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bruce tony

Insensitive (Part 4 of 5)

Title: Insensitive (Part 4 of 5)
Author: echo_fangirl

Characters: Connor/Lester, Becker, various others
Rating: PG (note, part 3 is NC-17)
Words: 3,847 (25,340 total)
Disclaimer: Not mine, as nice as it would be
Spoilers: Set in season 3, assumes knowledge of season 2
A/N: Very sincere thanks to fredbassett, for betaing this for me so thoroughly in such a short time!

Summary
: Lester has been having headaches, and they're getting worse.

Previous parts: ( Part 1 ) ( Part 2 ) ( Part 3 )

---

Lester woke slowly, feeling refreshed in a way that is only possible after getting oneself completely exhausted the night before. He stretched, accidentally brushing a hand over the body still asleep next to him. The body moved.

“Is it morning?” Lester whispered into the silence. From the way he felt physically, he was fairly sure that it was, but without the normal visual cues he needed confirmation.

Connor fumbled under the sheets for a moment until he found Lester's hand, then gave the sign for 'yes'.

“Do you have to go to work today?” Lester asked. The answer to this one he was less confident of, but a moment later Connor made the sign for 'no', much to Lester's relief.

Buoyed by his success in both eating and bathing independently the night before, Lester decided to continue his run of self-sufficiency by preparing breakfast. Toast and cereal were about as simple as food preparation got. He slipped out of bed, telling Connor that he would be back shortly and to enjoy the lie in, then made his way down to the kitchen.

The cold of the freezer was unwelcome, having just climbed out of a toasty warm bed, but he was able to find the bread quickly enough. The cereal was where it always was, and even finding the milk was pleasingly straightforward. He hoped Connor had had the good sense to keep an eye on the food situation while he had been incapacitated, because he couldn't see the use-by date on the milk, but a couple of tentative sniffs didn't show any signs of having gone bad.

Two pieces of bread went into the toaster, and Lester found the kettle on the work surface and filled it with water for coffee. He had a proper coffee machine, of course, but there were far too many buttons and levers on it to make it a viable option under the circumstances. That thought sparked a moment of disappointment, but his confidence was growing every minute. Surely in a few days, he'd be competent enough to work the machine again.

He fished out a coffee plunger from the shelf behind the mugs, successfully not breaking anything in the process.

After a few minutes, Lester was reasonably confident that the water would be boiling. He plucked the toast from the toaster and put it onto a plate, then called for Connor.

His own volume was incredibly hard to gauge without the ability to hear himself, but he was fairly sure he was loud enough to rouse Connor without (he hoped) rousing the neighbors as well.

Lester spooned some coffee from the bag of grinds into the plunger, then with very great care, began to add the boiling water from the kettle. From memory, it took about five seconds to fill it, and so Lester counted, one, two, three...

Lester knew that he had misjudged a split second before the shock of pain speared its way through his hand. Instinctively he jerked his hand away, causing more scalding water to slosh from the kettle over the exposed skin. He swore, probably quite loudly, adrenaline and shock overpowering rationality. A second later he felt someone grabbing the kettle out of his hand and dragging him around by the elbow. A shock of cold on his wrist indicated to him that Connor had dragged him to the sink, and was now holding the burn under cold running water.

After what had seemed a ridiculously long time standing by the sink, Connor walked Lester back into the lounge, holding something that felt suspiciously like frozen peas over the damaged skin. Connor's grip on his elbow was firm to the point of uncomfortable. Lester's wrist hurt, quite a lot really, but it was his pride that had taken the greater hit.

He sat, not reacting, which Connor administered his very best first aid, first removing the frozen peas and dabbing the area with something cold and viscous, then wrapping his hand up in gauze and reinstating the frozen pea poultice.

Taking Lester's good hand, Connor traced the question, “Why?”

Lester shook his head slowly. “I wanted coffee. I was making us coffee, that was all.”

He felt Connor's hand rest over his own for a moment, a sign they had somehow settled on in the hospital as a private expression of sympathy, then Connor signed the letters for “idiot”.

Suddenly it didn't matter how affectionately it was meant. It didn't matter that Connor had only just been tending to Lester's stupidly self-inflicted injury with the patience of a saint. It didn't matter how perfect last night had been, or how supportive and understanding Connor had been since the whole sorry mess had started. Lester was angry, and he was in pain, and he was frustrated, and dammit, Connor had insulted him. Lester yanked his hand away from Connor's.

