice to rest a bit first."  She left the path and sat down in the tall grass.  It was well past tick season and it smelled so nice.

Michael found his own patch of grass to sit on under a few trees in the shade.  He laid back and let the breeze lull him.

* * *

Michael woke to realize that something was beeping at him.  It sounded like an alarm clock at first.

"Michael!" came Kitt's insistent voice.  "Wake up!"

It had been a while since Kitt had had reason to call him on the comlink and he wasn't used to wearing it anymore anymore.  He fumbled to depress the talk button.

"What is it?"

"Bonnie needs your help."

Michael sat up suddenly.  "Where is she?"  She had been right across the path, but obviously she had wandered off while he was sleeping.

"She's northwest of your current position, approximately 100 meters off the trail."

Michael blundered through the grass as quickly as he could.  It didn't occur to him to ask Kitt what was wrong until he after he spotted her.  She was standing dead still with her back to him.  It took Michael a minute to spot the large, beige cougar that was staring at her through the grass.  It was no more than 10 or 12 feet away.  It’s head turned almost imperceptibly to eye him as he slowed his approach.

"Bonnie, I'm right behind you," he said, carefully.  She nodded but didn't take her eyes off the animal.  "Kitt what do we do?"

The cat's eyes narrowed, as it looked back and forth between the two of them.  A low guttural growl formed in its throat and its ears pressed tightly back against its head.

"Both of you need to stand up straight with your arms out to your sides.  Make yourselves look bigger."

Michael hadn't realized that he was crouching slightly, on the defensive.  He slowly drew himself up and felt like he was losing the advantage of being tightly coiled.  It wasn't comfortable.

"Bonnie, you need to move back slowly so that you and Michael are closer together.  It will make you look more intimidating.  And you both need to stop looking at it."

"What?" Michael asked.

"Most cats, including cougars, see direct eye contact as a challenge.  If you both move together, you look like too big of a target, and he'll move on.  But if you stare at him, he's going to think you're challenging him.  That may be enough to cause him to attack."

Michael understood the logic, it made sense, but he had years of conditioning not to take his eyes off a threat.  It was counterintuitive to his survival.  "Where would you like me to look?"

"At the ground, or off to the side."

"Kitt, if he pounces I won't be able to see him coming."

"I'm watching him," Kitt said calmly.  “Trust me.”

"Okay.  Bonnie are you ready?"

"Yes,” she said quietly and slowly took a step back.  The cougar growled again and it took all of Michael's self control not to look at it.  He was staring at the ground in front of him, not really seeing, but listening intently for each of Bonnie’s steps.  He waited until her boot was in sight and then slowly reached out to guide her back to him.  Michael froze when the cat let out an angry cry.  He could see a hint of beige out of the corner of his eye as his hand grazed Bonnie's back.  He hooked his hand around her waist, carefully pulling her to him.  When they were finally together, Kitt said, "Now stay where you are.  I'm going to give him a distraction."

There was a moment of silence while Michael waited for Kitt to do whatever it was he was planning.  Bonnie jumped when a loud, deep-sounding cat cry echoed off the mountains.  Michael waited a few beats -- the cat in front of them stopped growling.  Another roar echoed through the valley.  The cat roared in answer and then Michael was relieved to hear a very faint rustling as the cat slipped back into the grass.  He risked glancing at the place where it had been, and was relieved that it was indeed gone.  There was another roar and an immediate reply as the cat moved away.

"I think he is sufficiently distracted, Michael."

"Thanks, Kitt." Michael had to resist the urge to use 'buddy' or 'pal', feeling that it was too familiar given their current relationship, but it had almost rolled off his tongue.  The situation reminded him so much of how things used to be.  "That was great.  I didn't know you could create sounds from so far away."

"You can thank my new body for that.  The anharmonic synthesizer is 40 dB stronger than my old one and it’s directional.  I never would have been able to bounce that call off the mountains with a high enough volume in the Trans Am."

"Lucky us," Michael said and turned to pull Bonnie into a hug.  "Are you okay?" he asked, noticing that she was shaking.

"Yes.  I decided to walk a little while you were sleeping and I just stumbled onto him.  I didn't even see him until I heard a growl."

Michael laughed when she pulled away and the bells that she had hung from her belt jingled.  He picked up the bottom bell on the cord and tugged on it.  "I think next time you should skip these and look for the mountain lion bells."

"I think I'll just wear them all," she said.

"Had enough excitement for one day?" he asked.  When she nodded, he turned and put his arm around her shoulder, and led her back to the main path.
 
 

Chapter 2

They had left Glacier in the late afternoon and had driven through the night again to get to Michael’s cabin.  As Kitt pulled up to the garage, Bonnie craned her neck to get a glimpse of the property.  It was a lot different than she had expected.  She had been thinking that an appropriate place for a bass charter would be a smelly old shack in the woods, but this cabin was actually pretty.  It was nestled among a stand of branchy trees, above a lake, complete with a well-maintained pier and fishing boat.

Michael hopped out.  "You want the nickel tour?" he asked.

"Sure.  It's not what I expected."

"Why's that?" Michael asked, clearly baiting her.

She just shook her head and they went into the main house.  When they stepped into the kitchen, Bonnie was surprised again.  There were large, floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining area, overlooking the water.  There were knick-knacks on the table and nice, if somewhat plain, wooden chairs around it.  The kitchen window even had curtains.  It was not the bass fishing bachelor house she had been picturing.  And obviously, Michael knew what she was thinking because he was watching her reaction with a devious grin.  "Something wrong?"

"No.  Not at all.  I just . . . curtains??  Michael Knight picked out curtains?"

"Well, I can't take full credit.  I actually had a decorator at the home improvement store recommend things."

"Decorator?  Okay, I'm not sure that's fitting the whole Michael Knight ‘Man of Action’ image either."

Michael pulled a chair out from under the table and offered it to her before swinging its neighbor around so that he could sit on it backwards.  "What, did you think I was some uncouth barbarian unable to match colors?" he asked.

"I saw the place you used to keep in LA," she said with an innocent smile.

"Well, you’ll be happy to know that the garage is a mess and you probably don't want to venture into the attic alone."

"I can vouch for the state of the garage.  I can barely squeeze inside without getting grease on me," Kitt said over the comlink.

"Thanks," Michael said sarcastically.  "I was getting around to cleaning it up."

Bonnie scanned the charming little kitchen and the den.  It was all tastefully decorated and masculine.  "It's great, Michael.  I love it."

"Thanks.  The spare room is this way.  You can put your stuff in there.”  Michael led her to a small but airy room that overlooked the woods and road in front of the property.  She dropped her shoulder bag on the bed and glanced out the bay window before following Michael into the kitchen.

"Cup of coffee?" he asked.

"Sure, I'd love some," she replied before they were interrupted by what sounded like someone tramping up a set of basement stairs. 

Michael jumped at first but then he cocked his head and approached the door next to the kitchen.  "Zeke?  That you?"

They heard the clatter of something rolling and then thudding against the floor.

A voice wafted through the door, carrying a southern twang with it.  "Shit, Mike, don't go sneaking up on a man like that.  Ya made me drop my rucksack, dammit."

Michael smiled, rolled his eyes, and opened the door.  "You're in my house, Zeke."

"Well, where else am I gonna put my fish?  Ya know damn well that the missus . . . " He stopped when he got to the top of the stairs and spotted Bonnie.  "Oh, pardon me, ma'am, I didn't know Mike here had company."

"That's okay," Bonnie said, not sure what to make of him.  His slow, meandering drawl was not something she was used to hearing.

"Zeke Bilmer at your service, ma'am," he said, switching a black backpack from his right hand to his shoulder to shake her hand.

"Bonnie Barstow."

"It's a pleasure to meet you.  It's about time old Mike here had some company."  He tossed Michael a wink, which Michael returned with a stern glare.

"Oh, Mike, I left some fish in your freezer downstairs."

"I figured.  The legal or the illegal kind?"

Zeke smiled and slowed up his drawl a little bit more, "Well now, Officer, I'm very, very sorry.  I rekon I didn't know that these here trout were too small.  I'll never do it again, no sir."

"Don't you think most of the cops in this area know about your 'dumb redneck from the sticks' act by now."

Zeke smiled impishly.  He was small and unassuming, about the same age as Michael but shorter than Bonnie.  "It's worth a try, ain't it?  They haven't caught me yet."

He pulled his sack tighter around his shoulder and headed for the door, obviously comfortable around the house.  "Glad you're back, Mike.  I'm on my way down to the range to do some shootin.  Catch you later.  Pleasure to meet you ma'am."

He left giving Michael one more wink.  Bonnie looked at Michael questioningly.

"Zeke's my neighbor.  He watches the place for me."

