Lister hated it because there were only so many times he could browse the shops before concluding that Petersen wasn't going to want anything but whiskey, and that nothing he could afford would impress Kochanski, and that nothing he could buy would be truly horrible enough for Rimmer.
Rimmer hated it because he never bought anyone anything and they never bought him anything. In fact, he hated Christmas in general for this reason. Christmas just wasn't a happy time for him. Given that every year the shops started putting up their decorations earlier and earlier, he'd been miserable since mid-August.
But that was par for the course, when you were Arnold J. Rimmer.
If it wasn't that bloody Santa leaping out at him and ringing his bell, it was walking into a tangle of tinsel because he was taller than all the shop girls who hung the stuff. Rimmer huffed back into the sleeping quarters, a pair of plastic antlers perched ridiculously on his brown curls, and was greeted with a round of laughter from Lister, who was playing cards at the table.
'Rimmer, man, or should I say Rudolph? Have you been down to the shops then?'
Rimmer didn't bother to reply.
'Who're you shopping for, then?'
'Lister, if I thought that was any of your business, I'm sure I'd inform you immediately,' Rimmer said, trying for an air of quiet, dignified haughtiness, the effect being utterly spoiled by the antlers.
It was lucky he wasn't studying for exams, Rimmer reflected. If he had been, the sodding Santa's elf who'd come around collecting for charity would've gone home with his pointy-toed shoes jammed somewhere rather private. On the bright side, Rimmer would've felt a lot better about his day.
Apart from being interrupted in the vital pursuit of masturbating in the shower by Santa's little tosser, Rimmer had had a bastard of a day. Petersen had shown up at two AM bellowing something about eggnog, and rather than sending him away with a boot in the arse, Lister had leapt out of bed and gone to join him in whatever arcane pursuit the Dane had cooked up this time.
He hated Christmas. He hated Christmas shopping, the fun people had, the religious shit, and just the whole holiday spirit. If the Grinch Who Stole Christmas had come to Arnold Rimmer offering him a job making people miserable, he'd've snapped it up without a second thought, or even a first thought for that matter.
'Why,' Rimmer growled, 'are you going to a Christmas party?' He paused for effect. 'There are still twenty smegging days until Christmas!'
Lister paused as well, less for effect than to check the way the tinsel he'd attached to his hat was hanging. 'Rimmer, man, where's your Christmas spirit? It's the holiday season, for God's sake! Get out and have some fun!' He almost choked on the next words, but said them anyway. 'Why don't you come with me?'
'Why don't I come with you?' Rimmer mused. 'Why don't I come with you? Well,' he said, 'it's quite possibly because I'd rather be nailed upside down to a wall, have my intestines slowly removed through my mouth, and be forced to drink cheap lager for three hours than come with you!'
'Man, what's the difference? So we wouldn't nail you to the wall, or do the intestine thing -- I think. But you could come and have a Christmas drink,' Lister coaxed.
The mention of that 'C' word again was what did it.
'OUT! GET OUT!'
Lister hadn't come home from his party yet, but Rimmer didn't care. It gave him time to take an afternoon nap, revelling in the bliss of his afternoon off. He didn't even want to go into stasis for the afternoon -- just sleep and sleep and sleep.
'Greetings, Arnold.' Rimmer sat up, bonked his head on the bunk above, and stared at the apparition standing beside his bed. It was a young child, ethereal and beautiful. 'I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.'
'So?' Rimmer scowled and folded his arms.
'I can show you the true meaning of Christmas.'
The ghost waved a hand and a scene unfolded before Rimmer's eyes. His own Christmas, from when he was six. All his brothers receiving exactly what they wanted, while he, Rimmer, got a box of dog biscuits.
'Christmas is smegged up. I get the point. Anything else?'
The ghost looked disappointed. 'There's no pleasing some people.'
He didn't think he could stand another three weeks of this. The corridors reeked of pine as people sprayed fake scent on their plastic trees. Fake snow abounded as well. Didn't anyone realise that this whole season was about merchandising? Buying products people didn't want or need. Rimmer could tell Lister wanted to put up one of the trees in their room, and intended to squash that idea as soon as it came up.