“Get out,” he said dangerously, jaw clenching and muscles taught. Connor's response was to touch Lester gently on the knee, another soothing gesture he had adopted during his visits in the hospital. Lester was having none of it though. “Out. Now,” he growled, gesturing with his bandaged hand in the rough direction of the door, ignoring the bag of frozen peas as they fell from his wrist and landed cold and limp in his lap.

He felt Connor shift off the sofa, but then a hand touched his other knee and Lester knew that Connor was now kneeling on the ground in front of him. It was intolerable. Lester stood up, gesturing angrily.

“Get out. Get the fuck out of my house, Connor. I don't want you here. I don't want you anywhere near here. Don't make me...” He stalled, unable to think of a single threat which he would be capable of carrying out without someone else's help. Lester balled his good hand into a fist, and pressed it against his temple like he wanted to massage out a particularly fierce headache. “Go. Just... Go."

It was almost impossible to tell how long he stood there, several minutes at least, but with no indications to the contrary, Lester eventually came to the conclusion that Connor had indeed left. He sat down again, back straight, brushing the cold pack out of the way.

“Connor? Are you still there?” he asked, after a few more moments. When no reply was forthcoming, he allowed his shoulders to relax into a more natural position, his head flopping back against the sofa.

He focused on his breathing for a few minutes, in and out, trying to breathe away the anger which had so rapidly taken him over. Spontaneous and futile bursts of anger like that were a new and unwelcome experience for him. Completely losing his self-control like that was positively bizarre. The more he thought about it, the more foolish he felt about the whole situation.

Lester chewed at his lower lip. He felt bad about sending Connor away. While the flat was still technically in Lester's name, these days it was as much Connor's home as it was his own. But, Lester considered, it was probably good for Connor to get away for a while. He could go and spend some time with Abby, or with some of his other friends. It wouldn't do to become such a burden on Connor that he ruined both of their lives.

If he was being realistic though, (and Lester prided himself on being a realist), then there was little he could do to stop that from happening. One night of pseudo-independence did not a long-term relationship make, and Lester knew that he was too old to really adapt to his new disabilities. Lester drew his knees up onto the sofa, head hanging low. He knew now that he would require full time care for the rest of his life, and there was no other alternative.

Which left him with a horrible, impossible choice. He could do the right thing, and push Connor away properly. It would hurt Connor in the short term, which would be incredibly hard, but he would move on to someone else soon enough, and ultimately lead the happy life he was entitled to... Or Lester could do the dishonorable thing, cling on to Connor, and drag him down into the long dark silence that was to be his new life.

Then, with a rush of self-loathing, Lester understood that he was not ready to give Connor up. That he would never be ready to give Connor up. That, if the choice was his, he would drag Connor down to the depths of hell with him, just so that he wouldn't be left in hell alone.

Lester felt sick. He felt dizzy with disgust at himself.

A hiccough of a sob worked its way up from his chest, and he put a hand over his mouth in surprise. His fingers felt damp, which meant that there were tears on his face. It was ridiculous, he hadn't cried for years. He couldn't even remember the last time. This self pity was intolerable.

He kicked out at nothing in frustration, catching the now-room-temperature bag of peas with his heel. Knowing how ridiculous he must look wasn't enough to make him to stop, which in turn only made him feel worse. His fatigue blended with the constant background pain in his head and his guilt over Connor, all conspiring to pull and tear his self-control. Soon enough, even pressing his good hand over his mouth wasn't enough to stop the insistent sobs. The flood gates had not only been broken, they had been washed away in the ensuing tide.

His nose was a horrible dripping mess, tears working their way down his face and tickling at his cheeks, and his shoulders were shaking like he had hypothermia. He was almost sure that he had started talking, babbling something, but he could neither hear himself nor bring himself to care.

It might have been minutes, or hours, or maybe days, Lester really couldn't say, but eventually fatigue won out over emotion, and he was able to get his breathing back under control. He composed himself, then quietly, tentatively, hopefully, he asked,
 “Connor?”

He had no right to even hope. He had sent Connor away, and it would be for the best if he received no answer. It would be all he deserved. Even so, his answer came only seconds later as a scratchy woollen blanket was wrapped around his shoulders.

“Connor? Connor, I'm... I should...” Even Lester's words were failing him now, a cruel new torment to add to the collection. When he felt Connor's hands resting on his knees again a moment later, his words came back in a rush. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. You deserve better than this, and better than me, and if you left now and never came back then I would understand, but please don't. Please stay with me. I'm sorry for all of it, and I love you, and I need you. Please don't leave me like this.”