"Seems like an interesting guy."

“Oh he is.  He’s former special ops too, so we get along pretty well.  Actually we should have him and his wife over for dinner later this week.  They’re a lot of fun.  But I’ll warn you, Zeke’s quite a character."

“Sounds like someone I know,” Bonnie laughed.

“Who ever made the rule that you have to be nice to your guests?” Michael complained as he sifted a spoonful of coffee grounds into a filter and filled the carafe with water. 

* * *

“Come on.  If you don’t at least go once, you don’t get to mock it.  You don’t know what you’re missing.”

Bonnie gave Michael a patient smile.  “I’ve been fishing before.  It’s really not my idea of a fun way to spend the afternoon.  Kitt and I were going to go for a drive in the mountains anyway.”

“It can wait.  The mountains aren’t going anywhere and you’ve been here two days without fishing – that’s bad for my reputation,” Michael said, taking her hand and leading her towards the door.  When she hesitated, he figured he was going to have to compromise.  “Bring a book if you’re going to be bored.  It would just be nice to have some company for a change.”

She glanced out the window and back to Michael again, wavering.

“It’s a beautiful day . . .”

“Alright.  Alright.  But I’m bringing a book.”

Michael couldn’t suppress his grin as she disappeared in the direction of her room and came back with a withered paperback that looked like it had been in progress for quite some time.

The sun had already burned off the thin layer of mist that covered the lake on most mornings, but the water was still calm and quiet.  There weren’t any other boats out to stir up the waves.

As the boat zipped across the water, Michael listened to the echo of the motor bounce off the cliffs on the far side of the lake.  There was a quiet channel between this lake and a much smaller one that was partially weed choked and a bit shallow.  There was a sharp change between the deeper water in the lake and the shallow channel, making it a favorite for the local bass.  Especially at this time of the morning, Michael could usually count on bringing home a good haul.

Bonnie was sitting in the bow of the boat, in front of the glass shield to the left of the captain's chair.  Her hair was whipping around in the breeze; she had forgotten to tie it back before they left.  Michael decided that she must dye it since it was still the same beautiful chocolate brown it had always been.  Idly he wondered if she had ever gone through a phase where she dyed it different colors.  He chuckled a little at the idea of her being a platinum blonde.  Somehow he just couldn’t see it.

But what he could see was having her here on a more permanent basis.  He knew that she probably had no interest in living at the cabin, but he wished there was some way to get her west of the Mississippi at least.  He made a mental note to talk to Kitt about it. 

They reached the channel and Michael cut the motor.  He let the boat drift a while before they reached a good spot and threw out the anchor.  It splashed in the shallow water, sinking to rest in a bed of weeds.  He pulled in the bright yellow line and tied it off.

Bonnie stood and carefully joined him in the rear of the boat.  Michael had brought along several rods and reels.  He picked out a good one and handed it to her.  “You have to at least try a few casts.”

She looked skeptical but accepted the pole anyway. 

“You need a refresher?”

“Hmm, I think I know the basics. Cast it out, wind it back in.  As I recall, it isn’t rocket science.”

“Pretty much.”  Michael picked out two shiny lures from his tackle box and tied each one to a line.

He had to admit he was surprised when she was able to fairly competently cast out the lure on her first attempt.  It didn’t go very far, but a part of him had been worried about getting a hook in the face.  She half-heartedly continued casting while Michael set up his own pole and joined her. 

Before long, Michael had a strike.  He stood up and yanked the pole back, setting the hook.  Judging by the amount of bend in the pole, the fish was probably a good size.  He watched as the line sliced through the water, giving away the trajectory of the fish as it headed for a weed bed.  Michael pulled as hard as he could to redirect it, having lost too many wrestling matches with fish in weeds.  After letting it run for a while to tire it out, he wrangled the fish toward the boat and scooped it out of the water with a net.  Bonnie had stopped casting and was just watching him.  The brown and green speckled fish flipped over and over as Michael set it on the floor of the boat before hoisting it into the livewell. 

“See, it’s a lot more than cast and wind in.  There’s a sport to it.” 

Bonnie just nodded.  Michael thought she looked a little distracted. 

After inspecting his lure, Michael went back to casting.  It wasn’t long before he had four fish.  Bonnie had stopped making any attempt to cast her own line and was instead just watching him.  Actually, Michael found it a bit disconcerting because she wasn’t saying much.  He wondered what was going through her head.

After landing a fifth fish, Michael was ready to call it a morning.  Bonnie was staring into the livewell, watching the fish as they hovered in the tank with only a few flicks of their fins and tails.

“Do you ever feel bad for them?” Bonnie asked.

“For the fish?  No, why?”

“I don’t know,” she said in a wistful voice. “They’re minding their own business, swimming in their lake, not bothering anyone.  One day they grab a bite of their usual breakfast and someone sets a hook in them and yanks then right out of the only world they know.  They’re in pain and they can’t breathe and then they get thrown into a little tank where they can’t even really swim, probably completely confused about what happened to them.”

“Well, I never looked at it like that, but I doubt fish consciously think.  They aren’t really very smart.”

“No, but they feel pain and they have an instinct to try to protect themselves.  That’s why they head for the weeds when they get hooked.  They're trying desperately to stay where they are but they're fighting against a force that’s much bigger and stronger.”

“If it makes you feel better, we could throw them back.”

Bonnie shrugged.  “It probably wouldn’t do any good anyway.  They’ve been injured and scarred.  It’s probably just better to keep then where they are, isolated in their tank.  Who knows, maybe every time they see a nice worm in the water, they’ll be too afraid to eat it.  Maybe they’ll just always assume that something is going to yank them back into the air.”

Michael set his tackle down and walked over to the livewell.  He stared inside at the five lonely creatures.  “Fish have notoriously short memories.  If we let them go, they’d probably take the first worm to come their way.”

“Accept for the ones with injured mouths or the one you snagged through the eye.”

“They’ll eat because it’s what they need to do to survive.”  Michael reached down and hooked one under the jaw with his finger.  He pulled it up and supported its weight with his other hand.  “Believe it or not, I’ve caught many fish that have scars from previous encounters with a hook.  They get put back in their natural environment and their wounds heal.  They adapt and keep swimming,” he said.  He set the fish in the water and let it go.  The bass hovered at the surface, motionless for a moment.  Then it suddenly flipped its tail and disappeared down into the water.

"See, it only takes them a few minutes to figure out where they are and get their instincts back."

Michael watched Bonnie as she watched the fish.  Then he stuck his hand back into the livewell and one by one, returned all the fish to the lake.

* * *

Michael returned from his evening fishing expedition and tied the boat to the pier.  Bonnie had been in a morose mood the rest of the day, so he had decided to go alone.  He hadn't expected to catch much and he was right - it had rained all afternoon so the fish had eaten their fill - but he needed to get out of the cabin.  Michael put his fishing gear away in the cabinets on the dock and then wandered back toward the house.  He was about to go inside when he spotted Kitt and decided to spend some time with him instead.  Kitt looked dark and mysterious parked next to the garage, the red of his skin barely visible in the pool of light in front of the garage door.  Michael could almost get used to this low-light color red on his partner, if only it stayed this hue in broad daylight.

"Hello, Michael," Kitt said, his scanner popping to life, flowing like fire in the darkness.

"Hi, Kitt."  Michael tried to decide if it would be okay to sit on his hood.  It was a common occurrence in their former life, but now he didn't know how Kitt would feel about it.  He took a chance and patted the hood.  "Do you mind?"

"No.  Go ahead."

Michael perched next to the windshield, and swung his legs up.  The new car didn't have the homey feel of the old Trans Am.  It had the same smooth texture, but it just wasn’t as comfortable.  The windshield’s slope was too gradual, causing him to lie back awkwardly.  While he normally tried to fight pointless nostalgia, he did miss Kitt’s old black body.

"Are you bored here?" Michael asked, feeling guilty that there really wasn’t anything for his partner to do.  Former partner, he thought.

"No.  I don't get bored, Michael. But I do have a, what would you call it, a lack of purpose perhaps."

Michael nodded.  "I wish there was something more for you to do."

"Well, if you care to work on the Chevy, again, I'd be happy to lend you a diagnostic hand," Kitt volunteered.

Michael hadn’t thought of the Chevy as a project that they could do together, but then, why not?  Kitt certainly understood cars.

"I do still have a lot of refurbishing to do after its swim in the ocean."  Over the last month, the Chevy had broken down several times.  Michael was still finding water damage in places he hadn't expected.

"That certainly didn't do its systems any favors.  My scans indicate that you’re going to have to do some machining to replace all the damaged parts.  I thought that perhaps, with my precision laser, I could help with that as well."