Scrubbing his arms in the shower to get rid of the smell of pine, Rimmer soccerballed the soap around the floor with one foot and whistled to himself. It took him a full three minutes to realise that he was whistling 'Jingle Bells', but when he realised it, he stopped instantly.
Lister was wrapping something when Rimmer came out of the shower. Rimmer caught a glimpse of bright paper and ribbon before Lister whisked it away and hid it.
'Don't worry, Lister. I haven't the slightest interest in whatever foolish trinket you've bought for Kochanski -- or is it Petersen's?' Rimmer started towelling his hair vigorously, oblivious to the hurt expression on Lister's face.
'What? Oh, sod off. I thought I made it perfectly clear I didn't care what you had to say to me,' Rimmer muttered.
The young ghost wavered mid-air. 'But Arnold, it's my duty to make you realise that Christmas can be good.' She -- or he? -- looked sad.
Rimmer snorted derisively. 'I think you've got me confused with Lister. He's the one who watches that stupid movie over and over.'
'You've got your stories wrong. Watch.' The ghost waved its hand again, and Rimmer watched the same scene play out.
'Keep watching,' the ghost commanded.
Rimmer watched his past self run to his bedroom, followed by the mocking laughter of his brothers. He was still clutching the dog biscuits. He threw himself on the bed and cried. Then his dog came running into the room and leapt onto the bed beside him. The young Rimmer sat up and managed a watery smile, tearing the packet of biscuits open and feeding a couple to his canine companion.
'See? Christmas was good after all,' the ghost said.
Rimmer looked at it. 'If I say I believe you, will you go away?'
'I'll go away from here. But I won't truly be gone until you really believe me.'
'I believe you. Sod off, I'm trying to sleep.'
'You are really becomin' a pain in the arse, you know. Why are you so grumpy? It's only a time to have fun, you know.' Lister sat on the edge of his bunk, his discarded Walkman earphones tinnily blaring 'Silent Night'.
'Lister, I can't remember a single Christmas that was in the least bit enjoyable for me,' Rimmer said firmly, pushing aside the memories of what the ghost had shown him. Dream, that was. No doubt induced by the various screenings of A Christmas Carol -- that was what it was from, not the other shash Lister liked -- that had been playing around the ship, along with other Christmas movies, including Home Alone. He was probably lucky he hadn't dreamt about Macauley Culkin smashing his face in with an iron. 'So do shut up, will you?'
Lister persisted. 'Will ya at least come to one Christmas party with me? Just one. There's the all personnel dinner dance on Christmas Day. Come to that.'
'Lister, you couldn't drag me there by the balls. Forget it.'
'Ya sad sack. I'm goin' to bed.' Lister ordered the lights off and settled down on his bunk, but neither of them slept very well.
Even his working days were being infiltrated by the Big C. Someone had decorated his trolley with glowing Christmas lights. His trolley! Rimmer suspected Lister, and was quite probably right, but didn't have the nerve to confront the younger man over it.
He comforted himself with the knowledge that it would all be over in just over two weeks. Two weeks was nothing - it certainly passed quickly enough when that was all he had left to study for his exam. He could make it easily. It wasn't like he had to spend any of his hard-earned money on anyone. Lister probably wasn't expecting anything, he didn't have plans to buy gifts for the Captain or any of the officers, and he hadn't stooped to the level of buying himself presents and going out and posting them to himself so it would look like he had friends.
Such a bitter Scrooge Rimmer had become. Tight with his money, tight with his friendships, and if Tiny Tim had come begging to his door the kid would've got no more than a boot in the backside. But Rimmer didn't care. Christmas was a loveless time for him, and he intended to ignore it as best as he could.
'Okay, Sad Sack. I've got a surprise for you, and you'll like this one.' Lister bounced into the room, hiding a plastic shopping bag inexpertly behind his back. 'It's a bit late, I admit, but better late than never!'