When a familiar form slipped in under the woollen blanket with him, drawing Lester's head down to rest on an equally familiar shoulder, Lester felt a pang of guilt. But the smell of Connor and the warmth of the blanket smothered it, and Lester finally discovered how to let himself be soothed.

---

Watching Lester silently tear himself apart without going to him had been one of the hardest things Connor had ever had to do. He knew that Lester would never have been able to have his incredibly overdue break down if he knew he had an audience, but it had run counter to everything Connor believed in to just sit there from a distance watching his lover break.

Words were insufficient to describe his relief when Lester had eventually called for him. He had wondered at the time whether Lester had known all along that Connor was there, but it didn't really matter now, either way.

Connor rubbed circles on Lester's back, planted kisses in his hair, and Lester seemed to respond. The mood was so tranquil that the sudden sound of a ringing phone caused Connor to startle.

He glared at the offending device until it went to voicemail, Becker's voice was echoing in the large space of Lester's lounge room.

“Connor, there's something going on, I need you to get to the ARC asap. If you've got Lester with you then bring him, but Connor, do not let him out of your sight, do you understand? Not for a second. I'm not sure what's going on, but someone's...”

The line went dead.

---

The ARC was oddly deserted. The guard station was unmanned as Connor drove Lester's car up through the side entrance.

Connor spared a quick glance at Lester. Aside from the slight redness of his eyes and the gauze wrapping his wrist, it would be hard to tell that anything about the man had changed in the weeks since the last time they drove to the ARC together. Connor hadn't had much time to explain to Lester what was going on, but then Connor wasn't entirely clear what was going on either. All attempts to call Becker back after his phone message had failed.

Connor pulled into Lester's labeled parking space near the door, then went around to help Lester out of the car. No sooner was Lester standing than he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Step away from him, Connor.” Becker instructed, sounding tense. Connor looked over his shoulder slowly.

Becker had a gun pointed at them. Or rather, at Lester.

“Becker? What's going on?”

“Just let go of Lester and step away.”

Connor shook his head.

“Don't be ridiculous! Even if he wanted to do something, Lester can't see or hear anything. He's no threat to anyone. And it's my job to keep him safe, so just tell me what's going on.”

Becker looked displeased at Connor's refusal. He exhaled loudly.
 “Connor, Lester told me himself that there were people who would do anything to get access to the ARC. That chip in his head, I think it's controlling him.  I'm sure he doesn't mean to do us any harm, but I think someone else out there does, and they're using him to do it.”

Connor gave a nervous laugh. “That doesn't even make any sense! Lester's been at home with me since yesterday evening, and before then he was in the hospital. He wouldn't even have had the opportunity to do anything!”

Becker shook his head.
 “There was an order sent around the ARC this morning. It used Lester's authorization codes, and it was sent under his name. Everyone was evacuated to the enclosure area, and now that area is locked down. No one can get out. Are you telling me that Lester hasn't once been out of your sight all morning? Not even for five minutes?”

“Becker, he can't even...” Connor began to argue, but then a thought occurred. Lester had been unsupervised that morning, when he'd got up to make the breakfast, before he'd burned himself. Connor looked at Lester, who was clearly growing wary at having been kept standing still in the cool morning air for so long. He looked back at Becker. “Look, even if he was alone for a few minutes this morning, that's no reason to think he's done anything. And it's really no reason to shoot him!”

Becker rolled his eyes then, shaking his head for a second time.
 “Damn it, Connor, I'm not going to shoot him! I'm going to tie his hands then take him somewhere where he can't do any harm. Then you're going to work out how he was able to trigger a remote evacuation while I find out what's happening to the rest of the base.”

Connor tightened his grip around Lester's waist.
 “At least let me tell him what's happening,” he argued.

Becker gave a curt nod.

Connor quickly took Lester's hand, and traced the minimum he could think of to get his point across. Lester clearly wasn't able to follow the nature of the situation, but seemed to grasp the urgency. He nodded, holding his hands out in front of him. Becker approached slowly, then bound Lester's hands together with a cable tie.

Becker escorted them both down to Connor's lab and Connor settled Lester into one of the chairs. Before Connor was able to protest, Becker had attached Lester's cuffs to the back of the chair with an additional cable tie. Connor gave Becker an incredibly dirty look, but it had no visible effect.

“Can you work out where the signal came from with this stuff?” Becker asked, gesturing at the various consoles and monitors around the room.

Connor nodded.
 “Yeah, should be able to. Where are you going to go?”

