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“Look, even if I get your point that he wanted to go fishing, how did that dim moggy screw up the ambition to go that far to do it?”

Lister glanced sideways at Rimmer, who was piloting the Skipper. “He’s a cat.”

“Truly? Reeeealllly?” Rimmer gave him an incredulous look, and Lister narrowed his eyes. “Odds are good, Lister, that he’s never had fresh fish in his life. How would he even want it?”

“Because he grew up on the narrative of cats liking fresh fish – fish of any kind.” He cleared his throat. “You never did crack any of those cat books, did you? Or check their libraries?”

“I don’t smell feline, no.”

“The books, the videos … their stories, man, they’re all about stuff cats like. Or stuff cats on Earth a long time ago liked. They came with the ship,” he pointed out. Part of JMC’s side hustle had been transporting goods to lunar outposts in the solar system, including media for libraries that didn’t yet have dedicated recreational satellites set up for streaming. “Cat grew up with all that.”

Rimmer sighed. “As it turns out, I’m not completely brainless, you twonk. What I was referring to was the fact it takes more than three minutes alone to prep Starbug to leave the cargo bay; three consecutive minutes is not an amount of attention he gives anything but his wardrobe and sleep. He’s the only creature I’ve ever known who spends more time horizontal than you do.”

“No, I don’t know how he mustered up the waking energy to make the trip, no,” Lister admitted. “But he clearly did. We passed the planet, Althea said it read marine life, and you were there; you heard the caterwauling.”

“Let’s hope fish is all he manages to pull up from the depths, and not another despair squid.”

“Aww, c’mon, Billy. Don’t be that way.”

Rimmer arched an eyebrow. “Voter-Colonel.”

He tried to grin against Rimmer’s smirk, but the whole memory of Sebastian Doyle still left a sour taste in his brain after several years. Never had he presumed any part of himself to be so cruel and dictator-like, but the squid ink had tapped something subterranean, far inside his consciousness and suddenly he’d been turned into the love child of Genghis Kahn and Donald Trump, with better hair. “Let’s say neither of us came out on that deal.”

They were quiet as Rimmer made minute adjustments to the stick and Lister chewed at his thumbnail. He’d been spending the better part of the past two weeks trying to come up with a suitable gift idea for their third anniversary. Every year it got harder. It was easy to locate a romantic gift for a woman; society had gone to a lot of trouble and expense to set up the idea of things they were supposed to like, or at least pretend to like, and all a guy had to do was figure out the appropriate amount to spend. But procuring for a man? Well, it was a shirt or a tie, or some sports smeg, wasn’t it? Rimmer hated organized sports and he designed his own quasi-uniform look.

And Lister refused to do anything to add to the man’s unbearable collection of organ music recordings. No amount of affection encompassed that.

“Anyway, he’s not by himself,” Lister pointed out, “since it was Kryten who sent the message.”

“Yes, how did Mr. I-Adore-and-Report-to-Mr.-Lister-Above-All-Others end up on a getaway runabout with the non-human without tattling to you first?” Rimmer dropped and flattened his voice in precise imitation of Kryten.

“Beats me. Hey, you were there; you were asleep, too, when the message beeped in.” He was crabby because, in fact, he’d had some trouble sleeping the past couple of weeks, and he’d only gotten in a couple of hours before he’d been dislodged from sandland by Rimmer pushing him aside and getting out of bed, then shaking him awake to hear Kryten’s missive. “Maybe Cat tricked him into it … told him there was a beach to be vacuumed or something, I don’t know.”

The ride was smooth and took a few hours, and Lister didn’t realize he’d slumped down in his seat against the belt and nodded off until he felt the jar of the landing and blinked awake, headachy and disoriented. “We there?” he asked around a yawn. Rimmer made a noise of affirmation and Lister picked at the release on his belt before extending himself slowly as he stood, stretching everything. “Let’s get to finding them and hope he’s really gotten some fish. I’m starving.”

**********

They found Cat’s feet peeking out from shade thrown by a giant umbrella on a semi-cloudy beach, while a tape player to his side blasted island music and Kryten stood over a cooler twenty feet away shaking a sweating metal tumbler sloshing and clinking ice within. “Bet you can fairly taste that seafood, eh, Listy?” Rimmer nudged him in the side with a stage whisper as they stopped next to Cat’s lounge chair.

Lister didn’t argue the point. He raised his foot and kicked lightly at the underside of Cat’s big toe. When nothing happened, he did it again with more force and said, “Hey, man. Why’d you pull a runner?”

Cat still didn’t stir, but Kryten had noticed them by now. “Sirs!” he called, approaching with a tall narrow glass perched in the center of a tray. “Oh, Mr. Lister, Mr. Rimmer, I am so pleased to see you both!”

Lister leaned back enough for his companion to hear him: “He must be really desperate for human company.”

“How’s that sex on the beach coming?” Cat finally said, lifting the lavender matte straw floppy hat off his face.

“Here you go. Nice and frosty, just like the recipe said.” Kryten bent at the waist to set the frothy concoction in the little drink holder on Cat’s chair. He straightened and asked the men, “Would you like a drink-“

“Whoa, hold up!” Cat pushed the hat all the way back and picked up the tall glass, scrutinizing it in a few turns. “It comes with a drink, too?”

