Disclaimer: I don't own Knight Rider or any of its characters. This was just for fun.

Rating: PG

Author's Notes:

Thank you to Moonbeam for challenging me to stretch a story to places mine don't normally go. Okay, so it kind of misread the map, got a little lost, and wandered right back home, but I tried, that's what counts, right? ;-)

Thank you to Tomy and Apollo for the beta reads.

Soap-Sud Tears

The soft suds rolled down the grimy surface like tears, creating muddy rivulets against the shiny, black finish. Michael squeezed the sponge in one hand and watched as the watery trails worked their way down Kitt's side, and collected in puddles on the floor. His partner and best friend sat silently inside the car, holed up in his CPU, refusing to talk. Michael had tried everything he could think of to get his partner to tell him why he was so upset, but Kitt had resisted any attempts at conversation. Even the ride home from the hospital had been disconcertingly quiet.

Bonnie rounded the corner back into the garage and Michael felt the tension creep up a notch. "Michael, I can do that. You should be in bed resting," she said, heading straight for the bucket of soapy water.

"No, that's okay. I'm fine. I'll do it," he answered, not looking up from the task. He knew Bonnie was just trying to help, but she had been in full Hover Mode since they got back. She had run test after test and was probing Kitt like a science project. Michael tried not to be too frustrated with her -- she had been shut out too. From what Devon said, Kitt had parked himself in the hospital lot after the accident and had refused to speak, or let anyone inside him.

Michael had been relieved when Bonnie had finally left a few minutes ago, in search of some other piece of test equipment. Michael knew she had every right to be here, but he was afraid that Kitt would be even less likely to open up for a crowd.

"It's my job," Bonnie said sensibly, and tried to take the sponge out of his hand.

Michael turned and bit his tongue to stop himself from saying something he might regret. The painkillers were helping, but the dull ache that had taken up residence in his arm was beginning to wear on his nerves, making him cranky. "Bonnie, I'll do it."

The truth was, he didn't know what else he could do. He felt guilty and Kitt wasn't talking. The least he could do was try to clean up the mess.

Bonnie nodded, and finally backed off. "Okay, I'll be right around the corner. Call me if anything changes."

Michael nodded distractedly. He dunked the sponge into the bucket, mashed it against the door to get it partially dry, and then wiped down a long scorch mark marring Kitt's side. Of course it wasn't real damage - the MBS would get dirtied up, but it was always a quick bath away from being perfect again. It made Michael feel a little bit better to see that at least Kitt's exterior could be returned to its normal condition.

"Kitt?" Michael tried, when he was sure Bonnie was gone.

No answer.

Michael set the sponge on Kitt's hood and decided to sit inside instead. He lifted the handle on the driver's door only to watch the LEDs turn red. That wasn't good. "Come on, buddy, talk to me here."

After a long pause, there was finally an audible sigh, followed by, "What would you like me to say, Michael?"

"Anything is better than nothing." He leaned against Kitt's roof and rested his chin on the surface.

"How about, 'I should be deactivated for failing and putting you in danger?'" he said sadly.

"Kitt, you didn't fail, and there is no way on this earth I would want you deactivated. It was an accident. They happen. It wasn't either of our faults."

Michael waited a long time, but apparently his partner was done talking. "Kitt?"


Resisting the urge to beat his head against Kitt's roof, Michael realized that his partner was going to need to work through this in his own way. As much as it was killing him, Michael knew he was going to have to be patient. He continued to soap up Kitt's exterior, feeling the little pebbles of sand and grit as they were pushed around the finish and lifted up into the sponge.

Michael finished with the door and moved to work on Kitt's roof. As he reached over the car, the white, cotton sling cradling his arm brushed against the door, soaking through with suds. Michael glanced down at it and frowned. He hated the accoutrements of injury almost as much as he hated hospitals. In this case he found the sling, and the cast it held, to be an annoying impediment to everything. But at least it hadn't been worse. If he'd rolled in a slightly different direction, he might not be here.

His vow to be patient notwithstanding, Michael decided to try again. "Look, it was my fault. There's no reason to be upset. It's just another minor scratch in the scheme of things. Can we please talk about this?"

Apparently not.