So he was bored, Michael thought.  But he did seem to be trying to find things they could do together, and Michael appreciated it.  If Kitt was looking for ways to spend time with him, then he didn't see their relationship ending just because Michael was no long with the Foundation and he had a new partner.

"That would be nice. I’d like to have a project to do together."

"It is different, Michael, but I do enjoy spending time with you, and Bonnie.  Even if it means that I’ll be spending a fair amount of time in the driveway."

Michael contemplated that.  "Speaking of Bonnie, I was thinking it would be nice if we could convince her to move out this direction.  I hate for her to be all the way out in Boston."

"I agree that it would be nice if she were closer."

"Willing to help me gang up on her and convince her of that?" Michael asked.

"It depends.  What did you have in mind?"

"I was thinking we could find a list of jobs or something that she could do in the area."

"Why don't we try to convince her to come back to the Foundation?" Kitt asked.

Now why hadn’t he thought of that, Michael wondered?  But then, there were some complications.  "And make her work for Maddock?  I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"You left me to work for Maddock."

Good point, Michael thought.  And the Foundation was fairly close -- it was only a two hour drive to Seattle -- and Kitt would have an ally against Maddock.  "Do you think there's any chance she'd do it?"

"She said she'd consider it when I asked her."

"You asked her?  When?"

"On the drive out.  I'd very much like for her to come back," Kitt said matter-of-factly.

"Me too."  Michael was warming up to the idea more and more.  "So how do we convince her?"

"I'm not sure Michael, but I think it will have to be handled delicately.  It didn't seem like she was convinced when we discussed it."

"Okay.  What do you say you and I make it our goal to convince her?"

"An excellent idea, Michael."

*  * *

Bonnie took her mug of coffee and her laptop out to the picnic table. Michael had already left for his normal morning fishing trip.  She idly wondered if he always went by himself or if there were ever actually people around for the 'charter.'

She swung a leg over the bench and was arranging her laptop when Kitt approached her.

"Good morning, Bonnie," he said. 

"Good morning."

"I was wondering if you would be interested in going on that mountain drive that got postponed a few days ago."

Bonnie looked down at her laptop and hesitated.  She had been hoping to get a little work done.  Her boss had left her a voicemail asking her to make a few updates to one of her projects, and she didn’t like leaving him in the lurch.  She looked at Kitt again.  She didn't like seeing him alone in the driveway all the time either.  Work could probably wait for a few hours.

"Sure.  That sounds like fun,” she said, folding up her laptop again.

* * *

They were on a twisting, turning road that overlooked the lake.  As it wound higher into the mountains, the lake seemed to be retreating, pulling away from them.  The windows were down and Bonnie could smell the prickly odor of pine.

They were going much faster than the conditions of the road would suggest was possible.  Kitt was obviously challenging himself by calculating just how fast he could shoot through the hairpin turns without his tires leaving the pavement."

"So do you like your new partner, Kitt?" Bonnie asked.

"It's hard to say.  As I've mentioned before, she's very inexperienced.  She's not what you would call a nice or warm person either.  But maybe we're well matched that way."

"Why would you say that?  You're warm and caring."

"I just mean that she compliments my more analytical side.  I understand her because she's logical."

"You see something of yourself in her?"

"Yes.  And it goes beyond that chip of mine in her head," Kitt said with a chuckle in his voice. 

"Maybe that will work well for you," Bonnie said, fighting her natural discomfort with the idea of someone other than Michael being Kitt's partner.

"That is possible, but I have concerns about it.  I've always thought that Michael and I were well suited to each other because his instincts and hunches balanced out my analytical approach and vice versa.  The fact that we approached a case with different perspectives made both of us necessary.  When he got so wrapped up in his hunches and instincts about people that he got away from the facts, I could bring him back.  And when I got too focused on details and evidence that didn't add up, Michael could bring his understanding of human motivation into it and explain the inconsistencies.  I feel that Shawn and I are missing that interaction."

"She might develop that over time."

"Perhaps, but its not the same.  She isn't a people person like Michael."

"I'm sure its hard having a new partner, but I really hope it works out for you."

"I hope so too."

As they drove, they came to an overlook and Kitt pulled in. Bonnie got out and walked to the edge, stretching her legs and enjoying the sunshine for a few minutes. Off in the distance, she could see the lake and the cabin as tiny specs below.

"Bonnie, if you look to your left, there’s a Red-tailed Hawk gliding on the thermals."

She followed his directions, and sure enough, there was a large bird, soaring gracefully, high above the treetops.

"It's beautiful, isn’t it?" she said.

"Yes.  If you want to see it close up, you  . . ."

Bonnie turned around, surprised when Kitt stopped mid-sentence.  "Kitt?"

For a second, he didn't respond.  Bonnie took a few steps toward him, just in time to see the blue sparks as they erupted from his dash.

"Kitt!!"

Bonnie ran over and pulled the door open.  He seemed to be arcing through his dash near the passenger side.

"Kitt?"

When he didn't answer, Bonnie reached down and pulled the lever to pop the hood.  She had no idea where main power was, but if he was arcing, she had to do something quickly.  She ran around to the front of the car and looked for anything helpful, but nothing looked familiar, except for the little black box that was resting on a ledge, nestled behind the engine.  Despite her better judgment, she reached in to pull the connections.  She was glad none of them were hot - either electrically or thermally.  It was a good sign for Kitt and saved her a nasty burn across her palm, or worse.  Now that his CPU was safe, Bonnie focused on finding some way to kill power to whatever system was malfunctioning.  The sparks had abated somewhat; but there was still an ominous crackling from somewhere in the depths of the car’s electronics.  She pulled power from the main battery, but she could still hear the errant electricity.  Of course, that would have been too easy.  The old body had had several auxiliary power units and she was sure this one was no different.

After hunting quickly, she spotted a red box.  Pulling it open, Bonnie found a set of relays.  She pulled the output to the box and everything went quiet.  She took a deep breath and calmed down.  Now that she had a minute to think without worrying about additional damage, she remembered that Kitt had been in the process of showing her the hawk.  Perhaps something had happened when he accessed his video monitor.  Bonnie hoped that Kitt still minded her admonishments and kept a toolbox in his trunk.  He always had in the old days. 

Bonnie popped the trunk and was relived to see a box filled with the basics.  A screwdriver, soldering iron, pliers, and other tools were neatly laid out inside.  Bonnie took the toolbox back to Kitt’s passenger cabin and contemplated the charred dash in front of her.  The scoring did seem to be confined to the area around the video monitor.  She painstakingly removed it and wasn’t surprised to find that the circuit board behind it was still hot to the touch and covered with melted and blown parts.  Bonnie carefully pried it out of its rack and set it on the seat next to her. 

She poked around until she was convinced that the other boards nearby hadn’t been extensively damaged.  Soot covered most of them, but other than that, she didn’t see anything wrong.  Bonnie wanted to be sure before she risked powering Kitt up again though.  She wasn’t familiar with his systems anymore and she was very concerned about his CPU.  She contemplated the destroyed board on the seat next to her.  Following the pattern of the burns back, it looked like the problem was with the connector.  She examined the pins and realized two of them were bent together and shorting.  That would be enough to cause quite a problem depending on what signals those pins carried.  But why hadn’t Kitt’s self-diagnostics caught that weeks ago?  No one had done any work on him.  Bonnie tried to remember if she had seen Kitt use that video monitor.  He had used the main screen when Maddock called, but she couldn’t remember him using what she assumed was the backup.  To have a problem like this was shoddy workmanship at best.  She was starting to wonder who they had working at the Foundation these days.

Bonnie finished putting everything back and nervously reapplied power.  Nothing sparked and everything, except for the monitor, seemed to come back online.  She wished she knew more about Kitt’s new systems and how they interacted before reconnecting Kitt’s CPU. Saying a quick prayer, she powered up the CPU and waited impatiently for Kitt to go back online.

“Kitt?”

There was a long pause.  “. . . can view the hawk on my number two monitor.”

“Kitt?”

“I’m sorry, it seems my number two monitor is out.  Oh dear, how embarrassing.”

“Kitt, that isn’t the only thing.  It went out with quite a bang.  Are you okay?  Do you have self-diagnostics that you can run?”

“Oh dear.  It seems several of my boards are going to have to be run through a solvent bath.”

“Kitt, the connector pins on your video card were bent.  Did you pick that up on any of your self-diagnostics earlier?”

“No, Bonnie.  But they haven’t been completely refined for this vehicle yet.  They’re fairly rudimentary.”

Bonnie shook her head.  That would have been one of the first things she would have done.  On a system as complex and delicate as Kitt, it was foolish not to.  Again, she wondered who was working on him.  “Don’t worry, Kitt.  I’ll do what I can to get this cleaned up.”

