Rimmer had been quiet the last few days. He'd appeared deep in thought and slightly depressed.
Lister knew his partner could get like that sometimes and just left him alone for a bit, as that was usually what Rimmer wanted when feeling low.
One afternoon, though, he walked in and found his lover sitting on the edge of his bunk sobbing quietly.
“Babe, are you alright?” Lister exclaimed – at the same time wondering why every human being in history asked that stupid question when it was obvious the person they asked it to wasn't.
Rimmer wiped his eyes and nodded, then looked up at his husband.
“Listy … can … can we talk?”
Lister swallowed – that sounded rather ominous.
“Of course, Arn …”
They sat together at the iron table that they had shared for … centuries, at least. Lister had swiftly gone out for coffee, tea and some alcohol – he liked to be prepared for any eventuality.
“Lister … be honest with me …”
Okay, that would be alcohol, then, Lister noted as Rimmer clearly wrestled with the question that weighed on him.
“If it had been possible would … would you have liked to have children with me?”
Lister nearly choked on his Irish coffee (well, he'd just pored half a bottle of vodka into the coffee, but he had to call it something.)
“W … what the smeg Arn?” How the heck did that come up??
“Just answer me, Listy?”
For a moment he really thought Rimmer was joking, but then he saw that his eyes were intense and serious. Was this what he'd been thinking about so intensely lately? How did that weird mind of his even come up with it? Just another thing to torture himself with? Smeg, he hadn't answered him. Would he have?
“Yes, of course.” He spluttered quickly. “You were great with … the babies, I recall.”
It still hurt to bring them up, but it was true, Rimmer's question made him remember those weird weeks, so long ago now. Rimmer had dropped the mask and revealed his caring side: making the Skutters look after him, studying pregnancy books. Frustrated by not being able to be physically present he had done everything a hologram could possibly do to help him to prepare, in fact he had been a rock. Once the babies were born he'd been there too. The grow spurts had made then cry a lot and he'd taken turns with Lister to watch them. When Lister had shown signs of nervous exhaustion he had taken over completely. He'd sat with the babies day and night: singing lullabies, reading stories with a Skutter by his side for feeds and nappy changes.
When they left he'd comforted Lister and in a weird way got him through the worst part of grief by turning into the insufferable smeghead Rimmer again. Within days he'd come up with a list of tasks and arguments that had left them bickering for hours. Thinking about that Lister realised that he'd never seen Rimmer emotional about the event – neither of them had ever mentioned it again. Maybe they should have.
He felt Rimmer's hand on his and looked up to see two sad hazel eyes gaze into his.
“I missed them so much when they left …”
Lister swallowed and shook his head.
“You never showed … you never said ..?”
A pair of nostrils raised at this reply.
“Of course not! They were your babies. I couldn't be selfish I was looking after you! I had to get you over it, out there, fighting.”
A lump formed in Lister's throat, it had taken all these years for Rimmer to finally admit this?
“Smeg, Arnold, you should have said! It would have been a comfort knowing you were as upset as I was!”
His breath starting to hitch Rimmer shook his head and closed his eyes. He swallowed several times before being able to speak again.
“What difference would it have made? I was useless.” A pause, another gasp. “I couldn't even touch them. I was never able to hold them, cuddle them. I wanted to, so badly.”
Lister swallowed and bit his lip, surprised that the thought that Rimmer might have wanted to be a parent one day had never occurred to him. He, at-least, had experienced something, however painful and abnormal it might have been: his desperately missed twins and … himself. He now felt sad Rimmer hadn't been around to see the baby him, by then he could have held him. On the other hand, that might have been too awkward for both of them. This one wasn't easy, there really wasn't any way of comforting Rimmer in this one. He'd better just talk to him, especially about how Rimmer had gotten this upset in the first place. But first he'd comfort him.
He got up and walked to his husband, squatting in front of his chair. “I'm so sorry, love.” He hugged his emotional partner tenderly. “Hey, babe, look at me. Can you tell me: what brought this on?”
Rimmer lay his cheek on the top of Lister's head and hugged him tightly. The Scouser heard the sigh and felt the shudder it sent through his partner's hologramic body.
“I was cleaning the bunk a few days ago, remember? When I put your study books in alphabetical order …”
Lister cringed, he knew what Rimmer found.
“... that letter that Haley girl sent you fell out of one of them. Knowing you kept it, makes me feel … I know you wanted … I can't give you that, I wish I could I so wish I could.”
Lister hugged his Hologram tighter. “No, no no babe. I kept it as a token, a memory, not as a regret. I've had three smegging kids, I wasn't expecting you to give me any. But if it's something you wanted, and those feelings hurt that's different. That's something lovers share. I never knew this about you.”