Lister was about to ask for more details on their sojourn but was interrupted. “Any martini mix over there?” Rimmer asked.

“I may have something for you,” Kryten replied, holding up his squarish index finger. “I am not certain I have any olives.”

“I could do without it.”

He nodded. “And for you, Mr. Lister?” to which Rimmer rejoined, “Oh, he’ll just take whatever beer you’ve got in that cooler.”

Lister reflexively put a hand over Rimmer’s mouth. “Stop answering to my name,” he ordered. “As for Kryten- You,” he redirected, turning to face the mechanoid again. “Why’d you take off without even asking if we wanted to go?”

“Mr. Cat was quite insistent about all the fishing, and he was not going to wait until morning. Rather than wake you up, I figured it best to at least accompany him in case there were any problems in-flight.”

Pointedly looking around, Lister gestured, hands spread. “And the fish?”

“I consulted my guidebook for beach-related activities, first, and committed something of an error asking if he would like a Sex on the Beach.”

Cat paused sipping and shot Kryten a glare. “Still waiting on those ladies, bud!” He grinned, showing fangs. “I’m ready! Ready and able!”

Considering the relatively safe situation they were in, and letting himself enjoy the warm sun and sounds of the surf for the first time since landing, Lister decided to drop the interrogation. “That doesn’t sound bad, actually. Sex on the Beach for me, too, Krytes.”

Cat stopped humming and made a face at Lister, then Rimmer and back to him. “Well NOW I’m not ready or able,” he pouted, pulling his hat brim back down. “Never mind,” he added, as he went back to slurping his alcoholic concoction.

*******

He had to admit that getting felt up by Rimmer was the best thing that’d happened to him in a while. Teeth nipped gently at his skin as he laid his head to the side, and he ran his fingertips up and down the man’s jawline as Rimmer’s fingers sank firmly into the flesh of his backside. They didn’t say anything, just enjoying the impromptu makeout interrupting their quick trip back to the Skipper to grab a bite and change for a swim. Lister had been undressing when hands landed on him, turning him for a series of quick kisses, which deepened into something slower and less ocean-focused. He tilted his hips forward and sucked at Rimmer’s neck while sliding his right hand down the man’s front. “Ready to go, as always,” he growled.

“I wouldn’t’ve started this if I wasn’t,” was his response, pushing his penis into Lister’s curled fist. “Been a while since I got to feel all that.”

“I’m in bed most nights,” Lister pointed out, rubbing his thumb over the tip. “Just right there for the taking … Ready to be thrown over and pounded flat …” His voice dropped as he stroked, using a pause to shift his own cock into his hand alongside Rimmer’s. “And you keep passing it up …”

“Smeg.” The word came out on a hard breath and extended whine. “You’ve been … asleep … early, Listy … I can’t just dock ship with … with a nonresponsive port … God, oh God.” The nasal whine was more pronounced as Rimmer’s excitement intensified.

“I’ve heard some bad come-ons, but that’s one of the worst.” He kept stroking, but pulled back to look into Rimmer’s face. “Seriously? Port-docking?” Eyes half-lidded, Rimmer granted him one of his rare crooked grins with a “what?” eyebrow-raise. “No wonder you haven’t been getting any action this month.”

Rimmer glanced pointedly down between their bodies. “I beg to differ-“

“Oh, you oughtta be begging, all right.” Lister gave a little twist of his hand and laughed softly at the change in expression. “That I don’t stop, man.”

“You wouldn’t.” Lister silenced him with a kiss, using his weight to push him back into the bulkhead for balance. He paused intermittently during fretful kissing, then resumed pumping as they panted at each other, their noses pressed together, lips barely touching. Rimmer’s simulated hot breath tingled with a slight electrical fizz and Lister pushed harder, squeezing their cocks together as Rimmer’s back banged into the wall with a regular rhythm from their frantic bodies. He felt Rimmer coming with harder, shorter thrusts as the man groaned quietly and hit the back of his head against the wall; Lister’s teeth scratched over his chin and throat as he did so, and he licked around the Adam’s apple and forced himself not to chew hard at the skin when his own orgasm set upon him a few seconds later.

They held this posture for a while as they both slowed their breathing. He knew Rimmer could override his simulated autonomic functions anytime he wanted, but appreciated that he let his systems play out as designed when they were together like this. He leaned in and slid his lips to just under the man’s earlobe, kissing the patch of skin lightly. “Amazing as ever,” he murmured. He could feel the stretch of jaw as Rimmer smiled and breathed out a soft, “Listy.”

They were quiet a moment as he brought his hands up and tightened his arms around Lister. “Nice not having someone yelling for us here,” he said, again into Rimmer’s neck. “Not like back home.”

“Always trying to get us to do something,” Rimmer lamented. “Why’ve they always got to be smegging doing something? And making us try to do the something? Don’t they think we have things we’d like to do without them?”

“More of this stuff’d be brutal,” Lister agreed.

“Yes, this.” Rimmer played with Lister’s locks, threading them between his fingers with light tugs. “Why does it never occur to the smeggers we might want to be left alone? What do they think we are, monks?”

“Maybe one of them came across your old stash of Love Celibates newsletters and figured that’s what you’re into.” He pulled away and maneuvered around Rimmer for the Skipper’s tiny water closet. “Besides, bugging you’s what a family does,” he called over his shoulder as he ran some water and set to wiping himself clean. “Face it, Arn – you’re a middle-aged co-patriarch. Got a niece and nephew-in-law, a cat, a mech; even a hot rod.”