“Thank you, Bonnie.  What would I do without you?”

* * *

Michael pushed open the slightly ajar garage door and smiled when he saw Kitt’s hood up and Bonnie balanced under it.  The overhead lamp in the garage cast an area of light around the car, and Bonnie had supplemented it with a bright yellow work lantern hung from the top of Kitt’s hood.  Michael laughed when he realized that she had made herself at home, having moved the Chevy and helped herself to his tools.

“What’s going on?” he asked as he approached the two.

Bonnie popped her head around the hood.  “Would you believe that Kitt had something of a fireworks display in his cabin today?”

Michael plastered a look of concern on his face.  “Really.  Is he okay?”

“Yes, its mostly cosmetic damage, but it gave me quite a scare.  Did you know that his self-diagnostics can’t even detect a short in his video systems?”

“Ahhh, over my head,” Michael said.

Bonnie laughed.  “He didn’t know he had a problem and when he tried to access his number two video monitor, it blew sparks everywhere.  If I had a schematic I could give you a more detailed explanation.”

“That’s okay.  Really.”

“Anyway, you’re a little short on electronics tools here, but I think I’ve got most everything cleaned up.  I borrowed a little turpentine.”

“Among other things,” Michael smirked.

“What did you expect me to do?” she asked, glaring at him.

“Nothing less,” Michael smiled.  “You look at home in there.”

“Despite being in completely foreign terrain, it does feel good to be under the hood again,” she said, retreating into her pool of lantern light.

Michael smiled to himself and decided to leave her to the repairs.

* * *

Kitt watched as Bonnie pulled open the patio door, her laptop case swinging at her side.

“Good morning,” she said, waving him over.

“Good morning, Bonnie.  I hope you got enough sleep after being up so late last night fixing my systems.”

“I slept well, thank you and I’ve got a little idea.  How about I work on updating your self-diagnostics a bit.”

Uh-oh, he thought.  “You don’t need to do that.  Why don’t you just enjoy your time off?”

“I’d like to.  It would be useful for you and it would give me something to do while Michael’s off fishing.”

Kitt wished Michael was here now, instead of out on the boat.  He activated the comlink and sent him a message.  He didn’t know what to say to Bonnie.  He didn’t want to out and out lie to her, or at least not any more than he already had.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course.  I used to do this stuff in my sleep and I have to admit I miss it.  It’ll be a fun little challenge.  Do you have the code stored locally?”

Kitt toyed with the idea of lying and saying he didn’t, but somehow, he didn’t think she’d let it end there.  He was starting to feel trapped.  Maybe he should just lie anyway, but then he’d have more to answer to.  “Yes.”

“Good.  Why don’t you send it to my email and I’ll get started on it,” she said, smiling again.  “It’s terrible that you don’t even have a way of knowing if your systems aren’t operating correctly.”

“Okay,” he mumbled.

“This will be fun,” she said, turning to leave. 

Kitt watched her go and then slunk into the garage to wait for Michael to return.

* * *

“We have to tell her, Michael,” Kitt said plaintively.

Michael shook his head.  This was not going according to plan.  “You’re sure she’ll figure it out?”

“Of course, Michael.  It’ll be obvious when she looks it over that the code as it's written would have caught the problem with my video monitor.”

Michael didn’t like this at all; she was going to be mad.  He was trying to think of some way to phrase it that would make it sound noble, but nothing he tried in his mind sounded remotely reasonable.

“Okay, you’re right.  We need to tell her before she finds out for herself.”

“Finds out what?”  Bonnie asked coldly, as she appeared at the door.

Michael turned to face her and saw that she was standing with her arms crossed.  She obviously already knew.

“Sorry,” he said.  “Kitt and I have a little confession to make.”

“That you lied and intentionally created the sparks yesterday?” she filled in for him.

“Yeah.  Sorry.  Probably not our smartest move.”

“I’d say not.  I can’t believe you intentionally damaged him,” Bonnie said, setting her stance and staring Michael down.  “Don’t you have any regard for his safety anymore?”

Other than letting him be deactivated, Michael thought.  “Of course I do.  He suggested the video monitor himself.”

“I hate to say it, Bonnie, but we were in on this one together,” Kitt offered sheepishly.

“Why?” she asked glaring back and forth between the two of them.

“We just wanted to remind you how much you liked working on him.  That’s all.  Can you blame us for wanting you to come back?” 

“No.  But what you did was manipulative at best.  If you wanted me to come back why didn’t you just ask?”

“Because we didn’t think you would be willing,” Kitt answered truthfully.

“So you thought trying to trick me would be better?”

Neither of them answered.

“I really think I need to go,” Bonnie said, turning her back to them.

“Go where?” Michael asked.

“Back to Boston.” 

“Why?  What do you have back there for you?  A lonely house?”  Michael called after her, trying to get her attention, not wanting her to walk out and leave.

She stopped and slowly turned around to face him again.  “I may not have a picket fence and 2.5 kids, but at least I have family there.  Look around, Michael.  Neither one of us is the picture of ‘well-adjusted,’” she said quietly – angry, but in a resigned, tired way.  Then she turned and left the garage.

Michael didn’t know what to say.  He knew she was right.  He hadn’t been trying to hurt her but he was feeling more and more desperate not to lose her.

“That didn’t go well,” Kitt said.

“You’re full of help,” Michael said and sighed.  “I’ll go talk to her.”

Michael followed Bonnie into the house but stopped in the kitchen to collect his thoughts, before venturing into the spare room.  She had already pulled her bag out of the closet.  It was lying open on the bed, spread apart and empty as she folded a blue sweater against her chest. 

“I’m sorry for what I said.  It’s not that I think you don’t have anything in Boston.  It’s just that I want you to stay.”

“You have a funny way of showing it.”

“I’m sorry.  We definitely screwed up, but do you understand why we did it?  We’re family too.  Kitt and I.”

“I know that.  And I do miss being with you both, but being out here like this, it’s just not . . . healthy.”

She picked up a pair of black pants and quickly folded them, slipping them inside the bag. 

“Bonnie, I enjoy being with you.  I don’t want you to go.”

She cocked her head slowly and paused, like she was waiting for more.  Then she sighed.  “Michael, this is like two people hiding out from the world and being lonely together.  It doesn’t solve anything.”

Michael laughed humorlessly.  “It’s better than being lonely alone, isn’t it?”

She set down the shirt she had picked up.  Michael saw it as an opening. Even if they couldn’t convince her to come back, he at least didn’t want her to leave like this.  He wanted to part on good terms this time.  “Just stay the week, like we planned.”

She paused, indecisively. 

“We’ll be on our best behavior.  I promise.”

“No more schemes?”

“No.  Everything will be on the up and up.”

She looked down at her bag again and Michael sensed that he had won.  She didn’t look angry anymore. 

“Okay.  But I’m really not staying beyond that, Michael.  I can’t.”

“Alright.”  He approached her cautiously and wrapped her in a careful hug.  “I’m sorry about what I said.  I know you have a life,” he said to her hair.
 
 

Chapter 3





Michael took his seat as Mary set the bowl of pasta down on the table with a flourish.  Bonnie followed behind her, balancing the sauce in one hand and holding a bottle of red wine in the other.  Michael glanced over at Zeke and smirked; Zeke had taken his napkin and tucked it into his collar like a child.   When Mary spotted it, she groaned in exasperation, "I can't take you anywhere.  Take that out of your collar and stop clowning.  Bonnie was nice enough to make you dinner, now behave."

Zeke pulled the napkin out of his shirt but there wasn't a hint of remorse on his face.  "She was kind enough to make me dinner and I'm kind enough to provide the entertainment."

"Oh honestly!" Mary said sitting next to him and apparently deciding not to push it any further. 

Michael caught the devious twinkle as Zeke saw that his wife was no longer looking at him.  Michael wondered how they managed to stay married when he antagonized her so much. 

"Usually Michael's the entertainment,” Bonnie said.  “He might feel threatened if you take the spotlight from him.”

"Now how did I get dragged into this?  I was sitting here minding my own business," Michael protested.

"You invited him," Mary said, in her more subtle southern accent. 

Michael picked up the first bowl and scooped pasta onto his plate before handing it to Mary.  As the rest of bowls made the rounds, Zeke finally received the primavera and dragged the ladle through it slowly.  "Mighty sneaky of you Bonnie, hiding the vegetables in the sauce like this.  I think Mike here's going to have to actually eat’em."

Bonnie smirked as Michael feigned innocence.  "Come on.  I eat them from time to time."

"Yeah, when Mary hides’em in her sauce."

"What is this, pick on Michael night?"

Zeke laughed at the pun.  "Now you know that's every night.  Ain't nuthin' different about that.”

