*sticks in head sheepishly* Well, here's the next chapter. And it only took me what? Months? But I moved out of my little apartment and into an awesome house which I'm renting. So, instead of being a 40 minute drive from town, I'm a 5 minute drive from town now. And it has a washer/dryer, so no more laundromats! And I've got 8 acres and an absolutely gorgeous view. So, next spring, I's gettin' me some chickens, man. :D
However, it took me a bit to get my computer crap set up and to get some Internets going here, but I finally disciplined myself to sit down and finish reconstructing this chapter of this story, so…Here it is. And it's a nice long one, too, for those of you who still might be paying attention to this story. Consider it a "reward" for your patience. :) And some review replies are below, just 'cuz. So without further ado...
Michael poked his head into the lab and took a quick look around, but he didn't immediately see the person that he was seeking. Only a few people were milling about the large lab, at the moment, but they all looked quietly busy, and he felt no need to disturb whatever it was that they were working on in order to ask after his quarry. Instead, he called out quietly into the room, "Hey, Bon?"
Just as quietly, from over in a corner that had been hidden from view by the open door, Bonnie answered, "Over here, Michael."
Nodding to himself for no particular reason, Michael walked all the way into the rather sterile room and quickly made his way to the corner workstation at which Bonnie was sitting. He settled himself on the corner of the desk, watching as Bonnie frowned ferociously at the screen in front of her, across which thousands of tiny characters were scrolling rapid-fire, all of it complete gibberish to Michael. After a moment, the screen froze, and then Bonnie felt free to turn her attention to Michael.
"How's Kitt this morning?" she asked of him.
Michael shrugged, folding his arms over his chest at the same time.
"He fell asleep on me again," he answered, his expression hovering somewhere between an exasperated frown and a fond smile. "In the middle of a sentence, no less," he added. "It's a very bad habit he's developed over the past…what?...Four days now?"
Bonnie smiled back at him as she replied, "He can't help it that he's being pumped full of Valium so that he doesn't have seizures. Either that, or I guess he just hasn't figured out sleepy signals yet."
Michael snorted and retorted, "Oh, he's figured them out, all right. He's just damned determined to believe that they don't apply to him. Stubborn as a mule."
Bonnie smirked up at him and answered, "I wonder who he got that from?"
Michael smirked right back at Bonnie and shot back, "I was just about to say the same thing to you." And then, sobering suddenly, he shrugged and added, "Other than that, he's…unhappy. Homesick. Bored out of his little stapled-together skull."
Bonnie grimaced at that.
"I suppose it isn't surprising," she said. "He's used to having the world at his proverbial fingertips to keep him entertained, but now…?"
"Now he's as un-godlike and bored as the rest of us," Michael finished. "He'd be climbing the walls if he could be, I think, and I can't say that I blame him. You know what it's like, being stuck in a hospital bed."
"Actually, I don't," Bonnie said as she aimed a dazzling smile up at Michael. "I've never been in one, at least not as an inpatient."
"Well, lucky you, then," Michael answered with a mirroring smile. "Because it sucks." And then as Bonnie chuckled at that he sobered again and added, "But you didn't ask me down here so that you could ask me about Kitt." When Bonnie just raised a questioning eyebrow at him in response, he elaborated, "If you'd really wanted to know about Kitt, you'd've just gone up there and seen him. Which, by the way, you should do. He's been asking after you."
"I know," Bonnie answered, with a vigorous nod. "And I will. But I had a brainstorm yesterday and now I've finally decrypted this stupid thing," she said, contemptuously jerking her chin at the code frozen on the screen in front of her.
Michael frowned at the rather unexpected news, not so much because the news was unexpected, but more because of Bonnie's demeanor in light of it. He knew that the invasive program's encryption had been driving her crazy. She'd said that if they could just decrypt it, if she could actually look at it and rip into it and dissect its code, they'd have a much better idea of how it was able to do what it had been doing before they'd moved Kitt out of harm's way and then, also, how to get rid of it. That she hadn't been able to decrypt it had been severely frustrating her. So, Michael would have thought that decrypting the program would have made Bonnie a very happy geek, that she'd be bouncing off the walls and doing some kind of cutely goofy victory dance. But she didn't look happy at all, and she certainly wasn't doing any bouncing, much less any dancing. In fact, she didn't look as if she was feeling anything in particular, really, which was puzzling because she usually felt no need to hide her feelings about anything. Or about anyone, as Michael had quickly discovered.
"And?" Michael prompted.
In response to the prompt, Bonnie scowled and pushed herself to her feet, standing up with enough force that her chair nearly toppled over behind her. She paced for a while then, back and forth, thinking. And then she stopped and looked squarely at Michael. It was then that Michael noticed what he hadn't noticed before: She'd schooled the expression on her face to careful neutrality, but her eyes were dark with a seething fury that she was obviously trying, desperately, to hold back. It looked to Michael as if her control over it was set to crack wide open at any moment.
"What?" Michael prompted, his tone more urgently concerned this time. "Decrypting the stupid thing is good. Right? Yes? No? Maybe?"
Bonnie continued her pacing then, heaving a long sigh.
"Yes and no," she answered, and as Michael gave her a puzzled looked in response to the ambiguous answer, she elaborated, "It's good because now that I can actually look at the code, I can figure out how the thing works. And, theoretically, I could have figured out how to get rid of it."
"Could have figured out?" Michael echoed, both eyebrows rising with concern.
