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It was amazing the effect that Dave Lister had on a room when he walked into it. Or maybe it was just the effect he had on Rimmer. Either way, he exuded a confidence, a no messing-ness, even if his only goal was to collapse somewhere and have a general slob which, let’s face it, it usually was.

“Bed time,” he announced definitively as he entered their sleeping quarters on this particular evening. Rimmer looked up from his very important journal writing to see Lister kicking his trousers off and leaving them in an irritating heap on the floor. Now dressed only in his boxers and a T-shirt that he’d been wearing for more days than was polite or sanitary, he pulled back the covers on the bottom bunk.

“Actually, I was just filling in today’s journal entry,” Rimmer replied primly, looking back down at what he was doing and trying to look very busy indeed. He was very busy indeed, he reminded himself.

“Bed time,” Lister stated again, clearly not about to take no for an answer. Rimmer turned to face him wearily. “Come on, sexy, get your arse over here,” Lister said easily, an irresistible playfulness in his voice. “Now.”

And damn if words like that, said with such simple, thoughtless sincerity, didn’t still give Rimmer pause after all this time. He rolled his eyes for effect and then closed his journal, careful tidying everything neatly away before joining Lister at their bunk.

He was already wearing his clean, crisp pyjamas, and so he climbed into the bunk beside Lister, shifting slightly and then clearing his throat in what could be described as an awkward manner. He wasn’t tired, not tired enough to go to sleep, not tired enough for his body to seek comfort and smash through his inhibitions. He wondered if this was ever going to change. He’d long since gotten used to this... whatever it was between he and Lister, but still a part of him was fighting it. Probably the same part of him that had been sabotaging himself and all of his efforts at success his whole life.

Lister pulled Rimmer forcefully and somewhat rudely towards him. Rimmer wondered absently if he was the only person to ever feel violated by a hug, even as he snuggled closer into Lister’s embrace. He was wrapped up in surprisingly strong arms and a collection of vaguely nauseating scents. And then a kiss landed on his cheek, inexact and slightly damp.

Rimmer’s first instinct was to kiss back, but propriety stopped him. The instinct to see himself suffer was apparently still well and alive. His toes curled and uncurled restlessly as he silently berated himself. After all this time, it shouldn’t be such a struggle. He’d learnt enough to know that affection wasn’t a weakness. Affection wasn’t a weakness. He used that thought to propel him forward and leave a clumsy, tentative kiss on Lister’s cheek. He felt Lister smile, and then lips were on his, a set of lazy, lingering kisses that were filled with familiarity.

“You after a shag?” Lister teased.

It was a fair question. Rimmer wasn’t exactly the type to go around giving kisses out willy-nilly without a good reason. He didn’t respond to the question though. It wasn’t his intention but, at the same time, maybe it was. A nice shag would be a pleasant enough way to round off his day. He was too comfortable to move though, or to consider getting sweaty and creasing his pyjamas, whether Kryten would be glad of the extra laundry or not. No, for now, this was fine. More than fine. This was something Rimmer never thought he’d be able to stomach.

*

Lister believed in love, really believed in it, and that was one of the reasons that Rimmer could never respect him. Alright, Rimmer had a list longer than his arm, an actual, colour coded, carefully ordered list of reasons why he couldn’t respect Lister. But the main one, the one that really stuck in Rimmer’s throat, was love.

It was the way that he got all soppy over romantic films, the way that he was willing to make pointless sacrifices, the way that he believed it could conquer all. It was the way that he’d been pining over Kristine Kochanski for more than three million years. Three million years on one girl. True love. It was pathetic, especially the part where he actually thought he stood a chance. Kochanski was an officer. Compared to her, Lister was the scum of the smegging universe.

And it wasn’t that Rimmer didn’t believe in love at all, that he didn’t place any importance on it, he’d just never experienced it firsthand. He didn’t understand it. From that point of view his dismissiveness of the subject could be seen as bitterness, but he refused to look at it that way. It was a choice that he’d made. He kept telling himself that. He had different priorities to working class bums like Lister who only cared about fornicating. No, he was above all that. He was going to be an officer, a man of grace and honour and integrity.

Still, all of his grand ideas and supposed control of his destiny didn’t stop him getting lonely. It wasn’t easy for a man like him, a man forced to stand apart from the crowd, a man whose ambition intimidated people, pushed them away. Oh, people could say he was a smeghead, but they were only jealous.

Who was he kidding? It wasn’t easy because his parents never gave him any affection, because he was sent off to boarding school where he was bullied and loathed by pupils and teachers alike, because he would never be able to live up to the standards set by his older brothers. His father would always despise him for his complete inability to make anything of himself, he was a joke as far as the Space Corps were concerned, and he had absolutely no idea how to make love to a woman.

That was why it wasn’t easy being Arnold J Rimmer. That was why he despised Lister’s carefree attitude to love, like life was actually that simple. To Rimmer, love might as well be a mythical creature, and he was far too logical to believe in those.

*

The unexpected arrival of Kristine Kochanski from her highly cultured, hoity-toity parallel dimension seemed to spell nothing but trouble for Rimmer from the moment she arrived. For starters, she outranked him, something that Rimmer couldn’t stand. He’d been in charge of that ship for the last five years and in swans Miss Fancy Pants and Rimmer was back down at the bottom of the pile again. Alright, so no one had actually listened to him when he was the highest ranked person on that ship, but he knew. And now he knew that he wasn’t. It changed everything.

It didn’t take long for it to be brought home to him just how un-smegging-important he was. Shortly after Kochanski had awoken in the medibay, the GELFs had attacked again and it was all hands on deck. All hands except for those belonging to Arnold Rimmer, it would appear. Kochanski had already slipped into his seat and was navigating them expertly out of trouble. Rimmer stood in the hatchway, watching it all play out, and then he slipped away, retreating to his quarters. He doubted that anybody even noticed.

A few days later, he overheard a conversation between Lister and Kochanski that stopped him in his tracks.

“But what’s Rimmer doing here?” Kochanski had asked, saying his name with such utter distain, like it had left an unpleasant taste in her mouth.

“That was Holly’s idea,” Lister replied. “He was supposed to keep me sane.”

“Yeah, that was his excuse for bringing Dave... my Dave... back,” Kochanski responded. “I thought he must be mad! My ex-boyfriend? I couldn’t think of anything more awkward. But Holly turned out to be right in the end.”

“Yeah,” Lister agreed, though Rimmer couldn’t quite tell what he was agreeing with.

“So, Rimmer keeps you sane?” Kochanski asked, a slight note of disbelief in her voice that made Rimmer grit his teeth.

“I dunno,” Lister replied thoughtfully. “I mean, I know he can be cowardly and snivelling and self-serving and pompous and generally a bit of a smeghead, but... what was I saying?”

Kochanski gave a small laugh, a laugh at Rimmer’s expense. He didn’t stay around to listen to any more. He was always the butt of everyone’s jokes around here, he was used to that, but hearing Kochanski joining in, looking down on him, it was too much. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be the second lowest ranking member of a 1,169 strong crew, but hearing on officer laughing at his expense, it took him right back there and made him feel like nothing again.

*

“Where’ve you been hiding?” Lister asked him nonchalantly when he came into the midsection. His feet were up on the table and he was reading a magazine that he didn’t even bother to look up from.

“I haven’t been hiding,” Rimmer replied primly. “I’ll have you know I’ve been very busy.”

“Busy?” Lister asked incredulously, giving him a look over the top of his magazine. “Doin’ what?”

“Very important things that are frankly above you,” Rimmer blustered. Lister snorted a laugh, turning dismissively back to his magazine. “And it’s a good thing anyway,” Rimmer continued, joining Lister at the table, “seeing as, every time I go into the cockpit, there’s someone sitting in my seat.”

Lister rolled his eyes. “Don’t you start,” he groaned. “I’ve had Kryten going on all day about pants drawers and salad cream. If you want your seat back, go ask her for it. She probably doesn’t even realise you sit there.”

“She probably doesn’t even realise I exist,” Rimmer responded. Lister gave him a look that was seriously lacking in patience. “Oh, I can’t ask for my seat back,” Rimmer stated, exasperated. “She’s a navigation officer, it’s her rightful place. My rightful place is unblocking a chicken soup nozzle somewhere. And don’t think she’s not just dying to point that out to me.”

“Rimmer,” Lister stated, “No one cares about this stuff except for you. Kris is alright. You should give her a chance.”

“Kris?” Rimmer asked incredulously. “Kris? Is she your bessie mate now, Listy?”

“Just leave it alone, Rimmer,” Lister said tiredly. “She’s leaving soon anyway. As soon as she can get that linkway back up, she’s gone.”

*

She never went.

There were a couple of unsuccessful attempts to return her to her apparently superior and utterly Rimmerless dimension, but then everyone stopped talking about it. All plans of giving her back seemed to have been abandoned and Kochanski settled herself in. Settled herself into Rimmer’s seat in the cockpit.

Maybe he was being petty, but navigation officer had been his role and he felt like, over the last five years, he’d earned it. He might have never passed his exams, but he had plenty of experience in the field and he’d paid his dues. He was an integral member of the team. Now this woman had come along and upset the balance completely and there wasn’t a thing that Rimmer could do about it. She was his superior and so he was bound to blindly following her lead.

Not that Kochanski would have any idea that any of this was going on, the struggle inside him between the part of him that felt like he deserved that seat and the part of him that would always feel inferior to people in a position of power. No, they barely spoke two words to each other the whole time they were on Starbug. They kept separate hours and stayed out of each other’s way, though Rimmer doubted it was quite so deliberate on Kochanski’s part as it was on his.

When it was quiet and everyone else was otherwise engaged, Rimmer would go up to the cockpit and sit in his old seat, watching the scanners. Maybe he never saw anything of any use, and maybe it made him the saddest git this side of Titan, but it passed the time. It made him feel a little less useless.

*

When they got Red Dwarf back, or, rather, when Red Dwarf was given back to them by the Nanobots, Rimmer and Lister moved back into the officer’s quarters they’d inhabited before all of this had happened. Rimmer thought it was strange how much comfort the move gave him. All of his things were there, just as he’d left them, his books, his framed certificates, his newspaper headlines, his no smoking signs. He hadn’t realised just how much he’d missed it all.

That night, Lister hopped into the top bunk and Rimmer climbed into the bottom and he found that he slept better than he ever remembered sleeping on Starbug. He felt at ease, completely content. He felt like he was home. Even Lister’s slightly sickening snores and occasional grunts couldn’t dampen his spirits. In fact, for reasons that Rimmer couldn’t quite grasp, they seemed to comfort him too.

Kochanski moved back into her old quarters too, the ones that were next door to Rimmer and Lister’s. Everything was just as she’d left it three million years earlier because, despite some reasonably substantial snooping, Lister had left everything in its place, presumably as some kind of shrine to the woman. Rimmer knew that it was no coincidence that Lister had just happened to pick out the quarters right next to hers when they moved here from their old bunks in the first place.

Still, despite their proximity, Rimmer found that he saw a lot less of Kochanski now that they were back on Red Dwarf. In fact, things almost got back to normal. If you didn’t count the fact that Lister was acting like some lovesick puppy, that was. Or the fact that the Cat was changing his outfits even more often than usual and couldn’t come into a room without showing off his best moves, a vague look of disappointment always crossing his features whenever he saw they’d been wasted. Or, indeed, the fact that Kryten was constantly going on about the perils of washing women’s underwear. No, out of sight, out of mind didn’t really seem to apply to this woman.

Rimmer noticed that she was spending a lot of time in the drive room, sitting at her old navigation console and staring at her screen. She had a kind of distant look on her face and it reminded Rimmer of the times he sat at the navigation console on Starbug and felt sorry for himself. It almost made him feel sorry for her. Until, that is, he snapped out of it and remembered that she had this whole smegging ship under her command and that she better bloody well do something about it.

Rimmer strode up to where she was staring at her controls, standing to attention at her side and giving her his own personal salute. He noted that Kochanski gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head, like Rimmer really wasn’t worth giving the time of day to, let alone any important duties.

“Excuse me, Ms. Kochanski, ma’am, but I was wondering what your plan was?” Rimmer asked.

Kochanski looked up at him, a mixture of weariness and confusion. “Plan?”

“For Red Dwarf, ma’am,” Rimmer explained. “It’s just that, you are the highest ranking person aboard this ship, which would put you in charge. I wondered what you planned to do with your command?”

“I don’t plan to do anything,” Kochanski responded curtly, turning back to her monitor.

“I see,” Rimmer said. That was his cue to walk away, he wasn’t so clueless that he couldn’t read the signs, despite what people might think of him. He knew where to draw the line, he was just too self-involved enough to bother doing it. “It’s just, you see, ma’am, when I was running this ship, things worked quite differently.”

“When were you ever running this ship?” Kochanski asked, her voice a mixture of scepticism and amusement at his expense.

“For many years before you gate crashed your way into this dimension,” Rimmer stated haughtily. “And when I was in charge, we had clear goals. We didn’t just meander aimlessly through space and partake in excessive brooding.”

