Uhm, hi there. :)
The idea for this little story came to me when the song "I'm coming home" happened to be played in the radio while I was listening to it. And it wouldn't let go until I had it all written down.
As you might be aware this is my very first attempt at writing for this show that I have come to love so much. To be honest with you, I'm really rather nervous about uplaoding this as I know that my style might not be what the fandom is used to, and that it's not everybody's cup of tea either. But I decided to be brave and share it with you nevertheless.
Also, this is the very – and I mean very, very – first time that I have written something that could actually be interpreted as slash by those inclined to read it that way. For everyone else it's just about friendship. Personally I really don't mind either of them. :)
Last but not least please allow me to mention that English is not my mother tongue. I really try to do my best with it, but at the end of the day I'm still only human – and learning from my mistakes. So if you do detect any flaws, feel free to point them out to me (but please don't be too hard on me *puppy dog eyes*).
Now, I think all what's left for me to say is: I hope you'll enjoy the read. =)
As usual, feedback is greatly appreciated, and guest review is enabled.
Written to Skylar Grey's "Coming home" (just her lines, really – on YT there's a lovely version without the rap parts of the original song).
disclaimer: I don't own RedDwarf and most likely never will. I just borrow them lovely characters and promise to give them back at the end.
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
tell the World I'm coming home
Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits and they've forgiven my mistakes
I'm coming home, I'm coming home
tell the World I'm coming
Skylar Grey – Coming Home
The engines of the Wildfire hummed lazily while she drifted through the vastness that humankind had learned to call 'space'. Her sole passenger sat in the driver's seat, his hands on the arm rests as he had set the ship to autopilot as soon as they had prepared for the jump.
His brows were furrowed, his forehead covered with this mute frown that the Wildfire's computer had come to know so well.
Outside her cockpit he was a hero, a legend more than a man. But once he stepped inside and her shell protected him from the world which constantly threatened to close in on him the disguise fell and all that was left was a soul longing to belong. A heart that craved for nothing more than a home to return to. Somewhere where he could be just himself, a place without fighting, a place where he wouldn't have to pretend.
The small spacecraft had set course for this one refuge that out of the billions of galaxies, out of the endless number of realities he deemed to be the only one that came close to what he searched. It was the one place where she knew he would finally be able to rest.
The ship's computer wasn't even sure anymore who had voiced it out first, who of them had decided that it was time for him to go. Surely enough she had known for a long time, had learned to understand those hazel eyes that stared aimlessly into the empty sky as soon as they would leave a crowded planet's surface only to get lost in the loneliness of space; those eyes which seemed to focus on some distant spot that the Wildfire herself had no access to. But whether she had been the one to ask, she didn't know.
In fact, if she thought about it she believed that it had not needed any words to say. Both of them knew that their time was running out. This incarnation had been the most dedicated of so many decades and he had lived the life of his predecessors longer than most of them had ever done, but neither he nor she could deny that he had grown weary and his once glistening wish to go and become who he thought he should be had slowly dwindled. The walls he had built around him, the masks that he had put on had crumbled to reveal what was his very core.
This simple wish, too easy to fulfill and yet so unseizable for as long as he forced himself to go on.
He didn't do so anymore.
The man the Wildfire protected sat in her cockpit, his features tense, as bit by bit they approached what she knew he longed for more than anything else and yet, for a reason she could not fathom, dreaded more than going to a war which's end he could not foresee.
"I have her on the sonar", her melodic voice floated from the speaking-system. She had no eyes to see, but her software was hooked up to his holographic engine, the data from his light-bee constantly streaming through her own readings.
She knew he was frightened.
"Do you still want to go?"
She didn't mean to keep him from doing what she knew he needed, didn't aim to keep him from passing on the flame. But she had grown to like this one man, and albeit she felt protective and fond of all the incarnations of Arnold Rimmer she had met, this particular one held a special place in her database.
Of all the versions of himself that had faced up to their fate she felt that he was the one who had given up the most. While all the other Aces had thrived on the prospect of travelling the universe as an intergalactic hero, this one had had to learn that all he truly wanted he had already possessed. And he had lost it all the day that his predecessor had chosen this dimension for himself to rest.
Now they had returned. Returned to offer another soul what had become a burden to him for too long.
The Wildfire knew that this universe carried a new incarnation of his own self by now, she had told him the moment he had confessed to her that he wanted to go back. And he had fallen silent. Arnold Rimmer had stopped breathing for only a moment while his holographic inner self had seemed to come to a halt, his thoughts frozen in time and impossible for her to reach. He had not talked with her for two days then, had stirred her to a deserted moon where he had kept wandering the lifeless dunes alone until he had returned, a decision written in his eyes.
But now, as they neared the red vessel that roamed space so peacefully, she knew that he doubted. Doubted what lay buried deep inside, doubted whether what he would find was what he sought at all.
"I…", he made the effort to speak but his voice cracked, his words fading to silence before they could be born. He could leave at any minute he knew, wouldn't have to disturb them in the reality they now called their home. They were still too far for Holly to detect them, a ship as small as the Wildfire being nothing more than a speck on the scanner scope.