Bonnie smiled humorlessly and answered, "To make a very long story short, the only way to get rid of it is to scrap all the hardware and rebuild it from scratch and then reinstall it, which is just…" She rolled her eyes, which eloquently conveyed the scope of the task that the techs now faced. "I mean, don't get me wrong. It's a hellish amount of work, but it's actually good to know that that's what we need to do so that we can just get on with doing it. But on the other hand..."
"Yes?" Michael prompted yet again when she lapsed into a silence that lasted longer than he liked.
Bonnie completed a couple more pacing laps around the vicinity of her workstation before she stilled and faced Michael again. She'd reined in the fury a little, he could tell, but it was still there, entirely noticeable to anyone who knew her well enough. And Michael knew her very well. She was quiet for a moment longer, but then she finally spoke.
"You know, in some ways," she announced, "computer programming is an art."
Michael blinked; what she'd said wasn't at all what he'd expected her to say, and her tone was far milder that he'd expected it to be, given the rage that was still burning quietly in her eyes.
"OK," he managed to say uncertainly, the word much more of a question than a statement. "In that case, I'd say that Kitt is your magnum opus," he added.
Bonnie smiled thinly at that, but the smile didn't come close to touching her furious eyes.
"He certainly is," she answered. "But what I'm saying is that, just like with, say, master painters, every high-level programmer tends to develop their own style, something instantly recognizable that identifies their work, like signing a painting. So, if you know a programmer's work well enough, you can instantly recognize their style, just like an art expert can instantly identify a painting by Picasso even if there's no signature on it."
Michael gave Bonnie a speculative and narrow-eyed look, biting down into his lower lip as a light began to dawn. He jerked his head at the computer screen that was sitting next to him on the desk, and he said, "You know who programmed this thing."
It really wasn't a question, and even if it had been, the look that Bonnie gave him was the only answer that he needed. And, again, Michael was surprised. He would have thought that knowing the programmer's identity would have made her happy, too. It certainly made him happy to have a clue, to have some direction in which to move, to be able to take some action and make himself feel marginally useful again. But again, Bonnie didn't look happy at all. She inhaled deeply and then flopped back down into her chair before she slowly released the deep breath that she had taken in. She stared at the computer screen in front of her as she did all of that. She stared silently at the screen for a very long while, in fact.
"I'm very familiar with their work," she finally hedged, her voice barely above a whisper. "So…Yes, I do know the person who wrote it. I know them quite well, in fact." She leaned forward then, rummaging through the chaos of papers and folders and computer disks and print-outs that littered the desk's surface until she found what she was seeking: A plain, unlabeled manila folder that didn't seem to hold much, so far as Michael could see. She sat back in her chair and thoughtfully tapped the edge of the folder against her other hand for a moment before she handed the folder to Michael with a look of angry warning in her eyes. "And so do you," she added very quietly.
Frowning with morbid curiosity, Michael took the folder from Bonnie and opened it. He read the first few lines on the first of the few papers that the folder contained, at the same time seeing the photograph that was paper-clipped to the inside of the folder. His head jerked up, and his wide-eyed gaze met Bonnie's. A long look full of meaning that didn't require words passed between them. And then Michael, without another word, jerked to his feet and stormed out of the room, his eyes and all of his body language blazing with barely-contained fury.
Bonnie watched him leave. For a moment, she felt sorry for his quarry…but only for a very short moment. And then she went back to her mountain of work.
So how is Trix? Kitt asked. In Russian, of course.
"Trix" was the name that he, Angelo, Peter, and sometimes even Michael used to refer to the Trans Am, whenever it was necessary to differentiate the car from the artificial intelligence who called it home. Peter swore up and down that the car was female because it could be, in his words, "a flaming bitch " at times. It also didn't help that Michael often absently referred to the car as a "her." So, it had seemed only natural to give the car a name, one separate from Kitt's own and female, if only so that the car could be called something other than "the car" or "the Trans Am" or "this temperamental pain in the ass that you live in." Angelo, long ago, had one day announced out of the blue that "Trixie" was an appropriate name, and eventually the name had stuck. Amongst those who used it at all, it was usually shortened just to "Trix."
Angelo had himself settled on the edge of Kitt's bed, and he glanced down at the words that Kitt had written on one of the pages of the notebook he'd been given for just that purpose. Smiling at Kitt, he answered, "Aw, Trix ain't the same without you on board, baby. You know that." Kitt smiled faintly, tentatively at that as Angelo went on to add, "Although the Brain Brigade did manage to figure out how to get all that programming crap outta her." Kitt's head jerked up at that, and his expression immediately morphed into one of surprised but deep hopefulness. The expression was endearing enough that it almost broke Angelo's heart to have to add a qualifying, "Well, sort of."
Kitt instantly frowned at that, his brow furrowing deeply, and Angelo took a moment to marvel at how well Kitt had figured out the use of expressions in such a short amount of time. And it was a blessing, really. He could only directly communicate in words with Angelo and even then only in writing. Although writing, too, had become much easier for him, it was still a far more cumbersome means of communication than simply speaking. On the other hand, he could say so much so easily and so quickly now with just the expression on his face, or with body language, or especially with his pretty, long-lashed hazel eyes that seemed positively huge in his skeletal face. He was completely unguarded that way. Every thought that crossed his mind and every emotion that he experienced telegraphed plainly onto his face and into his gestures. He was like a small child that way; he didn't yet see any reason to conceal what he was thinking and feeling, nor would he have known how to do so even if he had wanted to. So if one knew how to read such things, Kitt was a completely open book, at least for now, and Angelo was a master at reading people. He had always been that way, not so much with Kitt because Kitt had never been able to give off such physical cues before, but with people in general.
