Author's Disclaimer: Knight Rider et al belongs to Glen A. Larson and Universal Studios.
Author's Note: Knightshade wanted a hug. Knightshade likes angst. I suck at angst, especially angst with a hug that doesn't warrant an insulin shot. But what Shady wants, Shady gets. This is my response to her angsty canon challenge.
In turn, Knightshade's response to my h/c bubble bath challenge can be found here at her website.
Summary: A few minutes can make all the difference...
By 2:48pm, Bonnie knew it was bad.
She stood with Devon at the door of the Northern Lights Hospital emergency room, too numb to cross over the threshold into the writhing mass of doctors, nurses, and paramedics swarming over the still figure strapped to the gurney. She felt trapped, enclosed, held back by some invisible force. She couldn't breathe, couldn't think. There was too much noise, too much activity. . . she couldn't focus. It all moved too fast; it all moved too slow. It was like watching the world from underwater, everything distorted and out of synch, and her insulated from it all by a cushion of fluid that kept her safe and apart.
Then Devon's hand closed about her elbow and he guided her through the automatic doors, her feet moving without orders from her brain, and the wall collapsed. The water filling her ears drained with a rush and suddenly she was back, surrounded by chaos, but living in real time once more.
"Oh, god. Oh, god. Oh, god," she chanted, feeling Devon's hand take hers and squeeze. "Oh, god. This can't be happening. It can't be. Devon, god, please tell me this isn't happening," she begged.
His hand squeezed hers tighter, clenching convulsively. "I wish to god it wasn't," he rasped, his aristocratic voice breaking on the words.
The pain in his voice hit her hard, and she sucked in air to lungs that felt too tight. Her chest hurt, heaving with the effort to supply oxygen to her starved lungs as her heart fought to pump blood through limbs she still wasn't completely connected with.
It didn't surprise her really, how her heart had to fight to keep beating, to cling to life, to hope. How could hers do anything less, when she stood there watching one of her best friends -- a man she could so easily love, if she but let herself -- struggling to do the same?
He wasn't breathing on his own, hadn't been since they'd boarded him onto the specialized chopper to fly him to the nearest hospital. The paramedics had strapped a clear plastic mask over his mouth and nose, the blue-tinted bag on the other end of the nozzle being squeezed rhythmically by a determined hand. They were forcing air into his lungs, forcing his body to keep working, forcing him to stay alive.
She could hear the doctors now, screaming orders for medications as nurses rattled off vitals and the paramedics recited the long list of actions they'd already taken to try and save their failing patient. But she couldn't focus on them, couldn't tear her eyes away from the one paramedic not participating in the shouting, the one man too busy to even notice. He was straddling the gurney, knees braced on either side of her friend's near-lifeless body, arms straight and taught as he pushed up and down on the still chest. He was counting out loud to himself, his gaze fixed intently on the lax face before him, oblivious to the others around him.
Michael's heart had stopped again.
Bonnie shivered, feeling a wave of cold pass through her. Devon's hand slipped from her own, flowed up her arm and across her back to enfold her in his embrace. She leaned into him gratefully, instinctively seeking his warmth. He was trembling, too.
"Please, please," she whispered, staring at the gurney as it disappeared around the corner. "Please, please, please. . ."
"Come on, Bonnie. The doctors will take care of Michael now. Let's go find a seat."
Bonnie nodded dumbly, staring at the double doors blocking her from following her injured friend. She felt Devon, arm still wrapped around her shoulders, tug her in the direction of the waiting room and went willingly. Sitting down sounded like a good idea; her legs felt wobbly all of a sudden.
They'd barely settled in the uncomfortable chairs when a nurse approached them hesitantly. Bonnie looked up hopefully, her eyes blurring though no tears fell. Devon stood to meet her.
Bonnie glanced curiously at Devon, but nodded affirmatively.
The nurse smiled down at her kindly. "You have a phone call, ma'am. You can take it at the nurses' station, if you'd like."
"A phone call?" Who would be calling at a time like this? she wondered absently, unable to process such a mundane concept when every fibre of her being was geared for the worst.
Before she could decide what to do, Devon patted her on the shoulder comfortingly. "I'll take it for her," he said, tipping his head inquiringly at the nurse, "if that's all right with you?"
"Certainly, sir. Right this way. . ."
Bonnie smiled gratefully as Devon went to deal with whoever it was. She was glad. It was hard enough for her to just sit here, wondering if Michael was still alive and unsure what she would do, would feel, if he weren't. God, she couldn't even contemplate the possibility. It was inconceivable. He couldn't die, he just couldn't.