Becker looked around, eyes falling on a short range radio handset. He picked it up and handed it to Connor, tapping the matching handset on his own uniform.

“I'm going to find out what's going on. If you find anything, call me on the radio. It's already set to the right frequency. When I get out of here, lock the door and don't let anyone in until I give the all clear. Understand?”

Connor nodded, and then Becker was gone.

Connor put a hand on Lester's shoulder, aiming for reassuring but probably missing by several miles, then turned to his keyboard

Becker had been right about one thing. The call to evacuate had come from outside the ARC, but it hadn't come from Lester's flat. There had been some kind of external link direct into the computer system, but Connor couldn't track the exact location.

Connor tried a different approach, filtering through the other activity through the system, working backwards from the evacuation system.

He heard a gasp behind him, and swung around to see Lester blinking rapidly, breath coming in short sharp bursts, muscles contracting involuntarily. It was the same reaction Connor had seen when Lester had been stuck in the MRI machine. He looked around frantically for a source, but couldn't see anything powerful enough to cause this sort of reaction.

He dashed over to Lester, trying to calm him, but a second later a siren started blaring. It was the anomaly detector. Connor grabbed for the radio, mashing the button down.

“Becker?”

“Connor, what the hell are you doing down there?”

“I don't know. The detector must have picked up an anomaly somewhere. I can't shut it off from here, I have to get to the detector room to...”

“That's what I'm talking about, Connor. There's an anomaly in the middle of the damn detector room!”

There was a sound of gunfire, and yelling then the radio went dead.

---

“Connor?”

Connor could almost see the tension radiating from Lester's body. His eyes were pressed closed, a sure sign that he was in pain, but Connor took the fact that Lester was able to speak as a good sign. He was no longer shaking, although he still looked pale and stiff, and far from well.

Connor gave another wary look at the door. The voices that had been yelling at him to open it had silenced a few minutes ago. His computer terminal was still working, at least, but he hadn't been able to find much more information about the source of the evacuation signal. Instead he turned his attention to figuring out the nature of the anomaly in the detector area, and trying to find out what had happened to Becker.

“Connor?” Lester asked again, quieter, “Are you still here?”

Connor entered the final few keystrokes to configure the search, set it running, and went to crouch next to Lester. He wanted to try and explain what was happening, but Lester's hands were still cable-tied to the chair. He looked around, pleased to see a sturdy pair of scissors on the bench.

He cut the bindings restraining Lester's hands against the back of the chair, but hesitated at the ones cuffing Lester's hands together. Becker's earlier warning still echoed in his head, and so with a sigh Connor dropped the scissors to the floor and turned Lester's hand so as to expose his palm, then began the slow and painstaking task of explaining the current situation one letter at a time.

He had made it all of three letters into the first word when a loud noise at the door made him jump. A second later he realized exactly what it was. Someone was outside his lab, unscrewing the door.

Connor let go of Lester's hand, rushing to push every movable object in the room up against the door. He grabbed at the radio to try Becker again. To his surprise he got a response, but it was a curt and hurried, “Stay put and be quiet!”

The barricade was ultimately ineffective, the door was off in minutes, and a small army of dangerous looking mercenary types made short work of the collection of desks and tables in their way. One of them moved to stand behind him, poking the small of his back, while the other grabbed Lester's shirt by the shoulder and hauled him up. Connor put his hands in the air and tried to look as non-threatening as he could, which, under the circumstances, was really quite easy. He glanced over to the radio Becker had left him with, but it was too far away for him to get at it without drawing attention to it.

The two men were marched down several hallways, Lester stumbling frequently with his hands still bound and no way of seeing where he was going. Connor wished he could help, but refrained from actually taking any action. So far the mercenaries had shown little inclination to cause them physical harm, and he wasn't in any rush to change their minds.

He was pleasantly surprised when he was pushed into the main, shared laboratory, several minutes from his own smaller space, to find Abby and Danny already waiting there. Their murderous expressions, intended for the guards, quickly melted when they recognized their two friends. That surprise was minor, though, compared to what happened next.

“They're all in the lab, what do you want us to do with them?” one of the mercenary guards croaked into his radio.

There were several seconds of static, then a tinny voice replied through the tiny speaker grille.

“Lock them in. Make sure they don't wander off. There are a few things I need to take care of, then I think it's time for a little chat.”

The guards nodded to each other, moving into the hallway to guard the door.

Connor looked at Abby. Her shocked expression no doubt mirrored his own.

And then Connor realized exactly why the chip in Lester's brain looked so familiar.