"Eat your pasta, Zeke," Michael said, picking up his own fork.

Mary glanced up at Bonnie.  "Kids," she said with a knowing grin.  Bonnie smiled uncomfortably and Michael cringed.  Mary had been at it with the matchmaker crap all night and he wished she’d just give it a rest.  Especially after the argument he’d had with Bonnie the other day, he didn’t want to do anything to give her another reason to leave. 

Michael dug into his pasta and smiled.  “Well, despite the insidious plan to trick me into eating veggies, its very good, Bonnie."

She glanced up at him, obviously relieved.  "Thanks.  It was one of my mother's favorites."

"It is very good.  And you know the way to a man's heart is through his stomach," Mary said smiling too brightly.

Michael had to work to stop the groan that was about to springboard over his lips.  He saw Bonnie tense up and it looked like she was about to say something when Zeke jumped in.  "And she complains about my behavior.  Sorry, Bonnie, don't you pay her no mind."

Michael was surprised by his change of attitude.  He had been full of winks when they’d run into him the first day at the cabin.  But then Zeke was nothing if not observant.  He probably realized that things were more complicated than they might seem.  Michael was glad to see Bonnie relax a little bit.  He was feeling guilty about getting her into this. 
 

* * *

Bonnie cringed as another clatter rang out from the kitchen.  “Michael, you’re supposed to wash the dishes, not break them.”

Michael appeared around the corner, with his hands full of soapsuds.  “Ah, but breaking them is so much more fun.”  He grinned and vanished back into the kitchen, presumably to finish the dishes.  Zeke and Mary had planned to go into Seattle in the morning so they had left early.  Bonnie heard the water run and then stop.  “You know, I’ll just get these tomorrow,” he called, before returning to the main room with the half empty second bottle of wine in hand. 

Bonnie was sitting on the couch with her legs crossed and her glass dangling from one hand perched on her knee.  Michael carefully filled her glass and set the remainder of the wine on the table in front of her.  He then flopped down on the couch and playfully bumped against her, causing the wine in her glass to rock precariously.

“You know, it’s your couch that this is going to spill on,” she said, leaning into him slightly.

“Not my fault you can’t hold your liquor,” Michael said, grinning.

She rolled her eyes.  “Are you ever serious?”

“You know better than to ask that.”  Michael pulled away enough to face her.  “But actually, I am going to be serious for a minute.  I’m sorry about Mary.”

Bonnie shrugged. “It’s okay.  I guess I would probably jump to the same conclusion if I were in her place.”

“Yeah, but she tends to be outspoken about everything.  Sorry if she made you uncomfortable.”

“It’s okay.  I had a good time.  They’re nice people,” she said.  But there was something she was wondering about.  “Did you explain to Zeke,” she asked, not sure if she really wanted to hear the answer. 

“No.”  Michael said resting back against the couch again.  “I’m sure he figured it out for himself.  Zeke plays the redneck thing for all it’s worth, but he’s actually very cunning about people.  He’s always paying attention to gestures and expressions, filing away everything he sees.  It comes from the special ops training I guess.”

Bonnie wondered what exactly Zeke had seen about her.  The thought made her a little nervous.  She studied the dark red liquid in the glass in front of her and tried to ignore the warmth of Michael’s arm against hers. 

“But I can talk to him if it bothers you,” Michael said.

“No.  That wasn’t what I meant.  I think it would have bothered me more if you had talked to him.”

Michael looked at her oddly.  “Why?”

That was more than she’d meant to say – the wine and having him so close were bad for her judgment.  Bonnie tried to find the words to explain, but of course they wouldn’t come.  She tried to think of an excuse, something that would mask what she had been feeling.  But then, they had done that so many times – come to a possible turning point in their relationship and then deliberately turned back.  Maybe it was time to go forward for a change.  She contemplated his soulful blue eyes and impulsively decided that it would be easier to show him than tell him.  Bonnie leaned in tentatively, and kissed him.  She was surprised and relieved when he returned the kiss and put his hand on her neck.  It was a friendly kiss, careful and curious, but still holding so much hidden longing. 

After a moment Michael pulled back and looked down at her, his eyes filled with confusion.  It mirrored the apprehension she was feeling.  She wanted to be with him, but there was just so much that was standing in the way.  She was overwhelmed with how quickly things went from being so simple and pure to being so complicated.

Bonnie dodged his eyes, staring at the beige of the couch instead.  "I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have done that," she said and stood.  "I'm sorry."  She turned and retreated into the kitchen. 

Michael listened to the water in the sink for a moment before following her.  He was not at all prepared for her to kiss him, but he didn’t want her apologizing for it.  He just never would have thought.

She had already dunked the rest of the plates and silverware into the sink and was refilling it with hot water.  He gingerly put a hand on her shoulder.  “You don’t have to apologize.  I just wasn’t expecting that. At all really.  But it was nice.  Very nice,” he said awkwardly.  “I’m just surprised that after everything, you’d be at all interested in a relationship like that.”

"I . . . just."  She turned, leaning against the counter and stared up to the ceiling.  "I've just had this stupid notion in my head for a long time."

"To kiss me?" he asked, surprised.

"No," she said, a bit flustered.  "Well, yes.  But not exactly.  I’ve had this stupid notion of us.  Of us somehow getting together.”

“In a relationship?” Michael asked, trying to clarify.

“Michael, I’ve had a lot of time alone to think.  I’ve spent a lot of that time trying to figure out my life and what I want from it.  I’ve dated a few people over the years, but none of those relationships ever seemed quite right.  At some point I think I just realized that what I was looking for was you."

Michael was still trying to catch up.  A part of him had always thought that she was running from him as much as Devon.  He had been afraid that even friendship would be asking too much from her.  "Then why didn't you ever try to get in touch?"

"I don't know.  I thought that it wouldn't be fair.  That it would be way too complicated."  She looked at him directly again.  "There's just so much baggage that I figured it was best to just leave it be."

"And what, stay in Boston holding a candle?"

"No.  I guess I just thought that if we ever met again, fine, but if not, it was probably for the best."  She sighed.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to put this on you.  I .  . . It was just stupid. I'm sorry."

"No.  It’s not stupid.  Not at all."  Michael said, trying to figure out how to put into words what he was feeling.  "I guess I wasn’t even letting myself hope that you would be interested in something like this.  I was still operating under the assumption that you didn’t really want to see me.  I guess Kitt isn't the only one who felt a little bit abandoned."

Her brow furrowed as she pieced together what he was saying.  "You thought I left because of you?"

"Oh, I knew it was mostly Devon, but I figured I was part of it too."

She slowly took a step closer.  "No.  It was very hard leaving you, Michael.  Even though things were so complicated, I still needed you.  You were the only one I could talk to about everything.  But everything was just so overwhelming.  I needed some time away."

"To be honest, I think that's part of the reason I didn't look you up either.  I probably needed that time too."

She nodded.  "I'm sorry.  This a big mine field and I shouldn't have started traipsing through it."

She turned back to the dishes, pulling them out of the soapy sink and rinsing them in the clear water from the tap.  Michael studied her, his head spinning.  He knew he needed her.  As soon as she had agreed to travel with them back to Washington, he had felt like he was home -- like maybe things would start to make sense again.  Apparently, she wasn't the only one holding a candle.

He took a step toward her and cautiously wrapped an arm around her waist, coaxing her to turn around again.  "I happen to be pretty good at navigating minefields, actually.  Lots of practice."

She looked up at him and he took the opportunity to lean down and kiss her, softly at first, more like a gentle caress.  He slid one hand up along her neck and then through her hair as she wrapped both arms around his waist.  The kiss deepened and Bonnie was caught off guard by the intensity of her reaction.  She pulled him closer, wanting to feel as much of him as possible.  She freed a corner of his shirt, slipped her hand under the soft material, and drew long arcs on his smooth back.  Michael broke the kiss, then tipped her head to the side and traced the line of her jaw and neck with slow kisses.  When he returned to her mouth, he was more insistent, more passionate.  Her hands roamed under his shirt, exploring his lean, muscular stomach and chest.  She closed her eyes and savored the intensity of their kisses, the feel of his skin, the warmth of his mouth.  It all swirled around her head in an intoxicating mixture. 

Michael was weaving his fingers through her hair, combing all the way to the ends as he kissed her.  She slid her hands down over his jeans to cup and knead his ass through the rough material.  He sighed and stopped, his hands resting just behind her temples as he pulled back to look her directly in the eyes.

"If at any time you start to feel uncomfortable, say something.  We can stop this at any point," he said, seriously.

She nodded before finding her voice, "I will."

He studied her for a moment, his eyes driving home his sincerity.  Then he quickly pecked her lips once more and took her hand, leading her up to his room in the loft. 

