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A gapfiller for Stoke Me A Clipper. Ace's training.
"Here, Arnie-boy." Arn was getting very tired of that impromptu nickname. "Grab it like so. Then stand like this, legs slightly apart, slightly bent, one slightly back from your opponent." Arn tried to mimic Ace's stance. "Relax." That word is rarely in Arn's vocabulary, and certainly not when he's trying, for no good reason that he can summon to mind, to learn combat from a man he despises.
"This is as relaxed as I'm getting around you, my cross-dressing friend."
Ace raised one eyebrow, started to say something, and then stopped. "Righty-ho, Arnie-boy. Now, look..." He demonstrated a few moves. Arn tried to copy them, and botched it. Ace demonstrated them again, one at a time. Arn copied them adequately once, then botched the rest.
This continued for an hour. Time hung heavy over the session. Although Ace did not suffer from the side effects of his malfunctioning lightbee while they were in AR, they both knew that he did not have long as a living... well, existing... entity. Unfortunately, if there is one thing Arn is good at, it is not functioning under time pressure. He felt the same symptoms that he had felt back when he was a little boy, taking an exam he had not adequately prepared for; the same symptoms he had felt every one of the thirteen times he had taken his astronavigation exam. His hologrammatic program simulated them perfectly. Sweat oozed from his palms, making the stick slick and clammy, and trickled icily down the small of his back. His heart began to pound deafeningly. His breath came in short gasps that were not enough to give him the oxygen his brain needed to work.
Therefore, when it came time to practice an actual spar, Arn was useless. Sweat stung his eyes and blurred his vision, and his reactions were slowed. He saw Ace's stick come at him, but did not raise his own in time; Ace's met his hand as it was halfway up to a block, cracking his knuckles open. He gasped and brought them to his mouth; Ace's stick swept his legs, and he fell to the ground with a back-cracking thud.
"Come on, Arn, you can do better than that!" came the mind-bogglingly annoying, deeper version of his own voice. Arn gritted his teeth and got back up, concentrating on that hated face, the parody of his own. Anger seeped through his panic. Yes, this was more like it. He actually managed to parry two strikes from his alternate self, his annoyance as useful a weapon as the rather ludicrous stick in his hands.
"Yes, miladdo," Ace said, not even out of breath, "psychology is a useful weapon. I know you hate me. All Aces and Arns hate each other. Can't tell why; just the way it is." Dear god, thought Arn, do my nostrils really flare like that? "Something about the voice and the flare of the nostrils, I think. It's highly unappealing, seen from the outside." Arn barely managed to deflect the next overhanded strike, and had to move backwards. "The question you have to answer, though, Arn, is whether you can do this when you're not fighting yourself? If there's anything you feel strongly enough about to overcome your natural... well, Rimmerness?"
Arn held his stick warily as Ace planted one end of his own in the ground and stared levelly at Arn. "And what did you feel strongly enough about?" Arn sneered. "A love of hair gel? The rights of thong underwear denied a chance at your bum?"
Ace, somehow, remained plussed and concerted as he leaned on his stick. "I left Lister, Cat, and Kryten to die, Arn. Worse than what you did on that Simulant ship. I've been making up for that ever since I was recruited by my successor. I've been fighting the Arn I used to be."
Arn sniffed, quailing slightly at the knowledge of the cavernous view he now knew it would allow of his nostrils. "Ah, yes. It was quite touching, watching your predecessor fawn over Lister. I was surprised they didn't do the horizontal mambo as soon as his gold-lamÃ¨ness landed. Come to think of it, they did spend a rather long time repairing that engine, didn't they?"
Ace leaned towards Arn. "Bothered you, didn't it? After all, without the hard-light drive, it was nothing you could do..."
Arn's mouth tightened. Nobody had ever insinuated anything like that before. The very thought that he would have... sexual urges towards Lister! He expected righteous rage to fill him, but was startled that only a cold, sick lump formed in his stomach.
"After all," Ace said with a truly infuriating smirk, "that's another thing that all Aces and Arns have in common. None of us ever actually did anything about it..."
"You sick bastard!" Arn swung his stick at Ace, madly. Ace easily parried the wild attack.
"Come now, Arn. I downloaded your lightbee's memory banks. Even a quick scan shows it, plain as day. Terribly touched, weren't you, when Lister wiped your duplicate instead of /you/?" Arn swung his stick in an equally wild overhand attack. Ace knocked it aside. "You never told anyone else about 'your' song..."
"I was drunk," Arn grated.