Rimmer looked up from where he was reading his book on Florentine art, bathed in the glow of his pink student's study lamp. 'What is it? A pamphlet on How to Assassinate Shop Santas? I went down to buy milk this morning and was assaulted by no less than three of the pests. Jingling their bloody bells and ho-ho-hoing. I'll give them ho-ho-ho one of these days...'
'Stop whining. No, it isn't anything nasty.' Lister displayed his surprise. 'An Advent calendar!'
Rimmer banged his head on the table for a full five minutes as Lister expounded the delights of opening fiddly little cardboard doors to prise out tiny chocolates, then hung the calendar defiantly up on the refrigerator, ignoring the noise Rimmer's head was making.
'So, you take even days and I'll take odds,' the Scouser announced, deftly opening the little doors and piling his chocolates in his hand. 'I got a candy cane, a Christmas ornament, a reindeer, a snowman, and a Christmas tree, look!'
Rimmer remained face down in his book, his eyes uncomfortably close to a rather large pair of breasts, and stayed that way until Lister went away.
'Have you managed to get Rimmer to do anything Christmasy yet?' Petersen inquired as he and Lister made their way back to their room.
'Nah, man. He's still moping around as if nothing's happening. This morning he'd taken the lights off our trolley. No sense of tradition, that man -- no sense at all.'
'See you tomorrow,' Petersen said as they reached Lister's room.
Lister voice-activated the lights on low, seeing Rimmer was already asleep, curled up on the bunk, off in some other world. The Advent calendar was still hanging on the fridge, oddly enough -- Rimmer clearly hadn't had the time or the inclination or something to pull it down. Lister reached for the window of the day, but his hand paused just before he could open it.
The even-numbered windows -- all of them up to that day -- were open. And the chocolates were missing from inside them.
Lister grinned. 'So, Scrooge has a heart after all,' he said quietly to himself. He ate his chocolate, brushed his teeth, and went to bed, noticing on the way the chocolate smear on Rimmer's lips.
'You're not so hard-hearted after all, are you?' Lister teased as the two of them made their morning rounds, boxes of goodies piled high on their trolley.
Rimmer snorted. 'Lister, it was chocolate,' he said. 'Chocolate's for all year, not just for this infernal occasion. I saw no reason not to eat it, be it decorated with little holly leaves or not.'
'Christmas chocolates, Rimmer. Christmas Advent calendar.'
'I'm not Christian, Lister.'
'Neither am I, man, but there's more to this season than just religion.'
'I noticed,' Rimmer said. 'There's also a frenzy of people buying garbage to give to other people who don't want it. Utter nonsense.'
'Oooh, I bet Santa has you on the Naughty list, Arnold Judas Rimmer.' Lister paused. 'Why Judas, anyway?'
'It sounds better than Frank Deuteronomy Rimmer, John Genesis Rimmer, or Howard Psalms Rimmer,' Rimmer said dryly, continuing to push the trolley. Lister's eyes widened.
'Let's just say, Lister, that if you could use sheer evilness in naming as grounds for justifiable homicide, my parents would both be long dead. And not at my hands, either.'
Rimmer hid his head under the pillow, trying to ignore the fact that Lister was playing 'Jingle Bell Rock' very badly on his guitar, trying to ignore the fact that Lister knew he was still eating his chocolates out of the Advent calendar, and most especially trying to ignore the fact that when he'd checked his daily messages, one of them had been a Secret Santa -- an order to buy someone he didn't even know a present, to the value of 'not more than five dollarpounds'. He'd taken care of that all right -- five dollarpounds had gone into the internal mail, addressed to 'Deck Sergeant Rick Thesen, from your Secret Santa'.
Ignoring the world just wasn't working, though. However, on a ship this huge, there was no way he could just steal Christmas from everyone. Living in space meant that every holiday season feasible was celebrated, from Christmas to Halloween to Valentine's Day. Valentine's day, which Rimmer had also hated, mainly because Lister had had all his half-witted friends send all sorts of nasty things to Rimmer, unsigned.