“Should’ve brought the Wildfire instead of this,” Rimmer grumbled.

“Take out a 30 billion-dollarpound police box for what amounts to a run around the block?” Lister dried his hands and slid sideways out of the pocket room to shimmy out of his jeans and find some board shorts. “Not the best use of limited replacement parts, is it?”

“When you’ve got Ace Rimmer’s ship, you’ve got to always be prepared to have Ace Rimmer’s problems,” Arnold Rimmer noted. He was bending to pick up the real clothes that had fallen off him to the floor when he went soft-light briefly to clean off. “This runabout isn’t going to get us out of anything if someone shows up.”

Lister was momentarily distracted by Rimmer dressed in Old Blue – the default reboot look his program reverted to when switching from soft back to hard light, in tight soft pants, fitted jacket, black leather knee boots. Specifically, the man’s backside in Old Blue as he straightened up. “That’s why we don’t have Ace’s ship,” he pointed out. “Less flashy, this.” Rimmer glanced back at him; Lister smiled. “Besides, I’ve seen what you can do with all that Ace training on your own, with nothing but a can opener or your foot.”

******

A few drinks and lighter clothes later, Lister half-dozed on his deck chair under the large umbrella he shared with Cat – he’d tried to sunbathe, but Rimmer had insisted he put himself in some shade after a while, grumbling about skin cancer. He sort of enjoyed Rimmer displaying concern for him, so sometimes he’d go along just to see the surprise cross the man’s features, usually followed by a small smile. Now he was out reconning the woods and beach instead of lounging; Lister knew enough to realize this is what passed for relaxation for the hologram. At least he’d bowed to pressure to change into a more festive look than Napoleon-Lite.

Partly inebriated, Lister’s Earth-raised hindbrain at first dismissed the group voices as normal. After all, he was at the beach. He couldn’t expect they’d be allowed to keep this pristine stretch of paradise just to the four of them. Just before sleep set in, his eyes snapped open as the front part of his brain grabbed the hind and gave it a good whacking. You oblivious fool, it intoned, sounding a lot more nasal and Ionian than the hindbrain, you’re SUPPOSED to be the only human in this part of the galaxy.

Well that’s just classist and exclu- What, wait? Lister sat up straight, blinking, and looked right and left. There were people further down on the beach – several people! People? He squinted. Well, figures. Maybe people. Definitely bipeds. He reached back and over without taking his eyes off the figures. “Hey. HEY! Cat, wake up!” He heard no movement, and twisted around to look at the still-sleeping felinoid. “Get-“ He nearly fell out of his chair reaching for the floppy hat, and yanked it off, then used it to thrash Cat awake. “Wake. UP. LOOK!”

Like a flash, Cat was on his feet and baring his fangs. “Bud, you didn’t just touch my clothes!”

Lister managed to get to his feet and gently motioned Cat back a couple of inches. “I was trying to get you up. There’re PEOPLE. Look.” He pointed a thumb back over his shoulder. “More important than your hat.”

“Don’t ever presume what’s more important than my clothes!” he hissed.

“Would you shut up and see if you can see those people back there better than I can from this distance?” Still looking put out, Cat shifted his gaze over the human’s shoulder and peered. His eyes widened and narrowed, then went ultra-wide as he let out a cry. Without answering Lister’s, “What? Who are they?” he pirouetted around his side, still yowling musically, and started down the beach toward the figures. Lister turned to repeat his interrogatory, which drew Cat up short. “About time,” he breathed to himself – but Cat’s retreat was only to grab his hat back. He arranged it on his head as he went back to semi-dancing his way down the strip of beach.

“CAT! They’re strangers!” he called a few seconds later after he’d come to his senses through the last of his buzz, and started after his friend. He wasn’t as coordinated and slipped a few times on the sand, so it took him longer to get close enough to realize the group was accompanied by a familiar tall figure. He shaded his eyes with his hands as Rimmer detached from them and strode his way. Something was familiar about the way the small group circled Cat and Lister tried not to panic – Rimmer was no fan of their felinoid astro, but neither would he leave him unattended to danger. “What’s this?” he called to Rimmer once the hologram was in range.

“You remember those stories about Cloister and the cat people?” He nodded. “Cloister the Stupid- or wait, hold up, was it Clister the Stupid?”

“Rimmer, you arse-“

“Oh yes, I think we decided it was Cloister the Stupid.” He tapped his bottom lip as if in thought, in full smegging enjoyment. “At least for Cat’s beliefs.” Lister kept quiet, not giving him the satisfaction as he waited for the man to get to it in his own sour time. Rimmer was about to say more when the yowling went up again … only this time, it was a chorus, more than one feline creature capable of the sound, and Lister finally made out the figures now circling the Cat, reaching out to touch his sleeves or literally rub shoulders with him. He pointed to the group and looked to Rimmer askance.

The man was smiling, and nodded. “I think we’ve found what’s left of the Clister denomination.”

******

Hours later it was nighttime, the bonfire was suitably domesticated, and the party was in full swing. Lister had tried early on lending music to the festivities, but when a group of hissing Cats had tried to take away the old guitar he’d found on Starbug, he chalked his poor playing up to long disuse and lack of string tuning (Rimmer had started coughing fitfully at this apology, and walked off with tears in his eyes) and instead retrieved his memory stick of tunes to play on the sound system they brought out from their settlement in an extensive aboveground cave series.