“Clear goals?” Kochanski all but scoffed.

“We had a mission,” Rimmer insisted.

“And what was your mission, Captain Rimmer?” Kochanski enquired, saying his name with such mocking derision that he felt his cheeks burn with anger and shame.

“Well, Lister wants to get back to Earth,” he began. “The Cat, he wants to get his leg over, I suppose, and, as for Kryten, he’s happy so long as there’s always laundry to do.”

“What a fine crew of space adventurers I’m joining,” Kochanski said dryly.

“As for me,” Rimmer continued. “I want to meet aliens. Aliens that can give me a body.” He looked down at his hard light form and touched his solid torso. “I suppose that one’s a little out of date now. I may have to rethink it. Never the less...”

“Look, Rimmer,” Kochanski said tiredly. “If you want Red Dwarf, it’s yours. Play at being captain, pretend you’ve got a crew, pretend that life still has some meaning, some purpose. You’re welcome to it.”

“Really?” Rimmer asked, unable to hide his glee.

“Have it,” Kochanski replied, getting to her feet. “I don’t want anything to do with any of it.” She headed for the door.

“Um, Ms. Kochanski,” Rimmer called. She stopped in the doorway, her body tensing. “Can I add your goal to our mission statement?” Rimmer asked. Kochanski gave him a questioning look. “What do you want?” Rimmer clarified.

“I just want to be left alone,” Kochanski stated, walking out of the room.

*

“Aah, Listy,” Rimmer said, rubbing his hands together as he came into the sleeping quarters where Lister was... not doing much of anything as far as Rimmer could tell. He didn’t let that dampen his mood, but instead used it to make himself feel even more superior. “I’ve just been performing my routine checks with Holly and I’m glad to report that everything is as it should be.”

Lister rolled his eyes, not bothering to respond, and jumped down from his bunk. He headed to the sink and started picking up various bottles before putting them down again.

“And what have you done with your day, hmm?” Rimmer enquired. “Is that the first time you’ve left that bunk all day?”

“No,” Lister responded. He picked up his deodorant, sniffing the nozzle slightly before lifting his shirt and spraying it liberally beneath. Rimmer wrinkled his nose slightly at the smell. “Anyway, I’m off out in a minute, so you can have the place to yourself.”

“Out?” Rimmer asked, looking at him sharply. “We’re three million years into deep space, Lister, where could you possibly be going?”

“I’m taking Kris out in Starbug,” Lister replied. “Thought it’d be nice. A bottle of wine, the stars. She looks like she could do with cheering up.”

“I don’t remember giving clearance for any recreational trips in JMC crafts,” Rimmer said haughtily, sticking his chin out in a defiant manner. Something about Lister’s plans were rubbing him the wrong way.

“Get a life, Rimmer,” Lister told him, tilting his head back in front of the mirror and looking for lengthier nostril hairs.

“I’ll have you know that I am in charge of this ship, miladdo,” Rimmer stated proudly, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Since when?” Lister asked dismissively, picking up an already yellowed cotton bud and sticking it in his ear.

“Since Ms. Kochanski deemed me worthy captain material,” Rimmer responded, holding himself smugly.

“She did not deem you ’worthy captain material’, Rimmer,” Lister told him. “She only said that to shut you up.”

“She said it, Lister, because she can see greatness,” Rimmer replied. “She can see what a damn fine job I’ve been doing running this ship for the past five years.”

Lister threw the cotton bud aside and turned to face him. “Rimmer, the only runnin’ you’ve been doing in the last five years is away from danger and sod the rest of us,” he stated. “No one has ever or will ever listen to a smegging word you say, but your pathetic delusions of grandeur won’t ever let you see that, will they?”

Rimmer tried to keep holding himself tall through the obvious truths Lister was spilling. He was wrong about one thing though. Rimmer was all too aware that no one around here listened to a smegging word he said. His victory as captain felt more than a little hollow, and not for the first time.

Lister picked up his leather jacket, pulling it on. “Don’t wait up, yeah?” He gave a suggestive wink before heading out the door, leaving Rimmer feeling more than a little deflated.

*

Not long after that evening, Lister and Kochanski became a couple. It was sickening. Lister spoke in this soft voice whenever he was around her. They were always touching each other and looking into each other’s eyes and giggling together. It literally made Rimmer wretch. Luckily, he wasn’t forced to live with it for long. It was only a matter of weeks before Lister packed up and moved next door with her, leaving Rimmer on his own again.

That didn’t save him completely though, it just served to ram his own loneliness down his throat. Lister left most of his things in their quarters and was often back there, picking something up, a spring in his step that made Rimmer want to kick his legs out from under him. He’d talk about Kochanski - Krissie - and Rimmer would be forced to face up to everything he’d tried not to think about since that whole debacle with Lise Yates.

Never met the right girl. Never smegging would. Nothing ever worked out for Rimsy, did it?

One night, when they were all playing cards together, Rimmer found that he couldn’t take his eyes off the pair of them. He studied them, the way that they sat close together, the way that they smiled at each other, the way they seemed to share private, silent jokes. It seemed so simple on the surface, but Rimmer felt like he could see the depth of it like only a truly lonely person could.

Something stirred up in him with every subtle touch, every whispered word, every hint of sexual tension that wouldn’t have to go unfulfilled. There was an edge of bitterness in Rimmer’s heart, an edge of jealously, but there was something else too, something that he couldn’t identify. An unpleasant emotion that he’d never before experienced. That was strange. He always thought that he had unpleasant down backwards, forwards and sideways. Clearly something smeggy had been waiting in the wings all this time, just waiting to kick him when he was down.

*

It was a few months later when Kochanski wandered into his quarters in an unsure way that made her seem slightly lost. Rimmer glanced up at her before returning his attention to his textbook.

“He’s not here,” he said.

“Who?” Kochanski asked.

“Your little sex monkey, who do you think?” Rimmer stated.

“Oh, no, I’m not looking for Lister,” Kochanski replied. She sat down at the table with Rimmer. He eyed her suspiciously.

“Is there something I can help you with?” he asked.

“No,” Kochanski replied simply with a slight shake of her head. Rimmer looked back down at his textbook. Kochanski tapped her fingers on the table top. “He’s sleeping off a four course curry and a six-pack of lager,” she stated.

“It’s barely midday,” Rimmer stated incredulously. “That should be breakfast time for him.”

“I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds this practice slightly strange,” Kochanski replied.

Rimmer looked at her for a moment before closing his textbook. “Ms. Kochanski, ma’am...”

“Rimmer, please stop calling me that,” Kochanski said wearily. “It’s bad enough from Kryten, but he’s programmed that way, he can’t help it.”

“Yes, well, I’m sort of programmed that way too, to be honest with you,” Rimmer stated, thinking of how ingrained in him this hierarchy was. He considered what else to call her. ‘Kochanski’ didn’t seem formal enough and ‘Krissie’ just sounded cheap. Maybe it was because he was used to hearing it through Lister’s scummy accent. He pushed the thoughts aside and decided to avoid the name issue all together.

“Anyway, I was just wondering if you’ve had a chance to think about what you want,” he stated. “Your contribution to the mission statement, if you will.”

Kochanski gave a heavy sigh and looked to the door as though she were about to impart some great secret. “I want to go home.”

“You mean to Earth?” Rimmer asked.

Kochanski shook her head. “I mean, back to my own dimension.”

“I thought you were happy here,” Rimmer stated, confused. “I thought you were...”

“It’s not the same,” Kochanski said sadly. “I mean, when the lights are down, I can pretend, and I suppose it’s not so different really...”

Rimmer grimaced, fighting back the mental images. “I’m not sure I want to hear this.”

“But there’s something missing,” Kochanski continued. “It’s Red Dwarf, but it’s not my Red Dwarf. He’s Dave, but he’s not my Dave. I want to go home.”

She looked up at Rimmer who felt awkward and out of place. He didn’t want to know these things. He didn’t want to have his loyalties split. He wondered when he’d managed to build up loyalties in the first place. That had certainly crept up on him.

“How about you?” Kochanski asked.

“I think I already am,” Rimmer stated distractedly.

“What?” Kochanski asked, furrowing her brow.

“Home,” Rimmer replied. “I’ve never really felt like I belonged anywhere my entire life; not with my family, not at school, not with the Space Corps, certainly not as Second Technician. But now, here, I feel like I’m a part of something. It might not be much, and it might not impress you, but it’s the closest to home I’ve ever had.”

“So,” Kochanski stated, “what’s your contribution to the mission statement?”

Rimmer frowned. He didn’t know. It wasn’t that he was content, happy with his lot in life, willing to call it a day and coast through the rest of his existence. He couldn’t imagine anything worse. He felt a sudden panic clawing up inside him and he tried not to hyperventilate. He’d always had a clear goal in his life, something to drag him forward, something to give him drive. People could make fun of his foolhardy ambition all they wanted, but it was the thing that got him out of bed in the morning, the thing that kept him going. Without it, he wasn’t even sure who he was.

But there was something, hidden away somewhere at the back of his mind, something that he couldn’t put a name to. A want. A goal. A new drive. If only he could find a way to grasp hold of it.

*

It was the last conversation he ever had with Kochanski. Two days later, she was dead. It certainly helped put a few things in perspective.

Lister didn’t take it well. For days, no one even saw him. He locked himself in Kochanski’s quarters with as much alcohol as he could carry and, Rimmer assumed, in his blind-drunken state, grieved.

A silence pressed down around the whole ship in his absence, in both of their absences. The Cat was scarce, choosing to stay out of the way and spend his days investigating. Kryten was even more fussy than usual, constantly cleaning anything that didn’t move and muttering to himself about cruelness, words that Rimmer didn’t quite catch and wasn’t really listening to anyway. No, Rimmer had other things on his mind. It was that conversation he’d had with Kochanski, the elusive aim that sat somewhere at the back of his mind. After everything that had happened, he wanted more than anything to grab hold of himself. He wanted to find out who he was.

Sometimes, in the quiet, when he was alone in his thoughts, he thought he could hear Lister through the wall, but he couldn’t be sure. Sometimes he thought he heard crying, sometimes talking, sometimes singing. It was all dulled by layers of metal though and Rimmer wondered if it was his own loneliness communicating with him. It gave him a constant dull ache in his stomach. He’d always seen Lister as the jammy git that was just bound to get his happy ending. After everything that had happened lately, existence just seemed more futile than ever.

*

It was a few weeks later that Holly pointed out the derelict to them and suggested it might be an idea to check it out and see if there was anything they could salvage. Rimmer, as captain, took it as his duty to investigate the situation. He could see nothing of interest on any of the scans, but then it occurred to him that maybe that wasn’t Holly’s intention at all. Maybe he was just trying to keep them busy. It would probably do them all some good to get out.

Lister didn’t take as much convincing as Rimmer thought he would. Recently he’d left the quarters and had been mooching aimlessly about the place. He was always smoking and smelt vaguely of indefinable alcohol, though he didn’t seem drunk. Almost catatonic, but not drunk. His heavy footsteps that echoed the corridors never faltered.

They all filed onto Starbug, Rimmer instinctively heading for the navigation console before he stopped himself. It seemed like a long time since this had been his seat. Somehow it seemed disrespectful to sit here now. He stood in the hatchway, staring at the empty place, completely unsure of himself.

“Just sit down, Rimmer,” Lister said tiredly from behind him, pushing his way past.

Rimmer sunk down into the seat, feeling foolish and chastised. It occurred to him that it was the first time he’d heard Lister speak since Kochanski’s death. His voice sounded like it had almost been worn away.

They went through the motions of take off, no one speaking anymore than was absolutely necessary. Rimmer sighed internally. The silence was even more oppressive in such a confined space. It was like all of the negative emotions, all of the things that weren’t being said, were straining against the hull of the ship before reflecting back to hit them twice as hard. It was almost unbearable.

On the derelict, they decided to split up, Lister and the Cat checking out the cargo bay while Rimmer and Kryten took the habitation decks. As they suspected, there was nothing of much interest. Investigation of the science lab led to a few finds that Kryten thought could be useful, prompting Rimmer to nod sagely like he knew what the hell any of it was. They searched various quarters, collecting various bits and pieces, but scavenging just wasn’t the same since they’d gotten Red Dwarf back. Supplies were plentiful. They didn’t need any of this stuff. They were wasting their time and they knew it. Rimmer just hoped that the outing was doing Lister some good.

When they returned to Starbug with their pitiful haul, Lister and the Cat were already there. Lister was sitting on a crate of something they’d liberated from the cargo hold of the derelict, his eyes fixed on the floor, a slightly murderous look in his eye, as the Cat prattled on beside him.

“And another thing,” Cat was saying. “You might wanna look at your wardrobe. I mean, it’s no wonder you’re depressed, dressed like that. There’s no coordination, no style, no accessories.”

Rimmer cringed. This was definitely not going to help matters.

“I mean, yeah, your girlfriend’s dead,” Cat continued. “But you definitely won’t get another one looking like that, and that’s the real tragedy.”

Lister looked up at Cat like he was ready to bludgeon him to death with whatever was handy, but instead turned to face Rimmer and Kryten with a kind of hopeless look. “Let’s just get out of here, yeah?”