The thought of some random person drawing his name for Secret Santa made Rimmer shake his head. Chances were, if they knew him they wouldn't send anything, or it would be something awful. If they didn't know him, they probably still wouldn't send anything. He knew that if people could get away with it they wouldn't buy anything.
The Secret Santa thing was still bugging Rimmer, but the dream he had Saturday night was far more annoying - if it was a dream.
Another apparition. This one male, jolly, almost Santaesque. The Ghost of Christmas Present, so he claimed.
'I can see Christmas Present,' Rimmer insisted. 'It's happening all around me, worse luck, and I wish it would just go away.'
The ghost chomped on a chicken leg and waved his free hand at the Advent calendar. 'Go ahead. Eat your chocolate.'
Rimmer rolled his eyes, but got up and ate his chocolate. Luckily, Lister was out partying again. He didn't think he could bear Lister watching him actually eat the chocolate. It was the principle of the thing. Lister would think it was a concession to Christmas, while Rimmer just liked chocolate. Dammit. And anyone who contradicted him would get a belt in the teeth with the candy cane he'd bought. Not that he'd bought it because it was Christmas. Just because it looked tasty. He'd always liked peppermint.
'There. Get some Christmas spirit into you, boy.'
'Are you going to go away now?' Rimmer asked, folding his arms.
The ghost sighed and vanished. Rimmer went back to bed, the taste of chocolate lingering in his mouth.
Lister opened his door on the Advent calendar, giggling, as he had done every morning, at the fact that Rimmer had eaten his chocolate despite all his protests.
'I wish you'd shut up,' Rimmer said balefully, glaring. 'I'm trying to study.'
'No you're not,' Lister said, leaning over his shoulder. 'You're looking at porn.'
'I'll have you know Florentine art is not pornography, Lister! It's important. Cultural. Meaningful.'
'...huge,' Lister interjected, looking at page seventy-eight. 'You pervert.'
'This from the man who's got sixteen copies of Playboy hidden under his mattress.'
'This from the man who owns not one, but two inflatable dolls.'
'This from the man who... oh, never mind,' Rimmer said, snapping the book closed on Lister's hand. 'I wouldn't expect someone of your intelligence to understand. I hope you're not going out again tonight -- we do have to work in the morning.'
Lister stuck his tongue out and removed his hand from the book. 'As a matter of fact, I am going out. Coming?'
'That doesn't even deserve an answer,' Rimmer muttered.
Lister finished his Christmas shopping and sat in the shower stall to wrap his presents, despite Rimmer's insistence that he wasn't going to spoil anyone's surprises. Rimmer sat at the table and rather despondently played Cluedo against himself.
Professor Plum had just been discovered to be the murderer, with the Dagger in the Study, and Rimmer was acting out an imaginary court case with a box of tissues as the jury and the salt shaker as the judge, when Lister finally emerged, hugging a garbage bag that made enticing rustling noises.
'Ah. Just the place for it, really,' Rimmer sniffed.
Lister snorted, heaved the bag onto his bunk, and announced, 'Tomorrow we get a tree.'
Rimmer turned and stared at him. 'A tree? Lister, are you mad? We don't need a tree.'
Lister opened the day's door on the Advent calendar and waved the chocolate in front of Rimmer's face. 'Say we can have a tree, or you don't get your chocolate.'
'Now wait a minute, that's mine,' Rimmer protested, ignoring Lister's hoot of joyful laughter. 'You can't bribe me with something that's mine anyway.'
Lister poked the chocolate between Rimmer's lips. 'There ya go, smeghead.'
The scent of pine greeted Rimmer when he entered the sleeping quarters that night. Inwardly, he groaned. Outwardly, he yelled.
'Lister, I thought I told you I didn't want a tree!'
Lister turned from where he was standing on tiptoe, trying to place the angel atop the tree. 'Bad luck, man -- it took me all day to get this in here, and I'm not gonna take it back out again.' He tried to move one of the chairs over, but they were bolted to the floor.
