Title: Breaking the Habit
Pairing: Lister/Rimmer (pre-slash), AU
Summary: Set during an AU series 7. After Ace's death, Rimmer must decide whether to tell Lister how he feels or leave it all behind and become Ace.
Declaration: Lister and Rimmer belong to that amazing gestalt entity known as Grant Naylor and the song 'Breaking the Habit' belongs to Linkin Park. Although not a song-fic, the fic is inspired by the song's lyrics (if that makes any sense!)
I don't know what's worth fighting for
Or why I have to scream.
I don't know why I instigate
And say what I don't mean.
I don't know how I got this way
I know it's not alright.
So I'm breaking the habit
I'm breaking the habit tonight
Breaking the Habit, Linkin Park
Life, Rimmer used to tell himself, was not a conscious linear self-progression, but a series of habits.
How could one possibly claim that they consciously choose to progress and better themselves through life when life itself is merely based on instinct and the habits we pick up in response to those instincts? Some people, when emerging from a childhood of abuse, would luckily wander down the right path. They would learn from their harsh experiences and develop the habit of helping other victims of life, always putting others before themselves. Those less fortunate, those who would allow the anger inside to surface as violence, would pick up the habit from their abusers and make others the victim in order to save themselves.
And others, like Arnold Judas Rimmer, would continue to live their adult life as a victim. They could never allow themselves to become something better because those around them wouldn't allow it. It was everyone and everything else's fault, for Rimmer's walk through life was passive. Everything happened to him, he didn't actively seek out to make something happen. And because heroism, success and love hadn't happened to him, he remained the victim of life.
He hadn't even died fighting for a cause he believed in. He hadn't been like his brother John, testing new ships and drives, risking death nine till five every day simply because he wanted mankind to progress in space travel. He hadn't followed Frank and Howard into the Saturn War of '85 to maintain the upholding of democracy. He'd died passively. Accidentally. A mistake he had made because he hadn't been given the correct training and that Lister hadn't been around to help him.
But now that Ace was dead, now that the wig in his hands became a key to unlocking a new identity, he realised that it was all bullshit.
At first, he'd argued to himself that Ace had simply wandered aimlessly down the first and righteous path. Lucky goit. Wow, people would think, he's come through all that smeg in his childhood and still became a fantastic man. What a guy.
But then he had emerged from that childhood too. He had come through the beatings, the starvation and cruelty, not to mention the mental and emotional abuse. In his eagerness to blame Fate, Rimmer had not realised that he was not Fate's victim, but merely his own victim. He was not a failure. And he was certainly not a victim. Not any more. He was a survivor.
Lister, Cat and Kryten were forever making jokes at his cowardice. But again, it was not a conscious act, but a passive reaction. If someone went to punch you in the face, wouldn't you flinch? It was a habit born from instinct. Thus, Rimmer thought, was the reason for his cowardice. It was a natural habit after the smeg that was his early life. Yet he continued to be a 'yes, but' man. He was constantly having to defend his position as victim, refusing to leave his own prison cell even when the others held the cage door open for him. There was always a 'but'. And as long as he continued to live like that, he would remain, quite literally, as an excuse of a human being.
And because of his time spent alone with only three others for company, in his weakness, Rimmer had allowed himself to develop feelings for one of them in particular. Again, he was a victim to his emotions, incapable of forming normal emotional and admittedly sexual attachments in his heart, head and other places...
Yet, emotionally crippled from his childhood, Rimmer failed to see his feelings as a strength. Instead, he felt ashamed of them, seeing his desire as a weakness. Yet now, he accepted that he was responsible for choosing the path of the victim and accepted that it was his own fault for not preventing this weakness from overwhelming him. He needed a pivotal moment in his life, a crossroads from which he could radically change the direction of his life. And it came down to this. This stupid floppy blonde wig nestled in his trembling hands. It was becoming Ace.
He was breaking the habit. Tonight.
Rimmer's musing was broken as Lister entered their shared sleeping quarters. His heart leapt before being beaten down by Pride. Don't you have any self-respect? It hissed in his ear. Stop being the victim and get a grip.
Lister watched Rimmer's face morph into a strange expression. Not understanding, and realising that Rimmer wasn't going to speak first, Lister opened the conversation.
"Thought you'd be here," he said quietly.
"Mm," Rimmer confirmed, non-committal.
Lister positioned the desk chair in front of Rimmer, sat on the lower bunk, and sighing, straddled it. He slumped forward, chin resting on hands perched on the back of the chair and tried to snatch eye contact from Rimmer. Failing, he tried speaking once more.
"You didn't want to come to Ace's funeral?"
