When Dave Lister finished his shift he was tired and grumpy. He had already been in a low mood before; he hated himself for it, but deep down inside he had hoped that the faster than light drive would have worked; to bring them back to the Dwarf and maybe, just maybe, home.
The last sight he needed to great him halfway down the corridor was Arnold J Rimmer on his way to his shift. Grumbling he braced himself for an ambush of smug gittishness: the Hologram had been the only one to get anything out of their meeting with Legion. He was now in possession of a body that was practically real, he could touch and eat and do whatever he wanted now. He was certain he would be taking any opportunity he had to rub his good fortune in his face.
To his surprise Rimmer said nothing; that got his attention. He looked at the newly corporable Hologram again and noticed that he was slightly swaying and leaning against the wall as he shuffled past him.
“Rimmer?” He asked, against his better judgement. “Are you alright?”
Slowly the man turned to face him, Lister was stunned to see his face was deeply pale and that there were a few bruises by the side of his head.
“Lister …” Rimmer started, blinking slowly and sounding rather dazed, “erm … is it okay for me to take a nap in your room after my shift?”
An annoyed groan was repressed by the Scouser: that was Rimmer all over, something was obviously wrong with him, but instead of flat out saying he needed help he'd just ask for a band aid when the problem clearly needed stitches.
“Why, something wrong Arn?”
Rimmer swooned, Lister remembered to catch him just in time – he kept forgetting the man had a body now, a body that was now rather cold to the touch.
“N … not really it's just …” Then Rimmer stopped and looked at Lister; suddenly he realised that he was held by someone. Lister had caught him, kept him upright. The first person who had handled his new body with kindness since he got it. He whimpered and felt Lister's grip grow stronger.
“Hey, you're not okay, are ya? Smeg the shift, I'm getting you to medibay.”
Rimmer swallowed and nodded, which was a bad decision as it made him nauseous.
On the way to medibay Rimmer told him how Kryten had hit him over the head for ages to try and knock him out. It had hurt – a lot – and then he'd also banged his head and most of his new body during the affair with the star drive. As he was a hard-light hologram it appeared that the effects of pain and injury took longer to catch up with him but as the day had progressed and the bruises begun appearing the pain in his head and body had become excruciating. He was also feeling cold all the time, to the point of freezing. He wasn't sure what to do, as he had only just got his new body and was terrified something was wrong with it, so he had opted to keep quiet about it. Finally able to have a lay down he'd found his bed was as hard as a rock and that the noise in his room was now almost unbearable. All he'd wanted was to sleep for a bit, but it had been impossible.
Lister seated Rimmer on the examination table-couch and wrapped him in a blanket to hopefully keep him warm while he went to find Kryten. Although he wasn't sure why, he hated it when Rimmer felt bad and wanted to see him well and happy, enjoying his new body.
In the cockpit he found an irate Kryten who'd stayed with the Cat to wait for Rimmer to take over. The Android seemed put out, rather then concerned when hearing the Hologram wasn't feeling well, which surprised Lister.
“According to the scanners he has a mild head injury that has disorganised his processes. I also see a spike in his pain receptors.” Kryten said after examining the patient.
“Can you fix him?” Lister asked hopefully, he liked it when things could get fixed quickly.
Unfortunately Kryten put a damper on that hope: Rimmer needed to recover naturally. Apparently the makers of hardlight were really big on making the holo experience as close to human as possible for this brand of Hologram. This included enduring illness, pain and bruising.
“Okay …” Lister nodded as he took in this news and turned to Rimmer. “Seems rather smegged up to me but … Wanna get comfy in my room now Arn?”
Rimmer thought about it for a second: did he really want to get up again, heave this strange heavy and painful body of this surprisingly comfortable scanner bench and drag it all the way across the ship? “Just let me lay here, Listy. It's comfortable and I really don't feel up to walking to your room anymore.” He closed his eyes.
