"Huh? Whuzzat?" Dave Lister mumbled blearily into the
is that you?" he yawned. "Or did that smegging stardrive
find its way
There was no response.
Lister yawned again. The crew had returned to Starbug and their pursuit of Red Dwarf earlier that day, after their daring escape from an entity that called itself Legion. Well, not exactly daring, since except for Kryten they'd all been unconscious during it. But they'd made it back with several prizes: the now defunct stardrive, and a hard-light projection unit for Rimmer's light bee. Unfortunately, the stardrive hadn't been compatible with Starbug's engines, and had ripped itself free and taken off straight through the hull for parts unknown. Having spent the rest of the day making repairs, all were exhausted and had retired to their sleeping quarters early. Now it was the middle of the night and Lister very much wanted his requisite twelve to fourteen hours of sleep after that hard day's work. But something had woken him; he'd thought he'd heard something. If they hadn't patched the hole correctly, or if something had come loose, that meant disaster if it wasn't fixed immediately. The thought of _that_ was enough to keep him from simply rolling over and going back to sleep.
"Rimmer, if that's you and Inflatable Ingrid, either pipe down or take it outside -- I'm trying to get some sleep here," he said, hoping to hear a reply.
There was still no answer, no reassuring insult about how he usually could sleep through a supernova explosion.
He began to feel a twinge of worry. Lister rolled over and stuck his head over the side of his bunk. "Rimmer?" he asked, squinting in the dim light.
Rimmer wasn't there. But he thought he heard something again, definitely from outside this time. His concern deepened. What if something _had_ gone wrong with the repairs?
Lister sat up in his bed, now fully awake. He jumped down and made his way out the door; he paused, listening carefully. He could hear faint sounds coming from the direction of Starbug's engine room. He started to run, hoping that whatever it was wouldn't come completely loose before he got there, and that along the way he wouldn't start to feel the effects of atmospheric decompression. By the time he reached the engine room, he was panting.
The repairs were holding, Lister was thankful to see. That was where his eyes went first. He sighed in relief, then looked around the rest of the room. That was when he discovered the source of the sound.
It was Rimmer. Running his hands over everything, picking things up, touching everything, with his eyes half-closed and a look of pure ecstasy on his face.
Lister smiled. He knew how much this must mean to him. Hell, it had meant a lot to _him_, when he'd reached over to touch Rimmer, as Legion watched them test the effects of the hard light drive. He was surprised at what he'd felt -- he hadn't known what it might feel like, but he hadn't expected the hard light drive to so perfectly simulate the warmth of an actual human being. Actual human flesh. He'd felt a shiver run down his spine at that touch. Probably just the surprise of it, of genuine physical contact with a hologram, but Lister had to admit that he'd missed this. Deranged or not, Legion had certainly done them a favor. He thought of the look on Rimmer's face when he'd reached over and tapped him on the chest -- his first touch from another human being in years. And then when Rimmer reached out after that..._he_ had been the first thing he'd touched. That he'd wanted to touch.
Something about that made him feel very warm.
Lister blinked. Where had that come from?
Lister suddenly felt the need to make his presence known. "Making up for lost time?" he asked.
Rimmer opened his eyes, startled. When he turned around, Lister could see that his pupils were dilated to such an extent that his eyes appeared nearly black. Lister shivered. The last time he'd seen Rimmer with _that_ expression was when he was looking at a fourteen-course meal after their body swap.
"Listy," Rimmer said, sounding a little embarrassed. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Lister shrugged. "That's OK, man. I just wanted to make sure the patch job we did was holding."
"It is. I checked it, first thing when I came down here. I couldn't sleep."
He noticed that Rimmer was wearing a robe he hadn't remembered seeing for some time...he realized it was because it wasn't a hologramatic projection, but an actual article of his clothing from before the accident. It was the same with the pajamas underneath. For a brief moment, he wondered how lifelike the hard light simulation beneath the clothing was.
"I don't blame you for not being able to sleep, with the hard light drive," he said. "It must be like everything's new to you again. Like a kid in a candy store."
Rimmer continued staring at him with that same intense look in his eyes. "I tried to get to sleep," he said, "but every time I started dozing off, I would suddenly notice what the sheets or the blankets felt like. It's been so long...you have no idea."
"No, I don't," he replied honestly. He knew he couldn't even begin to comprehend what it must have been like. His brief experience in Rimmer's body was nothing compared to years of being unable to touch, to feel... It was something he wouldn't have wished on his worst enemy; which Rimmer might have been at one time, but wasn't now. He didn't know if he'd call him a friend, exactly, but everything they'd been through together had to mean something. And through all that time, never a reassuring touch on the shoulder or handshake or something to show he was really there. To go all that time being unable to touch anything, or anyone...it must have been hell.
<< Forget about keeping _me_ sane, man...how did _you_ stay sane? >>
Lister was suddenly overcome by his own need to touch, to show his bunkmate that what he'd been given that day was real. And that dead or alive, hologram or not, he was real too.
He stepped closer to the other man, as an invitation. Rimmer raised an eyebrow, then stepped forward as well, until he was standing right in front of him. Lister held out his hand. Rimmer took it, hesitantly at first, then less self-consciously as his fingertips traced gently over the skin.
Lister was amazed at how profoundly that light touch could move him.
For a while Lister stood passively; then he acted on his curiosity. The hard light drive seemed to simulate surface detail fairly well; he wondered how deep the illusion went. Experimentally, he grasped the other man's hand, squeezing slightly.
He looked up and grinned. "This is pretty amazing. If I didn't know you were a hologram...I can even feel the bones under the skin."