Rimmer surveyed the pattern of scratch marks along the walls and ceiling. 'Where did you get a real pine tree from, anyway? That thing's huge!'
'Midnight Acquisitions,' Lister winked. 'Hey, mind giving me a hand with the angel? I can't reach, and she really should be on the top, and you're taller than me...' His words trailed off as Rimmer snatched the ornament from his hand, stretched up, and plonked it unceremoniously atop the tree. 'Thanks, man.'
Rimmer sniffed. 'I'm only doing this because you'll whine all night if I don't.'
'Want to switch the lights on?'
Rimmer hesitated. 'Yeah, okay.'
Rimmer dragged himself out of bed, put two pieces of bread in the toaster, and opened his door on the Advent calendar. He steadfastly ignored the giggle from Lister's bunk.
'I'm only doing this because the sooner Christmas comes, the sooner it'll all be over.'
'Sure, sure.' Lister rolled out of bed, scratched his chest, and pulled on yesterday's T-shirt. He stumbled out to the corridor to order breakfast from the dispenser as Rimmer's toast popped and the Second Technician got the butter and marmalade out.
Lager milkshake and chicken vindaloo versus marmalade toast and tea. Two people couldn't be more different.
Lister plonked the day's mail on the table. There wasn't much. A memo from Hollister reminding all personnel about the upcoming Christmas party, a letter from Lister to Kochanski marked Return to Sender, and a small package in bright paper addressed to Rimmer.
'It's your Secret Santa,' Lister said, reading the card.
Rimmer grabbed for it. 'Give me that! It's mine!'
Lister smirked. 'Here.' He handed it over. 'Don't forget we're not supposed to open them until Christmas Day.'
'Boring tradition,' Rimmer scoffed. 'Why would I want to wait when I could open it now?'
But he put it under the tree anyway.
Things were getting worse. More and more decorations were going up as the days counted down to Christmas. Most of Lister's friends were calling Rimmer 'Scrooge' now, having heard of his miserly, anti-Christmas ways.
Rimmer decided to spend his afternoon off wandering one of Red Dwarf's shopping malls. Although he fully didn't intend to buy anyone on the ship a present, he wanted to buy some cheap cards to send to his family. They didn't deserve it, of course, but last Christmas he'd forgotten and his brothers had sent him a small letter-bomb. Just one of their jokes, of course. High-jinks. Ha ha.
Avoiding the store Santas was difficult, but Rimmer negotiated his way to the cards and wrapping section and spent ten seconds scanning the shelves for the cheapest packet of cards he could find.
On his way to the cash register, Rimmer spotted a rack of cut-price CDs. There weren't any Hammond Organ ones - he'd more or less expected that -- but there was one Rasta-Billy-Skank one that he didn't recall seeing in Lister's collection. Rimmer hesitated, then picked it up. It was only five dollarpounds -- hardly worth even that, in Rimmer's opinion. What the hell. He could always just sign it from Secret Santa -- Lister was too thick to realise if he got two secret presents. But now he'd need gift wrap. And ribbon. God, he hated Christmas.
'I'm takin' a few days off,' Lister announced. 'I've signed up to be one of the delivery elves. Y'know, with the Christmas rush, they need a lot more people at the mail room.'
'But what about me?' Rimmer said, mouth full of toast. He swallowed. 'I need you -- to help me, of course, not that you're really much help, anyway, not knowing a 14B from a 14F.'
'I'll be back after Christmas, man. It's just a few more days, and you're capable enough to do everything on your own,' Lister said, grinning.
'If you're making fun of me...'
'I'm not, man. Nobody wields a 14B like you do.'
Rimmer snorted. 'Well. You'd better get going then.'
'So had you.'
Rimmer got up, opened the Advent calendar door of the day -- a lot of the little doors were standing open now - and ate his chocolate, then almost ran out of the door.
Lister shook his head. 'What's gotten into him?' he asked the air, pulling a Santa hat on over his dreads and pinning on his official Santa's Elf ID. 'Some people....'
Ever sceptical, Rimmer looked at the latest apparition. 'Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? I thought as much. Get on with it then.'