The village was impressive for a group of creatures that found more pleasure in sewing and modeling than in building or government. To be fair, there were maybe a few hundred of them and Cat government wasn’t what anyone would call “organized” or even really “existing” – they adhered to the Cat Commandments and any violators were exiled from society until the debut of the next fashion season. Killing was not permitted; scratching was. Biting was only endorsed as retribution for a wrong, like the theft of food or thread, or a really unfounded bad design review. Cat was clearly their star for the moment, with his novelty and accent and the dance moves he was currently displaying as Lister showed three interested younger Cats how to deejay.

“They don’t seem to have their own recorded music,” he’d told Rimmer earlier while figuring out how to patch into their sound system. “Just a bunch of audiobooks. I mean, we’ve got The Stones and Ringo Rastabilly, and I guess their rock star’s, what – some guy who can mimic ninety different voices, probably?”

“The Cat listens to music he already had when we found him,” Rimmer had pointed out.

“Yeah, I asked him about that; I guess the Cloister crowd hoarded it all when the old Clisters declared music and singing were sinful. But these guys seem pretty keen to hear some.” He’d grinned. “It’s gonna be ‘Footloose’ out here. We’re like Kevin Bacon!”

It was going so well a couple of hours later, in fact, that it didn’t take long for Lister’s three protégés to take over scratch duty and free him for his own partying. He found a couple of lagers and got to work catching up, surprised when he found Rimmer putting away a longneck near the makeshift coolers. Well … less surprised and more aroused by the bobbing of the man’s own long neck as he took long swallows. “Thought you couldn’t stand that stuff!” he called over the loud music. “Used to couldn’t!”

“You’d be surprised what I can put down my throat these days,” he answered, with a wink.

A wink! He began to suspect Arn was a bit drunk. “Are you soused?” he called.

“What, I’m not allowed some inebriation?” The hologram rolled his green-brown eyes. “Not like I’m under the table.”

“Under the table can be fun.” Lister showed him a grin, rewarded with one from Rimmer before he took another long drink and emptied the bottle. “How about-“ He gestured at the group moving near the bonfire. “Wanna dance?”

“Let’s not go crazy, now.” Lister rolled his eyes at that and reached for Rimmer’s hand. “Come ON,” he urged, pulling him along.

By this point, he refused to be surprised when Rimmer was able to pick up quickly on his moves on the dance floor (sand) and those of the crowd around them – the man always had displayed nimble hips. Individual Cats saw one human tutoring the other and happened by with their own impromptu demonstrations. This went on for several songs until, sweaty and holding on to a spinning partner, Lister laughed breathlessly and leaned in to tell Rimmer’s ear, “I’ve got to sit and get something to drink.”

“Already?” Rimmer pulled back to look at him, his eyes pleasantly glassy with exertion and alcohol.

“Not all of us are dancing machines,” he pointed out, tugging on the man’s shoulder. “You want to stay or come with?” He noticed Rimmer look around, and chuckled. “Stay and have fun.” As he pulled away, he was stopped long enough for a kiss, and pulled back more slowly. “Not too much fun,” he amended, pushing some hair back behind Rimmer’s ear before peeling off toward the coolers, feeling light.

After downing a water and half another cold lager, Lister took advantage of the breeze and crossed the distance of beach between the Cat party to another bonfire closer to where he knew the felinoids’ network of semi-underground sleeping quarters and social areas to be. Seated around part of it were several juvenile Cats, some still young kittens, two sitting on Kryten’s lap. He’d hastily volunteered to kitten-sit when he realized party plans were underway, and by the looks of things he’d managed to find the right combination of toys and racing around in circles to wear most of them out. Quietly, Lister crouched to sit on a low log near the mechanoid and, sotto voce so he wouldn’t disturb the kittens, greeted him with, “How’s it going?”

“Oh, sir, they’re fuzzy little angels,” Kryten declared at half his normal volume. “R-r-r-r-r-eal bundles of joy!”

“Cancel lie mode, Kryte.”

“All but three of them are what you’d expect from children, and those three are minions of Lucifer himself, Mr. Lister.” He made his annoyed face. “I found a stash on one of them.”

“Drugs?” If I never hear of Bliss again, it’ll be too soon, he thought, remembering Mimas.

“Catnip. Oh, the evil that kitty caffeine wreaks!” He shook his blocky head, then changed the topic. “Is Mr. Cat having a hey-ho time?”

“I’m trying to figure that out.” Lister looked off at the ocean as he considered. “The last I saw of him while getting this-“ he tilted his bottle by the neck, “he and Rimmer were seeing who could do the most spins and shuffles, almost in unison.” He didn’t say the chances he thought he would ever see those two dancing in the same postal code, let alone funking out to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” were somewhere between the likelihood of him carrying Hitler up Mount Everest, and getting carried by Hitler. Off Kryten’s astonished expression and pointed glance at his bottle, he clarified, “I said what I said, man. I’m not seeing pink elephants. Lord knows that would be more believable.”

