Arnold J. Rimmer looked on jealously as Lister ate his delicious meal. Of course he didn't think to let the Skutters bring in something for him too, why would he? He was just the annoying bunkmate he hated and not even the correct version at that. He tried taking another bite of whatever it was the wardens had deigned to put on his plate but felt bile rise before he'd even put the fork in his mouth. With a sigh he lowered it back to the plate and then pushed it away. Wearily he raised himself and walked to his bunk where he curled up, arms wrapped around his stomach. He'd try to steal some bread from the canteen tomorrow, he thought to himself. You couldn't go wrong with bread, could you?
“No life, no career and now no food …” he muttered to himself tiredly, he'd better go to sleep – the only time he could forget.
Licking his fingers devotedly after devouring 90% of a mega curry Dave Lister's ears pricked up at Rimmer's soft mutterings. He looked from the barely touched plate on the table to the sad lonely figure in the bunk and begun to feel like a heel. How rude could he be? He'd been pigging out in front of Rimmer for three days and never even thought to have the Skutters bring his bunkmate something? This would have been funny once as a joke, maybe, but three times in a row just seemed spiteful. He hadn't meant it, it just hadn't occurred to him before now; used as he was to the incorporeal Hologram version of the man, but still. He shook his head, the poor guy was barely surviving in jail as it was, he'd better keep him from wasting away.
“Hey … Arn …” He started. Rimmer looked up in surprise.
“Yes, Lister …?”
“I've got lots of popadoms left and an untouched package of curry rice … if you'd like a bite, maybe?”
Rimmer snorted in annoyance.
“Oh, good enough for your sloppy leftovers am I …?”
Even though Rimmer deliberately went for annoyance with his tone Lister heard the hurt in his voice clear as a bell.
“Rimmer …” He tried to sooth him.
His bunkmate glared at him.
“Oh, come on Lister, isn't that how you see me: a sloppy second hand left over of a bunkmate you never wanted in the first place?”
Lister lifted his hands in defence.
“Hey, Rimmer and I … we became friends!”
With a groan Rimmer buried his head in his pillow.
“Yes Rimmer and you! That Rimmer! Not me; Arnie come lately the clone without knowledge of that glorious past you two shared. The one without growth, the one who could never be Ace.”
Lister heard the distinct quiver in his voice, the sound he recognised so well: Rimmer had reached breaking point. He had to be careful.
“Hey, Arnold, I don't see you like that, I swear!”
A tearful chuckle from somewhere in the pillow.
“Well why not? It's what I am. I wouldn't blame you for it.”
Lister bit his lip: poor nano-Rimmer, he'd never meant for him to feel like second best, but clearly that was what had happened. He took the tray with the popadoms and curried rice to sit next to Rimmer's bunk and put his hand on his shoulder.
Rimmer turned his head to the side to face him, Lister saw his eyes shone and his eyelashes were moist.
“What for?” He asked softly.
Lister started gently rubbing Rimmer's back, to show him he was reaching out, wanted contact.
“Treating you like smeg, I guess. I know you well enough to see I've upset you. You always hide your feelings till bursting point. If I ever made you feel less than or second hand or whatever, I'm sorry.”
The back rubs seemed to calm Rimmer and he let out a shaky sigh, never asking Lister to stop it.
The Scouser was surprised at this: he knew he had been distant with this Rimmer but he was surprised his new nano-companion seemed to care so much. He was supposed to be the pre-accident "smeghead Rimmer": all faux cold and distant façade. But for some reason his bunkmate seemed to be longing, missing something, reaching out for … the friendship and the bond he'd formed with the other Rimmer. He didn't seem interested in other people on the ship, instead he seemed intend on being part of “the Posse”.
“It's not just you …” Rimmer suddenly sighed. “It's this place. I'm used to well … being loathed, bullied, but here it's cranked up a notch. I've been beaten up again today …”
That shook Lister from his thoughts.
“What …? When, who did that?” How could Rimmer have kept that hidden from him?
“Kill Crazy's gang. Apparently I stood in their favourite spot.” Rimmer said matter of factly.
“Are you okay?” Lister felt worried, his bunkmate nodded.
“Yes, fine. It's more depressing than anything else by now.”
Rimmer winced slightly as he turned around and sat up, eyeing the tray hungrily.
“Can I still have that?”
“Yes, of course.”
As if scared Lister would change his mind Rimmer quickly grabbed the tray and wolfed down the meal.
“Oh my God …” He sighed as he slid the last popadom through the curry-gravy. “That was amazing! Best meal I've had in weeks. Thank you.” Rimmer shot Lister a grateful look.
Lister smiled back, then felt concern as Rimmer winced again as he put the tray away. He had to remember that this man, though a nano-version of the man he used to know, was in fact very human and that any injuries sustained could be even more damaging than those suffered by a hard-light hologram.