Michael sighed and plunged the sponge into the bucket again. The water was turning a dirty, light orange as it mixed with the sandy soil. The runoff that dripped down Kitt's shell was flowing into a muddy river that rolled toward the drain in the middle of the garage floor.

Michael wiped the sponge over the roof again and was annoyed when a stream of water rolled back at him and soaked his shirt. The sling was now completely drenched. He slipped the strap over his head and tossed it toward one of the benches along the wall.

"Michael, you are supposed to wear your sling at all times," Kitt scolded quite abruptly. "And I would hardly call the fact that you broke both your radius and ulna in two and three places respectively, a minor injury. You practically shattered your arm under my tire."

Michael was startled but not entirely surprised by the anger in Kitt's voice.

"I'm sorry, Kitt."

"Why are you apologizing? *I* injured *you*."

Michael sighed and turned to lean against Kitt's wet door, ignoring the seeping dampness in the leg of his jeans. "You know it's not that simple. It was an accident. It wasn't your fault."

"Perhaps. But here you are, washing me down when you are supposed to be keeping your cast dry and your arm either in a sling or elevated. Honestly, Michael if you're not going to take care of yourself, how am I supposed to? I simply cannot take on responsibility you choose to abdicate."

"Kitt, I'm not asking you to," he said slowly. "We're friends and partners, and we look out for each other, but you are not responsible for taking care of me."

"It's a significant part of my programming to protect you."

"And you do."

There was a long pause and then a very soft, sad response. "Not this time."

Michael was worried at how quickly Kitt's demeanor was changing. He was obviously beating himself up, but Michael didn't want him to feel guilty. He had been the one hanging out the window, despite Kitt's better judgment. "We take risks to get the job done, you know that. And you tried to talk me out of it, remember?"

Even Michael had to admit it had been a dumb idea. They had been trying to snatch a box of stolen high tech fuses that had fallen off a get-away truck in the middle of a minefield. That was one problem with going after arms dealers -- they always had well-fortified hideouts. Michael had been sitting on the open window, leaning over the side to snatch the box on the move, as they were being attacked. It would have been fine if Kitt hadn't had to swerve to avoid an incoming missile just as he was about to scoop up the box. Michael had tumbled out of the car and his left arm had ended up under Kitt's rear tire.

"Michael, if I had just turned with a little less acceleration, you would have been fine. But I failed. I didn't take into account your balance when I swerved. I should have and I didn't. You deserve a better partner."

"Kitt!" Michael started, and had to stop to calm himself. "I understand that you're upset. I understand why you're upset, but I am not going to listen to you say things like 'I deserve a better partner.' *You* are my partner and I couldn't ask for a more capable one. But neither one of us is perfect. Computer or not, you're still allowed to make mistakes."

"Mistakes that hurt you are not acceptable."

Michael didn't know how to ease the distress that was so evident in his partner's voice. He let the sponge fall back into the bucket and perched on Kitt's hood, looking in through the windshield. He would have preferred to make his case addressing Kitt's voice modulator, but right now he was going to have to make the best of being on the outside.

"Kitt, I don't want you feeling guilty."

"I can't help it, Michael. I do."

"And I felt guilty all those times you were damaged or destroyed. A few broken bones are nothing compared to what I've done to you over the years. Just ask Bonnie, she'd be happy to tell you who's the irresponsible one here."

"Michael, I love Bonnie, but sometimes her criticism is not constructive when it comes to the two of us."

Michael couldn't help smiling. That was putting it mildly.

"And besides, in all the cases where I was damaged, you were not the one to actually physically hurt me. My wheel and weight crushed your arm. My sensors detected you under me and I saw what was coming, but I couldn't stop it. It was too late to turn or turbo boost. I felt your bones snap through the sensors in my wheels."

Michael hadn't considered that. Of course Kitt would be upset. He had to admit he would be too, if somehow things had been reversed. "Kitt, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was being reckless and got us into this mess. But I don't blame you for what happened, and I really wish you'd stop blaming yourself."

There was a long pause. "If only I hadn't served so hard, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Kitt," Michael started, deciding to take another approach, "what would have happened if you hadn't swerved at all?"

"I prefer not to think about it."

"Humor me."

"I would have taken a direct hit. The missile would have exploded on impact."

"And what would that have done to me?"