They stole a few kisses along the stairway railing before they reached the top.  Then Michael pulled her close, his fingers still laced in hers and kissed the back of her hand.  Bonnie watched him as he touched his thumb to her chin and slowly stroked down her neck, to the middle of her chest.  He paused, waiting there like he was giving her time to object before he gently cupped her breast and stroked his thumb across her nipple.  Even through her cotton shirt and bra it sent shivers down her body.  She knew she wanted him, but there was a little anxiety in the mix, a bit of edge to the anticipation.

Bonnie lifted Michael's shirt and he helped her get it over his head.  She admired his chest and arms before running her hands slowly down his torso, teasing his nipples.  She was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath and an inward ripple of his stomach muscles. 

Michael carefully unbuttoned her shirt and slid it off her shoulders.  He lifted the strap of her black lace bra and ran one finger under it, slowly trailing over her shoulder and down her back before undoing the clasp. 

"You are so beautiful," Michael murmured as the bra fell away. He put a hand on her hip and guided her back toward the bed. He reached down to pull away the comforter and lowered them both onto the sheets.

Michael propped himself up on his side and leaned over her, kissing the sensitive skin around her collarbone.  He worked his way down to the swell of her breasts and kissed one while stroking the other with his free hand.  She moaned softly when his tongue flicked back and forth across her nipple.  Michael shifted to continue kissing down her stomach.  He flicked little circles around her navel with his tongue and slid a hand along the edge of her jeans.  But then he stopped and returned to kissing her lips, insistently, passionately.  Bonnie got the sense that he was waiting for her to set the pace.  She found that touching and erotic at the same time. 

She rolled toward him and smoothly guided him onto his back, letting her breasts brush his chest.  She undid the buckle on his belt and lowered the zipper on his jeans.  He lifted his hips so that she could pull the jeans down and remove them.  Bonnie admired the impressive swell of his erection, pushing against his underwear.

“I would have worn something nicer if I had known,” he said, indicating the plain white briefs.

“That’s okay, next time,” Bonnie said beguilingly.

She combed her hand though his chest hair and around his nipples before reaching down and stroking his constrained shaft.  Michael shuddered slightly and closed his eyes again.  She carefully pulled back the waistband and removed the last article of his clothing.  She took Michael's cock in her hand, feeling the smooth, firm skin, and stroked slowly.  Michael took in a quick breath and let it out as a low moan.  Turned on by his response, Bonnie leaned down, and starting at the base, ran her tongue up his shaft.  When she reached the head she engulfed him in her mouth and took him in as far as she could. 

Michael groaned and arched his back as his fist opened and closed at his side.  She licked his head, getting just a hint of the salty taste.  Michael's breathing had gotten shallower.  Bonnie paused when she glanced at him and found him staring back, his eyes painted with desire.  "I want to be inside you," he said, his voice low and gravelly.

Hearing him say it out loud brought Bonnie a rush of emotions, desire and longing were washing over her and drowning everything else out.  The anxiety she had felt earlier was gone.  She trusted Michael implicitly.  "I think that can be arranged," she said, her voice breathy and low.

It was Michael's turn to unbutton her jeans.  His hands slid along the curve of her hips and hooked her panties, sliding them off as well.  He slid his hand back up, along her leg, caressing her inner thigh and slowly, deliberately teasing her as he spiraled inward and upward.  Bonnie moaned in frustration as he came close to touching her but circled away at the last minute. 

“Please,” she said, the anticipation filling her.

“Since you asked politely,” he said with grin.  He rolled to be on top of her, bracing his upper body above her on his elbows.  She felt the weight of his hips and the bulge of his cock against her lower body.  Michael kissed her and then stroked her cheek, looking her directly in the eye.  "Are you sure about this?"

"Yes.  I want you."

"I'm very glad the feeling is mutual,” he said, looking her over.

Bonnie closed her eyes and felt the swell of pleasure as he slid inside her, filling her.  He kissed her lips and neck as he pressed slowly in and out.  The heat between them was overwhelming and she clung to him, her arms around his lower back.  He moved one hand to pinch and stroke her nipple, causing tremors that were pushing her toward the edge.  He kept up the slow, steady rhythm as she arched and moaned underneath him.  She was losing herself in the haze of sensations.  She tightened her grip on him feeling the climax coming.  "Oh, Michael," she cried out before taking in a sharp breath and holding it as everything inside her released, sending tingling waves through every nerve of her body. 

Bonnie took several minutes to catch her breath.  Michael kept up the slow, steady rhythm while she recovered.  Then he began to move quicker, with more urgency, his body shaking slightly.  He was thrusting deeper and faster.  She moaned again at the overwhelming heat between their bodies.  He responded to her by leaning forward and desperately trying to kiss her, his mouth warm and wet.  He pressed down hard on her lips, not moving his, just keeping the contact between them in a wide, open kiss.  He made one last thrust and held himself deep inside her.  He let out a primal groan of release into her mouth before collapsing against her, raining little kisses on her lips and face.

"That was wonderful," he said, panting.

"Yes, it was," she said, reveling in the closeness of his body. 

As they both caught their breath, Bonnie nuzzled into Michael’s neck, overwhelmed with the need to keep him close.  His skin was warm from the exertion and she felt like her own skin was melding with his.  It seemed appropriate and long over due – her heart had melded with his a long time ago.

* * *

The first thing Bonnie noticed was the light through the bedroom window turning the insides of her eyelids red and waking her up.  The covers were making it a little warmer than comfortable so she threw off the quilt and rolled over.  She opened her eyes when she realized that Michael wasn't within her reach.  A sick feeling crept into her stomach when she saw that he wasn't in bed with her. 

According to the alarm clock, it was 6:30 -- earlier than Michael normally got up.  She listened to the aching silence of the house before rolling out of bed and returning to the spare room.  She found a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt in her bag and put them on before going to look for him. 

The kitchen was still a mess from the night before with stacks of pans still sitting on the counter.  Bonnie peered out the window above the sink and saw that Kitt wasn't in his usual parking place.  She folded her arms across her chest and went to sit at the table, worried about why Michael would have left.  She was afraid it was the obvious reason.

* * *

Michael tried to keep quiet as he slunk into the kitchen.  He set his packages down on the counter before he saw Bonnie standing quietly at the window.

"Good morning.  You aren't supposed to be up yet," he said, playfully.

She stared back at him, blankly.  Something wasn't right, he though.

"Where did you go?" she asked tentatively.

"We're short on coffee   I went out to get some."

She looked back out the window.

"What's wrong?"

She shrugged.  "I thought maybe you left because you regretted last night."

Now where did that come from? Michael wondered.  He went to her and pulled her close, kissing her gently.  "No, not at all.  Last night was wonderful."

She glanced back out the window, not looking entirely convinced.  He wanted very badly to tell her he loved her.  He had told her that a handful of times over the course of their friendship, but this was different.  He was afraid that if he told her now, she would just think he was trying to pacify her.  "No regrets.  I promise.”  Michael glanced over his shoulder toward the packages in the kitchen.  “In fact, stay right here . . . "

Michael grabbed the larger of the two packages on the counter.  "Coffee was one of the reasons I went out this morning.  The other was that I wanted to get you these."  She caught site of the vase at the bottom as he handed her his gift and her face broke into a bemused smile. 

Bonnie carefully pulled away the wrapper, revealing the brightest bouquet of flowers that the store had been able to put together at the last minute.  “They’re beautiful.  Thank you,” she said, setting them on the table and kissing him.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to be paranoid, but I woke up and you were gone.  I don't know why I thought the worst."

"I was planning to be back before you woke up, but obviously that didn't work.  I was looking forward to putting these on the night stand and snuggling with you," he said, relieved that she was smiling again.

"You can snuggle with me now," she said playfully.

He leaned down to kiss her again.  "That sounds wonderful."

* * *

“Where are we going?” Bonnie asked for the umpteenth time.  They had napped lazily together all morning, making love once more before Michael had insisted that they actually get up and do something.

“What do you have against surprises?” Michael asked, exasperated. 

“I just prefer to know where you’re taking me.  Kitt?”

“I’m afraid even I don’t know this time, Bonnie.  He’s driving.  We’re almost to Portland though, so that would be a safe bet.”

“If you’d have put money on that, you would’ve lost, Kitt,” Michael said with a grin.

“We’ve already passed Mount Saint Helens,” Kitt added.

“Nope, we aren’t going to there.  At least not right now.”

“But Michael, the only other thing on this road is . . .”  Kitt paused.  “Oh, Michael.  Why?”

He laughed.  “Because you guys were mean to me on the way out and wouldn’t let me stop.”

“What?” Bonnie asked before the light dawned.  “Oh, don’t tell me, a fish hatchery.”