Suddenly Rimmer sat up straighter and faced Lister defiantly.
“It's not something I wanted, Listy. It's something I want!”
“Oh smeg, now what!” Lister's brain squirmed.
“I would love to have a daughter, a little princess!” Rimmer said softly, his eyes shining.
Lister stood up and placed his hands on Rimmer's shoulders to make him look at him.
“Arnie, what are you on about? How you gonna get a child? I mean …”
A smug looking Rimmer gazed up at him.
“Oh, I've researched, Listy, There are ways.”
“Smeg, smeg, smeg!!” Was all Lister could think. Either Arnold was space crazy or their lives would become pretty disrupted soon. Either way they were smegged.
Rimmer took a paper from his pocket full of neat copperplate scribbles and started explaining.
“Listen, Listy: I could go softlight and use a special function in my programming that simulates pregnancy and we could get a daughter that way. But I could not touch her in hardlight and neither could you, so that's a last resort.”
His mouth open in surprise Lister sank onto the edge of the table. Rimmer had worked all that out? Usually he struggled with even the most basic bit of technology.
“We could open communications to the Parallel universe” the Hologram continued, “and we could discuss the logistics: maybe the rapid growth doesn't affect children that are half hologram. Maybe Kryten could look into it, especially as we'd use the incubator. Maybe there would be settings that stopped it or …” Suddenly his eyes lit up: “Smeg, that's it!!” Lister fell of the edge of the table he'd been sitting on.
Rimmer looked insanely happy. “Oh … I won't say it yet Listy, I've got to look at other options but in a few months we could be parents!!”
Lister didn't know what to say, Rimmer's suggestions had sounded well thought out and logical – and yes, no matter how odd it would be their child. But did he want this? It was obviously something that meant a lot to Arnold. But wouldn't this be a painful reminder of the children he had lost? What if something went wrong, he couldn't lose another child and he was certain a loss would kill Rimmer. Did they really want a new life in a ship that old and decrepit? Talking about old: neither of them where getting any younger either. Then there were Kryten and the Cat to consider. What would they say?
“Listy? Is there something wrong?” He suddenly heard Rimmer's concerned voice.
“No, no … Just … Could you give me a moment babe? You've clearly thought about this for ages, but give me a sec to catch up.”
He felt like a heel when he saw that all the joy immediately faded from Rimmer's face.
“Oh … I see. I never considered. You don't want a child with me, do you? I understand … who'd want anything with my genes in it.”
Lister swallowed, he hated seeing Rimmer upset because of him, especially as he'd been so happy seconds ago. Maybe he should just go along with it until things got definite, at-least it would keep Rimmer happy. He'd worry later. Quickly he took Rimmer's arms and pulled him closer.
“Of course I do babe ...” Lister whispered – ignoring the part of his brain that wondered – do I? – “But don't you think we should discuss this a bit? Talk it through? We can't just have a baby on board without planning … I mean?”
Rimmer pulled away from Lister to look at him in confusion. “Why? We know what to do. It went well the last time.” A desperate pleading look met Lister's eyes. “Please Listy, I want a child I can hold. Something from us together, no matter how smegged up it might sound.”
Lister shushed Rimmer with a kiss, then said: “Alright, we'll discuss it with the guys and then we'll see.”
“A baby?! Have you gone out of your mind?!” The Cat screamed.
“Oh, a baby! How adorable, little nappies are so rewarding to wash!” Kryten cooed.
To Listers dismay it appeared that Kryten was as delighted at the thought of a baby as Rimmer was, so he wouldn't be the one to make Rimmer 'see sense'. He couldn't understand why he was more leaning towards the Cat's immediate aversion to the idea, but he was. Something inside of him didn't want Rimmer to succeed, even though he'd tried to hide these feelings from his partner.
It was soon obvious that Rimmer was determined to get his daughter and would try any way possible to reach his goals. Fixating on the idea, he seemed more knowledgable of “how to grow a space baby” than any astronavigation test in his entire history. He and Kryten researched every angle out there day in day out sometimes forgoing sleep.
Every day Rimmer presented Lister with a new option and soon it drove the Scouser crazy; his partner seemed obsessed. The fact that Rimmer didn't even shrink at the thought of possibly carrying the child himself slightly freaked Lister out. When he found out that his husband had been discussing rewriting parts of his programming so he could conceive, Lister begged Kryten to stop researching the option, much to the Androids and Hologram's disappointment.
The Cat was relieved, though; he'd suffered through Lister's pregnancy and once in a lifetime was enough for him.
The weeks went by and Rimmer grew quieter, though still spending his time researching.
Then one afternoon Lister entered the science room and heard:
“So there are no options left …?”
Hearing how his husband's voice shook when he asked the question made Lister feel awful about the relief he felt hearing those words.