“Could I see?” Lister found himself asking. Rimmer raised his eyebrows; “What?”
Lister put himself in front of the bunk to look at Rimmer: “Where they hurt ya, just to make sure you're okay.” His bunkmate glared at him in confusion.
“Don't be silly. I'm fine.”
Unsure about why he was so insistent about it Lister continued: “Come on man. We've go to look after each other.” Rimmer sat in silence for a second then shook his head; “You're not a doctor, Listy.”
Well … now Rimmer made it weird, it was not as if he just wanted to see him naked or something! He was only trying to help! “Neither is anyone on the prison medical ward.” Lister defended himself. “ I've studied first aid with Kryten after you … well, Rimmer became hard-light and could get injured. Come on, let me check. Who knows: if you're injured enough you might get out of one or two Canary missions.”
“Putting it like that …”Rimmer muttered as he stood up. “Alright, if you insist …”
Blushing slightly Rimmer shrugged and unbuttoned his top, revealing his battered body. Lister felt anger bubbling up as he saw his bunkmates torso and shoulders covered with multiple bruises. Ever since Rimmer had “ratted out” a fellow prisoner, thinking it would help them get their appeal through faster, he had become a prison punch bag. The fact that Rimmer had thought the appeal was his chance to get out of there only to end up in deeper trouble was something else that plagued Lister: he should have made it clear from the start what the appeal was about. He hadn't, thinking it would make Rimmer happy for a few days, buy them time. He'd just never expected Rimmer to be as bold as he was: speaking out in front of a dangerous crowd. That was so unlike the Rimmer he used to know; the later version would have but …
“Well?” Rimmer asked, shaking Lister from his thoughts.
He glanced up at the indignant looking topless man in front of him.
“Aren't you going to examine me? I'm smegging freezing!”
Lister quickly moved closer to him.
“Sorry Arn.” Then he reached out.
Rimmer's breath halted when Lister placed his warm hands on his chest. Having the man rubbing his back a moment ago had made him feel warm and fuzzy, as if it was something he'd been waiting for: No, he corrected himself it was(!) what he'd been waiting for – he knew that now more than ever, more than anything. He wanted Lister with him forever, not as a friend but as a …
For a second Lister shivered as he touched Rimmer's chest then a vision returned – no, a dream: Rimmer coming home, a hug … a kiss, warm feelings, a longing to … Then it dawned on him: the reason why he'd been so distant and sometimes even hostile to this poor man. He was scared! Scared of the feelings that had been locked inside for so long. With Rimmer, any version of Rimmer, away from him, out there in the universe he had been able to banish these thoughts. But with the man with him every day, so vulnerable, clearly longing for his companionship he'd had to shield himself in some way. He had been angry then distant, because he couldn't face that he ...
His eyes met Rimmer's for a second, he saw hazel eyes filled with confusion, longing and fear. He doesn't deserve this – Lister thought. Then he returned his eyes to his friends torso. Glancing at the bruises on the well kept form he knew that he wouldn't let this happen ever again, he'd find a way to keep Rimmer safe, he swore.
“Where does it hurt the most?” Lister asked softly.
A flushed looking Rimmer swallowed for a second before he answered.
“Right below my chest.” His voice quivered a little.
Lister noticed the area was slightly purple and swollen.
“You could, you know.” The Scouser said as he gently pressed the injury to check the damage.
“What?” Rimmer asked, followed by a small hiss of pain.
“Be Ace.” - Not that he would ever let him, Lister thought vengefully, he wouldn't make that mistake twice.
“What, be a glorious time travelling super hero? Cut it out Lister. I can't even walk down the hallway without being punched in the stomach.”
Having felt around for a bit Lister thought that Rimmer might have a contused rib, but he might let Kryten give his friend a second opinion.
“You're braver than you think: standing up to the other prisoners, functioning while you're injured. The first Ace kept working with a broken arm, you've obviously got a bruised rib or something but barely even commented on it. That shows guts.”
To his surprise Lister saw a flicker of disappointment in Rimmer's eyes when he took his hands away, the same look he'd seen on his Hologram when he removed his hand from his thigh on that Terraform planet.
“But I got myself beaten up. That sort of negates …”
Lister shook his head and took Rimmer's hand, forcing him to look him in the eye. He really had to start building his new companion's self esteem.
“Nope, you were ambushed by idiots, you were lucky it was nothing more serious.”
For a second he thought Rimmer would burst into tears, but thankfully the briefly quivering lips turned into a tired, watery smile.
“Thank you …” Rimmer then muttered as he closed his eyes for a second.
“Arn ...” Lister quickly said. “If you ever … you know, feel like crap or that I'm ignoring you, please tell me, okay? It's nothing personal and I'm not doing it on purpose, it's just … I'm having to get adjusted to this as much as you do.”