Lister frowned. “I'm not just letting you sleep on the stupid scanner table Rimmer.”
“If you'd slept in my bed you would find this thing a relief too.” Rimmer scoffed.
“Well, I'll have a look at your bed later, see if I can fix it. First thing I want is for you to have a proper rest so you can actually enjoy your new body for a change.”
Rimmer sighed and tried raising himself, then decided against it; even the slightest movement hurt too much and made him dizzy. With a soft whimper he lay back down and sighed again.
Lister felt a pull in his heart seeing the battered Hologram so helpless.
“Can we do anything to ease the pain? Get him some pain killers, maybe?” Lister didn't like seeing someone in pain. Kryten looked dismayed hearing the question.
“Well Sir, he is a hologram and should act accordingly. Who does he think he is taking up valuable human supplies?”
Lister frowned, he didn't like this line of talking one bit.
“What the smeg you on about: Rimmer is human. Always has been to me, even more now. If he's in pain he gets painkillers just like I would. When will you understand; I treat everyone the same. I'd give you painkillers if you needed them, you doofus!”
Kryten closed his eyes and produced the Android equivalent of a groan. “Oh sir please don't care, I hate it when you care!” He was feeling strange, very strange. It was as if there was a new software in his database, one that made him act oddly towards Mr Rimmer. He couldn't help himself. It had started the moment he understood that Mr Rimmer had received an enviable upgrade. Mr Rimmer was basically human now, almost equal to Mr Lister. To Kryten that would not do, everything and everyone had it's place and Mr Rimmer had always been a Hologram. He couldn't just become human nilly willy. Would this mean Mr Lister would become closer to him: he'd missed the human race so much that having someone 'human' from his past life could be very attractive. But he was certain he had always been closest to Mr Lister, from the moment he got on-board. He loved how put out Mr Rimmer always seemed about that. Were these the emotions an Android were supposed to have?
He felt a warm human hand on his steel arm. Lister looked up at him pleadingly. “Kryten, help him, man …”
A combination of guilt about his haywire database and simply not being able to resist his beloved Mr Lister made Kryten obey. After administering the painkillers, the Android carried the doped up Mr Rimmer to Lister's bedroom where the Hologram was covered with a mountain of blankets and slept for a few hours.
When Lister entered his room for the third time to check on Rimmer he found the Hologram awake and looking up at him in a dazed confusion.
“Hey Arn, you're awake? I came to check on you, see if there's anything you need.”
Rimmer blinked a few times then squinted at him. “I'm a bit … never mind …” He mumbled. This was all so new and confusing, a body, feeling, Lister being kind, the cold, the pain. He felt open vulnerable, scared to open his mouth in case he made a complete gimboid of himself. Years as a hologram had made him even more afraid and unused to asking for help.
“Rimmer, for smeg sake, you can ask me, that's why I came.”
Lister felt genuinely hurt. All these years and Rimmer was still scared to talk to him. He desperately wanted Rimmer to share with him, now more than ever. He had always seen Rimmer as nothing but human: his crazy bunkmate – the only one to fully know their history, human history. But now, after that first touch, that almost human like skin – it was as if it finally made him fully feel something he had locked away for too long.
“Listy … could you get me another blanket? I'm still really cold.”
Lister frowned, still cold with all those blankets? He really hoped that Rimmer's files would restore soon as it seemed horrible to him to be that cold.
“Sure man …” he said gently.
He watched as the now solid Hologram sighed wearily and licked his lips. That made him think of something.
“Hey, is there anything you'd like to eat Rimmer?” He asked kindly, he really wanted Rimmer to feel happy.
“It's weird but …” Rimmer started, just as Kryten trundled in. Lister nodded encouragingly, Rimmer could say whatever he wanted. “I'd love some fresh fruit … strawberries.” the Hologram said in a tiny voice.
Lister raised his eyebrows: nine years of waiting and the first thing the man thought of was fruit? It took all sorts, he guessed.