“Right,” Rimmer agreed firmly, trying to sound decisive and in control.

Lister sighed wearily and got to his feet with what seemed like a great effort, lumbering over to the cockpit, Kryten following after him. Rimmer stepped up to the Cat.

“If you don’t shut up, I will take every coordinated, stylish accessory that you’re wearing and shove it down your stupid, idiotic throat,” Rimmer stated. “Do we understand each other?”

“What’s wrong with you, Goalpost Head?” Cat asked indignantly. “You need to chill out, man.” He walked away, shaking his head slightly, clearly not in the least bit concerned by the threat. Rimmer took a breath and headed into the cockpit.

The trip back to Red Dwarf was as uneventful as the rest of the mission had been, and Rimmer tried not to feel too disheartened by that fact. He should be counting his lucky stars that they hadn’t been in any life-threatening danger for a good few weeks now. Still, the threat of getting his brains sucked out or being erased from history all together might be quite a nice distraction at this stage.

The Cat and Kryten disembarked quickly after they landed, but Lister didn’t move. Rimmer didn’t move either. He sat and watched the back of Lister’s unmoving chair for a full two minutes before getting to his feet and joining him at the front of the cockpit. He sat in the seat beside Lister and followed his gaze out of the windscreen to the very uninspiring view of the landing bay.

“Did you find anything interesting?” Rimmer enquired, trying to sound cheery.

Lister gave a half-shrug, like moving his shoulders up and down was just too much effort. “Got some curry powder, some lager, a few entertainment vids,” he stated blankly.

“Well, sounds like you’ve got your night planned out,” Rimmer responded.

“Yeah, well, the Cat found a crate of leg wax, so I know he’s in a good mood,” Lister told him.

Rimmer nodded. “I shouldn’t have left you alone with him. I know that he can be...”

Lister looked at him for the first time, making Rimmer’s gut tighten slightly. “And it’s your responsibility as captain to look after me, is it?”

No, Rimmer thought, it’s my responsibility as your friend. He didn’t say that though. After all, they weren’t friends. Were they?

“Don’t worry about it,” Lister dismissed, looking away again, and Rimmer felt like he’d lost whatever connection was beginning to stretch between them. “He doesn’t mean any harm. He’s more oblivious than you.”

Rimmer stared at him. Did Lister think he was being oblivious? Did he think he was missing something now? Was he?

“Listen, Lister, I’m sorry,” he stated, because he wasn’t entirely sure he’d said it yet. He didn’t think he had. “About...”

“Yeah,” Lister said. “Everyone’s sorry. No one can bring her back though, can they?”

“No,” Rimmer admitted, feeling useless.

“No,” Lister agreed.

A silence fell over them, tense and loaded. Rimmer wondered what he was doing. Did he really think that he could offer words of comfort to Lister, a man who’d just lost the only woman he’d ever loved? He was out of his depth. He was about as much use as an atheist would be to a man who’d just lost God. Maybe they were in the same position, maybe they were both alone in the universe, but that didn’t help Rimmer understand what Lister was going through. Rimmer’s loneliness was monotonous, the status quo, whereas Lister’s stabbed him right through the heart.

“We had our first kiss here,” Lister said, his voice taking Rimmer by surprise. “In the cockpit. That night I took her out to try and cheer her up. I mean, I know we’d kissed before, three million years ago, and that time I’d kind of snuck one off her in the medibay, but...” He gave a soft sigh, staring off into the middle distance, and Rimmer felt like he was intruding. “I really miss her, man,” Lister said. He crossed his arms over his chest, hugging himself. “I can’t stop thinkin’ about it. I wonder if it hurt, if it was quick, it she was scared.” His voice cracked on that last word and Rimmer had to look away. “I can’t stand the thought of her bein’ scared. And I wasn’t there. I should’ve been there.”

Rimmer shifted slightly in his seat. He had absolutely no idea what to say and he felt like a total goit. Lister’s grief made him uncomfortable, but it was Lister’s capacity for love and that selflessness that seemed to come along with it, that was what Rimmer couldn’t relate to. That’s what made him feel so utterly redundant right now.

“You weren’t to know,” Rimmer muttered in the general direction of his own lap. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lister wipe at his cheek like he was crying. It was too much. “I know it doesn’t make much difference,” he offered, “but there’s no need to be alone all on your own. Not unless you wanted to be. Just... don’t punish yourself.”

He got to his feet, walking out of the cockpit without looking at Lister. Apparently his cowardice knew no limits.

That night, Lister walked into his quarters, dragging a blanket along with him. He wordlessly hopped up into the top bunk, settling himself down and closing his eyes. Rimmer looked at him from his place at the table and something seemed to ease inside him. The tension that had coated the ship since Kochanski’s death began to ebb away.

By the time Rimmer retired to his own bunk, Lister was fast asleep, his snores ringing out through the small room. Rimmer found a small smile on his face. Things were once again as they should be.

*

“What is that?” Lister asked, glancing over Rimmer’s shoulder on the way to his bunk, jumping into it without bothering to take off his boots.

“Hmm?” Rimmer replied, finishing off the sentence he was writing before looking up.

“What are you always writin’ in there?” Lister asked, nodding towards the thick, hardback notebook that Rimmer was currently pouring his thoughts into.

“It’s my journal,” Rimmer responded a little loftily. “Sort of a retroactive journal. I suppose you could call it my memoirs really.”

“Memoirs?” Lister asked incredulously. He gave a snort and rolled onto his back. “You are one sad git, Rimmer, you know that? No one gives a smeg about the memoirs of Captain A J Rimmer. I hope you realise that.”

“Lister, I’m not doing this for the fame,” Rimmer dismissed, turning back to his work. “I don’t suppose anyone ever will care about reading it. Let’s face it, we’re all that’s left in the universe, there’s no one to read it.”

“So then why are you botherin’?” Lister asked.

“It’s for me,” Rimmer stated. “It’s to help me work a few things out. Look at the big picture.”

He looked down at the words, not really seeing them. He’d started this journal the day after Kochanski died. He’d gone through everything, starting three million years after he’d died, the day that Lister came out of stasis and Holly had switched him on. He wrote down everything he could remember of the years that followed, wrote until his wrist was sore and his hand was cramping. He wrote about everything they’d been through, everything they’d seen and done, and he tried to recall how it had all made him feel. He was hoping that, somewhere in there, was an answer. The answer to what he really wanted, the elusive thing that would help him get his drive back.

“Read us some,” Lister requested.

Rimmer looked over at him, giving him an incredulous look, but Lister had his eyes closed. “It’s private,” he responded.

“Come on,” Lister encouraged.

“You’ll just laugh, make fun of me,” Rimmer said.

“I won’t,” Lister replied. He opened his eyes, his head falling to the side to look at Rimmer. His expression was soft, sincere. “I promise I won’t.”

“No,” Rimmer said firmly, turning back to the book.

Lister gave a frustrated sigh, shifting again in the bunk. “I can’t sleep,” he complained.

“Well, you’ve hardly tried,” Rimmer responded. “I mean, look at you, you’re fully dressed. You’ve still got your boots on. Not exactly conducive to sleep, is it?”

“Rimmer,” Lister said in a subtle whine. He sighed again, shifted again. “I feel like my head’s full, I can’t switch off. Just read to me.”

“How about I get out Napoleon’s war diaries?” Rimmer suggested brightly.

“Rimmer, I want to go to sleep, not slip into a coma.”

“This is private,” Rimmer said again, looking down at his neat, copperplate handwriting.

“What if I want to look at the big picture too?” Lister asked.

Rimmer looked at his words, his lips pursed. Lister’s argument seemed unfair. These words, this book, it was Rimmer’s story. He didn’t want Lister to be able to take that away from him. He didn’t want Lister to get something out of it when Rimmer himself hadn’t quite managed it yet. But maybe Lister could help. If Rimmer was honest with himself, Lister was far more perceptive than he’d ever been.

“Just open up a page and read,” Lister encouraged, and Rimmer wondered if he could read his mind, see his surrender.

He sighed and did as Lister said, flicking through the pages and letting them fall open where they pleased. He started to read without allowing himself to think about the words or his voice or that fact that anyone was listening.

“When Legion turned me back on, I knew that something was different. I could feel it. Some subtle, fundamental thing that defied identification. That very fact told me that things weren’t different enough. But the touch, that first touch. It had been years and I’d forgotten what it was like. I’d forgotten how to be real. When my hand didn’t pass through Lister, when I felt his fingers against my chest, it took my breath away, made me almost shiver with the wonderfulness of it. It’s not the same as being human, not quite, my senses are still dulled, incomplete replications, but I barely noticed that at the time. Everything I had was focused on the connection I suddenly shared with Lister, his hand against my body, solid and real and making my skin tingle in a way I never thought I’d be able to experience again.”

Rimmer stopped reading, realising it was much too late. He looked urgently over to the bunk, his cheeks red with embarrassment. Lister’s eyes were shut, but Rimmer could tell he wasn’t asleep. He was listening. Listening to Rimmer say incredibly personal things that absolutely didn’t mean what Lister probably thought they meant right now.

“Listen, when I said ‘connection’,” Rimmer began awkwardly.

“Don’t,” Lister said, not opening his eyes. “Don’t explain it. Explainin’ something’s the easiest way to kill it.”

“Is it?” Rimmer asked. He wasn’t sure he quite understood what Lister was saying to him.

“Yeah,” Lister said softly. He rolled onto his side away from Rimmer and Rimmer wondered if he’d upset him, embarrassed him, disgusted him. “You write nicely, by the way,” Lister added, pulling at his pillow to get comfortable.

“Thanks,” Rimmer said numbly. He stared at Lister, taking in the ludicrous sight of a man who thought it too much hassle to get changed for bed, and tried to dismiss the fact that his skin was tingling in much the same way it had when he was real again for the very first time.

*

The next couple of weeks passed uneventfully, but a lot less painfully. Tedium had become a somewhat comforting part of their lives. It was unsatisfying, but, somewhere along the way, it had become easy enough to live with. A compromise that, once accepted, made everything much more bearable.

Lister and the Cat played board games and invented activities to keep them amused, immature things that Rimmer could rarely see the point of. Lister spent time on his own too, listening to tapes in the sleeping quarters with his headphones on or taking his guitar to some secluded part of the ship and playing to himself. Cat was happy on his own too, either napping or grooming as the mood took him, and Kryten was more than content with his domestic chores it seemed.

Rimmer spent his days doing captain-like things, or at least he tried, much to Holly’s annoyance. Rimmer knew that Holly would much rather just get on with things on his own, and he thought that maybe he should let him, but being captain was a responsibility. Someone had to do it. Someone had to keep this crew functioning and this ship on course. Only Rimmer wasn’t entirely sure he was actually doing either of those things.

In the evenings, more often than not, Rimmer had fallen into a routine of reading excerpts from his journal to Lister. He was much more careful about what he read out after that first smeg up; nothing too personal, nothing that would shine such a glaring spotlight on his vulnerabilities. It was actually quite pleasant, reminiscing with Lister about the adventures and the misadventures. He found himself no closer to his answer, but it was nice to not feel like he was in this on his own for once.

One night, as Rimmer approached the sleeping quarters, he could hear what Lister called music blasting out of the open doorway and down the corridor towards him, and he knew that something had changed. He stepped into the room to see Lister doing some kind of half-dance as he pulled on a particularly hideous Hawaiian shirt. Rimmer stopped and looked at him, unable to hide his bemusement.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, hiya, man,” Lister grinned, sliding over to the table and taking a healthy swig of his open lager.

“What’s going on?” Rimmer asked.

“Me and the Cat reckoned we were due a night out,” Lister explained. “We’re gonna go to the Officer’s Club, have a few bevies, make a real night of it. He’s been gettin’ ready for hours now. Should be a good one.” He took another swig, finishing off the can, and tossed it carelessly aside. Rimmer resisted the urge to tidy it up, walking over to his bunk. “You gonna come?” Lister asked.

Rimmer turned around and looked at him. “Excuse me?”

“You gonna come?” Lister repeated. He opened a can of lager, sucking at the liquid as it overflowed on the floor. Rimmer stared at him.

“You want me to come?” he asked with a certain amount of doubtfulness.

Lister gave a shrug. “If you want. Should be a laugh.”

Rimmer considered him for a moment. It wasn’t the most enthusiastic invitation ever, but just the fact that he was being included made Rimmer feel rather pleased with himself. “Well, I suppose I could probably clear a hole in my schedule,” he blustered.

Lister turned to face him with an eye roll, and Rimmer thought he was going to tell him not to bother or that they didn’t really want him there anyway. He’d blown the one friendly thing anyone had done for him in, well, as long as he could remember. Figured really. He started to turn back to his bunk.

“Come on, Captain, you need a night off,” Lister said.

Rimmer spun back around. Maybe he hadn’t heard right over that noise that Lister believed passed as music. That must be it. His mind was playing tricks on him. He watched as Lister walked over to the fridge and took out a fresh lager, holding it towards Rimmer.