He could still leave and never come back. And somewhere, in a dark corner of his mind he wanted to do so, to turn around and bid them a silent farewell that they would never hear.
His left hand rose to let his index hover above the button that would turn off the autopilot, returning the Wildfire's control to him. It would be so easy to go, so easy to spare himself the pain of seeing he had been replaced. He knew he wanted to propose his life to his other self, was ready to trade in fame and a fate far greater than any he had ever dreamt of for a life in which he was no one special. A life in which he got called 'Goal Post Head', in which he got played pranks at and where he often got ignored by at least half of the smallest crew any of the universes knew. But, and the truth always came to him with painful clarity, it was also the only life in which someone had liked him as he were. Without the wig, without the suit. Without strength and without bravery. Just the coward he had been, scarred and lonely, frightened of letting anyone near for his fragile heart could not have taken to break again.
He had seen past all that; and despite everything he was and everything he had done, he had offered the one thing to him that secretly he had craved for all his life.
He could not go.
His head shook softly and a defeated sigh escaped his throat as he let his hand sink limply back onto the armrest.
"Just, just keep the course, would you?"
His voice was barely above a whisper but the Wildfire would have also known had he not said anything at all. She knew he had to return and try to reclaim what so long ago had been his.
You don't get many shots at happiness, he had once declared to her, a strange mixture of melancholy and bitterness lying in what he spoke, but when you do you gotta go for them all.
She knew he would not leave this reality again.
"I am now in range to contact them", she informed him softly and had she been given the features to frown she would have actually done so. Now that they approached the giant crimson mining ship she had only ever seen in times and spaces that were different from this one, she realized that all too soon another chapter in her own history would come to end as well. She would say good bye to this version of Ace that for so many reasons was one of the most remarkable ones; his simple wish to protect the life that had left his own body so many years ago giving him an aura of honesty that only few of his predecessor had shared with him. And although it had never been written into her programming the Wildfire felt how the power that drove her engines dipped just a bit at the thought, the equivalent of sadness infiltrating her circuits for just a heartbeat.
"Opening a channel whenever you feel ready, Ace", she susurrated. Her voice was low and filled with sympathy as the computer logged in on Arnold Rimmer's simulated feelings. An irrational flood of sorrow and misgivings. Emotions that were so alien to her because they did not derive from any algorithm she could decipher, their impact on her own setup slowing down the pace with which she moved. But the decrease in speed did go unnoticed by her passenger, his mind focused desperately on the one fleeting thought that lay hidden beneath all his pain, stored away in a safe corner of his mind. The one thought he had never allowed himself to have when in all his life it had betrayed him. And yet, as against the cosmos' blackness he saw the silhouette of Red Dwarf materialize, it blazed, demanding his head to move in a silent nod.
In this one moment while the comm link crackled into life, the little dimension-jumper's call going out to the ship which seemed to be detached from time and space itself, he hoped.
Hoped that the world he would find aboard could once again be the one he remembered.
Hoped that eight years apart had not rendered them strangers.
Hoped that they could forgive him.
Forgive him for being who he was.
Forgive him for leaving.
Forgive him for coming back.
"This is RedDwarf's mechanoid Kryten speaking. Please identify yourself."
The droid's sing-song voice filtered through the speakers, their realness pulling Rimmer out of a reverie he hadn't even noticed he'd fallen into. Years of pretending suddenly surfacing, he fell back on the personality he had learned to be, his suave radio tones leaving his lips before he could find the strength to abandon them.
"Great to see you still keep an eye on this fine little crew, Kryten, old chum", he smiled, a smile that could never quite reach his eyes. But the Dwarf's resident cleaning bot was oblivious to this one detail which could have disclosed the secret that had been kept by the only one who understood its importance, and his artificial face splitting with a huge grin he simply expressed words of happiness upon seeing the hero after such long a time.
And as if he had forgotten about his disguise himself, Arnold J Rimmer flicked his head, the wisps of his honey-blond fringe gliding smoothly to his temple.
"Couldn't leave you for all too long, now could I", he cooed, his eyes never leaving the mechanoid's features while Kryten shifted to activate the landing bay.
"Opening the port for you now, Mister Ace, Sir. "
He swallowed. For so long had he tried to imagine what it would be like to experience this one moment. He had dreamt about different scenarios of this day, some of which were good and some of which left him sleepless with an unbearable pain soaring through his system as in his head their accusing glares lay on him – him the intruder, the one who had no right to walk back into their lives when they were finally happy.
And like a knife twisted through his very soul, in those dreams their indifferent voices would remain silent when he begged them to tell him the only thing he truly wanted.
When all he asked was whether they had ever cared.
Rimmer felt how his chest heaved with effort, his lungs seeking the air they didn't really need more desperately than he had ever thought possible. His hands clenched to fists, the physical discomfort of knuckles turning white being an unexpected relief to him. Suddenly all he had become ceased to be as the Wildfire crossed the huge gate, her engines' murmur echoing softly in the still empty hall.
He could still chicken out, keep up the disguise for just a day longer and leave without any of them needing to know the truth.