They sat in companionable silence for a while. Lister closed his eyes, a combination of alcohol and ocean breeze cutting across heat from the fire loosening the knot that lived perpetually in his chest. There was so much to worry about day to day, more than he often thought even Rimmer gave him credit for noticing; just continuing to exist in the deep reaches of space behind a shell of metal and polymers as the only thing keeping airless space at bay wore on a human’s psyche after this many years. He’d perfected the art of looking deceptively unaffected by worries over systems and oxygen and the other organic beings under his aegis, when inside his hindbrain sometimes resorted to screaming ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR SMEGGING MIND?! WHO LIVES LIKE THIS?

But. BUT. He admitted the worry had been much worse before Rimmer returned. Who would’ve thought Mr. Neurotic could be a calming influence? Not only had his time as Ace taken the edge off Rimmer’s reflex to panic at a whiff of danger, he seemed willing to shoulder a share of responsibility for the … well, worry, about things in general. And solving problems, whereas in the past Lister had chewed down many a nail trying to come up with solutions when Kryten couldn’t. It was less that Rimmer was now competent than that he was now willing to try, rather than run in the other direction – that he seemed to care enough about all of them, particularly Lister, that he’d slog through opposing opinions and arguments to help rather than save his own light bee.

Much of the time.

Lister took a long drink as he considered it wasn’t the same way he’d loved Krissie or even the idea of Krissie for so long. But it was a fierce fondness and acceptance of many character faults that had somehow transposed into love that had steadied over the past few years. And it was why, as alluring as the original Ace had been to him years ago, that would never have become love. The man had flaws, but not the kind that slotted well with Lister’s. “Damn smeghead,” he muttered into his bottle, feeling halfway between juvenile and giddy for the stab of infatuation.

“Sir?” Kryten wondered.

“Just wondering if Rimmer’s still pissing off Cat,” he spoke louder, sitting up straight again, then standing and stretching out. “Think I’ll go see. You okay with-“ He gestured around the mostly somnolent youths. “Cat-sitting?”

“Honestly.” He looked insulted. “As if I would require assistance!”

A few minutes later, he found Rimmer perched on a log near the other bonfire, long legs splayed in an “A”, heels dug in the sand, and lowered himself to the piece of wood next to him. He watched Rimmer practically giggling, and reached over to steal the lager in his hand. “Under the table,” he pronounced before taking a swig from the bottle. It was nearly empty, yielding only one long swallow.

Rimmer drew his posture up straight, serious for a moment. “I am NOT.”

“I think you are.” Despite the dark, Lister closed one eye as he peered into the bottle with the other, seeing only the expected blackness of night and no beer.

“Nope.” Rimmer nearly fell off the log as he tilted forward onto hands and knees, then made an exaggeration of turning himself around and dog-padding back toward Lister to look him in the face. “I’m just pished, laddie.”

“Oh,” Lister laughed, “and Scottish now, to boot.” Rimmer put his head down and butted at his palm, and Lister made a show of patting his messy head. “And man’s best friend … Should I call you Dirk or Scout, or what, now?”

“Just don’t call me late to shift,” he drawled. Lister and his lager thought that was the funniest thing, and while he was laughing, he started snorting, which he only stopped when Rimmer started nuzzling him. Presently, he went to only mostly laughing to some kissing, soon dropping the laughing altogether. Their mouths nipped at one another’s, then practically fused with occasional gaps so Lister could breathe. He felt Rimmer lick his lips and closed them around the tongue, taking the man’s head in his hands to hold him steady as he leaned forward.

Rimmer pulled back abruptly and somehow managed to climb to his feet, tugging on Lister’s hands. He didn’t say anything, and Lister followed. They made it a relatively short stumble-walk to one of the runabouts, he wasn’t sure which, but there were some metal steps he had to let go of Rimmer’s hand to navigate up after him, and only when they were in the midsection did he realize it was Starbug. “So,” he felt himself just barely not slurring, “what d’ you- Oh.” Because Rimmer sank to the floor, tugged down his board shorts, and was stroking his cock. He couldn’t find words as he began licking the head, then underneath, then swallowing part of it to suck. It didn’t take long to become fully hard, at which point Rimmer stood, pushed off his own shorts, and turned to press his palms flat to the table.

The only thing Lister could manage to say was, “Yessssss,” as he licked his fingers and set about a quick preparation. He gripped one of the slender hips in front of him firmly as he slid his fingers into the man’s ass, stretching and thrusting by degrees, and only when he heard the panting descend into a couple of moans did he decree it was time to replace them with his erection. He spit into his other hand and slicked himself quickly, then dug into the slightly staticky holographic flesh with all fingers as he eased in, making sure he had a good in-and-out going before freeing his right hand to finish unbuttoning and yanking off his Hawaiian shirt. “There you go,” he soothed, leaning forward for better balance and to reach around to stroke Rimmer’s penis. “That what you wanted?”

“Whaddyou think?” Rimmer harshly retorted, shoving back against his pelvis in time.

“Don’t sound so pished now,” he teased, thrusting harder. His fist flew along the other man’s length, knowing Rimmer would climax a couple or three times before he came once, and he’d learned it was best to get the first out of the way so they could both concentrate better. But, rather than letting Lister focus on fucking him once he jerked to completion, Rimmer twisted and indicated they should separate, turning to pull Lister to him for a quick, hard kiss. “Here,” he breathed harshly, grabbing his hand and heading for the steps.