“We’re leavin’ in ten minutes,” he said.

Rimmer took the can from him blindly, searching Lister’s face for any clue that he was taking the piss, having a laugh at Rimmer’s expense. There didn’t seem to be any.

“Get changed,” Lister told him firmly. “And get that down ya neck. It’s gonna be a good ‘un.”

*

Credit where credit was due, Lister knew how to have a good time. A drunken good time. Not that Rimmer was drunk, no no. Just tipsy. Moderately tipsy. He was still walking in a straight line after all. More or less.

Nights like this were exactly what Rimmer never had the time for when he was actually alive and could’ve really benefitted from them. No he was too busy revising, or finding increasingly inventive ways to procrastinate so that he didn’t actually end up doing any revision at all. While everyone else was at the disco, Rimmer spent his Saturday nights making complex revision timetables or organising his pencils or working out which highlighter pen was more pleasing on the eye.

It seemed like such a pointless, smegging waste now that he looked back on it. He’d thrown away his chances of ever passing those exams and he hadn’t even had fun doing it. He couldn’t have conjured up a more meaningless existence for himself if he’d tried.

But this was the new Rimmer, he reminded himself. The Rimmer who ran a ship and got invited for drinks and spent his time on pursuits that would get him somewhere. This was the Rimmer who was going to find out what it all meant, was going to do it right.

“You want somethin’ to eat, man?” Lister asked as he headed over to the fridge.

“Nah,” Rimmer dismissed a little sloppily, seating himself at the table. He looked over at the journal that he hadn’t written in yet today. He should probably do that, only he didn’t really feel like it. He didn’t feel like scraping the bottom of his soul for meaning. He felt like playing strip scrabble or something equally frivolous. Or maybe just going to bed.

The microwave pinged across the room and Lister sprung the door open, pulling out his steaming bowl of curry. He brought it over to the table, sitting down beside Rimmer and starting to tuck in. Rimmer stared at the mess that passed as food and felt kind of nauseous, but strangely hungry at the same time. He wondered if Lister would give him a bite, but then quickly dismissed the idea.

“Best way to end a night, this is,” Lister declared through a mouthful, jabbing his fork in the direction of his food.

“Mmm,” Rimmer hummed. It didn’t look like it to him, but what did he know?

“The hotter the better,” Lister continued. “Gotta be. Always had to get a curry on me way back from a night with the lads.”

“Yes, I know,” Rimmer replied. “You used to bring it back to our quarters and wake me up.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Lister said. “Guess I did, didn’t I? Bet I was a right pain.”

“Well, I was no ideal bunkmate either,” Rimmer responded. He got up with a heavy sigh and laid back in his bunk.

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” Lister said.

“What is?” Rimmer asked, his eyes closing.

“How we used to drive each other nuts,” Lister said. “Used to get on each other’s tits constantly and incessantly and, well, needlessly. We spent years windin’ each other up and puttin’ each other down and now we’re...”

We’re what? Rimmer thought. What are we? Just this morning Lister had wound him up by messing with all his framed certificates on the wall so that they were slightly wonky, sitting at the table barely able to contain his glee as he waited for Rimmer to notice, waited for his nostrils to flare and his jaw to tense as he tried to keep his cool. What exactly did Lister think had changed?

Lister abandoned his curry and hopped up into his bunk. Rimmer supposed that things had changed really. They were more grown up now, more mature. They’d been through too much together for their main priority to be nasty swipes at one another like in had been in the early days. They’d bonded over the years, whether they’d meant to or not. Rimmer supposed that, in real terms, Lister was his best friend. He might torment him from time to time, but at least he’d never tried to eat him like Porky Roebuck had. That had to count for something.

“You not gonna read to me tonight then?” Lister asked.

“Everything’s a bit blurred,” Rimmer admitted.

Lister gave a small chuckle. “Lights!” he called out.

The room dimmed, the soft lighting making Rimmer even more sleepy. He realised that he was still fully dressed and considered that he should probably see to changing that, but he just didn’t have the strength, nor did he seem to care as much as he was fairly sure he should. He could feel sleep beckoning and it made him feel strangely contented.

Above him he listened to the sounds of Lister adjusting himself in his bunk, the subtle shuffle of clothes and blankets and then a weary sigh. “Used to be somethin’ else that’d finish a night off nicely too,” he muttered. “Know what I mean?”

Rimmer didn’t know what he meant. Or maybe he did and he didn’t want to think about it. Lister made a noise of annoyance or frustration or discomfort, Rimmer wasn’t sure which.

“Seems like a million years ago now when I used to go down the disco and pick up birds,” Lister said.

“Three million,” Rimmer corrected.

“I still miss it,” Lister said. “I miss everything. People. I wasn’t built for bein’ on me own. I know I’m independent and all that, but I’ve always wanted it all too, y’know. The wife and the kids and... Bedford Falls.”

“The girl with the pinball smile,” Rimmer said, a vague bitterness in his voice that he hadn’t intended to put there. It was the way Lister had described Kochanski in his diary. Something about it had always bothered Rimmer.

“You don’t have a girl with a pinball smile?” Lister asked.

Rimmer’s mind immediately conjured an image of Yvonne McGruder, his one and only conquest. He’d thought about her for years afterwards, sometimes even thought about her now, but he was never quite clear on whether she remained a sexual fantasy because Rimmer had real actual deep feelings for her, or because she was simply the only experience to draw on.

“Everyone should have a girl with a pinball smile,” Lister said. “Everyone.”

Rimmer wanted to say that he didn’t believe in all that crap, that Lister was an emasculated romance novel character stuck on a dusty shelf from years gone by. He wanted to say that he was above all of that, wanted to remind Lister of the love celibates, but, in truth, he wasn’t sure he believed any of it anymore, and that was the problem. What did he believe in?

“It’s not just about sex,” Lister continued. “I mean, Krissie was dynamite in the sack, no doubt about that, but... I dunno, man. Sometimes you just don’t want to be alone.”

“I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t alone,” Rimmer stated. The remark left him wide open, vulnerable, but the alcohol dulled out most of the panic and humiliation. He closed his eyes tighter. He was definitely going to sleep now, he decided.

Lister hopped down from his bunk, making Rimmer jump. “Move over.”

Rimmer stared up at him. “What?”

“Shift up,” Lister told him.

“No,” Rimmer said resolutely, his whole body tensing. What the hell was Lister doing? How drunk was he?

“Rimmer,” Lister said, a gentle smile forming on his lips. “Come on.”

Rimmer still didn’t move. He didn’t think he even blinked.

“No funny business, I promise,” Lister said in a teasing tone, before he was leaning down and climbing into Rimmer’s bunk with him.

Rimmer moved instinctively to get away from him, which just served to trap him between the wall and a rather insistent Lister. He recoiled. Lister threw an arm over him stomach and rested his head on Rimmer’s shoulder. He closed his eyes. Rimmer stared at him with something akin to horror. He was most certainly not comfortable with this.

“Why don’t you use a blanket?” Lister asked easily, as though this were all a perfectly normal situation.

Rimmer gave an awkward shrug. “I don’t feel the cold.”

“Right,” Lister said. “I do.” He sat halfway up and grabbed his Titan Hilton blanket from the top bunk, pulling it down and putting it messily over the two of them. Rimmer grimaced, wondering when it was last washed, and then deciding that he very much didn’t want to know.

Lister relaxed and fell into sleep, his breath falling against Rimmer’s neck, the weight of his arm somehow comforting. Rimmer watched him, his stupid gerbil face content in slumber, his ridiculous dreadlocks tickling Rimmer’s arm. Rimmer shifted his body, partly out of discomfort, partly in a somewhat malicious attempt to disturb Lister’s apparent cosiness. It didn’t work. Lister just gave a snore and settled back against him, his body even heavier. With a resigned sigh, Rimmer closed his eyes. He was drunk enough that this wasn’t weird, he told himself. He was drunk enough that he could sleep through this.

*

He awoke to the feel of Lister’s drool as he nuzzled against his neck. The sensation was... unfamiliar. And unpleasant, he told himself. Definitely unpleasant. He shrugged his shoulder hard into Lister’s chin.

“Lister, wake up,” he ordered.

“Am awake,” Lister muttered, his lips mouthing over Rimmer’s flesh.

“Lister,” Rimmer said again, his voice rising in panic as he felt a tongue swipe across his skin.

“Shh,” Lister soothed, the hand that was slung over Rimmer’s stomach moving to stroke his hip. Rimmer tensed and tried to find the space to shift away.

“Lister, I order you to wake up or sober up or, or, or...”

“Rimmer, I am awake, I am sober,” Lister insisted, moving to look him in the eye. “I know what I’m doin’...”

“Well... stop it!” Rimmer demanded.

Lister smiled at him. He looked so confident, so together, so absolutely lacking in sudden psychosis. This was either a joke or...

“Gonna kiss you,” Lister said, that natural charm practically dripping off him, making him seem far more attractive than Rimmer knew he was.

“No, you’re...”

Rimmer’s protest was muffled as Lister’s mouth pressed against his. His lips were wet, probably a bit too wet, Rimmer thought, but then there was a tongue in his mouth that was even wetter, a spicy tongue that sent a tingle through Rimmer’s entire body, even as he grimaced slightly at the unpleasantness of it. Lister kissed him deeper and Rimmer thought that he was going to suffocate, until he remembered that he didn’t in fact need to breathe. Lister needed to breathe though and Rimmer was quite grateful when he pulled back, panting as he gazed down at Rimmer.

“You don’t taste very nice,” Rimmer told him. Lister just grinned slightly lopsidedly at him.

Rimmer sighed, feeling somehow defeated. Lister was a good kisser. Of course Lister was a good kisser. Rimmer didn’t have much to compare him to, but he had to admit that that was a very good kiss indeed. If you ignored the fact that it tasted like a cross between a curry house, a brewery and a tobacco factory, and the fact that it was Lister, then the kiss itself was skilled and well executed and head spinning and moan inducing and... Lister was still staring at him. Staring at him with desire. That wasn’t right. And why wasn’t he kissing him again yet?

Rimmer realised that he was waiting, waiting for Rimmer to make the move, show that he wanted this. Despite himself, he did, but he had no idea how to tell Lister that. This wasn’t exactly his area of expertise. The mesma stare would seem horribly out of place and he didn’t think one of his chat-up lines would do him much good either. Instead, he settled for reaching out and stroking his fingertips over Lister’s cheek.

It was strange how he felt both real and not real in that moment. He could touch Lister, but he couldn’t really feel him. He could see the flush of his cheeks, could feel the stubble and the rough texture and the slight tackiness of it where he was obviously sweating. He couldn’t feel the heat of it though. He didn’t feel heat. It left him with a strange disconnection that let him know that he wasn’t really touching Lister at all, that he wasn’t really here.

Rimmer parted his lips as he saw Lister leaning down again, and this time he made sure that he kissed him back. He felt awkward, self-conscious, as sure that he was sticking his tongue far too far down Lister’s throat as he was unsure of where to put his hands. One of them settled at the back of Lister’s neck, tugging slightly as he opened his mouth wider, while the other one rested in the small of Lister’s back. He felt dizzy, but in a really good way. He felt on a knife edge between danger and something so wonderful that words failed him. He felt Lister start to open the front of his trousers.

A surge of arousal made Rimmer moan, even as he panicked. This was a very bad idea. A very very bad idea. They were going to regret this in the morning. Right now though, all Rimmer felt able to do was kiss Lister with everything he had and thrust up into his hand. Everything after that moment was a heady blur as clothing was tugged at and bodies pressed together, hands inferring between in a desperate, unorganised but rather magnificent way.

It didn’t last long. Or maybe it did. Rimmer had no concept of time anymore. He didn’t know anything except for the fact that that was by far the best orgasm he’d had in a very very long time, and Lister rather seemed to enjoy himself too. They lay together, sweaty, messy, half-dressed and half-naked and halfway asleep. Rimmer decided not to fight it as Lister settled heavily on top of him. He pushed every doubt away and let his eyes fall closed.

*

When he woke up in the morning, he felt sick, and he knew it had nothing to do with the alcohol. He carefully edged his way out from under Lister’s practically comatose body and got shakily to his feet, putting a hand on the top bunk to steady himself. He took a few deep breaths, trying not to look at Lister or the state of his bunk. He couldn’t help but address the state of his clothes though, half-hanging off him as they were. Finding some more seemed like too much trouble, no matter how unpleasant he felt in the rumpled outfit, so he simply righted them as best he could and tried to find a decent hiding place.

It was several hours later when Lister found him on the observation deck. Rimmer had spent the first hour or so staring at the stars, but then he’d found himself sinking to the floor and had stared at the dull red metal by his feet instead as he tried his best not to think. He didn’t want to admit the shame and embarrassment even to himself.

“Alright?” Lister asked softly as he stood over Rimmer. Rimmer didn’t look at him, didn’t respond, he just set his jaw and continued to stare. Lister sighed and sat down beside him, playing with his hands. “I was thinkin’,” he said, the words directed downwards. “I mean, there’s a million reasons why you might’ve legged it before I woke up, but...” He looked at Rimmer. “You’re scared that I was gonna either make fun of you, or tell you that I love you.”