“Nope.  Totally different.”

“Fish ladders,” Kitt filled in.  “On the Columbia River.”

Bonnie looked at Michael out of the corner of her eye.  “This is why I don’t like surprises.”

Michael grinned.  “Oh come on.  It’s a beautiful area and you never know, you might like it.”

“Remind me that you’re trouble the next you get a bright idea.”

Michael smirked.

After driving several more miles, they turned off the highway and pulled into the parking lot that appeared from out of the thick forest.  Bonnie gave him a look as they got out of the car and shook her head.  “Why am I doing this?”

“Because if you behave, there’s a candlelight dinner at an intimate little restaurant overlooking the river in it for you,” he said, pulling her closer and quickly brushing her lips with his. 

Michael took Bonnie’s hand and led her around the side of the building, catching her questioning look as he avoided the main entrance to the visitor center.  “The ladders themselves are out here.  We can go inside later.”

“It better be a very nice restaurant,” Bonnie said.

“Not to worry, you’ll like it.”

“Okay, in all seriousness then, why are we here?”

Michael pulled her over to the set of stairs that descended along side of a waterfall flowing over broad concrete steps.  “The Columbia River has always been a major artery for salmon to get to and from their spawning grounds.  When the Bonneville Dam was built, it cut off the route inland so they built a set of ladders for the fish.”

As they watched, a few fish hurled themselves from one step to the next higher one.  Bonnie wandered closer to see the dark shapes hovering under the surface in each of the pools.

“The salmon are used to swimming up stream, jumping waterfalls, logs, and other obstructions to get back to their birthplaces.  They have some inborn instinct to find their way home.  Even though it’s been years since they’ve been there and some of them have traveled hundreds of miles, they somehow know how to get back.  So the engineers put in the ladders, to give the fish a way home.”

Bonnie watched the fish jumping from pool to pool. 

“I just thought, that after our conversation about fish earlier in the week, you might like to see how truly resilient they can be,” Michael said, moving behind her and resting his hands on her shoulders.

“Okay, I get the point,” she said softly, reaching up to squeeze his right hand.  After a sizable silence she added, “So where’s my candlelight dinner?”

Michael laughed.  “Oh no.  You have to go inside too.  There’s tons of valuable information about salmon.  It would be a shame to come here and not partake.”

“But you don’t fish for salmon.”

“No.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn about them.”  He turned her around and hugged her briefly.

“I’m going to know a lot more about fish than I ever wanted to, aren’t I?”

Michael smiled.  “If I get my way, yes,” he said, leading her into the visitor’s building.

"So should I read anything into the fact that the only reason the salmon go home is to reproduce?" Bonnie asked wickedly.

"Only if you want to.  Only if you want to," Michael said with a grin.

* * *

The piece of metal pipe clattered to the ground and Kitt’s laser simultaneously shut off.  “That should be the right length to replace your rusting exhaust pipe.”

Michael picked it up and examined the cut -- almost perfectly clean.  “Thanks, Kitt.”

Bonnie had insisted that she get at least some work done today, so Michael was out in the garage with Kitt and the Chevy.  Kitt had already cataloged and prioritized everything wrong with the car, which was a little too organized for Michael’s tastes.  He mostly picked at the Chevy, but if Kitt was going to be involved, he suspected that things were going to get a lot more organized before they got haphazard again.  And that wasn’t entirely a bad thing.  It reminded them of how they used to compliment each other.

“I would remove the existing one for you, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the right angle without the Chevy being on a lift.”

“No problem, that’s why I have a torch,” Michael said glibly as he flipped down his face visor and lit the acetylene torch.  The blue flame burned viciously at the tip.  Michael carefully positioned himself to roll the dolly under the car and began to remove the exhaust pipe. 

“So,” Kitt said.  “What were the flowers for yesterday?”

Under the cover of the visor, Michael smirked.  “Peeking, huh?”

“Michael the vase was clearly visible.  And there was that candlelight dinner too.  I’m just curious.”

“Uh-huh.”

There was a long pause.  “Michael?  Are you going to tell me?”

“Only because you won’t let it drop.  The flowers were for Bonnie.”

“I gathered that much myself.  And?”

“Has anyone told you recently that you’re nosy?”

“Not since July 19, 1988.  And that was you.”

Michael slid out from under the Chevy.  “I guess you could say that there’s maybe the beginning of a relationship.”

“Michael, that’s wonderful.  It’s about time too.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh please, you and Bonnie should have been dating a couple of decades ago.”

“If you say so,” he said, smiling as he resumed his work.

The blue flame turned the metal red-hot and eventually the rusting pipe clattered to the ground and Michael rolled back out again.  He approached Kitt to pick up the replacement.

“Michael?”

“Yes?”

“I hesitate to bring this up again.  But I thought you’d like to know that I’ve come to a realization of sorts.  I can live with you not coming back to the Foundation if you promise not to lose touch.  You cannot sequester yourself out here and pretend I don’t exist.”

Michael set the pipe down and leaned against Kitt’s hood, looking through the windshield.  He had been wondering when Kitt was going to finish that particular conversation.  “I’m sorry I disappeared after Seattle.  I thought I was doing you a favor by getting out of your way – letting you and Shawn figure things out for yourselves.  I was wrong.”

“How could you think that?”

“I don’t know.  It just seemed like you should have some time to adjust to things without my interference.”

“Michael, having a sounding board and someone who understands your point of view is not interference.”

“I know.  I’m sorry.  It won’t happen again.  I promise to call or write or stop by.  Whatever.”

“I hate to invite myself, but perhaps I should be the one to stop by.”

“Of course, Kitt.  Any time.  You can come here every night if you want.  Whenever you have time, I’d love for you to be here.”

“Thank you, Michael.  If I am going to try to be the new moral core of the Foundation, I’m going to need guidance.”

Michael laughed.  “I think Devon’s rolling over right about now at the thought that I would be the guiding light to the Foundation’s moral core.”

“Good point.  Perhaps I should handle that on my own.”

Michael rapped the hood in protest.  “In all seriousness, you are always welcomed here.  And I’ll do my best to help you.  You’ve got a big task ahead of you.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“It’s good to have you back, buddy,” Michael said, finally feeling comfortable enough to use his old nickname for his friend.

“You too, Michael.”

* * *

Bonnie woke up late.  Not that there was any particular timetable, but she knew that Michael had probably already been up a few hours, although he had slipped out without waking her.  She threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and headed downstairs for some coffee.  She wandered through the kitchen and stopped short when she saw Michael out in the lake up to the tops of his waders and Kitt, a bit closer to shore, up to the bottom of his undercarriage.  What the hell were they doing, she wondered?  She poured herself a mug of coffee and ventured out onto the patio, barefoot.  The grass between the house and shore was warm and soft -- she’d slept long enough that the dew had been dried by the sun. 

Michael turned and noticed her approaching.  He took a few steps back toward shore and leaned in a bit, like he was saying something to Kitt.  Why were those two always up to something? 

“Morning, Bonnie,” Michael said, the snicker barely hidden in his voice.

“What are you two doing?”

“Fishing,” Michael responded.

Bonnie rolled her eyes, exasperated.  “I can see that you’re fishing, Michael, but why is Kitt tire-deep in water?  You know that’s not good for his systems.”

“I’m not in the water, Bonnie.  The undercarriage is MBS coated and it certainly won’t hurt my tires.  It’s perfectly safe.  I just wanted to try fishing.”

She looked down at him at a loss before she noticed the small wake headed toward him.  Amazed, she watched as a rope spiraled through the water and stopped just at his nose.  The grappling hook retracted into the stow position with a short length of fishing line attached to one of the four arms.  At the end of the line, a florescent, hook-adorned lure dangled in the water. 

“I’m starting to see the appeal,” Kitt said.  There was a sudden whoosh of air as his grappling hook deployed again, streaking out over the lake.  The lure glittered in the sun, before it splashed into the water, and Kitt began to reel it in again.

“You’re both insane,” Bonnie said, as Michael chuckled.

“Perhaps, but I caught an 18 pounder,” Kitt said, clearly pleased with himself.

Bonnie shook her head.  “I am not replacing his winch when it rusts out.”

“But I’m having fun,” Kitt said simply.

Bonnie turned on Michael.  “If you weren’t hip deep in water, you’d be in trouble.  You are the worst influence on him.  Always have been.”

“Dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.  If it were up to you, he’d never have any fun.”

Bonnie sighed deeply and turned to leave.  “I’m going to go drink my coffee while I plot your demise.”

“You know you love me,” Michael called after her, unable to suppress his grin when he heard her sharp, high ‘Hmmph.’”

* * *

Kitt watched as Bonnie approached him from the house later that afternoon.  She was wearing hiking boots and carrying her backpack.