She had no idea how long she sat there, her mind spiraling in ever-darker circles, but Devon's return was a welcome relief.
Until she saw the look in his eyes, more grave than when he'd left.
"What? What is it?" she demanded, when he just stood there looking at her.
He took a deep breath, then lowered his voice to its most gentle tone. "Bonnie," he began softly, "you have to go back to the Semi."
Her eyebrows shot upwards. "What? Michael's in there, he might be dying, and you want me to leave?! What on earth for?"
But he didn't respond to her outburst as she half expected him to. He merely reached out and wrapped one of her restless hands in both of his, keeping his eyes locked on hers, radiating compassion. Somehow, that scared her even more.
"Bonnie, " he sighed, "it's KITT."
And what was left of her world dropped out from underneath her. "No, " she denied. "He was okay. He made the call, he talked to us."
"I'm sorry. There was a minute hairline fracture to the CPU casing. We didn't know about it until KITT failed to respond to one of the technician's questions. His system integrity started falling not long after that."
"Oh, god," she moaned.
Devon, ignoring his aging joints and sense of propriety, knelt down beside her chair. Without a moment's hesitation, he wound his arms about the distraught woman's back and pulled her into a hug. Bonnie tucked her head into his neck, greedily seeking the comfort he was offering.
"He's stabilized at 23%, Bonnie. There's a chance you might be able to save him. You have to take it. There's nothing you can do here for Michael anyway," he added gently.
She sniffed. "I know, you're right." Pushing herself away, Bonnie fought to pull herself together and finally succeeded. She drew the cloak of Dr. Barstow, competent expert, around her like a life preserver. Or maybe a shroud, though she refused to think to closely on that thought.
"All right," she announced sharply, emotions back on an even keel now that she had something to do. "I'll go get KITT back online, you stay here and wait for Michael," she ordered Devon.
"Of course. . . "
"He'll be fine, you'll see," she continued, cutting ruthlessly across his attempts to placate her. "They both will. They've survived worse than this, they'll survive this too. You'll see. This won't be enough to stop them."
But thirty-eight minutes later, it almost was.
Bonnie huddled in her seat on the Semi, reams and reams of diagnostic printouts clutched in her lap. When she'd arrived, twelve minutes after the call, the technicians had managed to restore the AI's system integrity by a whole six percent. While it didn't sound like much, it had raised KITT's chances for survival exponentially. He'd crossed a threshold and Bonnie had breathed a sigh of relief -- prematurely, as it'd turned out.
Sixteen minutes after KITT stabilized, a hub short-circuited and he took a turn for the worse. Bonnie scrambled to extract the damaged component, to replace it with a functioning one, to reconnect the complex circuitry that comprised her baby's existence. It took so long, too long. One minute to remove the smoking particle, two to find the right replacement piece, three to delicately plop it in place on the motherboard. And another four minutes to re-solder the connections and initialize the diagnostic program to guarantee her success. Far, far too long.
It had worked, thankfully. KITT had re-stabilized, hovering uncertainly at 27% as if waiting for his systems to fail again. The Foundation specialists and technicians who had been called in to support her, to support KITT, cheered. Bonnie didn't. She hadn't yet saved him, she'd merely postponed his death. She had so much more to do...
... and so little time in which to do it.
KITT was still dying. And Michael -- Michael had been balanced on the edge of death for fifty-seven minutes. Almost an hour.
Years, it felt like. Minutes, lasting as long as eternity.
She shuddered. It was exhausting, maintaining such a high level of anxiety. An adrenaline rush; fight or flight -- trapped, looping continuously without end. She had no idea how Michael lived like this all the time.
Except he might not live at all.
No, she couldn't think of that. Couldn't think of anything except her job. Patch the code, repair the system, save the artificial intelligence. She couldn't even bring herself to think of him as KITT. KITT was alive, bright with hope, sparring with his driver. KITT was a vibrant personality for all his electronic roots. KITT was her friend, her baby.
The thing before her right now wasn't KITT. Just like the thing being worked over in a hospital operating room wasn't Michael. They were just the hardware, parts; broken, banged, bruised, bleeding and smoldering ruins waiting to be repaired. Easily damaged, and easily fixed.
Bonnie nodded to herself, back straightening in determination. Fix the hardware, that's what she'd do. Don't think about her friends, the two most important beings in her life. Don't think about them dying, hurting, suffering... depending on her to save them. Just think about the hardware. Do her job, and let the rest work itself out.