Rimmer glanced briefly down at Lister, then went back to his exploration. He moved from Lister's hand first to the wrist, and then on to the sleeve of his longjohns, seemingly fascinated by each new texture. He began working his way up the arm, alternating between light and deep pressure, feeling both the clothing and what was inside it.
Lister gulped. Rimmer's actions were starting to have an unexpected, albeit not unpleasant effect on him; but he didn't make any attempt to move away. Maybe it was because he knew Rimmer hadn't been able to touch for so long and now wanted to experience everything, or maybe it was because he himself hadn't _been_ touched by someone else for such a long time...
Where the hell had _that_ come from? And more importantly, where was it going?
This is a _man_ who's touching you, he thought feverishly. This is a man who's touching you, and you're enjoying it...and even worse than that, it's a man who's a complete smeghead...
Lister wanted to pull back, but for some reason he couldn't.
He couldn't help noticing that Rimmer was aroused too. But then, Rimmer was probably so starved for touch that anything -- man or woman, as long as it was a warm body -- was likely to set him off. Lister could understand that. Maybe even identify with it, a little. Just the thought of it made him shiver.
Admittedly, he hadn't been getting much in the romance department lately, but this...this was _Rimmer_. Rimmer who drove him nuts every day, Rimmer who irritated him beyond belief, Rimmer who...
....who was touching him now as if he was the most precious thing in the entire universe.
That sudden realization decided him, and he relaxed into the sensations, welcoming them as they radiated through him from Rimmer's hand on his upper arm to a portion of his anatomy that was decidedly lower.
<< Not for long. >>
So what if he's another man, he thought, a little defiantly. I'm an enlightened, 23rd century guy...
By now Rimmer had reached his shoulder and was feeling the stitching at the neck, almost but not quite massaging the shoulder underneath. As he ran a finger over one of the buttons, Lister glanced up at him again. His eyes were intent, focused. Lister wondered if the other man was even aware of what was happening, but he recognized the hunger in that look. He was experiencing the same thing.
"It might be easier if-" he began carefully.
"Easier if what?" Rimmer answered, startled out of his reverie. His eyes darted nervously, then came to focus on Lister's, as if he'd only just now realized what he was doing and what this was progressing to.
"If I unbuttoned these," he offered, stilling the hand at his collarbone, ready to retreat if the offer was rebuffed.
Rimmer looked at him in a way he'd never seen before, or rather, in a way that had never before been directed at _him_. Carol McCauley, Yvonne McGruder, but never him. Rimmer nodded once, trembling slightly but obviously understanding what was being offered; still, he seemed hesitant.
"It's all right," Lister said soothingly. "Touch me all you want. But only if I can touch you too." To show he was sincere, he lifted Rimmer's hand from where it was resting and placed it on the bare skin of his chest. He shivered again. It was amazing what the sensation of skin on skin could do. He needed this as much as Rimmer did.
Rimmer stared down at his hand, covered by Lister's. A shudder ran through him and he closed his eyes for a few seconds, savoring the long-denied sensation. Lister gave the hand another squeeze in encouragement, then brought his other hand up to gently caress his cheek. Rimmer leaned into the touch like it was a lifeline.
After a few moments Rimmer opened his mouth questioningly, as if to ask if it was all right to go on, but Lister put a finger to his mouth to silence him. "Don't talk. Just feel. This is what you've been waiting for, isn't it?"
He nodded mutely, closing his eyes again. Lister moved his hand from Rimmer's cheek to the back of his neck, and the other around to his lower back, stroking gently at first, then pulling the other man closer, closing the distance between them. Rimmer leaned into the embrace, nuzzling and caressing the other man's neck as Lister began removing the robe, then the pajamas underneath. His longjohns were halfway off already, and were shed completely as their lips met for the first time.
Lister moaned into the kiss, then guided his newfound lover down to the floor, to settle then both onto the pile of discarded clothing. As they began moving together almost desperately, he knew it wouldn't last long -- they were both far too close, even with only the brief contact they'd had. The need was too strong, and neither could hold himself back once they'd begun.
It was over too soon. Both were so starved for touch that once the contact began they were almost immediately pushed over the edge.
They lay beside each other afterwards, wrapped in a loose embrace. Neither spoke. Rimmer looked almost surprised, like he couldn't quite believe what had just happened between them; but Lister pressed his lips against his firmly, pulling him closer. After a second or two, Rimmer relaxed into it and their lips met again, and again, until Lister gradually became aware of the cold deck beneath him.
"We should really go back to our quarters," he said, reluctantly pulling away. "If we don't, I'm not gonna be able to get unstuck from this floor by morning."
Rimmer gazed skyward, but the tone of his voice was warm, even affectionate. "I should have known you'd say something like that."
"Something practical, or something hedonistic?"
The hologram shook his head long-sufferingly. "No. Something disgusting."
Lister laughed, and again brushed his hand across the other man's cheek. "It'll also be a lot more comfortable. The next time we do this I want to be on a bed."
Rimmer raised himself to an elbow, and looked at him in a way that made Lister want to kiss him again. "_Only_ the next time?"
"Well, I don't know about _that_," he replied provocatively. "All I do know is that my back's gonna be killing me tomorrow if I don't get up off this floor." He rose to his feet, stretching elaborately and rubbing his lower back. Rimmer also moved to stand, but before he could, Lister shook his head. "No. You don't have to do that alone anymore."
Rimmer looked at him curiously, not knowing what he meant.
"Let me help you up," Lister replied, reaching down towards him in an offer of assistance, and also a reminder of how glad he was that they could finally touch.
Rimmer smiled -- a rare, genuine smile -- as he took Lister's hand in his own.