“If that's what ya crave, it's what ya crave, mate.” He smiled indulgently.
“But Sir, fruit are the emergency supplies …”
Lister sighed, why had Kryten walked in just as he was trying to get Rimmer to feel safe and comfortable?
“Kryten, I think we can safely assume we'd sooner find a derelict overloaded with curry before I'd intensely crave a strawberry. Give Rimmer a break man.” He returned his attention to the pale face on the pillow and continued softly: “Anything more nutritious than a few red blobs?”
An almost hopeful look met his gaze.
“Is there any cheese … bread?”
“Bread and cheese? I guess you're looking for a grilled cheese sandwich there, Arn? I remember you always loved those …”
Rimmer seemed grateful that Lister remembered.
“Yes … but … I understand the supplies are low and …”
Lister waved both Rimmer's mutterings and Kryten's glares away. Rimmer would be warm and fed and that was final.
Lister was mighty pleased with himself: he'd found strawberry's and raspberry's and had made the perfect grilled cheese sandwich and then he'd gone one better and found the ship's sole electrical blanket. He and Kryten had plugged it in and re-made the bed while Rimmer enjoyed his snacks – with the last of the real tea the ship had – and even real water!!
When Rimmer crawled back into the mountain and let Lister tuck him in the Hologram smiled at him. Snug inside the quilt mountain with warm tea and his favourite snacks inside him he felt calm for the first time since receiving his body.
“Thank you …” he said to Lister. “For making me feel better about well …”
“You didn't like having a body?” Lister asked in confusion.
Rimmer looked up sadly and scoffed. “I've waited nine years Listy, nine years to get a body to feel to touch to taste and … what do I get? The vilest food I've ever tasted – not just to eat, no I'm pelted with it as well, I'm punched and manhandled by an overzealous Android and then blown about the ship by some kind of jumped up wind machine. It was such an anti-climax … So you ..." He stopped. Lister nodded, not an ideal way to start his new existence, true.
“You'll get a chance to enjoy it better Arn, I'm sure.”
Kindness always made Rimmer vulnerable and blurt out his woes to Lister for some reason and the Scouser had been more kind and caring to him than anyone Rimmer had ever met. His guard so far down it had disappeared, he found himself starting a question he was certain he was supposed to keep firmly locked inside his mind. “Lister … could you … would you … Never mind … it's preposterous …” He sighed with relief: he'd managed to stop himself.
Lister sat himself next to Rimmer. “What did I tell you Rimmer? Today I'm here for you. And if you're still unwell tomorrow I'll be too.”
More genuine kindness that weakened him. Rimmer closed his eyes and swallowed. “Would you hold my hand, just for a second?” he then squeaked.
A second of hesitation and confusion from Lister felt like a sucker punch to Rimmer: had he made a fool of himself, would Lister have fuel to laugh at his expense for the next two hundred decades? All he wanted was to feel the comforting warmth of human touch he'd been denied for so long, had it made him lose the one person that cared? Just as he forced himself to start laughing and pretend he'd pranked Lister he felt five warm fingers in his freezing hand. The soft fingers softly closed round his.
He looked up and saw Lister looking quiet and serious.
“This okay, Arn?”
Unused to being touched and certainly being touched with kindness, Rimmer could only nod.
They sat in silence for a while, both content with the contact they had missed for so long.
Lister stared at Rimmer and saw something in his eyes he had never seen before: a calm, gentle kindness that softened his entire face. He had never looked more beautiful.
Seeing Rimmer shiver Lister smiled indulgently at him. “Still cold, Rimsy?”
Rimmer nodded weakly. Lister took his hand again and slowly leaned over towards Rimmer, until his lips reached the Holograms mouth. He hesitated for one second, then he gently moved in to … kiss. There was a gasp, a second of resistance that melted quickly as Rimmer knew he was warm and safe and would never be cold again.