Michael was having some difficulty, though. Normally, he could detect even the slightest nuances of Kitt's mood just by listening to the often extremely subtle changes in his voice, changes that no one else would ever notice. As a result, over the last few years, Michael had become very adept at determining other people's states of mind by their voice alone as well, so that, now, he'd become more attuned to auditory cues than to visual ones in general, not just when it came to Kitt. But at the moment, Kitt was denied a voice, and Michael was not used to interpreting him visually. On top of that, they weren't even speaking the same language, so a private conversation between the two of them was impossible. It was awkward, and it was causing a certain level of uncomfortable strain between them, and there hadn't been awkwardness or discomfort between them in years. That, in turn, was making things worse for Kitt, who was simply not adapting well to his current situation, on many different levels. He was frustrated. He was bored. He was frightened. He was overwhelmed, and not in a good way. He was disoriented and dislocated and disconnected and, in a way, far more isolated and alone than he had ever been. More than anything, he wanted to go home, where everything was familiar and where everything made sense, but he also knew that he couldn't do that. Perhaps, he wouldn't be able to do so for a long time to come.
For the moment, Angelo had nothing better to do, so he was spending as much time with Kitt as he could, if only to give him someone that he could actually "talk" to directly and privately. He was also trying to do whatever he could to help Kitt adapt, to make him see that his current situation, however long it ultimately lasted, might actually have some good things going for it, maybe even a few enjoyable advantages here and there.
Hence, his overall and as-yet-unrevealed mission here this very evening.
Kitt, meanwhile, had grown impatient with Angelo's sudden reverie. He'd already written, What do you mean by 'sort of?,' and he was rather insistently nudging Angelo's leg with one bony knee in order to get his attention. Angelo jumped slightly at the unexpected contact – Kitt didn't usually initiate such things – and then he saw the impatiently demanding look on Kitt's face. He glanced down to read what Kitt had asked…and then he heaved a long sigh. He knew that Kitt wasn't going to be happy with what he was about to say, but he also knew that it had to be said.
"As it turns out," he answered, "the only way to get rid of the thing is to rip all the hardware outta Trix and then rebuild it all from scratch, which could take… Well, uh…months. So you're just gonna have to batten down the hatches and sit tight in there, baby."
Kitt just blinked at Angelo dully for a moment, for a moment refusing to believe what he'd just heard. But the words were undeniable in the end. Months in here, eventuallyran through Kitt's mind. At the very least. As the thought crossed Kitt's mind, his expression morphed again, and he speared Angelo with a look that was so jumbled that Angelo couldn't separate the component emotions that had caused it. At a loss for helpful or comforting words, he fell back on his usual tactic.
"What?" Angelo grimly teased. "You're not having fun in there?"
Kitt's expression instantly transformed into a scowl, and he clenched his pen in his left fist. Once he put it to paper, a savage flow of angry Russian practically exploded out of it.
Fun? he wrote furiously. Fun?! I can't speak. In fact, I can't communicate at all with anyone except for you because the only language that this brain I'm stuck in can communicate in is one that no one but you speaks. I'm stuck in this bed and it's driving me absolutely crazy. I can process less than half of what I perceive, and the rest of it gives me a massive headache. And then there's the whole—
Angelo watched Kitt write for a while, watched him pressing the pen against the paper hard enough that his knuckles went dead white. He watched him go back and underline a few of the words he'd written for emphasis, with enough force to tear the paper. He watched the expression on his face, a fierce mixture of anger, frustration, and not a little fear, all of which he'd kept bottled up for a few days now. He was suddenly breathing hard, as if he'd just finished sprinting a mile, and as Angelo glanced at the monitors that were keeping close tabs on Kitt's physical condition, he saw that his heart rate had skyrocketed to match, as anger-fueled adrenaline poured into his system. Knowing that such an emotional release was good for Kitt but concerned about him overtaxing himself in his still-fragile condition, Angelo reached out and loosely wrapped a hand around his left forearm. He did so very gently, mindful of Kitt's physical delicacy. The knobby bones of his wrist looked as if they would happily burst right through his thin, pale skin with very little provocation, and Angelo could easily feel both of the bones in his forearm.
Kitt sucked in a gasp as contact was made, and his frantically-written rant immediately halted, mid-word. He knew that he needed to get used to being touched, especially if he was going to be living in the body in which he was caged for months, but he also knew, now, that that was easier said than done. And it was frustrating because it was such a small, stupid thing, really. People touched each other all the time, in many different contexts. People, even complete strangers, had always touched him, and it had never bothered him. He'd never even thought about it before, really. But that was all…before. Before he'd been injected into a mass of flesh that felt everything, in ways that he'd never before experienced and that tended to overwhelm him completely. Even the feel of the sheet sliding against his exposed skin was too much sometimes, making him avoid moving too much, making him want to escape to some place where nothing touched him and he touched nothing. Sensory deprivation sounded like a small piece of heaven to him.
