The moment he joined the others in saying that short little word, Dave Lister wished he could take it back. The word was a throwaway, a nothing, but it contained all the power of the universe. It had the strength to break the heart of the man in front of him. The strength to make the last spark of hope die in his eyes. It told him that he wasn't part of the team, that it would always be them against him, that he was hated. All this moments after he'd seen how a few words of encouragement were all it needed to make him slay demons. All this moments after he got to know how much pain was in this desperate man's brain.
It was the word … “No”!
They didn't like him, it had all been a trick to get them of the planet. Arnold Rimmer wished Starbug had been sucked back and crash-landed on that damn planet the moment he knew the truth. He was in agony, more agony than he'd ever been even when at the mercy of his own self-loathing. A self loathing that had by now returned in tenfold.
Lost in a world of pain he only realised he was still human when he walked into a wall.
Just his luck, he thought – he probably had a few minutes left as a corporable being. Minutes in which he could eat a few crisps or drink a soda, just to enjoy the taste of real food again– if only for a few moments.
But right now food was the last thing he wanted with the fresh pain of betrayal burning in the pit of his stomach. All he could use his human form for now was to manually double lock the door of the bunkroom so he could cry real human tears in private.
In private – this meant he'd be alone – and he really didn't want to be alone with his brain right now. But at this moment the one person who could comfort him was the one who'd hurt him more than anyone ever had. And with his past, that was a record.
Before he had a chance to lock the door he was pushed aside as Lister jumped in and swiftly locked it behind him.
“Lister, what the …?” Rimmer growled as he quickly wiped his eyes - he would not give that little bastard the satisfaction of seeing him cry.
The Scouser urgently shushed him with a single gesture and pleading dark brown eyes that burned into him.
“Rimmer, don't speak, just listen: I was an idiot: I shouldn't have said what I said. I wasn't lying before: I care about you. A lot.”
To Rimmer these words were akin to being spat on at that moment. Did Lister seriously think he'd fall for that one again? Waving his hand as if swatting away a particularly nasty insect he tutted.
“You've got a nice way of showing it.” He said as he turned away from his bunkmate and wrapped his arms around himself protectively.
Lister walked round him and once again tried to look him in the eye.
“Well, I just don't want the others to know.” The Scouser whined and Rimmer's eyes went so big they almost popped out of his head.
“And it just keeps getting better!” Rimmer hissed as anger begun to overwhelm him. “Liking Arnold J Rimmer is so depraved and disgusting it has to be hidden at all cost, does it?” He was so furious he was almost spitting the words at Lister. Then he felt tears of anger and turned himself away from Lister to hide how hurt he truly was. “Has to be hidden, even from a jumped up bog bot and an over opinionated cat.” He cringing when hearing how much his voice wobbled at those last words.
“I don't mean it the way it sounds.” Lister pleaded, not even attempting to walk round and face Rimmer again. To his own surprise Rimmer now felt himself turn round. “Well … what do you mean then?” he asked, cursing himself for still holding on to a spark of desperate hope.
“It's confusing …”
A tired sigh escaped from the depths of Rimmer's body, anger making way for exhausting hollow emptiness. He felt exhausted enough to sleep for weeks.
“Well could you get that hamster wheel in motion please?” He droned wearily. “I don't know how long I'm still able to touch and …”
At those words Lister's eyes shot up at him in delight as a smile spread on the Scousers face.
“You're still able to touch?” Lister urged ecstatically..
Rimmer blinked in surprised; why the delight, did the man with the hamster cheeks suddenly realise his long kept wish to throttle Arnold J. Rimmer could finally be fulfilled?
“Yes. And …?” He asked, sounding slightly confused.
A big beaming smile as Lister stepped forward. “Well, that makes things a lot easier.” he smirked.
With that Lister closed the distance between them and instead of the abuse Rimmer had expected he wrapped the man in his arms, pulled him down and kissed him with all the passion in his body.
With a gasp Rimmer shook loose after a few seconds. “Lister, what the smeg?”
“I love you Arn!” Lister beamed at him.
For a brief moment Rimmer scanned the man in front of him, searching for clues. He'd been betrayed moments ago, he wouldn't let his guard down that easily again.
Lister said he loved him. Was this a lie? Another attempt at breaking his heart?
He stared, his body pounding with hope, excitement, fear and confusion.
Was this real? Lister's eyes seemed honest enough … Loving even. Was this gaze truly meant for him?
“You … you mean it?” Rimmer stammered in breathless confusion.
Still a tiny voice inside Rimmer doubted this moment.
“This … this isn't another joke, is it?” Rimmer shook his head.
Soft gloved hands closed round his.
“No, no. Smeg. I'm so sorry man. I promise, I swear: I love you!!”
Rimmer took a deep breath – then realised; even if it all turned out to be a lie, he was alive. He had missed his chance centuries ago. Lister wanted him and he only had this moment … to feel.
Make a choice! His brain screamed.
“Kiss me again, hold me!” Rimmer gasped “Quick! Before it's too late!!”
No reply, as Lister grabbed the man in front of him and wrapped him tightly in his arms again. This time Rimmer returned the kiss, eagerly, hungrily and almost desperately, savouring every moment of the things he'd never felt when he was alive, and would never again feel once he was a Hologram again.
The kiss could have lasted for centuries, but the two love starved men only had seconds until suddenly Rimmer felt nothing. He opened his eyes in confusion and looked around.
Lister had gone? He looked down; Lister lay on the ground.