They stumbled up into the sleeping quarters, where he was surprised by Rimmer pushing him onto a bed. “My turn,” he muttered, yanking open a drawer and digging around for lube. They had learned to start leaving a tube here and there on the Barbie and on the runabouts as well. He squeezed some onto his fingers and prepped himself and the man under him, occasionally wrapping his fingers around Lister’s sizable erection to give it a few pulls and keep him hard. Once he was inside, though, he curled his fist around the base of Lister’s – and squeezed firmly, keeping pressure without the relief of movement.

“What th’ hell,” Lister whined as Rimmer increased the pace of his thrusting. “C’mon … let off. Don’t make-“ He tried to arch, to come, but his hologram was stupidly strong and his grip wouldn’t be budged. “C’mon,” he tried again, digging his fingertips hard into Rimmer’s hips to punish him and to try to relieve the unbearable tension of blue balls. “Jesus, Arn!”

Rimmer paused to peel off his shirt, expertly changing hands on Lister’s penis twice, then shook out his messy hair, shifted and thrust with surer strokes, staring at him. He lowered his eyelids a bit, smirked, and replied, “Can’t do it, Davy-boy.” The nasal tone was replaced with Ace’s dulcet voice, edged harshly with lust – something he’d only done a couple of times before in bed. He clocked the change Lister felt in his own expression. “Like that, there, Spanners? You get off on Ace … pounding you into the mattress?” He moved faster on Lister’s groans, nearly smirking. “Come on, Dave, give me what I want.”

“I … CAN’T, you complete arshole!” Lister yelled, still unable to come or to dislodge Rimmer’s iron grip on his penis stemming release. “Christ!” Rimmer’s laugh briefly undercut the Ace act, but he kept thrusting, pounding, eventually throwing his head back with the sated groan Lister recognized right before the man came, feeling the shallow, hard last strokes inside. He wanted to cry and scream and beat the shit out of Rimmer all at once.

Before Lister could twist away, Rimmer pulled out and moved off the bed, releasing him to do so. He pulled Lister up by his hands until he was sitting on the edge facing Rimmer, seated on the floor. Before Lister could speak, Rimmer leaned in, gently handling his cock and closing his lips around the punished testicles, licking as he stroked and deliberately rubbing his nose alongside the hard flesh. He pulled off briefly to speak again as Ace. “Come on, Davy … come all over me. Do it.” He put his lips around the balls again, caressing the penis, and Lister gasped, unable to stop. He watched pearly semen jerk out onto the side of Rimmer’s face and spill into his hair between thick curls, and when he pulled off his sucking to tilt his head back, close his eyes, and deliberately aim Lister’s heavy member more on his face, Lister thought he was going to combust.

Rimmer groaned deeply, pausing at one point to pull the cock into his mouth and catch the last of it. He kept sucking gently, his cheeks hollowed out, eyes closed; Lister reached down to smear some thick drops from the bridge of Rimmer’s patrician nose, at which point the man pulled back, licked his lips, opened his eyes – and closed his mouth around Lister’s finger, watching him with the soft, verdant lassitude Lister had come to associate with post-coital Rimmer. “Oh my God,” he murmured, hardly feeling it as he slid off the edge of the bed onto the floor, too. “Smeg,” he breathed.

His partner nodded with a little smile, and Lister shifted his hand to hold Rimmer’s face and lean forward. Avoiding the mess, he kissed him hard, feeling Rimmer shift position to his knees so he could crawl into Lister’s arms. They kissed like this for a long while until Lister had to breathe. “So,” he panted, opening his eyes at last. “I guess it’s a bad time, maybe … to tell you the Bug’s shower tanks are out of water?” Rimmer squinted one eye open, clearly not believing him, and he chuckled, kissing him. “That was something else.”

After a moment of silence and slowing his breathing, Lister reached behind him up on the bunk and tugged the case off the pillow, and Rimmer finally spoke as himself. “I was gone so long. I eventually got to where I liked the life of Ace; I mean, it scared the smeg out of me at first, but then I had a few wins and a lot of improvement, and grew used to things. And the women …” He blew out some air and moved his head as Lister gently wiped his face clean. “And some men. Once I got past that whole … business. Of it being men. It was fun. It was mostly good, being wanted that way. A different partner every couple of weeks or so. Lots of adventure.” He reached up and felt for the back of Lister’s other hand cupping his jaw in place. “But I got tired of it. At the end of the day, Listy, I want just one person. And you-” He dropped his eyes and seemed to be thinking. “Every time I was with someone else, I thought of you at some point. And this. Even with fighting and not always getting on. You’re my constant.”

Lister lifted the cloth to wipe at Rimmer’s sodden hair, blotting the patches drier. He thought how eager Rimmer had been to touch him, literally immerse himself in Lister, and realized the other man had raised his eyes and was staring at him again, waiting. Lister lowered his hand and the cloth, and traced two fingertips down the bridge of his nose, remembering the depression he’d slid into weeks after Rimmer had left as Ace. “I never thought when we met, I’d ever want you,” he admitted, closing his eyes as Rimmer leaned in and put their foreheads together. “Arnold.”

A fond, “David,” answered him.

“Nope,” Lister laughed softly as Rimmer’s nose rubbed his. “Smeghead. Let’s stick with that.”

“Curry-breath.”