The ghost pointed to the mirror, which doubled as Holly's screen. Slowly the image changed from Rimmer's reflection to an image of the Drive Room. Rimmer was there, talking to Hollister. As the real Rimmer watched, a nuclear wind blasted through the room, reducing all its occupants to dust.
'This is Christmas in the future? And I'm supposed to be celebrating?' Rimmer raised an eyebrow. 'What am I supposed to do, repent and buy the biggest turkey on the ship? If I do that, I'll be the biggest turkey on the ship. I do wish you'd go away and leave me alone.'
The ghost gestured again and the scene changed. It was still the Drive Room, but Lister was standing there alone. Rimmer walked into the frame, wearing the symbol of holograms, the metallic H, on his forehead.
'Are you saying everyone's going to die but Lister? And I'm going to be a hologram? Get real, ghost. I can't see any circumstances that would make me be the one to be resurrected as a hologram. Now leave me alone.' Rimmer rolled over and buried his face in the pillow, not caring whether or not the ghost was really gone. Or, for that matter, had really been there in the first place.
Lister was out at what he claimed was an Eve of the Eve of Christmas Eve party. Rimmer was gift wrapping the CD and trying to get the sticky-tape off his fingers. The Christmas tree's lights blinked on and off in the corner and Rimmer's lonely Secret Santa present sat under it.
Realising he hadn't opened the Advent calendar for that day, Rimmer prised the cardboard open and ate the chocolate thoughtfully. It was decorated with a smiling elf face, or so he assumed. It was either that or a rather melted penguin, and he didn't think melted penguins were all that Christmassy.
The memo from Hollister was on the table. Rimmer read it, intending to throw it in the bin. The dinner dance was on Christmas Day (of course), beginning at six at night. Costume. How many costumes were there for Christmas? Rimmer supposed he could go as a psychotic Santa and claim he was influenced by 'Weird Al' Yankovic, then caught himself. He wasn't even going to the stupid party, so what was the point of planning an outfit?
Still, it would be funny. If anyone else on the ship had ever heard of the song. Rimmer hadn't intended to listen to it, but it had been on the radio once, and... well, it was rather catchy.
Rimmer hid the wrapped CD in the clean linen cupboard, where Lister would never look, and went to bed, humming to himself.
The twenty-third was the night Lister came staggering in with a pile of presents in his arms and piled them under the tree. Rimmer looked on sourly, his faith in Christmas being an utter gyp reaffirmed as Lister read the labels on each parcel.
'I suppose they're all for you, are they?' he said.
'Nah, man,' Lister said, looking surprised. 'There's a few here for you -- Krissie's sent you something, feels like clothes, there's something from your Mum, standard bit of rubbish from Hollister... and your Secret Santa, of course.'
'Well.' Rimmer didn't know what to say.
'And I've got... er, I've got... well, it's just a little something...' Lister went red and dragged the nearly empty garbage bag down from his bunk. 'Anyway, you'll find out on Christmas Day -- assuming you can wait that long, that is.'
'You actually bought me something?' Rimmer asked.
'Well.' Rimmer still didn't know what to say. He retrieved the CD from the linen cupboard when Lister was in the shower and put it neatly on the small mountain of Lister's presents. Lister would find it on Christmas Day and probably assume Rimmer had bought it after he found out Lister had one for him.
As it happened, Lister spotted Rimmer's gift as he was going to bed, but said nothing about it.
'Happy Christmas Eve!'
'What's happy about it?' Rimmer asked, dealing out another hand of solitaire and looking wryly at his roommate.
'Well, more presents, for one thing,' Lister said, bringing them in. 'More for you, too. There's something from a Maggie--'
'My aunt,' Rimmer said.
'A Kyla and Kath--'
'Next door neighbours.'
'And a few cards, too. You want to open them now, or leave them till tomorrow?'
'Tell me, Lister, what would you do?'
'Leave them. And open them first. Cards first, presents next, that's always been the rule for me,' Lister said, grinning. 'Keeps the surprise going.'