Being able to experience tactile input had never been a consideration in his development. He needed to be able to see, to hear, even to smell, in a way, and those senses in the body that he was currently wearing were actually far less acute than the senses to which he was accustomed. His vision, so he'd discovered the first time that he'd attempted to read the stack of books that Peter had brought to him, was impaired even by human standards. But once he'd adjusted to the differences – which wasn't entirely difficult since he had a frame of reference for those senses – it made processing such input much easier for him. But it would have been pointless, even counterproductive, for a bulletproof car to be able to feel the stinging impact of a bullet. Or the impact of anything, really. As horribly damaged as his body had been in the wake of his collision with Goliath, he had felt nothing – Nothing physical, at any rate – neither during the collision nor after it. Looking back, he knew now that it had been the first time that he'd experienced genuine fear, both for Michael and for himself, and that had been startling, as if the horrific impact had jarred something in his CPU that had never been meant to be jarred, subsequently releasing in him something that had never been meant to be released. But from a physical, tactile perspective, there'd been nothing. He'd been as numb as he'd always been. As he had always been meant to be. As he had always wanted to be.
So before, he'd known when people had touched him mostly because he'd seen them do it, because he'd been able to see all around himself, in all directions and for very long distances, much farther than even the sharpest human eye could see. Or sometimes, there'd be a certain amount of auditory input that went along with the physical contact, the soft slap of fragile human flesh against his unyielding, practically indestructible body when someone would offer him an affectionate pat. Before, he'd loved being touched. It had made him feel accepted as a living being rather than as a thing because while people touched things, living and otherwise, all the time, they touched living things differently than they touched inanimate objects. The people who were important to him, those whose opinion he cared about, had always touched him the same way they touched other living beings, and it had made him feel more connected. Loved, even. An equal. But now, instead of making him feel connected to those around him, being touched made him want to pull away from the overwhelming input that the contact generated, which he couldn't control and which he still had little idea of how to process.
He was trying not to pull away from Angelo now, as Angelo gently held on to his arm. He meant to offer comfort, Kitt knew. It was what one human naturally did when another, especially one about whom they cared, was upset. Kitt was trying, desperately, to keep that in mind as he fought the almost overpowering urge to violently yank his arm out of Angelo's exceedingly gentle grasp.
"I know, baby," Angelo was murmuring quietly and, indeed, comfortingly. "And I'm sorry. I shouldn't have teased, not about that. But… The Brains say it'll just take time, is all. You'll get there," he finished encouragingly.
Even with Angelo's hand still wrapped loosely around his arm, Kitt managed to write, I hope so. But his distress-labored, shuddering breathing and the fact that he didn't raise his gaze to meet Angelo's told Angelo very clearly that Kitt considered it a vanishingly faint hope, at best.
"Hey," he said consolingly but firmly, needing Kitt to listed to him and to believe him, "if Bonnie says it's so, then you know it's so. End of story. 'Specially 'cuz Dr. Brain is seconding her."
Kitt did look up then, and he tried valiantly to smile, or at least to show some level of appreciation for Angelo's attempt at comfort, but the effort was mostly drowned in the heavy wash of fear and misery that was otherwise dominating his expression. He looked down again as he began to write, repeating an I hope so, and then adding, his expression desolate and forlorn, But the thought of months in here is unbearable. I can't do it, Angelo. I can't. I know that I have no choice in the matter, but I can't.
His heart constricting with empathy, Angelo slid his hand down farther, this time wrapping it around Kitt's hand, pen and all. He squeezed his hand lightly, and he watched as Kitt sucked in a gaspy breath in response. He felt the sudden, panicky tension in the withered muscles underneath his own hand, and he knew that Kitt was struggling against the urge to pull away. He figured that Kitt would eventually lose the struggle, if only because up until that point he'd always ultimately given in to the urge to pull away. Angelo began to pull his hand away, so as not to upset Kitt further…and was amazed when Kitt's other hand whipped across his body and clamped like a vice onto his forearm, forestalling his retreat. Angelo was further amazed when, instead of pulling his hand away from Angelo's, Kitt instead let his precious pen, his only means of communication, drop. And then, with a deeply determined expression his face, he turned his hand over under Angelo's, lacing their fingers together so that he could echo the squeeze.
Aside from briefly sharing the squeeze that Kitt had offered, Angelo sat absolutely still, saying nothing, scarcely breathing, even, for fear of shattering the moment. More than anything, he did not want to upset whatever delicate balance Kitt had managed to find that had allowed him to do what he was doing. Kitt stared down at their entwined fingers, meanwhile, taking care to note the contrast of his own very white skin against the suntanned bronze of Angelo's. He concentrated fiercely on the visual input and on listening to and deliberately slowing his breathing in order to better distract himself from the tactile input that he was receiving and, to his utter surprise, the tactic worked fairly well. He didn't pull away, and his shuddery, panicky breathing slowly settled into a normal rhythm as he stared down at his and Angelo's hands. Encouraged and emboldened, Angelo reached out with his free hand, using the tip of his index finger to lift Kitt's chin, locking their gazes together.
"You can do it," he said quietly but very firmly to Kitt. "Because if I've learned one thing about you over the years, it's that you can do anything you set your mind to."
Kitt smiled at Angelo wanly in response, a game half-smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. Still, it was a more heartfelt effort than anything he'd managed so far. Angelo smiled back at him and released Kitt's hand, moving his own to briefly stroke it over the soft, dense layer of black peach fuzz that blanketed Kitt's head before he broke the contact between them entirely. He sat back a bit and then noticed Peter standing in the doorway off to his left, watching the two of them. He was framed in the doorway arch and backlit by the light from the corridor behind him. He was carrying at least three heavily-laden paper grocery bags. Angelo beckoned him inside.
