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Conversations in a Broom Closet

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“Are you a man or a munchkin?” Lister had asked him.
Rimmer hadn't hesitated for a second: “We're of to see the wizard!” He'd sang as he crawled away on his knees, stopping only briefly to put his fist in his mouth when he'd turned a corner as he realised that he had betrayed his knowledge of musicals to Lister – again!
Then he got to his feet and begun to wonder where he would hide. He couldn't go to his safe spot: that was on his own ship. That was the place he really wanted to be. The place where he could cower amongst his own things and get the anxiety attack he felt coming on in peace.
Holly had told them they couldn't go there yet, as he and Hilly were still sorting things out there. Rimmer wondered how much truth there was in that or if they were just using their ship to do whatever it was slightly senile and mildly perverted computers did.

Ah, he was in luck! It existed on this ship too: the broom closet, one of his favourite spots on the Dwarf. It was dark, quiet, not too big but certainly not to small. It had room for him to sit with his back against the wall and his hands wrapped around his knees. There were several broom closets on the Dwarf; one on each floor. It was the place he would always go to whenever he felt a very public panic attack coming on, or when his brain would become overwhelmed. He would quietly sit there, doing his breathing exercises or cry until he felt he could cope again.

Leaning against the steel wall as much as his projection would allow, Rimmer wished he could feel the comforting cold against his cheek that would always calm his feverish mind back when he was alive. How could she do this to him?  His brain screamed. This Arlene person? How could she treat him like this when she was supposed to be him? If she truly was she wouldn't have. If she was she'd have known he …
“Hello, cupcake …”
When he saw the familiar pants and boots appear before him, he realised that choosing this particular place to hide might have been rather a daft thing to do when hiding from your mirror image.

What did she want from him now? He manfully willed himself not to cry, which was hard when at the height of a panic attack. Instead he curled up in a ball and whimpered.
“Please leave me alone.”

Arlene Rimmer softly prodded her victim with the toe of her army boot and snorted. Rimmer hated to be on the receiving end of that snort, as he knew what it meant. It was the sound he always made when he looked down on something or someone. It was the sound his father and brothers had always made when they looked down on him, he shivered.

“Oh stop being a toss-pot Arnold J. Rimmer.” Arlene suddenly said in her clipped tones. “You know very well that I have no sexual interest in you or anyone whatsoever.”
The rather helpless man she addressed lifted his head from his shaking hands to look up at her in stunned surprise.
“I do?” He said, or rather embarrassingly squeaked, sounding like a lost chipmunk.

Arlene chuckled softly as she shook her head and knelt down next to her worn out counterpart.
“Of course you do you silly gimboid.” She said as she begun to rub his back in circles. Rimmer then knew she had to be him, as this was the way he'd always hoped someone would comfort him one day. It was rather disheartening to find that the one person who did it was … him. Despite the anti climax he melted into the sensation, revelling in the fact someone could touch him again after so long.
Arlene continued talking as she rubbed his back gently. “Of course I don't want you, you silly man. We both know that there is only one person we want, one person we love with all our heart. One person we desire more than any promotion, but we are too proud, too embarrassed to do anything about it?”
Relieved Rimmer leaned against his “sister” and nodded: he knew, he knew and it hurt to know, but he couldn't say it. He was shocked to find that Arlene would dare to even admit it. How was it that she was so much stronger than him?
“So like the cowards we are we hide, we lie. We hurt the person we love the most. Smeg it Arnold; I go through all this trouble creating this frankly appalling charade of fancying you and you don't even have the decency to comply!!”

Rimmer shivered and looked at her hopelessly.
“I'm sorry.” He sniffled. “I was scared.”
She frowned and shook her head in surprise. “Well so was I, honey bunch. But I've learned not to show it when she's around.”

Wiping his eyes Rimmer blinked at her questioningly.
“How?”
Arlene wrapped her arms around him as if he was her baby brother. Rimmer let her, happy to be touched with kindness.
“The day she broke my heart.”
Rimmer looked at her and knew what she meant, he remembered it very well. He also knew something else that weighed on him.
“If … if only he had … fallen for you – felt anything I might …”
“... have held hope that one day she might see me.” Arlene finished the thought.

They sat together quietly, wrapped in each others arms, both glad to touch and be touched. Both experiencing a rare moment of receiving kindness. After sometime Arlene suddenly thought of something and started chuckling.
“Hey Arn ...” She grinned.
“What is it Arn …?” Rimmer asked in surprise.
“I hope that your Dave has brought some condoms, my Deb can be a bit of a go-er sometimes …”
Leaning in her arms Rimmer wondered why that thought would make her laugh, but he didn't bother to ask. He was just happy to be with someone who understood him for once in his life. If it was important he was sure he would find out soon enough.