'I suppose you're going to get up at midnight and open all this lot,' Rimmer said.
'Not bloody likely, unless Petersen gets drunk and comes and wakes me up. I'm going to bed, and I'm not getting up until seven. At least.' Lister yawned. 'I've spent too many nights awake this week to get up in the middle of the night. Besides, you'd never get up with me, and it's no fun opening presents alone.'
'You're right, I wouldn't,' Rimmer said. He removed the last chocolate from the Advent calendar, broke it in half, and offered half to Lister.
'Thanks man,' Lister said.
They ate their chocolate in silence, then went to bed.
Rimmer woke up at about midnight, and thought he could hear the faint sound of bells from the corridor, accompanied by the sound of hooves. Great, Hollister was playing his 'Oooh Santa's here' tape again. Well, it amused the few children they had on board.
'Hey, Scrooge, get up! Presents!'
'Lister, I know they're there. You put them there yesterday, remember? I was there,' Rimmer said, opening his eyes blearily. Sounds of early morning festivities echoed along the corridor, and the clock said 8:00 in bright red numbers.
Lister was already bouncing around the sleeping quarters, wearing his Santa hat. He grabbed Rimmer's hand and pulled him out of bed, reaching up to slide the plastic antlers onto Rimmer's head. Despite himself, Rimmer smiled -- Lister was so enthusiastic, it was quite funny.
'First we pile them up. Then we open the cards. Then we open the presents,' Lister directed. Rimmer was dispatched to get mulled wine from the dispenser while Lister divided the presents up.
'I've got one from Petersen!' Rimmer exclaimed a few minutes later, having made short work of his meagre collection of cards. He rattled it suspiciously.
Lister looked up from his parcel from Kochanski. 'Yeah, he said he felt sorry for you. I don't know if it's anything much.'
'Chocolates!' Rimmer said. He tore into them, finding a strawberry cream and scoffing it. He offered the box to Lister. 'Want one?' Lister accepted a caramel centre and grinned.
Kochanski had bought them personalised JMC jumpers and wrote something in the cards about Neptune being cold. Rimmer was absurdly touched by the fact that she'd bothered to get him anything. Lister looked a little dismal that his hadn't been something with 'I love you, please come back to me' all over it, but brightened up as he opened his own parcel from Petersen and discovered a four-pack of Leopard Lager and a new cigarette lighter with his name engraved on it (misspelt, but that only added to its charm).
Finally, they got to the end of their gifts. Rimmer's last presents were his gift from Lister, and his Secret Santa. Lister's were his gift from Rimmer, and his Secret Santa. They exchanged a glance and opened the Secret Santa gifts.
'Oh look, it's a little Hammond organ!' Rimmer inspected the base. 'This would be so fantastic if I had a Barbie doll to go with it.'
Lister held up his own gift. 'Well, someone's got a sense of humour.' His present was a Ken doll, dressed in the khaki uniform of the Space Corps, with a suspicious-looking hairstyle and a 14B glued to its hand. 'I could use it as a voodoo doll, I guess...' Rimmer rolled his eyes. They both laughed. Rimmer took the doll and sat it on the salt shaker, the Hammond organ in front of it.
'Now, what did you get me?' Lister asked, reading the card on his final gift. 'Wow. You actually wrote Merry Christmas. You're a changed man, Arnold Rimmer.'
'Shut up,' Rimmer said, busy with his own present.
As it happened they both got the wrapping off their final gifts at the same time. Lister exclaimed over his CD ('You don't even like me playing RBS!), and Rimmer looked fondly at his new James Last album ('I assume this is a replacement for the one you spilt jam on?').
'So are you coming to the party tonight?' Lister asked, folding the paper for a second use.
Rimmer looked at him. 'Can I borrow your Santa hat?'
Dressed in red, with artful blood stains (fake blood left over from Halloween), and Lister's Santa hat, Rimmer made a pretty good psychotic Santa. Lister helped him make a fake beard out of cotton wool.
'What are you going as?' Rimmer asked.