"Besides," he said to Kitt at the same time, "it seems to me that you just haven't had the chance to experience any of the benefits of humanity."
Kitt, who'd been watching Peter curiously, returned his attention to Angelo then, giving him a deeply dubious frown. He picked up the pen that he'd dropped and wrote, Such as? As he finished writing, he regarded Angelo with an inquisitively-raised eyebrow.
Angelo looked at the words on the page, shrugged, and mildly answered, "Sex, of course. What else?"
At that, Kitt sighed and rolled his eyes. It was something he'd quickly mastered because, between Michael's fussing, Bonnie's mother-henning, and Angelo's odd proclivities, he'd had plenty of opportunities to practice it.
Angelo grinned at Kitt's reaction as he added, "Yeah, one step at a time is probably a good plan. And," he finished, "as it turns out, just a step or two below sex is food. Which, when done right, can be almost as good as sex. Sometimes better, even."
Kitt gave him another dubious look, this one even more dubious than the last one.
I've had food, he wrote.
And he had, because the feeding tube that had been inserted into his belly had been one of the first things to go once he'd fully regained consciousness and Jessica and the nurses had begun the slow process of de-tubing him. He was down to just a few disagreeable things sticking into his body in various locations now. So, food had quickly become something of a necessity.
Angelo, meanwhile, was snickering at what Kitt had written.
"Oh, you have so not had food, baby," he proclaimed. "You've had sustenance. And trust me, there's a huge, huge difference between mere sustenance and actual, honest-to-God food. Isn't that right, love?" he suddenly asked of Peter, who had moved into the room and was setting down his grocery bag burden on a convenient coffee table, which he then carefully pulled closer to the bed.
"Absolutely," Peter absently confirmed, although he truly hadn't been paying much attention to what Angelo had been saying. He was too busy poking around in the bags for a moment, taking a quick inventory, and then announcing that he was off to scrounge up some plates and silverware.
Angelo hopped off the edge of Kitt's bed then and went to work unpacking the bags that Peter had delivered. As usual, he talked while he worked, hardly pausing for breath. Also as usual, Kitt sat back and just listened to him talk.
"So I figured," Angelo said, "that it was about damned time you had some real food. I mean, you're better off that you might have been, since you're not in an actual hospital and all where you'd have to eat, God forbid, hospital food. But still, you're not getting real food. So I went and called up my baby sister Teresa. She's, like, the only person in my family who doesn't think that me n' Peter are gonna go straight to hell, and she used to be the best damned cook in Brooklyn, after my mama, until she lost her mind last year, got married, and then moved out here, where her husband's from. So now she's probably the best damned cook in LA. And I told her that I had this friend who hadn't had real food in, like…Well, ever, and that this friend needed some serious fattening up. She was happy to oblige. And don't worry," he abruptly interjected, pausing to give Kitt a reassuring look over his shoulder, "there's no meat. I gave Tee very specific instructions." Finished unpacking, Angelo turned fully back to Kitt, who was giving him a questioning look. "Luckily for you," Angelo finished with a grin, "Italian stuff ain't half bad without bits and pieces of dead animals in it."
Kitt gave Angelo an amused smirk. He was already used to the ribbing he was getting over his refusal to eat meat simply because it was, in his mind, akin to cannibalism. Angelo had laughed gleefully as he'd translated that particular protest. Michael, on the other hand, had rolled his eyes and then, with the near-infinite patience with Kitt's idiosyncrasies that he'd developed over the years, he'd calmly countered that Kitt wasn't a chicken. To which Kitt had replied, his extreme distaste obvious even in writing, that he was suddenly far too close to being one for comfort. Michael quite logically rebutted that he was also a lot closer to being a tomato, but that argument hadn't persuaded Kitt in the slightest. And although Michael, as the devoted carnivore that he was, continued his efforts of persuasion, Kitt was equally determined that he wasn't going to budge from his philosophical position, not even by a millimeter.
"So now," Angelo was saying, meanwhile, "Tee thinks you're some kinda bizarre California health food nut or somethin', but she made us a nice dinner anyway." Seeing Peter reenter the room with a stack of plates topped with a pile of small bowls that in turn cradled a messy tangle of silverware, he loudly and pointedly added, "And luckily for us, the love of my life graciously agreed to go and pick it up."
Peter snorted at that as he set his pile on the table amongst the food that Angelo had unpacked and then set about the business of serving.
"I thought he was the love of your life," he said, jokingly jerking his head in Kitt's direction as he worked.
"Oh no, darling. That's lust," Angelo drawled in reply, with a teasing grin aimed right at Kitt. "There's a difference, y'know?"
Peter snorted again and answered, "Not with you, there isn't."
Angelo snickered at that while Kitt rolled his eyes – again – and flopped back against the head of his bed. Poking him playfully, Angelo teased, "Oh, don't go doin' the martyred thing, you! You know you love me."
Kitt answered him with an ambiguous look, neither confirming Angelo's assertion nor denying it, and then he was distracted by Peter handing him a loaded plate, which held a chunk of lasagna that had to be eight inches thick, dripping with thick, fragrant sauce and spinach-infused ricotta, along with a few side dishes and a hunk of bread. Kitt set about inspecting it closely. Angelo, as was his wont, quickly became impatient.