Comments

Oh! Hostile takeover!

And who is the main person in charge?

I can't wait to find out.
Not long to go now, just one part left! Thanks for commenting! :D
Oh, my freakin' God! This fourth installment certainly delivers a powerful punch! First there's Lester's breakdown, which is heart-breaking but written so beautifully, then there's the revelation that Lester may be under someone else's control because of the chip, and then there's the attack on the ARC! I have no idea how you're going to wrap this up in one more part, but I'm really looking forward to finding out! :-)

BTW, it's great that Lester does break down -- and in such a realistic manner. To lose two major senses -- one right after the other -- must be downright terrifying, especially if you're faced with the prospect of facing the situation alone. It's all too human for Lester to want to cling to Connor, even if he feels it's selfish. And I just love the way Connor knows that he can't go to Lester right away to comfort him if Lester is going to process his emotions properly. It's so touching when Connor is able to go to him and provide the comfort Lester desperately needs and actually accepts.

Kudos for a job seriously well done, echo_fangirl! :-)
Thanks! Breaking down Lester was pretty much my main goal, but it was meant to happen much earlier than this in the original outlines. He just fought back so damn hard whenever I tried to write it though! I don't think he would have been able to act out if he'd known there was someone else there, even though it was killing Connor to have to wait him out.

I hope the final part lives up to expectations! And thank you for all your comments! :D
Oh, that was good. I loved the way you wrote Lester's breakdown scene and now all the plot-y stuff of a potential ARC takeover.
Thanks! Almost there now, only one part to go!
Beautifully written, from the reality of Lester's situation - him wanting to be independent and not wanting to drag Connor down with him, pushing him away and then the breakdown and realising he does need Connor ... and then the action stuff - mind control and a hostile takeover! Can't wait to see how you finish this!
Thank you! Lester's in a bit of a difficult place right now, but he's starting to sort things out for himself. Only one part to go!
Ooh! This is an interesting development! Loved how you wrote Lester's breakdown, and I was relieved Connor hadn't really left during that time. Looking forward to the final part!
Things are definitely starting to speed up now! Thanks for reading and commenting!
eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

*flailflailflailflailflail*

Firstly, the breakdown scene. Absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking, and well done Connor for being strong enough to hold back and allow Lester to let go, that must have been horrible to watch without interfering. *huggles them both*

And then the action! Eeeeee! *flails more* Meep! Meep for Becker not trusting Lester. And what has now happened to Becker??? And who is behind all this, and what's that chip in Lester doing to him? Meeeep!
:D

Yeah, Connor figured that out about the same time I did. Lester kept refusing to fall apart while anyone was watching, and he's had people watching him non-stop since this started. Poor boys. :(
Thanks! Lester's a pretty awesome guy, really! :)
Aww and eek. Ooh, so did Lester scold his hand during the 'take-over' bit?
That breakdown was heart-breaking but it had to happen. *hugs* him and Connor for having to witness it and do nothing. I don't think Lester would have broken if he'd known someone was watching.
Eek over Becker pointing a gun at Lester and handcuffing him. Double-eek over the hostile takeover. Who is the main person in charge? Hopefully Lester will now get rid of the chip in his head.

*purrs and pokes for the next part*
Lester was steadfastly refusing to show weakness while anyone was watching. Stubborn so and so! Thanks for commenting!
*nods* Lester's always stubborn about showing any weakness. *pokes for more*
I've just caught up on this fic, and it is so amazing! I am such a sucker for h/c and this one is so plotty and fabulous, with the added bonus of it being Lester who is the broken one. You've done such a great job with the characterizations and this chapter in particular was heartbreaking, with Lester finally falling apart. I love Connor in this, he is so patient and loving, and yay for take charge!Becker. I can't wait to see how it all turns out!
Thank you! I feel bad about breaking Lester so thoroughly, but it was sort of his own fault for stubbornly having everything so together all the way through. Thanks for commenting!
Yikes! Brilliant chapter, with a great cliffhanger :-)
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Cliffhangers are more fun when you're on this side of the cliff. :D
I'm developing an alarming habit of somehow missing stuff on my flist that I should be reading, and not realising until the next part of whatever it is is posted - must find a way to make this stop!

Anyhoo, this was a great chapter - poor Lester finally completely breaking down, and then the action was very tense! I think I know who's behind it too... *g*

*scuttle off to the final part*
I have that problem too! I normally find them again when the weekly newsletter comes out though, luckily. I'm glad you have enough information to make a guess about who's in charge. There are hints, but not all that many.