“Feel like going for a walk, Kitt?”

“A walk?” he asked, confused.

“I was thinking of taking the dirt road around the back of the property.  Feel like following along with me?”

“Sure,” Kitt said.  He had gone fishing with Michael -- a walk wasn’t any more absurd.  He set his speed to match her as she walked along the driveway and out onto the dirt road.  Bonnie picked up a large stick and was planting it with each step.

“So things seemed to have smoothed out between you and Michael,” she said.

“Yes, I think so,” Kitt replied.  “We came to an understanding, I think.  Or maybe I came to an understanding.”

“What do you mean?”

“I realized that I can’t make him do the things I want him to do.  That I’m just going to have to accept his decisions.  He’s still the same person I care about, even if we aren’t partners anymore.”

Bonnie nodded.

“And I decided it was hurting me more to hold it against him.”

Bonnie stopped and studied Kitt before continuing on with him.

“I still want him back, but it’s worse not to have him at all, than it is to have a friendship with him.  I could stay angry, but that isn’t going to change his mind and it makes me unhappy.”

Kitt was surprised when Bonnie’s face clouded over.  She stared down at the path in front of her and then off into the woods.  “You think that’s the wrong choice?” he asked uncertainly.

She looked up sharply and shook her head, “No, I don’t.  It’s not that, I was just thinking about something else.  Sorry.  I think it’s a very mature attitude, Kitt.  It’s just a hard thing to do sometimes,” she said softly.

“I’m not completely happy with it, but I am happier than I was when I was angry about it.”

Bonnie laughed somewhat sadly.

They went a few more paces.  “So things seemed to have smoothed out between you and Michael as well,” Kitt said slyly.

Bonnie laughed and shook her head, the tension apparently broken.  “You shouldn’t be eavesdropping.”

“I do not eavesdrop!”

She looked at him with her eyebrows arched.  “How else would you know?”

“It was hard to miss the flowers he brought you and then I asked him.”

“Ah,” she said, not looking convinced.

“I don’t eavesdrop!” he said indignantly.

“Okay, okay,” she laughed.  “I believe you.”

“Sooo,” he said.

“So.  I don’t know,” she laughed.

“But you’re dating?”

“Kitt, I guess, I think.  We haven’t actually talked about that, exactly.”

Kitt couldn’t help but notice how much she was beaming.  “I’m happy for you both.”

“Thank you.”

They walked along a few more paces before Kitt continued.  “So I assume that means that you’ll be staying here?”

Bonnie's face fell.  “Kitt, I don’t know,” she said seriously.

“What do you mean?  If you and Michael are together, why wouldn’t you stay here?”

“I don’t know.  I’m not sure.  It’s complicated.”

Kitt was very tired of that word.  Things could not be as complicated as everyone kept trying to make them.  “Why wouldn’t you stay?” he asked sadly.

“I don’t know that I’m not.  It just hasn’t been figured out yet.  Maybe we’ll do a long distance thing for a while.  I don’t know.”

Illogical people.  Just when things started to make sense, they didn’t.   Kitt wished he had a head to shake.

Bonnie stopped.  “Look, you just got done saying that you had accepted that Michael wasn’t coming back to the Foundation.”

That was hardly fair, he thought.  “I also explained that I was angry and upset about it.”

“Kitt,” Bonnie ran her hand through her hair.  “I’m trying. I really am.  You just have to give me time to figure all of this out.  The last few weeks have been a bit crazy.  Okay?” 

“Okay,” he said, disappointed.  “I can’t speak for Michael, but I would like you to stay.”

“That means a lot to me, Kitt.”

Kitt just hoped it meant enough.

* * *

Michael was sitting at the picnic table with a beer watching the sunset. 

“Hello beautiful,” he said as Bonnie joined him.

“Hi,” she said, sitting next to him and leaning into his side.  He took the hint and put his arm around her.

It was a while before she spoke.  “What are we doing?”

“Watching the sunset.”

“You know what I mean.”

Yes, he did, but he was afraid to bring it up.  He knew what he wanted, but he wasn’t sure what she was thinking.  “I’m not sure.”

She sighed against him. 

“Bon, I’m not going to lie to you and say I don’t want you here.  I do want you here, very much.  But I also don’t want you to think this was all another scheme to convince you to stay.  I wouldn’t do that, I swear it’s the last thing I would do.”

“I know.”

“So, if you’re more comfortable spending some time apart first, I’m okay with that.  I can come visit you in Boston and we can make it work somehow,” he said, knowing it wasn’t what was in his heart.  He wanted so badly for her to say that she was staying, but he also wanted her to make that decision for herself.

“I need some time to think, Michael.  All of this is happening too fast.”

“Okay.  Take your time,” he said, leaning down to kiss the top of her head and silently willing her to make the right choice.  “If you decide you want to stay, you’re welcomed here, or if you want we can find you something in the area.”

She turned her head upward to look at him.  “Thank you,” she said and kissed him delicately. 

“What do you say we put a fire in the fireplace?” he suggested.  “It’s going to be cold tonight.”

“Sounds wonderful,” she said, “Who knew you were such a romantic?”

He grinned.  “Don’t tell anyone.  It’d hate for word to get out.  It’d ruin my reputation.”

* * *

Michael found Bonnie sitting at the picnic table the next morning.  It took him a minute to realize that the piece of paper in her hand was the letter from Devon.  She looked up as he approached and self-consciously folded it, tucking it into her pocket, out of sight.  "Hi," she said.

"I was thinking that we could go sightseeing at Mt. Rainier tomorrow," Michael said, ignoring the letter.

Bonnie looked at him apologetically.  "Actually, I had something else in mind."

"I'm all ears."

She closed her eyes and sighed.  "I know my timing is horrible and it’s way out of the way. I should have decided this much earlier.  I changed my mind."

Michael reigned in his confusion. "About?"

She looked like she felt guilty even asking.

"What?"

"I would like to visit Devon's grave."

That was not what Michael had been expecting -- at all.  "Really?"

She nodded.

"Okay.  That’s fine.  We have to leave tomorrow if you're going to get back here in time to make your flight to Boston, but sure.  That isn’t a problem."

"That was a lot easier than I expected," she said, taking his hand.  "I'm sorry its hundreds of miles out of the way."

"That's okay.  The drive down the coast is really pretty.  It’ll be nice.”  Michael took a breath.   “But can I ask why you changed your mind?"

"I don't know, honestly.  I guess it was something that Kitt said.  Don’t get me wrong.  I'm still angry with him and it still hurts, but I feel like I should go.  I can't really explain it."

"Fair enough," Michael said, just pleased to hear that there might be a crack in that particular shell. 

*  *  * 

Bonnie paused as she threw a shirt into her overnight bad and zipped it up, trying to move just a little bit faster.  Michael was already outside with Kitt, waiting.  It was really going to be a quick trip down to Los Angeles.

She looked around the little guest room and spotted her itinerary sitting on the dresser.  She idly picked it up and snapped the folded paper back and forth a few times against the heel of her hand.  She was glad Michael understood and was willing to go to Los Angeles.  She still felt bad about making them go hundreds miles out of their way.  But then it was Michael and Kitt; they were certainly used to road trips.  It just would have been more convenient if she had decided she was ready to visit Devon’s grave before they got to Washington.  And barring that, she should have at least decided earlier so that they weren’t racing up and down the coast in time to get her back to Boston.

Bonnie was startled when Michael or Kitt honked the horn.  She smiled at their impatience and idly unfolded the itinerary.  She knew all the pertinent details  - when she was leaving, her flight number, the time -- but it just didn't feel right.  She studied it carefully for a moment, taken in by the black letters that formed the words.  Without it, a lot of things would be simpler.  Maybe it was time she broke the bad habit she had of making her life more complicated than she wanted it to be. 

After taking in a deep breath, she slowly tore the itinerary into four pieces and left them neatly on the top of the dresser.  It was symbolic only – she’d still have to change her ticket and work out the details – but it felt good anyway.  It felt right.

She grabbed her bag and headed for the door as the horn sounded again to hurry her along. 

Kitt watched, amused, as Bonnie stepped outside the cabin and perched her hands on her hips.  “Honking is not going to make me move any faster, guys,” she said with a smile.  Something about it struck Kitt as very genuine and bright -- it went beyond her usual amusement with Michael's games.  He analyzed her features and decided that there must be something that she was very happy about.  He scanned the house and detected the scraps of paper on the dresser.  When he realized it was her travel itinerary, he felt his own genuine smile spreading through his CPU.

Bonnie opened the passenger door and got in. 

“Welcome back,” Kitt said as he closed the door for her, elated that they were all finally home.

--------------
knightshade
January 7, 2003
 



 

Get a GoStats hit counter