"Christ, don't just sit there lookin' at it! Mangiare, mio piccolo amore, mangiare!" he insisted. When Kitt looked up and gave him a blank look in response, Angelo frowned back at him for a moment and then remembered, "Oh, right! Italian's AWOL at the moment, isn't it? Shame, really," he added with a theatric sigh and a shake of his head. "I mean, it's a fun language to be pissy in and all, and I'm thinkin' you could really use that right about now."
Kitt actually managed something of a laugh at that. They did have a tendency to yell at each other in Italian, when one or the other of them was in a pissy mood. Usually, that was Kitt because, if he was spending a lot of time with Angelo, it usually meant that he'd been banged up, and that tended to make him a bit cranky.
Very true, Kitt answered, his demeanor suddenly melancholy. I miss it. I miss many things, in fact.
"Hey!" Angelo responded, giving Kitt a quick poke to ward off the somber mood that was suddenly threatening. As Kitt blinked at him with a little confused frown on his face, Angelo added. "You need to be thinkin' about what you've gained, not about what you've lost." As Kitt's frown deepened, Angelo answered the snarky "Like what?" that he knew was crossing Kitt's mind, saying, "Like the ability to appreciate a nice, thick, messy slice of lasagna, is what. Eat!" he insisted again, gesturing at the untouched plate that was still nestled in Kitt's lap.
Kitt could be obedient when he wanted to be. He regarded his meal uncertainly for a moment before moving determinedly forward. He still wasn't exactly skilled with eating utensils, but he managed to dissect a piece of lasagna with his fork and then managed to transfer the morsel to his mouth without making a mess. And once that was accomplished and the taste began to register with him, his already large eyes flew even wider, and he gave Angelo a look that clearly communicated that he was suddenly enjoying himself. Immensely.
"Uh-huh!" Angelo responded delightedly, grinning massively. "Y'see? That's what I'm talkin' 'bout, baby!"
Kitt didn't bother to answer and not only because he couldn't eat and "talk" at the same time. He just proceeded to enthusiastically devour everything on his plate at breakneck speed.
"Easy there," Peter advised after a moment of watching him in deep amusement, "or you're just going to make yourself sick. And then it will all come back up faster than it went down. Trust me, that's not nearly so pleasant."
Kitt gave Peter an alarmed look, and he deliberately slowed down, but he certainly didn't stop. As his attention refocused wholly on discovering real food for the first time, Peter smiled with still-amused affection at him and then moved to settle on the edge of the bed, close behind Angelo. He wrapped both arms around Angelo's waist, pulled him closer, snuffled his nose through his thick, wavy hair and into his ear in just the way that he knew Angelo liked, and whispered at him, "You can be quite wonderful when you want to be, you know."
"Mmmm," Angelo murmured appreciatively at the snuffling. He was somewhat surprised by it, even, because Peter wasn't often so publicly demonstrative. And then he added a cheeky, "I know."
Peter snorted against his ear and pointed out, "Of course, the rest of the time you're an utter brat."
Angelo smiled, reaching back to pat Peter's cheek. And then he ruffled his fingers through Peter's short ginger curls as he confidently asserted, "Yes, but you like me that way."
Peter leaned in still closer and murmured breathily into his ear, "All too true, darling."
Angelo's smile widened as he playfully murmured back, "You'd better quit before we give Kitt more than a culinary education."
"Well, it certainly wouldn't be the first time," Peter playfully reminded him, not pulling away at all. "Need I remind you of that time when we—"
"Yeah, yeah," Angelo hurriedly interrupted. "But that was…different." He couldn't exactly articulate how it was different. Kitt was Kitt no matter what physical form he was injected into. But it really was different, suddenly.
Peter sighed against Angelo's ear, meanwhile, sending a shiver skittering down Angelo's spine, and whispered, "Later, then."
"Not too much later, I hope," Angelo responded, looking up to give him a toothy, promise-filled grin as Peter pulled away and stood up. And then he noticed that Kitt was staring at them. "What're you lookin' at?" he playfully teased. "Jealous?" Kitt thought about that for a moment and then shrugged what was obviously a "maybe" at him. Angelo chuckled in response after taking a moment to be surprised, and he looked over at Peter, who was loading up a plate for himself, and teased, "Maybe you oughta go whisper in his ear, babe."
Peter smiled as he busily refilled Kitt's plate
"Maybe I ought to," he agreed as he worked. He turned back to Kitt after a moment, handed him his reloaded plate, winked at him, and said, "Maybe he wouldn't go all disappointingly bashful on me."
Angelo smirked at that while Kitt made an exaggeratedly contemplative face, in response to which Peter gave him a wolfish grin and a lascivious waggle of his eyebrows. Angelo took it all in and playfully sputtered at Peter, "Hey! Stop horning in on my territory!"
Peter snorted at that as he busied himself with loading up a plate for Angelo.
"'Horning' is certainly an appropriate word, when it comes to you," he said, and Angelo gave him a shameless grin as he took the plate that Peter offered to him.
And then the three of them settled down into their extravagantly rich meal.
A decadently rich cheesecake capped off the meal and as Kitt happily wallowed in the throes of utterly sated gastronomic ecstasy in its aftermath, Angelo lounged back on the edge of the bed, supporting his upper body with one hand behind him while happily patting his overstuffed tummy with the other. Peter had disappeared again, for the moment; just before he'd left, he'd been muttering something about finding something to store leftovers in.