Lister shrugged. 'Elf. I have green, I have another hat, I have a winsome grin that all the little boys and girls love. It's perfect.' He adjusted the elastic holding Rimmer's beard on. 'There. That's also perfect.'
Rimmer scrutinised his reflection. 'You're right.'
'Are you ready to go?'
Lister shuffled his feet. 'I'll just... change.' He ducked into the shower stall and changed. When he came out, Rimmer went into hysterics.
Lister looked uncomfortable. 'Well, this is exactly why I didn't get changed for work until I was out of the room, isn't it?'
Rimmer snickered. 'It looks great. I should've realised sooner -- I've been seeing those elves for days.' He tried not to look at the interesting bulge in the front of Lister's tights, which he was pretty sure wasn't a pair of socks placed to impress the girls, and waved at the door. 'Ready now?'
Rimmer and Lister walked through the wide-open double doors to the ship's refectory, the biggest gathering place on board. Though some essential crew were needed, obviously, to man their posts all night, it seemed that the rest of the crew were all attending the party.
As they entered the room, a great burst of laughter rose from the crowd, and a few people pointed at them.
'What?' Rimmer whispered to Lister. 'Is it my beard? Your tights!'
'Heeey, boys!' Kochanski was there, dressed as an angel, and standing well back from them, pointing up. 'You're the latest suckers for the mistletoe!'
Rimmer looked up. Lister looked up. They both saw the oversized sprig of mistletoe hanging over their heads.
'Uh, I don't think so, Kris,' Lister said.
'Aw, come on. It's just a bit of fun!' Kochanski pumped her fist in the air. 'Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.' The others watching joined in.
Reluctantly, Rimmer looked down at Lister and tried to push his beard out of the way. Lister looked up at him, then tilted his head back and closed his eyes. Rimmer took a deep breath, leaned in and kissed his roommate.
He hadn't thought that this would ever happen between them. He hadn't thought about it very much at all, in fact. But, Rimmer discovered, when you're actually kissing someone, there's very little else you can actually think about. The sound of the crowd faded away around them -- or was it that they'd just fallen quiet at the display in front of them?
Lister's lips were soft, and tasted of chocolate and caramel. They felt good against Rimmer's mouth, and he instinctively pressed for more, almost forgetting who it was he was kissing. Almost -- but not quite. Initially standing as far apart as possible, the two of them moved closer, not breaking the kiss, and Lister's arms went around Rimmer, holding him tightly. Rimmer reciprocated, one hand going up to thread his fingers through Lister's hair, the other stroking Lister's back.
They didn't hear the 'Oooh's as the onlookers gasped at this display, didn't hear Kochanski say, softly, 'Oh, Dave,' (actually, hardly anyone heard that), didn't hear the insipid noise of the ship's band playing 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'. Rimmer's tongue ventured to caress Lister's lower lip and Lister's tongue came eagerly out to meet it. They drank in the taste of each other, all the decadent tastes of Christmas, and knew nothing else.
When Rimmer finally pulled away a long time later, some part of his mind vaguely reminding him they were in public, their return to reality was greeted by a round of applause.
'Wooo! You boys rock!' Deck Sergeant Rick Thesen and his boyfriend, Deck Sergeant Sam Murray, pushed their way through the crowd and slapped Rimmer and Lister on the back. 'You should join us one night, for drinks,' Sam suggested meaningfully. Everyone knew that, apart from 'Bent Bob', these two were the only openly gay people on the ship.
'Maybe,' Lister said, still a little dazed.
Several people had further comments for them, but gradually the group around them dwindled and Rimmer and Lister were free to move over to one of the tables around the edge of the room. Someone else and his girlfriend came in and were caught under the mistletoe, and the focus of attention was no longer the two roommates.
'Well,' Rimmer said yet again, still unsure just what else to say.
'What d'you think, Rimmer?' Lister subtly reached across the table and covered Rimmer's hand with his own.
Rimmer met his eyes. 'What do I think? I think that maybe, just maybe, Christmas isn't so bad after all.'