“All right. I like it sometimes when you call me David,” he admitted. “Not so much anyone else … but you’ve got a pass. It’s yours to use.”

“Hmm.” Rimmer drew in an audible breath through considerable nostrils. “Arnie; that’s nice.” He paused. “Or Duke.” Lister snorted. “You’re lucky I don’t ask for Captain.”

He brought his hands up to cup Rimmer’s jaws. “I sort of like … Captain, my Captain.” Lister felt the man’s face curve into a grin. “Cappy,” he whispered.

“Okay, well.” Rimmer pulled back and reached up to pull Lister’s hands down. “That’s just unnecessary. What am I, an old dog? Somebody’s grizzled grandpa?” Lister began laughing rather stupidly as Rimmer squinted. “Arrr, miladdo! Strap the mizzenmast! Fetch me wooden hook, boy!”

When they settled into just the occasional chuckle, he used the heel of his hand to wipe away tears of mirth. “I don’t want to have to give Cat’s wandering off credit … but I needed this.”

“We needed this,” Rimmer corrected, moving to sit on his behind, putting him just a few inches further from Lister. “Never get any time alone together, unless you’re asleep.”

“We may have to start foreplay in public just to put everyone enough off their lunch to let us be,” Lister agreed.

Rimmer huffed. “As if it would work. I’m frankly amazed nobody’s wandered yet into our quarters looking for biscuits for their tea when we’re mid-shag. ‘Pardon, have you seen any jammers?’ ‘Not lately, but try there behind Listy’s left buttock; it’s where we keep all the sweets for after a fuck.’” Lister was laughing into the hand covering his face at this point. “And then they wonder why I’m in a mood so often.”

“To be brutally honest,” Lister managed, leaning forward and taking his hand, “I think most of your mood came with your birth certificate.” He held it between both of his, playing with the fingers. “But we should give them some ground rules about bothering us during private time. Unless they really do want a show.”

******

What I’d really like to do, Cat thought at his passenger, is open the hatch and dump you through the atmosphere into the ocean. And then because there was no filter between his brain and mouth, he told Rimmer, “What I’d really like to do is open the hatch and dump you through the atmosphere and into the ocean.”

Fridge-Head didn’t even bother looking ruffled. “I didn’t ask if you wanted to do the post-liftoff check, you mangy hairball,” he snapped, but there wasn’t the old Rimmer’s offended bite to it. “I said you needed to. I didn’t escape a second death dozens of times out there in the cosmos to come back and get sucked into space because you didn’t check a seal you know smegging well you’d do for Lister in a minute.”

“And why in hell isn’t he here and you piloting that tin can?” He hadn’t been entirely clear on how he ended up with the hologram while the human was at the controls of the Skipper.

“As much as it pains me to admit it, you’re better at flying Starbug than he is. This is a bigger craft; I’d rather not see it run into the side of a moon.” Cat accepted this as fact; a ghostly, underdeveloped part of his brain that might have been meant to be humility in another species tried to whisper that the compliment seemed suspicious, but it could never quite poke through his pompadour to be heard, now or any other time.

“Watch it,” came a slightly tinny but perfectly audible warning through the ship’s comm link.

“Some of us weren’t drinking last night,” Rimmer mildly replied. “That includes Cat.”

“You think I can’t pilot with a bit of a hangover?”

Rimmer leaned back in his seat, nostrils at mid-flare. “Listy, I refuse to accept ‘Hold mah beehr’ as a preflight checklist item,” he huffed, dipping into an indefinable American drawl in the middle. “So does the JMC-“

“Oh gods.”

“So does the Mattel-Jeffrey Corporation,” he continued, “and as the ranking officer on this mission-“

“What ‘mission?’” groaned the tinny Scouse voice from the other ship. “We’re going back to return one ship and get the others to see the beach and get some Cat stuff out of storage for the kids. It’s hardly Normandy.”

Cat watched his passenger point his considerable nose to the ceiling and inhale a few times, his hands placating in mid-air as he appeared to be meditating. Cat recognized the lack of arguing as one of the things that had begun to pass for peace between the two humans a few years ago, since they started diddling.

Things were quiet for a few more minutes and he began thinking ahead, planning out his lunchtime shower and suit change. He would have to stop for a longer nap, first, since he was missing out while piloting, but he conceded to himself that he was worth the extra effort. Besides, he was making a sacrifice by not taking time to groom his hair or sleeves during the two-hour flight back to Red Dwarf. He was going to look a mess when they slid into the cargo bay.

“Hey,” came Lister’s voice again, different this time. “Big man.” Cat fluffed in importance, his self-centered memory not realizing the tone right away. “You out of sorts over there?”

“I’m fine,” Rimmer said noncommittally, and the part of Cat’s brain that protected him from danger or discomfort, which was well-fed and primed at all times, went on alert.

“Good,” came the voice, slightly lowered. “I don’t like arguing like this. Well, sometimes, yeah.” Rimmer made a sound like a snort, and the beginnings of a smile could be seen in profile. “Less like this, though, and more when it’s just us.”

“Not many times of that anymore,” Rimmer replied, his voice also pitched just a bit lower but still loud enough to carry over the comm system.