Rimmer seemed to think about it for a second then nodded. “I'm tired …” He then said, in a way that made Lister confused about whether it was a question or a statement.
“You go sleep now man, you were beat hours ago.” Lister said indulgently.
“In more ways than one ...” Rimmer half laughed, he turned to get his jail issue pyjamas.
“Before you go, though: anything I could have the Skutters get for you tomorrow, Arn?”
Rimmer turned round eagerly.
“Anything?” His eyes were big and hopeful.
“Sure ... anything.” Lister nodded with a smile.
“Erm … chunky cheesy chips with a small side salad would be marvellous. But a grilled cheese sandwich would do ...”
Lister raised his eyebrows and smirked at him.
“Wow Arn, you're so demanding!” He chided. “Forget the sandwich, you'll get yer chips.”
With that Rimmer undressed, put on his PJ's and got into bed, letting out another pained hiss as he lay down.
“Everything hurts …” Rimmer whined.
“Want a massage …?” Lister blurted out the question before he'd even thought about it – what the smeg?
Lister sucked in air and held it for a second – would Rimmer accept? Why had he even offered it?
“On a bruised rib?” Came Rimmer's questioning voice.
“There's this technique I learned from a mate who worked at a sports centre. It'll relax the muscles and make you breath without pain.” He bit his lip waiting for Rimmer's reply, unsure what answer he was looking for.
Then, softly a voice said: “Go on then …”
Lister smiled: “Smegging great, get on yer belly Arn.” and Rimmer did.
Within seconds Lister climbed on the bunk and straddled Rimmer with his legs. Rimmer stiffened, then turned to ask him; “What the smeg are you doing?”
“A healing massage, I just told ya, you smegger!”
“But why are you sitting on me?”
“I can't reach yer back if I don't.”
With a sigh Rimmer put his chin back on his pillow and resigned to having a Scouser on his back.
Well, there he went, his big chance, his one shot! Lister knew: Rimmer was helpless, stretched out in front of him, ready to accept everything he did to him. Oh, what would he do to him?! No, no he couldn't: not without his consent! He would just rub his back, take the pain away. If Rimmer knew how good he could be to him then, maybe then …
Despite having been out of practise for a very long time, Lister's nimble fingers knew where to knead the muscles, how to pull the tension from that painful back, those well formed shoulders. To his great joy he could feel Rimmer relax as his hands did their job.
His pyjama top was hindering him. His fingers slipped underneath it and touched the warm, firm skin of his back. Rimmer gasped, then forced himself to relax.
“Just let go Arn …” Lister whispered in his bunkmates ear.
After a while Lister slid down Rimmer's buttocks until their round firmness pushed against him. Griping him with his thighs, he bent closer to Rimmer's ear: “Take of your top.” Rimmer hesitated for only a second before tugging the pyjama top over his head. Lister stared at the smooth back, then continued his journey from shoulders to buttocks, as he watched Rimmer's flesh move beneath his palms. The feel of his skin inspired him. When his fingers dug deep into his loosening muscles Rimmer moaned.
Lister felt like a true chiropractor as his knowledge returned: he gently but surely pressed down on the dimpled spot above his pants. Moving up his spine, shoving Rimmer into the matrass, he felt the give of his bones, heard the sharp exhale of air forced from his lungs.
When he was certain that he'd relaxed every inch of Rimmer's back he slowly climbed off him to turn him round, climbing back on top of him to address his front.
Back on top of his bunkmate he was met with two big, questioning eyes.
“Almost finished, Arn. I'm just gonna address your bruised rib in particular and relax you.”
The startled look on Rimmer's face made him snigger.
Lister explored Rimmer's chest for the second time that day, but slower, moving his hands in gentle circles. Rimmer felt like putty in his hands as his chest heaved slowly while Lister worked.
“Listy …” He muttered.
“Yes Arn?” Lister answered, not losing focus on his important job for a second.
“This is nice … Breathing doesn't hurt so much now."
Lister smiled: he was doing well!!
“Listy …” Rimmer begun again.
“I'd like us to be friends …”
It was hard trying not to laugh, but Lister heroically repressed it, as he didn't want to hurt the man he was straddling. Rimmer looked up at the smirking man sitting on top of him and slowly raised an eyebrow.
“You seriously think I'd be sitting here on smegging top of you giving you a massage if we weren't?”
Rimmer blinked in surprise as he thought for a moment then smiled lazily.
“Sorry, I was just trying to make conversation.”
“Please don't.” Lister said as he continued the massage. He explored the chest, his sides, then his hands migrated to his tummy, it was flat but strong. Rimmer allowed Lister's hands to wonder, almost willing him to go where he so badly wanted to be. He reached his hips and felt the hardness of his hipbones as his hands slipped beneath his pyjama bottoms.