Rimmer's fingers fiddled nervously with the wig. All four of them now realised the true reason why Ace had arrived to their dimension. Now that Ace was dead, Rimmer felt their eyes boring into his back, waiting for him to make his next move. "I didn't like the finality of it all," he replied simply.
Lister's head cocked to one side and bit his lip awkwardly in a manner that made him look even more hamster-esque. "The finality of death, you mean?"
Rimmer's eyes met Lister's for the first time since he had entered the room. That hadn't been what he meant. He'd been scared of the fact that Ace's death had marked his previously shaky decision as final. He opened his mouth to explain this but instead used the pent-up breath simply to articulate, "yeah."
Lister eyes fell to the floor. "I think sometimes you need to have the opportunity to say goodbye, you know?" He chewed on his nails, something that no matter how much he adored him, Rimmer could not help but hate. "I wish I'd 'ave gone to me Dad's funeral, you know?"
Rimmer crossed his feet. "You were way too young to understand that he was gone and wasn't coming back, Lister."
Lister spat out a piece of nail causing Rimmer's lip to curl involuntarily. "I don't think so anymore, man. I probably needed the opportunity to say goodbye properly, you know? Probably wouldn't have ended up with me head stuck down the loo all day."
Rimmer leant forward, hoping he would be creating a coded message woven between seemingly one-dimensional words. "Maybe that was for the best. You kept him alive inside and you never said goodbye to him. It wasn't so final."
Rimmer watched as Lister's dark eyes flitted imperceptibly left and right, searching out meaning in his gaze. Finally, Lister's eyes dropped down to the wig in his hands.
"You need to make a very big decision, I think," he said simply.
Rimmer's eyes fell to the wig and nodded. He was grateful. Lister hadn't quite worked out what he meant. The silence between them hung in the air like stale cigarette smoke before Lister broke it.
"Listen man, I'm gonna have a shower and then we'll sit down and I'll help you talk through your options, ok?" He pulled off his boots and grabbed his mouldy-smelling towel from beside the sink. "It's not as clear-cut as you think, Rimmer," he concluded, rather cryptically, before heading into tiny bathroom block.
Waiting until Lister was out of sight, Rimmer stumbled across the sleeping quarters, leant heavily on the rim of the sink and dry-wretched. He knew he couldn't physically be sick, yet instinct still forced him to quickly seek out some suitable place to vomit into. He suddenly wished that the words he so wanted to say so badly to Lister would just push up and out of his mouth as easily as vomit.
Yet a similar situation had occurred some two months ago during Games Night when he had drunkenly slurred to Lister that he loved him. Lister had replied that he loved him too – and Cat, and Kryten, and concluded with how much he had loved Holly, Petersen, Chen, Selby... The list had slurred on until he fell asleep in Rimmer's lap. The next morning, the two of them had strenuously denied any such feelings, blaming such 'confessions' on the rather strange cocktail that Lister had made for the night, which most definitely at least contained one type of cleaning product that he had found in Kryten's cupboard.
No, that had been his final chance to make Lister understand. To appease the quiet yet insistent voice that piped up now and again that told him that Lister felt the same way. He stumbled back to the bed where the lifeless wig lay, scooped it up and walked back to the mirror above the sink. Taking one last breath as Arnold Rimmer, he put on the wig, watching his former self die and his new self being born. The steam from Lister's shower began to crawl into the sleeping quarters and encircled his body. Rimmer felt the moist warmth on his skin and embraced it. This would be how he remembered his leaving; with feelings, not words.
The hot water cascaded over Lister's face, the rivets of pure water masking the tears. He couldn't believe that Rimmer had already made the decision to leave without even talking about it with him first. The shower had been an excuse to regain his composure. After all, he had taken a shower less than two weeks ago. He also needed the time to gather together some arguments that he could use in order to convince Rimmer that he needed to stay. That he was vital to the smooth running of the ship? That was laughable. If anything, Rimmer would often disrupt the smooth running with petty arguments and using Space Corps Directives to back up his theory. Yet his mis-quoting of them he did find very funny, he had to admit. You adored the weirdest things about the ones you lov-
Lister choked suddenly on the hot water and his heart's stark admission. He wiped a wet hand down his slippery face and forced himself to breathe once more. He mentally cursed himself for allowing these feelings to surface again. It was unhealthy, and of course, the result of being trapped on a tiny ship with only three people for company for so many years. Surely? He remembered a blurred encounter between himself and Rimmer when he'd made that killer cocktail. Rimmer had been plastered and said something typically drunken and stupid like 'I love you'. He had begun to take it seriously, saying that he loved him back before suddenly feeling very sober and stupid. He'd then reeled off everyone else he could think of to water down his confession, yet it still left a bitter taste in his mouth. Or that might have been the Swarfega.