“Not like the last couple days, no,” Lister said, his voice fairly dripping with intimacy now. “Did I tell you how much that thing you did with your thumb made me-“

“HEY!” Cat interrupted. Goalpost-Head glanced at him suddenly, frowning, and Lister’s voice added a completely insincere, “Sorry, man.” Things were quiet for a couple more minutes, and then Lister, again: “Course, that bit with your tongue was a LOT more satisfying.”

“I do aim to please,” Rimmer chuckled. “Not an easy job, that. Trying to get it around something that size isn’t exact-“

“Are you gonna finish that post-liftoff check, or what?” Cat snapped at him.

Rimmer blinked. “What?”

“You were doin’ a post-liftoff check before. I’m really worried about the safety of this ship!” Cat insisted in a rather poor acting job. “Isn’t that your thing, safety and all that shit about being prepared if an asteroid whizzes by?”

“Oh, it’s his thing, all right,” Lister intoned from a couple of kilometers behind. “That, and that sizable piece of-“

“Lights!” Cat snapped his fingers at the console. “You didn’t do the lights check!”

Looking annoyed, Rimmer plucked his clipboard off the dash and thumbed through a couple of pages. Mildly, he said a moment later, “Of course, Listy, my thing is a mere slip compared to your thick slice of sausage.”

“Oooooh, you dirty little officer,” came a rumbling laugh through the speakers before Cat could protest. “You do like getting your big, long-fingered hands around it to squeeze-“

“JUST CHECK THE SODDING LIGHTS!”

“Well … you know what they say about hand size relative to other proportions,” Rimmer intoned, still paging through his checklist.

“I know, I know,” Lister was humming. “I’m thinkin’ about it right now.”

“Oh?”

“Mmm hmm. I’ve got two hands … and the controls only need one … mmm, yeah.”

Cat snapped his fingers at Rimmer. “Code violation!” he sputtered. “You get bent more out of a shape than a three-day-old pretzel if I don’t keep both hands on the controls!”

“I’d bend you in a shape,” came Lister’s breathy voice. “Right face-down over the controls, and shove your knee up on it, too, and reach right between-“

Feeling his gut about to heave up breakfast, Cat clapped both hands over his ears as he let out a plaintive yowl, shaking his head. His eyes were closed, so he couldn’t see or hear and didn’t know he was being hailed until a hand grabbed his wrist and yanked a hand from his ear. “BOTH hands on the wheel, miladdo!” Rimmer was barking. “This isn’t a self-driver!”

He blinked one eye open, casting about a quick glance. Things were silent, Rimmer was visibly pissed off, and Starbug was going off-course. “Then quit tryin’ to put the driver off his upcoming lunch!” he insisted, taking the wheel with one hand and straightening that cuff with the other. “I can’t focus with all that nasty talk.”

Several seconds passed, and then Lister audibly grunting: “Uhhh … I could actually use some more nasty talk, Arn … if you want both hands … back on the wheel anytime soon, baby.”

It was the casual endearment that drove Cat out of his seat and rocketed him through the midsection and up the staircase. “FLY YOUR OWN DAMN SHIP! I’M NOT LISTENING TO ANY MORE OF GERBIL-CHEEKS DIDDLE HIS STICK!” he yelled, relieved by the thought he’d left his ninth-favorite suit in a room with a shower last time he was here.

From his seat on the Skipper, Lister listened to the disappearing Doppler of Cat’s wailing as he calmly finished a course correction and took a deep breath, dropping the theatrics. “Well, that didn’t take as long as I thought,” he said, voice normal. “Did he really ask you to finish your checklist?”

“You heard as much as I did,” Rimmer’s slightly tinny voice confirmed.

“Desperate times,” Lister muttered, shaking his head. “I knew he’d be upset, but geez.”

“This is a perfectly reasonable size of checklist,” he pointed out.

“Except it’s not a list at all; it’s a booklet.” Lister found a piece of gum and unwrapped it. “A list is a page. Maybe two. Not like an entire smegging VCR instruction manual in four languages.” He chewed a few times. “Hey, is Cat still gone?”

“Oh, I think he’s out of commission for a while. There’s not enough water in the shower tank to wash the look off that was on his face,” Rimmer said, an audible smirk in the voice.

“Especially after a couple nights ago.” Lister grinned dirtily, hoping it came across the comm link. “You dirty little officer.”

“Little?”

“No, not at all.” Lister chewed. “So … how d’you like your gift?”

“Truly, David, it was one of the better presents I’ve gotten in a long while. Quite ingenious.” A pause. “That moggy’ll think twice about running off again without notice, and making us come after him … not to mention he’s the biggest gossip on the Dwarf. Maybe nobody’ll try to come barging in if they figure we don’t care about THEIR sensibilities, too.”

“Happy anniversary, darlin’.”

“You too, my Livvie Listy.” It was a rarely-used endearment.

He shifted in his seat; the act they’d arranged to put on for Cat’s comeuppance hadn’t left him unaffected. “Still got that checklist handy?” he asked, pitching his voice knowingly; after a pause, Rimmer replied silkily, “What shall I read for you?”

“Ohhhh,” he sighed luxuriantly, fingers trailing down to unsnap his jeans, “how about the chapter on maintaining proper lubrication of swivel pilot seat ball … bearings?”

“Why, Listy – you have read the checklist, haven’t you.” He could hear appreciative murmuring on Rimmer’s end. “The gifts keep coming.” He fell into register somewhere between his regular and Ace voices. “As will you.”