All the ideas and options Rimmer had found over the last few weeks had fallen through on technicalities and it looked likely that the Hologram would not get his wish after all.
That night as Lister held his crying husband in his arms he wished he could share Rimmer's pain, but all he felt was relief. The only sorrow he felt was about Rimmer, he hated seeing him that upset.
Over the next few weeks Lister felt worried about Rimmer: losing hope in ever becoming a parent, the hologram sank into a deep depression. He spent most of his time locked in the Captain's room on his own, or drawing endlessly for hours on end. Lister, meanwhile, thought of ways to cheer him up, while hoping Rimmer would get over it somehow. That hope proved idle, when a week later ...
“Listy!!” Rimmer rushed into the bunkroom wide eyed and delighted.
“Arn?” Lister looked at him in confusion.
“I've got it!! The Terraform machine from the simulant ship. Kryten says he can reset it for us. We can add our DNA and grow our baby!”
Lister couldn't help it, he let out an annoyed groan: not again. He'd hoped that Rimmer would have let it go by now.
“What?” Rimmer asked softly.
Lister closed his eyes for a second. He had to be honest.
“Arn, babe. I love you but … I think we're too old to have children. Let's face it: I'm rather stuck in my ways now and … well, you have health problems.”
Rimmer softly took Lister's hand and smiled.
“Kryten said he'll step in when I'm too ill.” The Hologram said matter of factly. Lister squirmed a bit, Rimmer clearly had thought of everything. “Look Listy, if anything would happen to you - or me, which let's face it these days seems more likely … Well … I'd just love something from the both of us to live on.”
“Please don't say that.” Lister muttered. He hated it when Rimmer spoke like that.
Over the years Rimmer had suffered various health setbacks and had resigned to the fact he'd never be fully healthy again. Lister, though, could not accept this and whenever Rimmer brought it up refused to acknowledge it. Rimmer and he were forever and he didn't need some bloody baby to remind him of that. He didn't cwant to share him, he didn't want to lose him.
“You'd be lonely …” Rimmer said softly.
“Got the Cat …” Lister grumbled.
“One day that hair-dryer will electrocute the vain creature and you know it!” His husband urged.
Rimmer's face changed, clear disappointment in his eyes.
“So … it's true ...” He muttered darkly.
The Hologram shook his head. “How could I be so stupid. You were unhappy with this from the start, weren't you? You never helped out with the research, blocked me from most of my plans … but every time I asked …” he turned away from Lister and bowed his head.
“If you don't want a child with me you could have just said so.” Rimmer muttered defeated, his voice clouded with sadness. “Good to know I'm still less than Kochanski.” The Hologram stormed out of the room before Lister could stop him and even if he could have he wasn't sure what he'd have said.
For a while Lister sat there quietly, the bunkroom heavy with Rimmer's grief. He'd really been awful at handling this, Rimmer had every right to be upset with him. Why had he been so horrible about having a baby with Arnold? If Rimmer had been a woman would he have done things differently? He'd hate to think that he would have. It just felt so odd: a child with Rimmer. “And why the smeg not?” A tiny voice that had been wanting to get heard for weeks piped up. “Why would it be so different? A child is a child, parents are parents who cares about the gender?” Rimmer certainly wasn't less than Kochanski, who had been crap at the whole mothering thing. He remembered the softness in Rimmer's eyes when looking at the twins. His hand reaching out to touch, but going right through them. The joy in his eyes just now with a chance in reach. Rimmer had been so happy, so full of hope and he's been blocking him, hurting him. If anyone deserved a shot at being a parent it was Rimmer. Why should his fear rob him of his dream? Could he make it up? Could he share Rimmer's dream?
To take his mind of things he leafed absent-mindedly through Rimmer's sketchbook. Not completely focussing on anything in particular, until he reached the most recent ones. On one of the pages a little girl looked up at him. A little girl with an unruly mop of curly hair, her face a beautiful combination of them both. Looking into deep soulful loving eyes that reminded him of a mixture between his and Rimmer's Lister felt a pull inside of him and suddenly he knew.
Lister found Rimmer in the observation dome, staring into sadly space. Lister grabbed him and pulled him into a deep hug.
“Arn, babe. I'm so sorry. You were right: I was being an idiot. I saw your drawing, I get it now. Yes, the answer is yes, yes!!”
A tremour went through Rimmer. “Listy … are you saying …?”
“I am saying yes, you smegger!! No matter how weird or bizarre it's gonna get; Yes, I want a baby with you Arnold Judas Rimmer!”
Rimmer didn't reply, but Lister could tell from the soft sniffles and the wetness in his neck that the Hologram believed him.
They stood there quietly for a long time. Until Lister asked;
“What would you call her?”
Rimmer answered without hesitation.