Rimmer felt his fingers curl up into fists. His gaze fell downwards as though the very act of keeping his eyeballs level was too much. He didn’t want to be having this conversation. He hated Lister, the stupid gimboid, and he absolutely did not want to be having this conversation.

“Well, look, for the record, I wasn’t gonna do either,” Lister told him. “I mean, seriously, do you think I fall in love with every person who gives me a drunken handjob? I would’ve fallen in love with a lot of people in my life if that were true, you know what I’m sayin’?”

“Well, good,” Rimmer gritted out. “I’m glad we’ve sorted that out then.” He made a move to stand up but Lister grabbed his arm.

“Rimmer, sit down,” he said wearily. “What is wrong with you? Honestly.” His hand slid from Rimmer’s arm when he was satisfied he wasn’t going anywhere. Rimmer tried not to dwell on the fact that he missed the contact. “You really are terrified of it though, aren’t you?” Lister asked.

“Terrified of what?” Rimmer asked blankly.

“Love,” Lister said. Rimmer looked determinately away. “I mean, you’d actually rather I came here and humiliated you and told you that last night meant nothing and you’re shit in bed and you make me sick. You’d rather I did that than tell you that I loved you. You would, wouldn’t you? How does that happen to a person? There has to be something physiologically wrong with you if the idea of being loved is a worst case scenario.”

Rimmer tried to ignore Lister, block him out, because the words were too painful, all of them. It was everything he’d tried so hard not to think about, every insecurity being picked away at.

“It’s because you hate yourself, isn’t it?” Lister said.

“I do not hate myself,” Rimmer said, carefully measuring every word to try and make them devoid of emotion.

“Anyone who loved you must be a total smeghead, right?” Lister continued. “You hate yourself, so you can’t respect anyone that might actually like you.”

“Could you please refrain from trying to psychoanalyse me, Lister,” Rimmer said tightly. “I hardly think you’re qualified.”

“Alright,” Lister agreed. “It wasn’t shit, by the way,” he added after a moment’s thought, as though just remembering what he’d said before. “Was quite nice actually.”

“Take your mind off the girl with the pinball smile for a few moments, did it?” Rimmer’s words were dripping with a bitterness that threatened to choke him. Lister looked at him. He seemed hurt, but Rimmer couldn’t seem to care.

“Rimmer, that wasn’t what this was about,” Lister insisted.

“Of course it was,” Rimmer replied. “Your girlfriend just died, you’re on the rebound, what else would it have been?”

“Rimmer, I promise you, that’s not what this was,” Lister stated. Rimmer looked away dismissively. “Oh, you know what, why don’t you just stay here and feel sorry for yourself,” Lister said, getting to his feet. Rimmer felt a horrible sinking feeling that he couldn’t identify. “You’re not the only one who feels a little bit weird about this, y’know. You’re not the only one wonderin’ where the hell this came from and what it means. But I do know that I wanted you last night as much as I ever wanted Krissie. And I know what real feels like. I also know that you are a stupid, selfish, self-involved, utter smeghead of a man who has his head so far up his own arse that he can’t even begin to see something from somebody else’s point of view, even if you did have the emotional maturity to understand that life does not actually revolve around you.”

Rimmer looked up at him. “I thought it was quite nice as well,” he said somewhat apologetically.

Lister gave a feeble laugh, his face crumpling with emotion as he sunk back down to the floor. “Rimmer,” he said, something like fond amusement in his voice. “What the smeg are we doin’?”

“We’re sitting,” Rimmer replied.

“Yeah,” Lister agreed, leaning against him. “We’re sittin’.”

*

Rimmer found himself at a loss as to how to document whatever had happened between he and Lister. His first thought had been to leave it out of his journal all together, but what would be the point? He’d only be lying to himself. The only way he was going to find the answer he was looking for was through complete honesty, he’d learnt that a long time ago. Every word he’d written was as raw and uninhibitated as Rimmer could make it. This could be no exception.

Still, he had no idea what to say about this particular escapade. Got drunk and shagged Lister? Turned a bit gay? Lost my mind? Didn’t feel like a sad, lonely, unloveable git for the first time in my life?

With a sigh, he put the pen down. He couldn’t begin to get his head around it all, let alone put it into words. All he knew was this was going to end badly. Everything always did for him. Never in his life did he seem to catch a break, and he didn’t see why this should be any different. True, it hadn’t immediately blown up in his face like he expected it to. Lister hadn’t told him that he was more repulsive than a GELF’s armpit after a 5k run and that he was going to have him immediately deleted, which Rimmer had certainly considered as a possibility. No, Lister, to his credit, had actually been very mature about the whole thing and he hadn’t, Rimmer noticed, called it a mistake. Not once. He hadn’t renounced the act at all. That certainly gave him something to think about.

But it obviously was going to blow up in Rimmer’s face. Maybe it hadn’t happened yet, but it would, probably when he was least expecting it. He’d be lulled into a false sense of security, the universe letting him believe that he might actually be able to get away with having a drunken fumble with his bunkmate without having to pay for it in some hideous way, and then suddenly he’d find himself humiliated in some new and exciting way that he couldn’t even imagine. Happy endings happened to other people.

He picked the pen up again. Maybe this is what he should be writing down. It was all another part of his story, this neurotic thought process that was taking him around in circles. Somewhere in there, maybe there was a little bit of insight. There had to be. All of the thoughts that he’d spilled into this journal had to mean something. And so he wrote; messy, inexact words that summed up his state of mind but didn’t entirely manage to satisfy him.

He found that it didn’t get any easier to write about the more it happened. If anything, it got more difficult. What he and Lister had was so... undefined. Rimmer didn’t know what to do with something that he couldn’t put a label on. He liked labels, liked when things were organised, alphabetised, everything in its place. It made him feel safe. He knew from the start that there was nothing safe about Lister. He was as unpredictable as they come.

It started with looks. Lister was looking at him differently, looking at him for longer. And he was smiling. It made Rimmer nervous. He’d convinced himself that he wanted to forget about the whole thing, that they needed to forget about the whole thing, that it was a drunken mistake that, whilst rather pleasant in a strictly unobjective and purely physical way, was absolutely not to be repeated under any circumstances.

But Lister kept looking at him a little longer than he should do and Rimmer found himself wondering what he was thinking. Before he got carried away with himself, he forced himself to acknowledge the fact that Lister didn’t even like him, thought he was a total git, a smeghead, an utter waste of space. If he was looking at him like anything, it was as an easy target, a temporary distraction from his own hopeless situation. Rimmer would never be anything more than a substitute, someone who happened to be there.

His mind kept taking him back to that conversation on the observation deck though. He remembered the way that Lister had described what had happened between them as “quite nice”. He dwelled on the fact that Lister had in no way condemned what they’d done. Sometimes, when he was sleepy and his guard was down, he let possibilities grow in his mind of things he knew damn well he shouldn’t be thinking about.

Lister brought it on himself though with those smiles. The kiss didn’t exactly help matters either.

Rimmer had walked into the sleeping quarters and Lister’s face had broken into that stupid grin, like he was really pleased to see him. Rimmer couldn’t make sense of it. Lister slid out of his bunk, not saying anything, just staring at him, and it made Rimmer nervous. It was almost like there was an unspoken dare in Lister’s eyes, and Rimmer couldn’t help but feel like his cowardice was about to be mocked. And yet he drew closer. Drew close enough for Lister to kiss him.

Lister’s lips landed on his, his sloppy tongue sliding uninvited into Rimmer’s mouth, swirling around in a slightly dizzying way. Rimmer told himself to pull back, told himself he didn’t want this, told himself that everything was going to be a hundred times more awkward if they let this happen again. Unfortunately, his body was about twenty steps ahead of his mind, and all he managed to do was moan into Lister’s mouth and grab fistfuls of his grimy clothing, the two of them stumbling not very elegantly into Rimmer’s bunk. The only word spoken throughout the entire encounter was Lister’s shout for the doors to lock.

Afterwards, Lister fell asleep, cuddled up against Rimmer and snoring loudly. Rimmer didn’t sleep. There was no alcohol in his system to help him relax, just a million neuroses fighting for his attention as he stared blankly at the bunk above him. He didn’t feel sick, he dully noted, not like the morning after last time. He didn’t feel disgusting or wrong. He didn’t feel quite right either though. It was like the world had been tilted and he was trying to learn how to walk at this new angle.

They never spoke about it, but it kept happening, and Rimmer wondered if it was just an accident. It certainly didn’t feel like a relationship. It was a series of smiles and gropes and orgasms between the boredom and disasters that interspersed their lives. Rimmer didn’t want to read anymore into it, even if he thought of little else. His journal had turned into a book about Lister and he could barely stand it. This was supposed to be a story about him. Just once he wanted to be the main character, the hero, the person who mattered.

*

Rimmer tried to give up on understanding. He tried to follow Lister’s lead, Lister who acted as though there was nothing in the least bit strange about the two of them frequently falling into bed together behind closed doors. Maybe there was nothing strange about it. Maybe that’s what all best friends did. Rimmer was hardly an expert on the subject. For all he knew, Lister had been doing this with Petersen for years.

Trying to convince himself of that fact didn’t help much though. In fact, it made him almost jealous. He didn’t want to stop and think about that too hard. All he knew was that Lister seemed to want him, want to touch him and kiss him and grind up against him in that stuffy bunk until neither of them could breathe. And while it wasn’t a relationship, Rimmer had to admit that things did progress in their own way. They stopped being so rushed, so urgent, so primal, and learnt how to take their time, savour, enjoy. Well, Rimmer learnt anyway. Lister seemed quite capable of doing wonderful things that lasted absolutely forever. Rimmer had never seen him as someone so... conscientious.

He was a quick study when it came to Rimmer’s body and he soon learnt how to use that knowledge to garner any number of reactions. Rimmer saw it as an extension of the way that Lister had always been able to read him, always been able to push his buttons and make him explode in anger or shrink away in embarrassment or admit some truth that Rimmer liked to pretend he could keep buried. Lister was the kind of person that had Rimmer’s number from the start, and maybe that was why Rimmer had always hated him. Lister saw through him and that made it so much easier for Rimmer to see through himself.

Equally so, Lister’s ability to play Rimmer’s body like he could never play that guitar of his unnerved Rimmer in some way. It was like Lister knew Rimmer better than he knew himself. His own hand had never made him come undone in quite the same way that Lister’s did. That fact just gave Rimmer another reason to resent Lister, even as he moaned under his touch and begged for more. Lister could see what Rimmer wanted, what he needed, while Rimmer himself had nothing but words in a journal and dots that he couldn’t work out how to connect.

And so Rimmer was very insistent that he was going to keep on hating Lister just like he always had. That didn’t mean they couldn’t have sex, of course, or that he had to inform Lister of his decision. He just had to make a conscious effort to loathe him silently for the majority of the day. He would grit his teeth when Lister left his dirty socks in the middle of the floor and he would mutter to himself when Lister left the top off the toothpaste and he would feel superior as Lister failed to do anything the least bit productive with his days. It would be easy. It should have been easy. But, as usual, Lister seemed to be a step ahead of him and he’d suddenly stopped doing all of the things that used to drive Rimmer up the wall. Or maybe Rimmer was just used to them. Maybe Rimmer simply didn’t care about his faults anymore.

All of these things should have been warnings, markers on the road to where they were heading, but Rimmer was in some strange kind of denial, too busy trying not to fall for Lister to realise that he already had. The eventual revelation came as far more of a shock than it should have done.

They were lying in Rimmer’s bunk after stripping each other naked and things seemed to be going so slowly that Rimmer wasn’t sure if they’d stopped. Rimmer was on his back and Lister was on his side, leaning up on one elbow and looking down at Rimmer with a strange look on his face. His fingertip was absently trailing around Rimmer’s nipple like he wasn’t even aware he was doing it, little circles that were steadily building Rimmer’s arousal to an unbearable pitch. Rimmer was reminded of hand maidens and oil and shackles. Lister’s finger was guided only by a thin sheen of sweat, and yet his touch seemed somehow a million times more exquisite than those long fingers that had glided effortlessly over his flesh.

He felt the need to remind himself that Lister had hummed incessantly yesterday evening when he was trying to fill in his journal. It was incredibly annoying and inconsiderate. Even if it had been quite a catchy tune, one that Rimmer had found himself cheerfully continuing once Lister had left.

Rimmer sighed. He looked up at Lister who met his eyes and smiled that smile that Rimmer didn’t understand. He looked pleased, Rimmer noted, as that constant teasing touch made his feet fidget slightly while he tried to wait it out. He looked happy. Happy to be where he was. He looked content. He looked... affectionate.

It hit Rimmer like a ton of bricks. That’s what that look had been, that thing that Rimmer had never been able to put his finger on. Affection. Lister was looking at him with affection.