Maybe if he just talked to him, convinced him to give it a week, a month, anything apart from right now. Hopefully things would surface when Rimmer was forced to think through the consequences of leaving. He sighed, hoping that miracles only needed a couple of days to work.
Lister's now soft, wrinkled fingers reached out blindly for towel. On locating it, he stepped out of the shower and scrubbed it roughly down his face in one movement. He began to exhale forcefully into the towel, eventually pulling it down below his eye-line and bringing the steamed-up mirror into vision. The exhausted jet of air caught in his mouth as he realised that a simple message had been wiped with a single finger into the condensation.I'm sorry
Lister blinked a few times whilst the words filtered through his water-soaked brain and released the towel from his mouth.
"Rimmer?" he called. He heard the sound reverberating around the hollow metal room, the only voice returning being his own.
Quickly pulling the towel around his waist, he slipped and skidded into the sleeping quarters and glanced around anxiously. Rimmer was no longer there. Trying to ignore the horribly familiar lurching of his stomach, he dashed into the corridor, looking up one dark passage then the other. There was no sign of Rimmer. The warmth that the hot shower had loaned to his body now reclaimed it with interest as Lister realised how truly deathly cold the dank, metal corridor was.
"Holy smeg!" Lister shivered and swore simultaneously as he ran awkwardly back into the sleeping quarters, towel now wrapped around his knees as he grabbed the nearest pair of grime-smeared khaki trousers and began to pull them on. It wasn't until he went to do up the flies that he realised there were none. Grappling behind him, he felt the cold metal of the zip perched teasingly on his backside.
Lister whipped off the trousers and hoisted them on the right way, allowing five precious seconds to tick by in order to ensure that his family jewels were not minced into burger meat by the zip. Not caring or perhaps registering the cold, unrelenting metal grating of the floor beneath his bare feet, Lister pelted out of the sleeping quarters and veered right. He knew exactly where Rimmer was heading. The landing bay.
As he puffed and panted along the maze of corridors, Lister cursed the fact that his annual New Year's resolution promise to himself to bloody well work-out once a week usually coughed and spluttered to a halt by January 3rd. It was with this curse that Lister himself coughed and spluttered to a halt when he saw a lone figure walking some ten metres further along the corridor. Willing all of his energy from his legs to his lungs, Lister bellowed after the figure.
The silhouette, almost unfamiliar in shape thanks to the wig, slowed and stopped before turning to face the call. The same memorable dark eyes burned out under a wave of blonde fringe as the two men locked eyes with one another.
Still panting and with hands leant heavily on knees, Lister attempted to arrange all of his rambling into cohesive sentences in between jagged breaths.
"I was in the shower and you…how could you…I mean, I didn't think you would just…" Lister pulled himself upright, a stitch gnawing at his side as he forced his hands on his hips. He shook his head. "You weren't even going to even say goodbye?"
Rimmer lowered his eyes under dark, hooded lids. "Lister, I don't want to do this – "
Lister remained indignant. "You weren't even going to say anything were you? You were just gonna leave when I was still in the bloody shower." He flung his arms up in desperation. "And 'I'm sorry'? What was that supposed to mea-"
Lister stopped mid-sentence. It suddenly dawned on him what it meant. Of course Rimmer wasn't going to say goodbye. It wasn't because he didn't give a toss. It wasn't because he had less social skills than a Post Office worker. It was because he couldn't face doing it.
Lister watched as Rimmer sighed in embarrassment, his eyes focusing on anything – the oil-streaked walls, his over-polished boots, the red-hued flickering of the ceiling lights – anything but him. Lister visually echoed Rimmer's embarrassed surroundings inventory before he permitted himself to speak.
"It wasn't meant to be like this, Rimmer," Lister sighed. This wasn't how he'd pictured Rimmer's departure – their final words being held in dark, dank surroundings that would have made a sewer rat feel uncomfortable. If he had to leave, it should be punctuated with an event; something that his soul could latch onto for comfort and look back on with fond memories.
"I'd imagined some kind of – I dunno – a party." Enunciated into words, his feelings sounded as pathetic as he probably looked. Registering the almost imperceptibly raised eyebrow on Rimmer's face, Lister quickly interjected, his thoughts and words stumbling over one another. "Well, not a 'yay, Rimmer's leaving – let's have a party' party, but a kind of 'oh, that's sad – Rimmer's gotta go' sort of…" Lister's arms slumped by his sides, annoyed that what he wanted to say never seemed to come out the way it was meant to, "party?" Lister concluded, unsteadily.