"Really," Angelo opined around a happy sigh, "all this stuff just ain't done right without a fantastic Chianti to go with it. But," he added with a languid waving gesture at the IV pole attached to Kitt's bed, from which a generous array of bags still dangled, "I figured that alcohol wouldn't play real well with your little pharmacy there."
Kitt lazily craned his neck backwards against the head of the bed that he was leaning against in order to look up at the IV pole. A rueful expression crossed his face, and he answered, having finally exchanged his fork for his pen, Probably not.
"So," Angelo cheerfully continued, "next time. When you're off all that crap and can get your skinny little ass outta here. We'll go someplace nice, even. Like, someplace where the tablecloths aren't made of paper."
Kitt smiled at that, a smile that was even creeping toward being a wholly genuine one.
And where they don't serve the Chianti in paper cups, I trust? he teased.
Angelo glanced at what he'd written and answered, "Yeah, maybe that, too. If you're a good boy, that is."
I'm always good, Kitt proclaimed, leveling a challenging gaze at Angelo. Very good, even. He underlined the word "very" for emphasis.
Angelo smirked at that and teased, "I'll be the judge of that, if you don't mind."
Kitt raised an eyebrow at him, and wrote, Are you asking me out on a date, Gianelli?
Angelo leaned forward again to see what Kitt had written, and then he looked up to nail Kitt with a brilliant grin.
"Well," he teased, "I figure it's much more polite than just climbing up on that bed and having my sweaty way with you." While Kitt snorted at that, Angelo added, "Besides, you know what they say, baby: The way to man's heart is through his stomach." And while Kitt rolled his eyes yet again at that, Angelo added, "So am I maybe halfway there yet?"
Halfway where? Kitt asked, giving Angelo an exaggeratedly clueless look, complete with vacant blinking.
"To your heart, you dope!" Angelo exasperatedly clarified, playfully throwing a wadded-up napkin at him, which Kitt reflexively dodged. "I did bring you cheesecake and all, y'know," he reminded Kitt, and he even resorted to regarding him with large and deeply-brown puppy-dog eyes. He knew they were very hard to resist. Even when he'd been a kid he'd usually gotten whatever he wanted with them. Usually.
Unfortunately for him, Kitt was an expert at digging in his heels and offering all kinds of stubborn resistance to just about anything that he wanted to resist.
Peter brought me cheesecake, he pointed out. Not you. And then he crossed his arms over his bony chest, which consisted of thin skin stretched over a convex xylophone of ribs and a pair of very prominent collarbones. He gave Angelo a triumphantly self-satisfied smirk.
Angelo read what Kitt had written, and his face immediately fell into a pout.
"Well, yeah, if ya wanna get all literal about it," he petulantly protested, knowing how much Kitt hated being accused of being overly literal. "But it was my idea." He continued to pout at Kitt until Kitt finally relented, heaving a surrendering sigh.
All right, fine, he conceded. You're maybe a sixteenth of the way there. Maybe, he reiterated, again underlining the word for emphasis. He paused then, unconsciously biting down on his lower lip as he narrowed his eyes and thoughtfully tapped his chin with his pen for a moment. Then he added with a teasing sidelong glance at Angelo, A lot more cheesecake might just get you farther faster, you know.
Angelo read what he'd written and then, lifting his head, he also lifted two surprised eyebrows at Kitt while giving him a wide grin.
"Well, hell, baby!" he responded delightedly. "If that's all it takes, I'll bring you one a day until you closely resemble a beached whale."
Kitt snorted at that and countered, But then you wouldn't want to have your sweaty way with me.
Angelo leaned in close then, almost intimately close, and he answered, "Oh, don't bet on it, sweetheart. Looks ain't everything."
And in response, Kitt smiled. It was tentative at first, but it slowly grew until it was big enough that his eyes almost disappeared, subsumed by the upper edges of his high Slavic cheekbones. It was then that Angelo discovered that Kitt possessed a set of killer dimples that were strong enough to show even though his face currently lacked greatly in the flesh department. And it was then that Angelo fell in love…or at least much more deeply in lust.
It was also then that Michael poked his head into the room, with Bonnie in tow.
"What's all this?" Michael asked, frowning curiously around himself.
Angelo gave Michael a little wave in response as he sat back from Kitt a little. But Kitt…
Kitt turned his head and gave Michael a smile. It was one of genuine, sublime happiness, and it lit up his thin, pale face as it hadn't yet been lit. It was a complete turnaround from his almost sullen mood earlier, before Michael had left him to seek out Bonnie. Kitt had always been one to shift moods on a dime, of course, sometimes going from completely sulky to wildly ecstatic in the dizzying space of a few seconds. He wasn't human, and what he felt affected him differently than it would have affected a human being. He processed everything, including emotion, differently than a human being did, and he did it in ways that Michael didn't understand at all, that maybe no one really understood. Not even Bonnie. Not even Kitt himself. His computer brain moved at a speed that Michael couldn't even begin to comprehend, and over the years he had become used to Kitt's rapid and sometimes erratic cycling between emotional peaks and valleys.