"Not that drunk. Should I mention what you did when you were in his body?" Arn tossed aside his stick with a feral yell and jumped at Ace, ramming his shoulder into the smug git's chest. Ace fell backwards as if it were a dance move; he kept speaking, his tone mocking, but smothering less and less a certain despair that bubbled up from underneath. "Oh, you were hoping for so much more when he said he loved you and put his hand on your leg." Arn had wrestled Ace's hands to the ground, but had no limbs now to cover that damned mouth that was spitting such filth. "And you never admitted, even to yourself, how disappointed you were..." In desperation, Arn leaned down and bit Ace's lower lip, holding it firmly between his teeth. Ace wrapped one leg around Arn's, and in a move that left Arn wondering how on earth he had done it, he rolled Arn over onto his back and was abruptly the one atop, holding Arn's wrists down, his legs pinning Arn's. His tongue flicked out of his mouth to lick a drop of blood off of his lower lip as Arn struggled uselessly. "You never admitted, not even to yourself, how much you wanted this from him. But you did. And you do. I know you do; you're me, you smegging coward." Ace leaned down, and Arn could only close his eyes as his doppelganger's lips met his, moving with urgency, forcing his own lips open with an intruding tongue. With Ace's words echoing in his ears, Lister's face came inexorably into his mind, and he kissed the other him back with ferocity, tasting the metallic tang of blood and the clean wash of peroxide/mint toothpaste that he always used, and the other man must therefore use, as well. He was horrifyingly erect, knowing that the other man also had his eyes tightly closed, thinking of Lister while feeling and tasting himself, tearing open his own velour pants and desperately stroking him in a grotesque parody of masturbation as Arn pushed aside the ludicrous flightsuit to do the same. And if there were any doubts in his mind that this man was him, the noises they made in concert dispelled them, as they gasped their way to completion, each with his right hand on the other's member and his left hand stroking the other's cheek in a parody of affection.
"Arn..." Ace gasped in his ear, "Can you use this? To carry you through?"
Arn opened his eyes and looked at the smug bastard's face, staring so earnestly down at what must be a ludicrous post-coital face, if Ace's were any judge of his own. "No," he said, his face hot with arousal and shame. "That curry-breathed git is not going to be my Ace muse."
Ace sighed, and the AR program fizzled out around them. Arn came back to himself, seated in the AR unit, out of breath, but with his clothes intact. Ace was once again haggard from his dying lightbee. He wheezed at Arn, "Help me up, old chum."
"I'm not your old chum, electron-nuts." But Arn slipped his shoulders under Ace's outstretched arm and helped him out of his unit.
"You have to have a muse, Arnie," Ace panted in his ear as they staggered back to the guest quarters. "You need motivation. If not... him... than what?"
"I don't know!" Arn growled in frustration, as he tipped Ace into the bunk. "Oh, I'll never be Ace. We tried, we failed. I give up."
Arn stood on a metal gantry above the cargo deck, some hours later. He was no more sure about being Ace than he had been before. He heard footsteps clang on the stairway behind him, and allowed himself to be faintly disgusted at how pleased he was that it was Lister, and that the other man leaned on the railing next to him close enough to brush elbows. Ace was right, the grotty all-knowing bastard; he looked in Lister's brown eyes and allowed himself feel warmth at the other man's proximity, for the first time. How could this be a muse? A motivation for him to bugger off across dimensions, when this Lister, his Lister, was here, alive, now? "I'm not sure I can go through with it. /Leave/, I mean. Be Ace."
Arn barely listened to Lister's reply; he looked at Lister's expression, closely, and his answer was written across the other man's face. The face that showed love and affection so honestly, openly, unguardedly, for the first time that Arn had ever seen. Platonic love. Friendship. Caring. Nothing of the love that Arn wanted from him.
How could Arn take from Lister what was not offered?
Later, as Arn gazed over the sea of lightbees, he realized that not one of these alternate /him/s had been able to capture that willingly, either. Or why would they have left?
Perhaps, somewhere, there was a Dave who wanted from Arn what Arn wanted from him. Perhaps, in some other dimension, some Arn was able to put aside his arrogance and gittishness in better time. Perhaps the Lister in that dimension felt more for that Arn than just friendship.
Hell, it was a miracle that he had as much from this Lister as he did, right then and there.
He often, in his unusually lengthy tenure as Ace, dreamed of Lister, touching himself; sweet dreams, that he did not dare to hope would be actualized.
This, he thought sometimes with exasperation, is what makes a hero.