Rimmer opened his mouth, possibly to say something or possibly just to squeak in terror, he wasn’t sure which. Nothing happened though. He just laid there with his mouth hanging open as the realisation washed over him. Lister wasn’t touching him like that because they were friends or because they were enemies or because they were bunkmates who shared a libido. He was touching him like that because he had actual, real feelings for him, the kind of feelings that Rimmer had always reviled him for. It was the romance novel stuff, all that Mills and Boon smeg. Rimmer reminded himself that it was the thing he hated most about Lister. And then he pulled him down for a kiss.

It was a simple stalling technique. He didn’t want to have to look at that stupid, chirpy face while he was trying to think. Having that wonderful, sloppy tongue in his mouth didn’t do much for his synapses either, but it was definitely better than that look. He just needed some time to make his mind up. If he did nothing, this would become a relationship. He wouldn’t have to be lonely anymore, wouldn’t have to be the sad git who had infinite, pointless hobbies just so that he could pretend not to care that he had no one to share any of it with. They could have a song. They could sit next to each other and share private jokes. They could be a team.

Rimmer wasn’t sure that he really believed any of that though. People like him simply didn’t get the breaks in life. Yes, he could have a relationship with Lister, but he’d only ever be second best. He’d have to compromise himself, make himself vulnerable, let Lister know him without any place to hide. It wouldn’t be worth it. He’d open up his heart and it would end up getting stamped on.

But just as surely as he knew this would end badly, knew that the intimacy would make his skin crawl, knew that Lister’s affection would be something he’d always vaguely resent, he also knew that he couldn’t stop any of it. He knew that he didn’t want to. Somehow, he’d always been defined by his messy, contradictory emotions, so it seemed fitting that they’d be his downfall.

He opened his eyes, pulling away from the kiss and looking at Lister. The smile he received made his body heat with want, even as it made him feel cornered and exposed. Lister’s body shifted against his, all of that naked, sweaty flesh rubbing together, and Rimmer decided that he very much didn’t want to think anymore. He thought he might be quite happy if he never had to think again. They could just do this. They could just be naked and kiss and thrust and touch and live. That sounded quite perfect. No complications.

He hooked his hand around Lister’s neck and pulled him back down for more.

*

Rimmer found it hard to define what had happened that night. He didn’t know whether it was a surrender on his part that Lister had recognised and acknowledged or whether they’d come to this conclusion together as they clumsily tried to fumble their way through this alien situation. Either way, everything seemed to change.

Maybe it was just the way it all clicked together in Rimmer’s mind, his own acceptance of where things stood, but he felt almost like he’d slipped into a parallel universe some days. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that stranger things had happened.

Rather than tolerating Rimmer, Lister seemed to actually want to spend time with him. Rimmer couldn’t understand it. He’d sit in the drive room, reading comics with his feet up on the consoles while Rimmer was doing his captainy things. It did nothing but put Rimmer on edge and Rimmer wished that he’d just go away. He thought it would be blatantly obvious to the wonderfully perceptive Lister that Rimmer didn’t know what the smeg he was actually doing. He never called him out or made fun of him over it though. He just sat there and read and smiled and made small talk and hummed. After a while, Rimmer got used to it to the point that he quite liked having him around, to the point where, when Lister wasn’t there, Rimmer found himself sort of maybe missing him.

When Lister wasn’t hanging around Rimmer like a bad smell, often literally as well as figuratively, he often invited Rimmer to come and play idiotic games with he and the Cat or join in with one of Kryten’s sciency projects that Lister was supposedly helping out with. Rimmer declined more often than not. He didn’t want to get in the way, and it wasn’t really his scene anyway. He kept his days full and structured, hoping that keeping up with a steady routine would help him spot exactly where the gaping hole in his life lie, apart from in the gnawing emptiness of his gut. It was like hunger, but he didn’t feel hunger. Holograms lacked the basic drives of the living. This was something else, something mental, emotional, psychological. He didn’t have a body to tell him what he needed, so this must be coming from his mind.

This particular fact was really driven home whenever Lister touched him. He had a physical presence and he had all of the right pleasure receptors and he could more than appreciate every little fantastic thing that Lister liked to do to his body, but all of that wasn’t enough to distract him from the fact that he wasn’t really there.

One night, as Lister’s body pressed against his and Lister’s hand trailed over his hologramatic flesh, the lack of true sensation made Rimmer feel like he wasn’t working properly. He couldn’t even be sure if it was because he was a hologram. Maybe he was broken as a human too. He never got enough practice to find out.

He reached for Lister’s hand and pulled it to where he could look at it, holding it in his own. He ran his fingers over the palm, feeling sweat, but he couldn’t feel the heat that he knew must be accompany it. He pressed their palms together, linking their fingers and watching with curiosity.

“What’s wrong?” Lister asked.

“I don’t feel heat,” Rimmer stated, still staring.

“So?”

“You don’t feel warm to me,” Rimmer told him.

“Oh,” Lister said, his own gaze moving to their hands. “Do I feel cold?”

Rimmer shook his head. “You just feel... like the air. Room temperature, I suppose.” He looked at Lister. “Do I feel warm to you?”

Lister ran his thumb down the side of Rimmer’s hand, their fingers still joined, before trailing it over his wrist and up onto his palm. “Not really,” he admitted. Rimmer wondered if he should be hurt or grateful that he’d apparently never noticed. Lister looked at his face. “You still feel though, don’t you?” he asked, his thumb rubbing in circles over Rimmer’s palm as though he were testing him.

“Everything but the heat,” Rimmer told him.

Lister nodded. He bent his head, licking a stripe up Rimmer’s neck. “You feel that?”

“Yes,” Rimmer agreed.

Lister sucked. “And that?”

“Yes.”

A bite. “And that?”

Rimmer let out a shaky breath. “Yes.”

Lister pulled back slightly, looking at him for a moment. “You’re sweating.”

“I know,” Rimmer responded.

Lister smiled slightly. “So you must feel hot.”

“But you don’t feel hot to me,” Rimmer stated testily, wondering why this wasn’t going into Lister’s thick head.

“But you’re hot,” Lister said. “You can feel it. Is it like you’re burning up from the inside out?”

Rimmer was sure he got a little hotter as a result of that comment. “Yeah.”

“That’s what I feel like,” Lister told him. “When I’m with you. When we’re doin’ this. So that heat you can feel, I’m doing that. That heat that’s makin’ you sweat and blush and writhe...” He leaned in close, his lips brushing against Rimmer’s ear. “...that’s me.”

Rimmer’s eyes closed. He let himself feel it, that burning that made him feel like he was about to combust, and he embraced it. He didn’t think he’d ever been quite so turned on in his life. It was like Lister was inside him, devouring him, leaving him with no place to hide.

Lister’s mouth was on his neck, then his chest, then his stomach, and Rimmer opened his eyes, looking down. A lick around his navel. A series of soft, teasing kisses leading down to his groin. He panicked and lifted his hips, all in the same breath. Lister met his eyes. Then he flicked his tongue out, licking wetly around the head of Rimmer’s cock.

“Do you feel that?”

“Listy,” Rimmer said, his voice strained and breathy and weak. “You don’t need to do that.”

“Maybe I want to,” Lister shrugged. He looked at Rimmer’s dick, the way it jutted out absurdly from his body. Rimmer had to look away. “Maybe I’ve been lookin’ for an excuse,” he added, the words muttered in a way that made it sound like he was talking to himself. Rimmer didn’t have time to think about what that might mean before his was engulfed by Lister’s wet mouth.

Lister’s hot wet mouth, Rimmer told himself, as he closed his eyes and then opened his eyes and then ran a hand over Lister’s hair, feeling the tiny curls under his fingers. Hot. It had to be. And he could feel it. Not in any physical sense, but within himself, in his own raised body temperature, he could feel Lister. He focused on the warm flush of his own skin and the way that Lister’s tongue licked firmly at the underside of his dick and just like that, he was gone.

Rimmer was sweating profusely, gasping for breath, and he didn’t see how he could possibly not be radiating heat like an old two-bar electrical fire. He gazed down at Lister whose slightly stubbled cheek was resting against Rimmer’s thigh as he caught his breath and he realised that they were still holding hands. It felt kind of nice, like a tether, a kite string, something to stop him getting lost.

It was a few moments before he was aware enough to realise where Lister’s other hand was; rubbing up and down between his legs as he stared at Rimmer with dark, desperate eyes. Rimmer gave a tug on their joined hands, unable to form the words, and Lister somehow managed to drag his way up Rimmer’s body until they were sharing needy, open-mouthed kisses. Rimmer tried to push Lister’s hand away from his dick, but settled for joining it with his own, the two of them touching him together until he was moaning into Rimmer’s neck and making a mess between them.

As they lay together in some wonderful, exhausted state between waking and sleeping, Rimmer might not have been able to feel heat specifically where Lister was touching him, but he felt heat all the same, and he thought for the first time that he might understand what it meant. He wasn’t broken. In fact, he was quite possibly the luckiest man not alive.

*

“Are you interested in all this astronavigation smeg then?” Lister asked. He was lounging around in Rimmer’s bunk, a single finger playing over the books in the recessed shelf.

“What?” Rimmer asked irritably, turning to face him.

“Are you interested in it?” Lister repeated.

“Lister, do you really think I’d waste so much time and energy on something that I didn’t care about?” Rimmer posed. “Do you really think I would’ve put myself through the astronavigation exam 13 times if I had no interest in the subject what so ever?”

“Yeah,” Lister stated simply.

Rimmer felt himself sag in his chair, defeated. Sometimes he really hated how straightforward Lister was. Would it kill him to indulge in a little pompous beating around the bush every once in a while?

“I was just thinkin’,” Lister continued.

“You were just thinking what?” Rimmer asked testily.

“I was just thinkin’, if you were interested in that stuff, if you wanted to give the exam another shot, I could help you revise,” Lister offered.

Rimmer spun around in his chair to look at him. “Help me revise?” he asked incredulously. “What do you know about astronavigation, Listy? You can’t even navigate your dirty laundry into the hamper.”

Lister shrugged. “I could pick it up. Picked up Esperanto quicker than you, didn’t I?”

“Still don’t pick up your socks though, do you?” Rimmer muttered, spinning his chair back around to face the table. It was still a considerable thorn in his side that Lister had magically learnt Esperanto while Rimmer couldn’t even string two words together. He was supposed to be the smart one, the academic one. Being shown up by Lister felt like being knocked down a fair few pegs on the evolutionary totem pole.

“You’re not interested then?” Lister asked. “I thought you liked all that stuff, that’s all. Thought it might help with all that captain smeg you’re always doing.”

Rimmer spun his chair back around to face Lister. “Are you saying I’m unqualified for the role of captain?”

“Rimmer, you’re unqualified to change the bog rolls,” Lister pointed out. “And you know I don’t care about crap like that, but it bothers you. So I was only sayin’, if you thought it might help, I’d revise with ya. If you were interested.”

Rimmer gritted his teeth and felt his nostrils flare. He imagined the scenario, the two of them with astronavigation textbooks spread out over the table, quizzing each other and pulling all-nighters and following one of Rimmer’s carefully drawn out timetables. The outcome was a no-brainer. When it got down to the exam, Rimmer would panic and compare himself to a piscine life form, whilst Lister, in all his jammy gittiness, would pull it out of the bag and become a smegging officer. Not on Rimmer’s watch.

That wasn’t the only thing that was bothering Rimmer about the conversation though. It was the way Lister kept using the word interested, like he was making fun of him.

“Why are you going on about this?” Rimmer asked suspiciously. “Is this all part of some elaborate plan to humiliate and sabotage me?”

Lister frowned, looking confused and maybe a little hurt. “What? I was just tryin’ to be nice, that’s all.”

“Nice?” Rimmer asked. “Why would you want to be nice to me?”

Lister looked plain appalled at that. “There is something seriously, seriously wrong with you, Rimmer, do you know that?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rimmer asked haughtily.

Lister got out from the bunk, walking slowly across the room and gesticulating as he spoke. “Sometimes, Rimmer, people, when they like each other, they do nice things to make the other person smile, because they like seein’ them smile,” he said, the words dripping with condescension like he was talking to a small child.

“Yes, I understand the concept,” Rimmer replied tightly.

“But you can’t see how it applies to you, is that it?” Lister asked, standing over him now. He shook his head. “I don’t know why I bother.”

“Bother what?” Rimmer asked tentatively.

“I don’t actually think you’re the most loathsome, disgusting thing to ever come out of the human race,” Lister stated. “But you don’t believe me. And I’m gettin’ sick of you lookin’ at me like I’m a liar.” He began to walk towards the door and Rimmer panicked.

“I don’t think you’re a liar,” he said hurriedly. Lister turned back, looking at him expectantly. Rimmer wasn’t sure he had anything else to add. “I just... Oh, I don’t know, Listy, this is all so new to me.”

Lister sat down beside him at the table. “I don’t know what I’m doin’ either,” he admitted. “And it’d really help if you stopped brushing me off all the time.”

Rimmer looked at him. “When have I ever brushed you off?”

“Whenever I suggest doin’ something, you’re always busy,” Lister stated. “I end up followin’ you around like a smegging puppy cos it’s the only way I can spend any time with you.”