Then Rimmer froze: “I don't have ribs there, Dave ...” Reluctantly Lister moved away from the soft warmth of belly and hips. He wanted to stay there and hold him and kiss him, make him cry out. Instead he regretfully moved back up and worked on the deep tissue of his bunkmates chest.
He continued removing the tension from Rimmer's chest and neck until he heard a soft snoring noise and realised his gentle prodding had relaxed Rimmer into a deep slumber. He smiled and softly climbed off him, careful not to wake him again.
As his bunkmate was sleeping without his shirt he carefully tucked him in to prevent Rimmer's muscles from getting cold, undoing all of his hard work.
“Night, Arn …” he whispered as he gazed at the sleeping man.
The next day it was back to the grind: a Canary mission to a desolate ship. Lister had been unable to reach the Captain or Ackerman to talk about Rimmer's condition, so he tried to look after him as best as he could, instructing Kryten and Kochanski to do the same.
He and Krissie had to chase Kill Crazy and his gang away from Rimmer on at-least two occasions adding fuel to Lister's resolve to get Rimmer out of this mess.
It was a relief to get back to their jail, where the Skutters waited in the pipes with their dinner. Rimmer looking incredibly overexcited just because he was getting chips for dinner made Lister want to toy with him for a bit. He couldn't help it.
Winking at Bob Lister got out his curry meal and laid the table for one, ignoring the confused glances Rimmer threw him from the other end of the table.
“But …” He suddenly heard him mutter. Lister looked up and stopped in his tracks. The crushed look of utter disappointment on his bunkmates face made him give up on his joke before he even got started. He dashed back to the pipes and got out the salad and the package of chips then hurried back to Rimmer.
“Oh come on man, I was only joking. Here ya go. You didn't really think I'd forget ya, did you?”
He stood rather close to Rimmer, giving him the fatty newspaper wrapped package. When he bent down, Rimmer reached up and … planted a kiss on his lips.
“Rimmer? What the smeg man???!!” Lister asked in utter surprise. After the brush off last night that was the last thing he'd expected.
Misunderstanding Lister's response, Rimmer flinched.
“I'm sorry … No I'm not sorry … I thought … I just always wante … I was just saying thank you.”
Looking excruciatingly embarrassed Rimmer snatched the chips from Lister's hands and crawled into his bunk where he curled into himself in the furthest corner and then threw his blanket over himself.
“Hey …” Lister said, looking rather confused by this turn of events. “Don't … that … was weird, but no need to go hide in there.” Rimmer said nothing. “I kinda liked it, actually.” Oh he'd more than liked it!
“Don't mock me.” the blanket said.
Lister moved closer and petted the Rimmer shaped mountain.
“I'm not mocking ya Arn. I mean it: it was cute.”
Rimmer wasn't budging. “Still sounds like mocking to me.”
A little hiss of pain: that position clearly wasn't comfortable for someone with injured ribs.
“Look, just come out of that stupid spot yer aggravating your injury. Just eat yer smegging chips in comfort before they go cold and we'll talk after, okay?”
The duvet mulled it over.
“You're not going to hit me?”
What the?! Lister thought.
A silence. Then a tiny whisper: “Okay …” The blanket moved and a floofy haired Rimmer appeared looking flushed and adorable. Slowly he glanced at Lister with worried, questioning eyes, but was met with a smile. As he stood to make his way to the table Lister grabbed him and kissed him passionately on the lips.
“There, we're even, now eat yer chips.”
Rimmer shakily made his way to the table and ate. That night he received more than a massage.
Arnold J Rimmer whistled cheerfully as he entered the luxury jail; Life was good.
After Lister had kicked up a fuss about the repeated attacks on him the Captain had moved their group to the “quality wing” and put them on the probation programme. Non of them knew if it was because they were innocent or the Captain felt having them in prison was more trouble than it was worth. It didn't matter: Rimmer felt better than he'd ever done. He was rid of the stupid technician job, rid of jail the Canaries and everything attached to it. He had a job right by the Captains side. He was living in a peaceful part of the ship that actually looked better than his old quarters where non of the bullies could reach him. He had friends for the first time in his life!
And best of all …
“He babe! How was yer day?” Lister asked as he kissed his partner.
“As good as can be …” Rimmer smiled as he kissed him back. “Captain Hollister is having some sort of soiree tonight and made me try the champagne.”
Lister eyed Rimmer jealously and whistled through his teeth.
“Lucky for some …” His sulky reply was met with a mega watt smile from his new partner.
“Oh …” Rimmer grinned, as he rolled out the work jacket he'd been carrying under his arm to reveal a giant bottle of expensive champagne; “You didn't really think I'd forget you, did you?”