He could let them return to the life they had built, and surrender to his own until one day his light-bee would burn up and set out on the journey that too many of his kind had taken before.
Could still spare him to see the broken shell he had become and remain a shadow of a past long sealed and only remembered in those rare moments of melancholy.
He could not.
The instant the dimension travelling vessel landed safely on the stale cold floor, Kryten entered the bay. Flailing his arms in greeting he waddled towards the small craft, swiftly followed by a Cat who did not seem to have aged much in those years gone by. For a reason that seemed too mysterious for him to understand, Rimmer felt a smile tug at the corners of his lips and while he drew in the deepest of breaths, he released the Wildfire's seatbelt and opened the cockpit.
The air hit him hard, his holographic sense of smell registering what it had deemed to never meet again. He had not realized it before, but now that his nostrils widened to take in as much of this scent as possible, he suddenly noticed how no other Dwarf had ever been able to compare to the one in this reality.
"Are you ready to go?"
The computer's lovely voice intruded his mind like a soft chime as she connected herself to his own unit one last time. It was weird, he thought as the link got established, how you could suddenly become aware of all the things you had felt they were oh so ordinary but now became something curious only because you knew that soon you would never encounter them again. In a way he would miss the ship's presence in his own consciousness but the decision had just been made.
It was another sigh, heavy with the knowledge about the importance of what he did, Rimmer let it escape unashamedly. And the Wildfire answered.
She let the staircase unfold, turned down the engines and projected one last emotion into his core program.
Rimmer's eyes closed as he received what the spacecraft's drive sent to remain part of his algorithmic forever. A silent thanks for all he had done. The feeling of having been worth the task he had never asked to resume. It came from the unit which throughout all this time that she had travelled the universe with these all too human men had learned a little humanity herself.
"Take care of them", she whispered and before she shut down the link to his bee, she let only one more word cross the connection – one word of which she knew it said more than any other ever could.
She watched him climb down the stairs slowly. His moves were steady and yet there lay an invisible quiver in his every step. His disguise was disappearing. With each breath that he took, inside, his personality broke free from the façade it had built around him. The smile he gave the excited Cat nothing more than a shallow reflection of what he had learned to use as a shield in a world that knew no safety. His nonchalant question for the rest of the crew carrying all the pain and all the hope in the universe.
He stood close to the people he once knew and yet he had never seemed to be so far from them, the illusion still too strong for them to discover the truth beyond the fair hair and silver clothes. And he kept it up for just a little while longer, a moment more in a time that flew by regardless of what it would leave in its wake. Even when his successor entered the room hesitantly, the other man's own hazel gaze exploring the hologram questioningly, did he continue to smile at them. Gave them what he painfully was aware they expected.
But then everything came to a halt.
In his head the feline human's and his mechanic companion's chatter surrendered to the deafening silence that swallowed even the restless humming of Red Dwarf's gear. As the doors to the hangar slid open one more time, his simulated heart stopped beating, a forlorn breath leaving his lungs without sound. There, at the far end of the hall he stood. Frozen in midst his stride his right hand clasped the iron frame next to him, his deep brown eyes staring straight ahead.
Lister's cheeks were rosy, his chest rising and falling with the need to take in more air as obviously he had taken the corridors down here in a run. And just like for the one who met his gaze now the Scouser's world seemed to have stopped turning for just this one glimpse in time.
As if no one else but them existed, they looked at each other from the distance, each of them carrying the burden of a hundred questions in their mind. But out of all those that had haunted Rimmer ever since he had decided to come back only three did overpower all the others. They echoed in his head, so loud that he believed they would have to be audible even for those around.
Would he recognize the one he saw?
Would he still know the one whose footsteps had long faded from the ground?
Would he remember the secret he carried, or would he be deceived by his looks – fall for the illusion that he had learned to use to well?
He watched him with a nervous gaze, watched how the other stepped forward, his hand following lazily while he left the doorway to enter the bay. He watched those eyes which were opened wide, mirroring the star-clad night sky if only there was one for them see. He saw how Lister's expression shifted from surprised first, to doubtful and then to a unique mixture of disbelief and wonder until finally the one emotion that emerged was… joy.
Written in those dark brown eyes was the recognition of someone who had lost and found and as his face shifted to show his trademark gerbil grin, all that was Ace melted away and left only Arnold Rimmer to stare back at the one man who had granted him what no one else had been able to give.
The Wildfire witnessed silently how he walked away, the incarnation she had protected and guided disappearing right in front of her and giving way to the human he so wanted and feared to be. His gaze was bare and uncovered; his hands shaking visibly as he reached for the top of his head to remove the wig, and aspirated what he had longed to say for so long.
He had been forgiven long before he had left, had never truly been gone for a part of him had always lingered.
The Wildfire's engines buzzed softly as she embraced the new soul that carried on the flame. And while effortlessly her body left the ground, the computer felt how in her circuits the remembrance of his progenitor created a file that attentively she added to her memory data where it got labeled so that she would never forget.
Him who had finally found what he had searched for so long.
Him who had finally come home.