Rimmer frowned. Is that why Lister was always sitting in the drive room? After the universal, unspoken acknowledgement of a more than merely sexual relationship, was Rimmer supposed to take him out on a date or something? It had never actually occurred to him that Lister would want him around. He felt like a total, useless goit.

“I don’t care about astronavigation at all,” Rimmer stated, unsure whether he was trying to change the subject or initiate a little give and take. Maybe it was time he made an effort, put himself out there a bit more. “It’s boring and complicated and even if I studied it for another three million years, I still don’t think I’d be able to get my head around it. Why do you think I took so long on those smegging revision timetables?”

Lister smiled slightly, a certain fondness in his features. “You always looked dead content with your rulers and your coloured pencils.”

Rimmer nodded. “It was terribly soothing to colour in those little boxes and know that they weren’t going to impact on my future,” he said. “Terribly soothing. Like five photo albums worth of twentieth century telegraph poles.”

Lister’s soft expression turned to a weary look. He rolled his eyes and then got to his feet, slapping Rimmer’s shoulder with the back of his hand. “Hey, I’m gonna go find the Cat, ask if he wants to play fireball skittles. You comin’?”

Rimmer resisted the urge to ask what ‘fireball skittles’ consisted of. “Actually, I was just...” He began to motion towards his journal, but then caught sight of Lister’s disapproving expression. Give and take, he reminded himself. He could do this. “Absolutely,” he replied, trying to sound as positive as possible, though he was quite aware that he was possibly over doing it a tad. He closed the journal and set his pen aside. “Let’s go find that stupid moggy and do something frivolous and dangerous and completely unproductive. I can’t think of a better way to spend my evening.”

Lister rolled his eyes, shaking his head as he walked out of the room. “I’ll make a man out of you yet, Captain.”

*

Rimmer kind of wished that Lister hadn’t been in the drive room when he found the distress call. Lister’s immediate response was predictably brave and selfless and took the decision right out of Rimmer’s hands. He’d always known that he had no real authority, but having his face rubbed in it so carelessly, well, frankly, it hurt. And in a crisis situation at that. Lister jumping into space hero mode before he’d even had any thinking time certainly didn’t help matters.

“I’ll go and find Kryten and the Cat, you go get Starbug ready,” Lister stated, swinging his legs down off the console and getting to his feet.

“Now, hang on a minute, Listy,” Rimmer stated, stopping Lister in his tracks. “I’m not sure how safe this is.”

“They need help, Rimmer,” Lister said firmly.

Rimmer looked at the monitors, shaking his head. “It looks unstable. I don’t like it. And there’s a lot of debris around that moon.”

“Stop tryin’ to weasel your way out of it, we’re goin’,” Lister stated, turning towards the door again.

“You really think there’s anyone out there?” Rimmer called after him. It was a last ditch attempt to win, even if he had no idea what he would be winning. He just hated the fact that Lister was going over his head and some vindictive part of him wanted to get a final dig in. Lister just waved him off, carrying on out of the room.

Rimmer was right, as it turned out. There really wasn’t anyone out there. The distress call was centuries old and the crew had long since perished, their ship still signalling their out-dated plight to anyone who happened to travel close enough to hear it. The trip turned into another routine salvage mission on another derelict that served as little more than a graveyard. Rimmer wondered if it was right they should be so blasé about picking through the remains of civilisation.

Lister was downbeat as they headed back to Starbug, a kind of melancholy that seemed infectious, and yet Rimmer didn’t seem to be affected by it. In fact, he felt almost relieved. He’d been anxious on the trip down to the wreck, unhappy about the situation and worried about what they might find. He didn’t think he really wanted to meet new people. He wouldn’t know what to say and they’d think he was a smeghead and it’d take years before they’d be able to stand him.

Lister, of course, with all his charm and easygoing nature and chirpy optimism, they’d take to him straight away, the stupid, gerbil faced imbecile. Him, they’d like. And Rimmer would find himself back on the sidelines. Lister wouldn’t spend time with him if he had better options, that much was obvious from the whole Kochanski debacle. No, all new crewmembers would do was entertain Lister better than he ever could and, despite himself, Rimmer had actually become quite attached to the smegger.

When they were safely back on their way to Red Dwarf, Lister got up from his seat in the cockpit, leaving Cat at the helm and giving Rimmer a meaningful nod as he passed him, motioning for him to follow. Rimmer glanced around at Cat and Kryten, neither of whom were paying him the slightest bit of attention, something he should probably have been used to by now, and then got to his feet, slipping out into the midsection.

They made their way to Lister’s old bunkroom, the place he’d called home when they were stranded on Starbug. Rimmer looked around at the emptiness of it now and felt like he needed to fight against it. He joined Lister in the bunk and looked into his eyes, trying to kid himself that he couldn’t see the sadness there, couldn’t see the evidence that Rimmer wasn’t really much more to him than a last chance, the only option left in an infinite universe of nothingness.

Lister smiled slightly, sadly, and slid his hand over Rimmer’s cheek and to the back of his neck, pulling him in for a kiss. Rimmer leaned willingly into him, pushing him onto the bed with his weight. He closed his eyes and opened his mouth and pushed away the nagging doubts that told him he’d never be anyone’s first choice. As Lister kissed him and touched him and grew hard beneath him, Rimmer could almost believe it. Almost.

Rimmer was just getting to the point where he lost his mind, and most of his inhibitions, when the door opened. The shocked, rather disgusted faces of Cat and Kryten in the hatchway made Rimmer bolt upright, bang his head on the top of the bunk, fall back down onto Lister, and eventually stumble his way to a somewhat dazed standing position.

Lister didn’t even move. “Alright?”

Rimmer looked at him incredulously. Why was he so relaxed?

Alright?” Cat screeched, and Rimmer found himself kind of glad that someone else saw the ludicrousness of Lister’s uncaring reaction. “Ain’t nothin’ alright about you gettin’ it on with Alphabet Head,” he stated. “Is this some kind of weird mojo, some mind-altering whatsit from that ship?” He looked at Kryten. “Am I gonna start humpin’ you?” He shook his head insistently. “I don’t want no part of this. We need to find a cure, now.”

Lister sighed. “It’s been goin’ on for a while, alright? Relax. You can’t catch it, Cat. We’ve just been...” He gestured between them, looking up at Rimmer and Rimmer looked back at him, wondering just what they had been doing.

“Suggest we deal with this sick, sick depravity later, when true psychoanalysis and delving into childhood traumas can be explored, and deal with the matter at hand,” Kryten stated.

“What matter at hand?” Lister asked tiredly.

“The trip back to Red Dwarf is taking us slightly closer to that debris than we’d like, Sir,” Kryten stated. “We could use some extra help in the cockpit.”

“Can’t you just go around it?” Lister asked.

“Well, we could,” Cat responded. “But I did not bring enough outfits for a trip of that duration.”

Lister rolled his eyes. “Fine, let’s just get out of here.” He got to his feet, looking over to Rimmer. “C’mon, man.”

As Cat and Kryten left the room, Rimmer felt the distinct urge to curl into a ball and wallow in humiliation. He knew that Lister could tell and the hurt in his eyes made Rimmer want to sink to the floor even quicker.

“Work to do,” Lister muttered, turning and heading out of the room. Rimmer knew that he had no choice but to follow after him.

The cockpit was filled with tense silence and an atmosphere that you could cut with a knife as they navigated their way through the debris. The only words exchanged were necessary updates on their situation. Rimmer could barely focus on his monitors, his cheeks burning red as he found it impossible to ignore the looks he and Lister were receiving. The heat of his face made him think of Lister’s hands and the fact that he wasn’t even real enough to feel them.

They somehow made their way out unscathed, Lister quick to stand up and excuse himself in a much less subtle way than last time. He stopped by Rimmer’s console, looking down at him. “Come on, man, let’s get out of here.”

“I think I should probably stay here,” Rimmer replied, trying his best not to look at Lister. “Keep an eye on the monitors.”

“There’s nothin’ to keep an eye on,” Lister stated.

“Yes, well, it is my job and...”

“Forget it,” Lister told him. “Just forget it, Rimmer. Message received, alright?” He shook his head in something like disgust and Rimmer could barely stand it. “You really are a piece of work, you know that? I might not be the most trustworthy bloke in the world, but I would never do what you’re doing.”

“And what am I doing?” Rimmer asked, defiance giving him the courage to look Lister in the eye.

“You know what, Rimmer?” Lister said, leaning down to get in his face. “I believe you when you say you don’t even know.”

And with that, he stomped out of the cockpit. Somehow it was a bigger insult than calling Rimmer out on whatever the smeg it was that he was supposedly guilty of. It made Rimmer feel tiny and unpleasant and petty and stupid. It was like the combined feeling of failing all of those exams stacked up and times by about a million. Nothing ever went smegging right for him.

Cat turned his chair to look at Rimmer. “So, you and Monkey Boy...”

“Shut up,” Rimmer told him, staring down at his monitors.

“I mean, how does...”

“Shut up.”

“It’s just that...”

“Shut up.”

“Was it some kind of weird...”

“Shut up, you stupid, imbecilic, peanut-brained piece of wretched feline discharge, just shut up!” Rimmer exploded, practically shaking with frustration and embarrassment.

Cat sighed, turning his chair back around and concentrating on what he was doing. “We shoulda seen this comin’ after everything he’s been through,” he mumbled to himself.

At first, Rimmer had thought Cat was talking about him, but it clicked into place all too quickly. Lister. Lister who was on the rebound. Lister who Rimmer was undoubtedly taking advantage of, even if Rimmer was certain he spent more time feeling like a cornered animal than Lister ever had any right to. He felt resentment, resentment towards Lister, resentment to the others for liking him better. Then he just felt lonely.

He wanted to be with Lister now. He wanted to be kissing him and touching him and shutting out everything else. But he didn’t want to talk about it. Not with Lister and certainly not with a demented moggy and a jumped up toilet attendant. He didn’t want to discuss feelings or work out what any of it meant or put a name to it. He just wanted it to keep happening. It was quite possibly the best thing that had ever happened to him and he had no intention of losing it. He swallowed his pride and got to his feet, going to find Lister.

He was sitting in his old bunk, legs crossed as he leant against the wall, playing with the edge of the blanket and looking utterly fed up. It made something twist in Rimmer’s gut, maybe guilt or something similar to compassion. Lister looked up at him and he didn’t smile, but he didn’t glare either. Rimmer went to sit beside him.

“You still freaking out?” Lister asked.

“Yes,” Rimmer replied honestly. “And I don’t expect that will change any time soon.”

Lister sighed, looking down at the blanket he was holding. “Look, man, I just want you to know, you’re not a replacement,” he stated. “I know what it must look like. But, I dunno, I suppose I’m just lucky. To find two people at the end of existence that are right for me.”

Rimmer looked at him, their eyes meeting. He didn’t know what to make of the emotion currently taking up residence in his gut. He didn’t know how to categorise it. No one had ever referred to him as ‘right’ for anything.

“Well, maybe only one,” Lister amended, and Rimmer felt his nonexistent heart painfully skip a beat. “I mean, I don’t know if Krissie was ever really right,” Lister continued. “I loved her. Always. But it was like something was wrong all the time. Like something was missing. I don’t even know what it was.”

Rimmer watched him, playing with the edge of his blanket, lost in his thoughts. It was exactly what Kochanski had said to Rimmer two days before she died. He wondered whether he should tell Lister that, let him know that it wasn’t right for her either, but somehow that seemed cruel. He didn’t need her doubts on top of his own.

Anyway, Rimmer had something else nagging at his mind, begging to be addressed. It was a combination of his insecurities and self-loathing that needed an answer, whether it comforted or damned him. He had too much to lose to risk getting anymore attached before he lost it. And maybe he wanted to hear the worst. It would give him another excuse to be a failure.

“And I am right?” he asked bluntly, trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible. “Is this right?”

Lister gave a shrug. “It’s early days.”

Rimmer nodded. This wasn’t going to be as simple as yes or no. He should have known that from the start.

Lister sighed, dropping the blanket from his hands like he was closing a chapter or letting something go. He shifted slightly, sitting up a little straighter. “It really has been one of those days, hasn’t it?”

Rimmer looked at him. “How do you mean?”

“For a while back there I actually thought that we weren’t all alone in the universe,” Lister stated. “Should know better than to get me hopes up by now. It’d just be nice to know that this isn’t it. That it’s not just all repeats from here on out.”

“Don’t worry,” Rimmer told him. “I’m sure our lives will be in peril in a new and exciting way this time next week.”

Lister looked at him. He smiled, even though his eyes still looked sad. It was something.

“I’ll get you home,” Rimmer found himself promising. “It’s in my manifesto as captain.”

“It’s in your manifesto to get me home?” Lister asked, looking almost puzzled.

“It’s number one on my agenda,” Rimmer assured him.

Lister’s eyes softened in an instant and he looked so touched that Rimmer actually blushed. The expression on Lister’s face was the biggest compliment Rimmer had ever been paid.

“I got you something,” Lister said suddenly, sitting up and putting his legs down on the floor.

“What?” Rimmer asked.