"If the explosion itself didn't kill you, you would have had massive burns on your upper body. You would most likely have suffered heavy shrapnel wounds. And it's safe to assume that you would have been thrown from the car. But, Michael . . ."

"And what if you had swerved even harder?"

"We were close enough to two of the mines that it's possible you would have landed or rolled into one of them."

"And possibly lost a limb, gotten burned, and taken shrapnel."

"In all probability, yes. Depending on how you landed, it could have been fatal."

"You see where I'm going with this?"

Kitt was apparently thinking about it, because he didn't answer right away. Michael was getting used to the pauses in their conversation, but this time he suspected that maybe he had actually gotten through to him. At least he hoped so.

"You may have a point, Michael."

Michael arched his eyebrows. "May?"

"You still got hurt."

"Yes, but broken bones heal, pal," he said raising his arm slightly for emphasis. "I'll take broken bones over burns or missing limbs any day. Kitt, any life-or-death situation that we both walk away from is a success on some level. You may not have done everything perfectly, but you did enough to keep me from getting permanently hurt. You did enough to save my life, and I'm extremely grateful to you for that."

Michael waited patiently, starting to feel more himself, now that he felt he could read Kitt's silences. He knew he had given Kitt a lot to chew on.

"Perhaps I have only been looking at the negatives," Kitt finally conceded, and Michael felt a tension in his chest loosening. "But it is hard to look on the bright side when your friend and partner is in the hospital having pins put into his arm."

Michael smiled. "It's hard to look on the bright side when you're in the hospital having pins put into your arm."

"Do you forgive me?"

"Kitt, there is nothing to forgive. Nothing at all."

"I still regret that you were injured, and that I was at least partially responsible for what happened. However, you are right about needing to keep things in perspective. Thank you for helping me to remember that," Kitt said sincerely. "Over and over again, I am amazed at how lucky I am to have you in my life, Michael. When we have these close calls, it makes me appreciate you all the more, but it also really scares me. I love you and I don't know what I'd do without you."

Michael leaned down so that his forehead rested against Kitt's windshield. "I love you too, Kitt. You're the best thing that ever happened to me." He waited a beat to be sure that Kitt knew he was serious, before sitting back up again. He was feeling groggy from the painkillers, and worrying so much about Kitt had taken a lot more energy than he had realized. Michael really needed to lighten the mood; it was the best method he had for coping when he started to feel drained. He hoped that Kitt would understand. "And don't worry, I'm very hard to kill."

"Hmmm, I'm not so sure about that," Kitt said matter-of-factly, obviously playing along.

"I'm telling you, I'm like the monster cliche in horror movies. No matter how dead I look, you turn your back and I'm standing up holding a knife over you."

"Just don't start wearing a hockey mask."

Michael grinned and hopped down off the hood. It was funny how just a few of Kitt's acerbic quips were enough to lighten almost any load. The soapy suds resumed their journey down Kitt's exterior as Michael traced the sponge over his rear quarter panel.

"But Michael, as much as I enjoy having you here, you really should be in bed."

"Don't worry, the pain killers are kicking in, and I promise to be careful to keep my cast as dry as possible."

"But you don't have to do this."

"I know that, Kitt. I want to. The thing is, I was being stupid, you saved my life, and then basically shut yourself down because you felt guilty about it. Believe me, that makes me feel guilty too. The least I can do is give you a bath. Besides, spending time with you is much better than sitting in bed. I think laying around doing nothing just makes me more tired."

"I don't want you to overdo it on your first day home."

"Kitt, it's a car wash. What's the worst I could do?"

"I don't think I want to answer that. Knowing you, it probably involves hanging out my window," Kitt said dryly. "But I would like the company. It's been rather lonely sitting in the hospital parking lot by myself."

"I bet." Michael sloshed water onto Kitt's trunk and wiped down the taillights. He finished the bumper and then moved to the other side of the car.


"Yeah, Kitt."

"You missed a spot. My left rear fender is still a little dirty."

Michael spotted a miniscule smudge that hardly seemed noticeable, and wiped it away.

"And I assume that 'the least you could do' also includes a waxing and a coat of ArmorAll for my tires?" he said slyly.

"You're going to milk this for all it's worth aren't you?"

"I learned from the best."

Michael shook his head and picked up the hose. He sent a stream of water blasting across Kitt's hood, watching with a sense of relief as the water washed him clean.