He'd fallen through him.
“Oh ...” was all Rimmer said when he realised. All his heartbreak wrapped in a single syllable.
“Smeg …” was all Lister added to it as he got back on his feet, but the disappointment was clear.
A silence, as both were at a loss of what to say.
The two men just stared at each other, both locked in their own inner conflict.
“I'm tired …” Rimmer sighed after some time.
“Rimmer?” Lister tried.
“Just leave me Lister … I need rest ...” Rimmer said, even though he didn't mean it. But he didn't know what else to say either; the day had been too much. He had crashed on a planet, been captured, abused, his mind had been ripped to shreds, he had been alive, been told he was loved, mocked and then been kissed with love for the first time in his life, then he'd lost everything again.
Wait … had he really lost?
“Okay … guess I'll go then ...”
Rimmer looked at Lister, seeing the sadness in his eyes just before he turned to leave.
The second Lister reached the door it seemed as if a cold hand grabbed him and started strangling him: a panic attack. He was scared, so scared; of everything he'd seen and been through today, but even more of Lister leaving the room.
Then he knew: he'd only loose if he let Lister go now, if he kept silent.
The moment they returned to Red Dwarf without speaking about whatever had happened between them, they would return to the statusquo and he'd never have another chance. He'd lose Lister forever.
He had to be brave; command the knights within him to slay the monster once again. He didn't want to be alone again; not now not ever. Maybe he didn't get another chance at touching him, but Lister loved him and maybe, somehow there was a chance of a future together.
Speak, damn it!! His panic increased and the room begun to sway. He didn't need to breath, so why was he choking?
Obviously hearing him wheeze Lister turned round frowning. Then a worried look spread on his face.
“Rimmer, man! Are you alright? You look like ya gonna faint!”
“Lister … don't go …” Rimmer forced out the words between gasps.
A confused look on his face Lister returned to the Hologram.
“Why not. I thought you wanted to sleep.”
“Yes but … please …”
The man in front of him swallowed and seemed to be scanning him for clues, a question burning behind the eyes. Rimmer knew he needed to say more.
“Listy … Lister … Dave … Smeg … I .. I ...”
Dark eyes flashed with urgency.
“Say it Rimmer, I've seen what happens when you repress your feelings.”
A few shallow breaths didn't help.
“I just don't want to be alone, okay?” Rimmer blurted in desperation. “I might not be able to touch … or feel you again, but … I … I don't know. Just please … please don't leave me!”
At those words Lister' smiled with relief and his hand reached out to him.
“Can you feel this Rimsy?” Lister asked as he softly put his hand round Rimmer's lightbee. A shudder went through the hologram as he sensed a new warmth running through his projection; it was kind and gentle and made him feel as if someone was hugging him.
“Yes … smeg, Listy! I can feel you!! You're hugging me!!”
Lister slowly took the lightbee to the bunk meaning Rimmer had no choice but to follow him, not that he wanted anything else.
Reaching the bed the Scouser crawled in and so did Rimmer.
For a few moments they lay there staring at each other, until Lister's hand reached out tentatively and started butterflying Rimmer's projection. It stirred a whimper from the Hologram.
“What's wrong Rimsy?” Lister asked softly, seeing his Hologram still had a sad look in his eyes.
“Are … are you sure about this …” Rimmer whispered. “A relationship with a useless piece of technology that can never touch you back?”
Lister sighed and realised there and then that this relationship would need a lot of patience. But having seen the wreckage that was the mind of Arnold J Rimmer he knew that building up the man's self worth would be rewarding.
He smiled at him. “Yes, smeg, Rimmer! I love you! Do you love me?”
A bright spark lit in weary hazel eyes. “I loved you … always ... even when I was alive …”
A shudder went through Lister; he'd never known it had been that long. He'd only guessed the Hologram might have feelings for him later on when Rimmer gave him certain looks and seemed jealous of anyone who seemed interested in him. Heck Rimmer had been jealous of anyone who'd even talked to him. His poor smeghead.
And what had he called himself just now? “A useless piece of technology”, well that wouldn't do, that wouldn't do at all.
“Well then, love! Love has to be enough! Smeg, you're not a thing Rimmer, you're as human as I am!”
Rimmer looked slightly uncomfortable, shivering a bit.
“You … you mean that? I thought … you once said ...”
Lister shook his head urgently; no old memories, not now. They'd discuss whatever slight it was later on. Right now this was the bit of the movie where the lovers got together and slept in each others arms.
“Oh … whatever I said I apologise for it, okay. Just believe in here and now. We together forever okay?” He frowned and thought of something. “And you know what … I will tell the others, don't care what they say!”
Warmth, Rimmer felt so much warmth spread inside him; he'd gone through hell and gone to heaven in the stretch of a single day. He didn't know what to say anymore, he'd never been in a moment like this.
He just stared at Lister for what seemed like eternity until exhaustion once more caught up with him and his eyes started drooping with tiredness.
The Scouser smiled at him. “You look tired. No wonder with what you've been through today. I'm kinda bushed me-self. Let's take a nap together.”
Rimmer nodded. He'd been afraid to go to bed that night, in case of nightmares. Now all that fear had gone.
He smiled back at Lister; “You saved me twice today. I thought I'd lost everything … I ...”
Lister placed a finger onto his lips.
“Shush, you're safe now and I will save you a million times over if I have to.”
A small silence, before Lister continued.
“Just know this Arn; that grave called Hope … I'll make sure it will never be filled.”