“From the derelict. I saw it and...” He shook his head. “Wait here.” He raced out of the room, leaving Rimmer feeling a little dazed, and returned moments later, something clasped behind his back. “Close your eyes and put your hands out.”

Rimmer was apprehensive, knowing that this was the prime opening to some kind of humiliating prank, but he pushed the thought aside. Things were different now. He was more than just the butt of everyone’s jokes. He repeated it like a mantra in his head and did as Lister asked.

A cool, flat object was placed on his open palms. He opened his eyes and frowned. Maybe he was still the butt of everyone’s jokes.

“You got me a children’s colouring book?” he asked.

Lister gave him a look. “It’s not a children’s colouring book,” he said, sounding slightly exasperated. “Some of them are dead fiddly.” Rimmer opened the book, flicking through it, and saw that he was right. Intricate line drawings of various animals in their natural habitats filled the pages. Lister sighed. “Look, I just thought... you liked colouring those timetables in, filling in all the little squares, makin’ them pretty or whatever. Thought you might like that too.”

Rimmer continued to look at the pages because he couldn’t quite look at Lister. He remembered geography lessons at school, remembered colouring in maps with great care and attention and being top of the class. This is what he was good at, not all that booky smeg. This is what he should’ve been doing all along. And Lister had worked it out before he had. But, for once, Rimmer didn’t resent him because of it. He was grateful. He was touched beyond belief.

“Thank you,” he said, knowing how utterly inadequate the words were. He met Lister’s eyes and tried again. “Thank you.”

Lister smiled, looking pleased with himself. “Lock!” he called out, the door sliding shut. “Not gonna make that mistake twice in the same day,” he told Rimmer as he joined him on the bunk. The colouring book was soon forgotten on the floor as he indulged in another pastime that Lister had taught him to love.

*

Cat kept looking at them both strangely, and Rimmer knew that he was only hanging around out of some sick fascination over what they were going to do. He wasn’t getting a very good show. Lister was in Rimmer’s bunk, reading a comic, and Rimmer was sat at the table, carefully colouring in a picture of a tiger.

“So, you’re sayin’ it’s not space craziness or some weird, mutated hallucinogenic that brought all this about,” Cat said, clearly addressing Lister while he looked critically at Rimmer.

“Leave it,” Lister told him, sounding bored.

“I’m just tryin’ to understand it,” Cat said. “I mean, you follow Officer Bud Babe up with... that... and you’re tellin’ me there’s nothin’ wrong with you!”

“I am still here, you know,” Rimmer stated, concentrating on shading the tiger’s fur.

“How could I forget?” Cat said distastefully.

Lister threw the comic carelessly across the room, Rimmer guessed aiming for the table, but missing miserably. “Look, d’ya wanna go get some bevies or something?” he asked Cat, getting to his feet.

Cat eyed him suspiciously. “You’re not gonna try to have sex with me, are you?”

Lister rolled his eyes. “Trust me, you’re safe,” he said, grabbing his hat from his own bunk. “C’mon.”

“You sound pretty confident for a guy who’ll sleep with anything,” Cat stated. “I happen to be irresistible, so don’t go making any promises.”

“I’ll try to control myself,” Lister said dryly. “I’ll see you later,” he told Rimmer.

“Don’t bring him back with you,” Rimmer replied.

Lister smiled. “Not a chance.” He placed a quick kiss on Rimmer’s temple and then followed Cat out of the room.

Rimmer sat, stunned. That had never happened before. He’d noticed small changes since the Cat and Kryten found out about them, in addition to the strange looks from Cat and the fact that Kryten had suddenly found himself very busy elsewhere on the ship, with the exception of one rather squeaky conversation Rimmer had half-overheard him having with Lister.

Now that it was out in the open, Rimmer felt a strain lifted off him that he hadn’t even realised had been there. He didn’t have to second guess himself whenever he was around Lister, wondering if he was giving himself away. It didn’t matter if Lister gave him that smile while people were looking anymore, it didn’t matter if Rimmer got caught looking at Lister’s arse or if they leaned against one another or if they disappeared together for extended periods of time with no explanation. It was allowed. He could be with Lister whenever he wanted. He never expected such a revelation to fill him with so much... joy.

With a smile on his face, he continued his colouring, allowing himself to acknowledge the fact that he was actually rather good at this. It would never win his father’s approval and it would never get him up the ziggurat, lickety-split, but it made him happy and happiness, he had discovered recently, was vastly underrated.

By the time Lister returned from boozing it up, Rimmer was just finishing up the long, wavy grass of his picture.

“Eh, that’s good,” Lister said, looking over his shoulder.

“Turned out quite nicely,” Rimmer agreed, feeling rather proud.

“We should put it up,” Lister said.

Rimmer looked up at him. “What?”

“You finished?” Lister asked.

“I think so,” Rimmer replied, looking the picture over, the green pencil still in his hand.

Lister leaned over him, taking the book and tearing the page out. He took some electrical tape, that was sitting on the side for reasons best known to Lister, and stuck it to the wall.

“There,” he declared. “Work of art, that is.”

“You should have stuck it up over that stupid bloody timetable,” Rimmer told him.

“I was gonna,” Lister said. “But I thought you might go mental.”

“I probably would’ve done,” Rimmer admitted.

Lister smiled. “We’ll put the next one there.” He retrieved his comic from where he’d abandoned it on the floor earlier and collapsed into Rimmer’s bunk with a gratified sigh. Rimmer considered him for a moment.

“Are you nicely drunk now then?”

“Nah,” Lister dismissed. “Only had a couple.”

That seemed to be Lister’s stock response when it came to alcohol, he could drink the whole bar dry and call it ‘a couple’, but this time Rimmer believed him. He was relaxed, but he didn’t seem deeply inebriated, not like when he usually took the trip up to the Officer’s Club.

“Running out of booze up there, are they?” he asked out loud.

Lister gave a shrug. “It’s not good for ya, gettin’ wasted all the time.”

Rimmer raised his eyebrows. “And since when have you cared?”

Lister just offered him another shrug, turning the page of his comic. “Gotta pull myself together,” he said. “Things aren’t that bad really, are they?”

No, things really weren’t that bad, Rimmer silently agreed. Maybe the sad crew of Red Dwarf did make up the last intelligent life in existence and maybe they never would get home and maybe this really was all they could ever hope for. Still, things could be worse. Things could be an awful lot worse.

He sat back in his chair and he let his mind drift and he came back to a question that just wouldn’t leave him alone. At first he’d thought it ludicrous, then laughable, then foolish, then ill-advised, then possible. Today, it seemed... likely? It seemed more likely than it had before.

“Lister?” he asked tentatively, looking towards his bunk.

“Hmm?” Lister responded.

“How do you know if you’re in love?”

Lister looked up from his comic. There was an incredulous look on his face, his mouth open slightly as he gaped at Rimmer. “Oh, cheers, man,” he said sarcastically.

“What?” Rimmer asked, not sure what he’d done to cause such offense.

“Little tip for you, Rimmer,” Lister stated. “Don’t go around asking the bloke you’re supposedly in love with how you tell if you’re really in love. Might just hurt his feelings.”

“Well, who else am I supposed to ask?” Rimmer retorted defensively. “Kryten doesn’t understand the true complexity of human emotions and the Cat’s never been in love with anyone but himself.”

“But you can’t ask me,” Lister stated, still looking slightly aghast at Rimmer’s lack of adherence to rules that he didn’t even know existed. Rimmer could follow Space Corps directives to the letter, and always did, but no one had bothered to write down this particular set of rules for him and so Rimmer found himself absolutely lost.

“God, Rimmer, you’re unbelievable,” Lister went on, shaking his head as he looked back at his comic. “I’m hurt.” He met Rimmer’s eyes again, a suggestive look quickly transforming his face. “You better come over here and give me a blowjob to make it up to me.”

Rimmer gave him a weary look. “I’m serious.”

“So am I,” Lister said earnestly.

Rimmer sighed and turned around, heading for the door. He couldn’t stand being made fun of, especially not right now, not over something like this.

“Rimmer, man, come back,” Lister called. Something in his voice made Rimmer stop, turn around. “C’mere,” Lister implored. Rimmer couldn’t help but comply.

Lister shifted up in the bunk so that Rimmer could join him, the two of them sitting side by side. They remained in silence for a few minutes, Rimmer concentrating on the comforting weight of Lister resting against him. For something so simple, it had such a calming effect on him.

“D’ya remember my plan?” Lister asked, his voice soft and kind of distant. “Fiji?”

“Yeah,” Rimmer nodded.

Lister looked at him. “Would you do it with me?” he asked. “If we got home, and if Fiji was still there, or as there as it ever was under three feet of water, and if I bought my farm, would you do it with me?”

Rimmer thought back to the day Lister had told him his plan, how ridiculous the whole thing had seemed. He didn’t see it for what it was. Ambition. It might not be Rimmer’s idea of greatness, but it made Lister happy, and maybe that was enough.

He met Lister’s eyes. “Yes.”

Lister smiled, bumping his shoulder playfully against Rimmer’s. “You love me,” he taunted.

“What?” Rimmer asked indignantly.

“You love me,” Lister said again. “You think my plan’s stupid and you have no respect for it, but you’d do it anyway. Cos you love me.”

“Shut up, Lister,” Rimmer responded. “And it was a long time ago that I said those things. Maybe I’ve changed my mind.”

Lister shrugged. “You still love me.”

His insistence was absolutely infuriating to Rimmer. How dare he tell Rimmer how he felt? But then, Rimmer had asked. He could hardly begrudge Lister for answering him. He didn’t have to be such an immature smeghead about it, but Rimmer guessed it was fair game in this instance. He promised himself that he’d get the hang of these rules one day.

*

Lister snored rhythmically beside him in a contented sleep. In the half-light of the room, Rimmer looked at the picture of a monkey that was taped messily over his timetable. It made him smile for more reasons than he could even comprehend. He had to admit that he felt rather content too, even if he still wasn’t sleepy and even if there were things that he could be doing with this time. Like writing in his journal. He had to admit that he hadn’t been writing in it nearly as much since Lister had given him that colouring book and he’d fallen terribly behind. His attempt to catch-up tonight had been interrupted by Lister’s strange insistence that he never had to go to bed on his own. It was actually quite endearing, whether Rimmer would ever admit it to him or not.

He sighed, his mind wondering to the way Lister never shied away from letting Rimmer know when he wanted him. It was something Rimmer wasn’t sure he’d ever quite get used to. Lister snorted slightly and shuffled against Rimmer.

“Lister?” he asked.

“Mmm?” Lister responded groggily.

“Do you really think I’m sexy?” Rimmer asked, Lister’s easy words of earlier still playing over in his head, like he couldn’t quite accept them.

A smile came over Lister’s face, even as his eyes stayed shut. “I do when you’re naked and pantin’ and doin’ whatever I say.”

“No, it’s a serious question,” Rimmer said. “Because, let’s face it, Listy, I’m hardly your type.”

“You’re about as far away from my type as you can get,” Lister agreed. “But my type’s always been terrible for me anyway. Could never pick the right one. So I don’t think my type really has all that much goin’ for it.”

“But do you think I’m sexy?” Rimmer persisted, unsure how Lister’s rambling was of any relevance to the question.

Lister opened his eyes, apparently amused by Rimmer’s annoyance. “I think I picked the right one this time,” he said. “Which makes you just about the sexiest thing there is.”

Rimmer felt himself blush. He had no idea how to respond to that. He should probably say thank you or return the compliment, but instead he just stared as Lister closed his eyes again, and he realised that the answer had been right in front of him all along. He realised why he hadn’t been writing in his journal. He’d found what he’d been looking for and the nagging doubts had gone away.

“Can I go back to sleep now?” Lister asked.

“Yeah,” Rimmer replied, distracted by the grin that was spreading over his face. “Night.”

He placed a kiss on Lister’s temple, not fighting himself for the first time ever, because he knew that this was right. This was everything that he never knew he wanted. He had a body, he had a ship, he had a home, he had a Lister. A Lister who accepted him for who he was and would never let him be lonely again. Maybe, one day, that fact would let him truly accept himself.

Once Lister was snoring soundly beside him again, Rimmer slipped out from under him and picked up his journal, opening it to the most recent page. In his neat copperplate handwriting, Rimmer printed three words: Here be dragons.

He couldn’t think of anything more apt to explain the strange, uncharted places that life had taken him. And maybe the old Arnold J Rimmer was far too logical to believe in mythical creatures, but what did he know? Smeg all, as far as Rimmer was concerned. Living life on the outside had taught him nothing but bitterness. Now, he was ready to leave all that behind. He was ready to be open to the existence of dragons and unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster and love.

Rimmer closed the book and placed it away on the shelf, knowing that he wouldn’t be writing in it again anytime soon. He wasn’t going to document life from the outside anymore, making excuses for his own failures and pointing out how it was everyone else’s fault. He was going to be much too busy living it.

He climbed back into his bunk beside Lister, wrapping his arms around him and closing his eyes. He let Lister’s snores lull him into sleep, a smile on his face at the fact that things had finally gone right for him in the most unexpected of ways.