Rimmer tried to hide the smile that threatened to conquer his face, yet Lister gratefully latched onto it and continued his speech. "Yeah, I mean, Kryten could have made a cake, you like cake, right? And I'm sure Cat would have been first in the queue for some perhaps slightly over-enthusiastic champagne toasting to your leaving – " Lister bit his lip. Cat's reaction to Rimmer's departure was not perhaps the best road to go down right now. Lister changed the topic back with the grating of gears. "So…what flavour would the cake be? Jam sponge is me favourite."
Rimmer's lip curled involuntarily. "Actually, I much prefer chocolate," he replied, awkwardly.
Lister looked at Rimmer through one eye. "You don't like jam?" he asked conspiratorially. Rimmer simply shrugged. Lister allowed a jet of air to blow past his lips. "I never knew that."
Rimmer examined his boots once more. Lister examined his feet.
Inside, Rimmer was screaming. He wished he could carve the name of his desire into every inch of the metal walls rather than on his heart. He wished he could take that stupid red paint he and Lister had to use to re-paint Red Dwarf during their time in P.D together and smear the thoughts that resounded in his head in twenty-foot tall letters on the side of their now tiny green home. He wished he could just look Lister in the eye and say the words. Just say it. Just say it.
His heart had turned his self-loathing thoughts into a quiet mantra of encouragement as he stood, still a good seven metres away, facing his heart's desire.
"I –" The first syllable escaped without consent. His Pride, horrified at this lapse, clamping a hand over his mouth, refusing to let go until something sensible wished to speak. It was then that Rimmer realised that unless Lister was the first to say the words, he would never allow himself to speak them out loud. A memory of a Shakespeare class, at fourteen years old, slammed into his brain. One quotation, hushed yet dominating, spoke over all others. The love that dare not speak its name. He felt like such a failure. He couldn't even remember where it was from.
The flickering of the ceiling lights allowed Rimmer to take a snap-shot tableau of his final memory of Lister; standing expectantly, wearing nothing but dark green, oil-stained khaki trousers, his bare toes curling inwards against the cold, and two of his five rasta plaits snaking down his bare, golden brown chest. Those eyes, dark as coal yet sparkling yet diamonds. Those eyes. Those eyes.
Rimmer tore away his gaze and pretended to shield his eyes from the flickering lights, instead shielding his eyes from Lister that now pricked red. "I'd better go," he managed to mumble as he half-heartedly gestured towards the landing bay. He wanted to laugh at himself. He wanted to be sick.
Lister watched the blank, white, expressionless mask slip from Rimmer's face for a brief second, caught off-guard by the burst of conflicting emotions that radiated, hot, down the bitter-cold corridor. Realising that he would never say the words themselves unless Rimmer spoke them first, Lister injected every syllable with coded conviction of his feelings.
"You don't have to go, Rimmer."
Rimmer however, miserable that he continued to hear words in Lister's speech that weren't there, silenced his once adamant convictions. There was nothing there and never will be. The habit had to be broken. This had to end. Tonight.
"Yes I do," he finally managed.
And with those words, the bond that had been woven between them, as fine yet strong as a spider's web, was broken. The short distance between them had never felt like such a cavernous void. The potential of everything that could have been had died, and no sound but the hum of the ship's engines expressed its mourning for the loss.
Rimmer straightened. The least he could do was finally master some successful small-talk – finalising yet poignant. "Good luck. You know, getting back, I mean."
Lister heard the words but through a muffling, like water. He was still fighting to kick and swim to the surface; to regain control. His brow wrinkled, confused. "Back?" he asked.
Rimmer almost managed a laugh. Almost. "To Earth?" he offered. "Good luck getting back to Earth," he confirmed.
Lister's head nodded weakly with feigned enthusiasm. Was Earth what he still wanted now? Surely it was obvious that everything he wanted was staring him in the face? "Thanks," he muttered, wondering whether that was the right reply.
Rimmer snorted. "I'm sure we'll see each other again somewhere down the line." A lie.
Lister nodded. "Yeah, we will." Another lie.
Rimmer echoed the weak nod and gave Lister what he hoped he wanted - a proper goodbye.
Lister wanted to inject the same passion and meaning into these words as he had in the words before. Yet what slipped out between his dry lips sounded more like he was responding to Rimmer telling him that he was going to be busy with the engines for the day. It needed to feel normal. Not quite real.
"Yeah, see ya."
Lister watched as Rimmer flashed him a strange smile, turned and walked away. Lister released a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
Rimmer tried to keep his steps steady and methodical, resisting the overwhelming urge to speed up into a run. He kept trying to tell himself that he wasn't running away from something or someone, but stepping up towards a new horizon.
Yet as Widlfire blasted away from Starbug, never to return, Arnold J. Rimmer realised the horrible truth that he had been right all along. You couldn't break the habit, especially if you were a victim. It was intrinsic to his being.
Arnold J. Rimmer was not leaving as a hero, but as a coward.