Decided, she raised that trusty wall of water once more. Used it to surround her emotions, to cut off all feelings of distress that threatened to drown her. Her logical mind took over, rose to the fore to guide her actions, and she snapped into action. Her hands darted for the keyboard, typing in commands at lightning speed as she barraged her staff with a hail of orders. They froze for a moment, a minute of hesitation, then jumped to obey.
Chaos stilled, transmuted by purpose.
The next fifteen minutes past in a blur of intent activity. Silicon chips, filament wire, data and diagnostics were traded furiously from hand to hand. Ports were connected, programs run, theories and suggestions bandied about like hawkers in a marketplace. Twenty minutes, and they'd done all they could.
Twenty-one minutes, and the wall in her mind collapsed as she sank back in relief. She'd done it. They'd done it. Fixed the hardware, brought chaos to order, restored balance to the Force.
They'd saved KITT.
The cursor blinked benignly on her monitor, a single all-important cable leading from the screen to the innocuous looking black box seated on the countertop beside her. The black box that less than an hour ago had been charred and crack, sealing inside it the dying personality of a precious life. The box that was now clean and whole, encasing -- protecting -- the CPU of her friend, her baby.
>_KITT?_ she typed, holding her breath as the seconds lapsed into minutes.
>_Bonnie?_ it responded, and a wave of release swept the tight confines of the Semi's trailer as an impromptu party broke out among the celebrating technicians.
She ignored it, fingers dancing across the keys to reassure her patient. >_Yes, KITT. It's okay, you're okay. I've got you._
It took a minute for the response to come, her worry that she'd missed something increasing with every second that passed. >_What happened? Where's Michael?_
Oh god. Oh god, she'd forgotten. She'd actually forgotten the man she left at the hospital. Pushed him from her mind to concentrate on her job. Pushed her worry, her fear... pushed him from her thoughts. Muscles that had relaxed in relief abruptly tensed in panic once more.
Oh, god, how could she have forgotten?
>_Bonnie?_ KITT asked, the monochrome type conveying a sense of urgency she knew wasn't just her imagination. >_Bonnie, where's Michael? Is he okay?_
Was he? Of course not, how could he be? He'd been dying. Hell, he'd been clinically dead for a few minutes there before the paramedics had gotten to him. Maybe more since. He might even have succumbed to his injuries and passed beyond anything medical science could do for him.
She just didn't know. She didn't know. Because she'd been here. Here, instead of there, with him. She didn't even know if he was still alive. She just didn't know.
"Dr. Barstow?" someone called, and her head swung automatically to look at him. She saw him, knew he was one of her staff, knew she'd worked with him for years. But at the particular moment, that particular minute, she didn't recognize him.
"Dr. Barstow? Mr. Miles is on line three. He wants to talk to you." The familiar-strange man said, and she stared at him blankly, uncomprehendingly. He must have seen that in her expression because he reached across her, picked up the phone and pressed on the flashing button before placing the phone, right side up, against her ear. Her hand rose on instinct to grasp it.
"Bonnie?" a distinguished voice said, and for a minute she actually thought it was KITT. Then she remembered she'd not yet connected the CPU to any external sensory ports, so it couldn't be him. It took another minute before her sluggish mind registered the words in her ear were coming from the phone in her hand.
Oh, right. Devon.
"Devon?" she asked, as if making sure. "What's going on? How's Michael?" The questions rushed forth, tumbling from her lips.
The British voice broke, choking on emotion for a heart-stopping moment until Devon came back strong and clear. "He's going to live, Bonnie. He's going to be fine. He survived the surgery, they repaired his heart, he's going to make it. He's going to be okay, Bonnie. Okay!"
The joy and relief in the tone was her undoing. Her mind stuttered at grasping the words, unable to process such positive news when she'd been poised for the worst, but the tone got through to her. The tone slipped straight into her subconscious, flared up like a sun and dried up the water still drowning her brain.
"Bonnie? Bonnie, did you hear me? Michael's going to be fine! It'll be weeks, maybe months before he's completely recovered, but he'll be back on his feet and getting into trouble before you know it. He's going to live!"
"Thank god!" she breathed, as fervent a prayer as she'd ever made. "Thank god!"
Devon continued to babble ecstatically in her ear for a few more minutes, but she was no longer listening. Her eyes were glued to the computer screen, to the last question KITT had posed, to the cursor light blinking impatiently for a reply. She dropped the phone, ignored the thud it made when it smacked onto her thigh, and raised her hands to the keyboard.
>_It's all right, KITT_ she answered truthfully, feeling it in every fibre of her being. _It's all right. Michael's just fine, you're just fine, everybody's fine. It's all okay, it's all right._
And it was.