But this…This was almost breathtaking, perhaps because Kitt had never been quite so visual before. Before, his state of mind had expressed itself in how rapidly he spoke, and in the tone of his synthesized voice, and in the lengths and qualities of his silences. There were no gestures. No expressions. No scowls or tears and certainly no smiles. About the closest he could come to such visual cues was to vary the sweep speed of the Trans Am's front scanner. But now, all of a sudden, Kitt looked so happy that Michael was immediately and powerfully loath to ruin his first good mood since he'd fully awakened and had had to start reconciling himself with an entirely different kind of existence. He'd had to come down out of the stratosphere and plod along with the mere mortals for a while, perhaps for a long while, and although Michael truly couldn't imagine what that was like for Kitt, he knew that it was difficult. And he suddenly felt no need to make it even more difficult.
So, Michael decided that he wasn't going to tell Kitt about what he'd been up to for most of the day and what he'd discovered. It could wait, he decided, at least until the next day. He exchanged a quick glance with Bonnie, whose expression clearly indicated that she'd already reached the same conclusion that Michael had reached, and they shared a quick nod of mutual understanding.
"This," Angelo was answering Michael meanwhile, "is food." He gestured expansively at the mostly-empty serving dishes scattered around. "Figured it was about damned time."
"It certainly smells like food," Michael agreed. "And we're starving," he added.
"Help yourselves," Angelo replied. "There's no meat, though," he warned with a teasing smirk at Michael.
"Of course there isn't," Michael sighed, rolling his eyes theatrically. But he managed to construct an impressive array of edibles on a plate, anyway.
"Jessica is going to kill you, you know," Michael mildly informed Angelo sometime later, as the impromptu gathering was obviously winding down and the few remaining leftovers had been packed away. He took a bite of his second wedge of cheesecake, murmured at least his tenth blissfully reverent, "Oh my God" of the evening as it went down, and then added, "And knowing her, she'll probably find some horrible, slow way to do it, too. Like, drilling a thousand tiny holes into your skull so that your brain slowly leaks out."
"Pffft!" Angelo disdainfully snorted as he plopped himself down onto the couch that Michael had rather claimed as his own, having spent so many hours on it while Kitt had still been unconscious. "What brain? I'm pretty sure I have the lowest IQ in the room."
"Oh, I dunno about that," Michael answered doubtfully. "I think I might be able to give you a run for your money."
Angelo snickered in response and said, "Well, whatever. I'm also pretty sure that I can take a five-foot-tall woman who weighs like half as much as I do, no matter how pissed off she is. Plus," he finished with a waving gesture in Kitt's direction as Michael chuckled, "the boy just needs food, for God's sake, before he wastes away to nothing before our very eyes."
"Spoken like a true Italian," Michael answered over his chuckling.
"Well, only about half, actually," Angelo corrected with a dismissive shrug. "But the other half's mostly Cuban, and they're just as bad with the whole food-pushing thing." And then he suddenly shifted on the couch to lean in closer, conspiratorially close, to Michael. He jerked his chin subtly at Kitt, who'd fallen asleep curled up into a little ball, lying on his side. He had a happy little smile on his face, and as Bonnie set about fussing over him, tucking him in while Peter supervised the operation, Angelo lowered his voice and added, "Besides, seeing that look on that face is well worth a slow, torturous death."
"You know something?" Michael answered as he followed Angelo's gesture and then smiled affectionately at the peacefully slumbering Kitt, as Bonnie leaned down to plant a maternal kiss on his upturned cheek. "I think you're right."
And now, as promised/threatened, some review replies. :O)
itsfinnmcmissile:Realism – or at least a vague semblance thereof – is indeed my goal, so I'm glad you appreciate it. Other people have done this sort of thing before, of course, but I always felt that the transition was all too easy, on many different levels. Or maybe it's just that I like to make things difficult for poor wittle AIs. ;)
GuardPuppy:Hugging time is getting closer, never fear. :) And I do hope that you do continue the translation, although I'm thinking it's kind of a difficult one to work on. Perhaps frustrating, too; there's a lot of colloquial language in this story that might not necessarily translate well. So…my apologies. But I did enjoy reading what you've translated so far! So far as I can tell (My German is far from perfect these days, I'm afraid), it seems pretty faithful.
Melody Phoenix: There's a reason that Angelo knows Russian. Well, two reasons, actually. One is that he just likes languages. The other…will be revealed. :) I mean, it's not a major plot point or anything like that. It's just a cute little reason why he speaks it.
Emperatrizdelanoche: There was a time when I used to think in one language and speak in another and write in yet another. Unfortunately, that time is long past, and languages are something that you either use or lose. I've pretty much lost them all, or at least I've lost most of all of them. My best non-English language is probably still German at this point.
And yes, for the most part, facial expressions are instinctive behaviors, so it made sense to me that Kitt would master them fairly quickly. Faster than he'd master speech, for sure. Writing the mute Kitt has made me realize how difficult writing a character who can't speak can be. I'm cheating a little because I'm letting him write, but still…
Bookworm Gal: Whatever language Kitt is "speaking," he's still Kitt. That's actually something that's important to me in this particular story, keeping him (mostly) in character even though his world's been turned upside down. And, in some ways, it's only going to get worse for the poor wittle guy…
Jalaperilo: Snark is hard to write when one of the characters can't speak! *laughs* But yes, the boy's awake now, so now it's time for the "fun" to begin. And I'm gratified to hear that you still like Angelo even when in an "I hate OCs" phase. Believe me, I know what that sort of phase is like. :) I kinda like him, myself. Well, OK, I'm sort of in love with him, really, but I'm afraid that's kinda what happens to me when I go whole-hog into an OC.