Much as Lister refused to admit it, he was still coping with the aftermath of having temporarily lived in a mechanoid body. He remembered everything. He'd become, however temporarily, someone completely alien to his usual rebellious personality, someone who eagerly awaited orders and had no mind of his own...and what was worse, that obedient voice in his mind hadn't left him yet. At odd moments, he found himself moving to iron his clothes, or to pick up something he'd carelessly let fall to the floor. It unnerved him.
He reached his breaking point when he decided to have a lager and found himself standing over the washbasin, carefully attempting to open the can so that the foam would spray neatly. When he realised what he was doing, Lister made a noise of frustration and dropped the can into the washbasin. He didn't feel like having a drink any more, and he'd clean it up later. (Sadly, he knew he genuinely would clean it up later, which was part of the trouble.) Lister leaned over the washbasin, wondering if he would ever feel like his old self.
Rimmer chose this inopportune moment to enter the room. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing. Smeg off," Lister snapped.
When Rimmer spoke again, his voice was hushed, almost timid. "Mr Lister? Sir? What's wrong?"
Lister sighed. "You're Kryten-ing, man." He turned to look at Rimmer, whose expression slowly shifted from anxiety to that pinched look he always got on his face when he'd tasted something bad.
"Smeg," Rimmer said, though he didn't seem to take much pleasure in the expletive. "I thought this would be over by now."
Lister nodded. "Me too."
Rimmer looked vaguely surprised. "You're still having..." He made a vaguely robotic movement with his arms. "...you know."
"Flashbacks to the disco. Yeah," Lister said, trying to make a joke of it.
Rimmer opened his mouth to reply, then shook his head, looking defeated. "It's no good. I can't even mock you properly."
Lister nodded. "Yeah, I know." He paused. "Rimmer, I wanna ask you something."
"What?" Rimmer sounded faintly repulsed.
Lister pulled a face at him. "You can say no. I'm not horrible. Only...I don't know how to fix this. I don't know how to feel normal."
Lister wondered if Rimmer would ever stop waiting for life to kick his arse. "Would you mind very much giving me a hug?"
"A what?" Rimmer looked as though Lister had said something in Mandarin.
"Not a long one. Just...I think it would help."
At the word 'help,' Rimmer's demeanour seemed to soften. "I want to help." Then he pulled a face. "Do you know, I think I'm actually making myself ill with all this mechanoid nonsense stuck in my brain."
Lister nodded. He hadn't expected anything different. "Sorry. Shouldn't have asked."
"No, I-I will." Rimmer looked vaguely startled to have said that.
Lister was more than vaguely startled. "Really?"
Rimmer nodded. "Don't make me sorry I said yes." He took a few awkward steps toward Lister. "How...that is..."
"I'll go first," Lister said, closing the distance between them. He took Rimmer and folded him into a gentle hug.
Human contact wasn't something Lister thought about much (although in the strictest sense of the word, this wasn't exactly human contact), but now he had it, he realised how much he'd missed it. Against all odds, he found himself relaxing as Rimmer's arms hesitantly encircled him. Rimmer wasn't warm like someone alive was warm, but Lister could feel the touch and pressure of his hug, and it was comforting. It made him feel less alone.
It took Lister a few moments to notice that Rimmer was still hugging him...that he wasn't pulling away. Lister wondered if Rimmer missed physical contact as much as he did. Now that he thought about it, he doubted Rimmer had ever got very much in the way of hugs; from the stories Rimmer told, his family didn't seem like the hugging type.
After a few more moments, Lister wondered if Rimmer was humouring him, and prepared himself to pull away.
"Not yet," Rimmer said. "Please."
'Please' hit the remnants of Lister's mechanoid self the way the word 'help' must've hit Rimmer's a few moments ago. Lister gave Rimmer a slight squeeze. "Still here."
After a few more moments, Rimmer pulled out of the hug, taking a deep breath. "Thank you."
Again, not a phrase Lister associated with Rimmer. "You're all right."
"I...might not mind doing that again sometime," Rimmer said, carefully averting his gaze from Lister. "Maybe not today..."
"Why not?" Lister asked innocently.
Rimmer was absolutely still for a moment. Then he shrugged. "If you insist."
This time Rimmer closed the gap, catching Lister in a tight hug. Lister returned the hug once he got over his initial surprise; Rimmer must've found the contact even more comforting than he was willing to admit. Rimmer seemed to soak up comfort from the simple touch, and Lister was shockingly pleased to be able to provide it. This shouldn't have felt right for either of them, but it did, and Lister wasn't about to ask why. Whatever this truce was, he didn't want to be the one to break it.
"Do you remember the last time we did this?"
Lister rolled his eyes. "Course I do. It's only been thirty seconds."
"No, I mean before that."
Had he and Rimmer hugged before? Lister thought he would remember that. "I'm not sure I..."
"It was on the psy-moon. With all of you...you and Cat and Kryten, saying nice things about me and..." Rimmer trailed off.
And taking the first opportunity to insult Rimmer once they were free of the planet. Lister hadn't thought much about it at the time, but the fact that Rimmer remembered that moment meant it must've been important to him. Which made the quick return to tearing Rimmer down that much worse.
Lister stared at the floor. "I remember."
"I must not have been so terrible if you did it again. On purpose."
Lister looked at Rimmer, wondering if that was a joke or a confession. Sometimes with Rimmer, it was impossible to know.
"Sometimes," Lister said, "you're hardly terrible at all."
Rimmer nearly smiled at that. "Sometimes you're hardly terrible too."
It wouldn't last, Lister knew. But for right now, being hardly terrible with Rimmer was actually really good.