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Chapter Text

“Been a while since you’ve snuck off up here.”

There was a slight turn to Rimmer’s head as he nodded a greeting toward his bunkmate but other than that the acknowledgement was lukewarm. Lister didn’t mind. Rimmer hid in the Observation Dome specifically to zone out and muse and for Lister to demand that he leave the comforts of his meditation would be unfair. It wasn’t particularly sporting of him to disrupt it in the first place but something about Rimmer’s mood recently had been niggling at him.

So when he first noticed Rimmer gone in the middle of the night after the events with the Mechanoids and Siliconia, the Observation Dome had been first on his hit list.

“Do you know why I come up here?” Rimmer said, so, so quietly Lister was scarce sure he heard it.

“To get away from my guitar playing?” Lister smirked and even Rimmer had to allow the breathy laugh in his chest to bubble out. It was a bonus, absolutely. Lister contemplated the reason more seriously for a moment. “It’s hidden. It’s secure. It’s peaceful.”

Rimmer shook his head, still staring out, hand almost touching the glass dome but just staying shy of it. If he touched it the whole universe might shatter.

“You like stars. You like the vastness of space.” He paused. “It’s humbling.”

“Close.” Rimmer turned then, eyes brimming. He’d never cry whether he refused to or was simply incapable, so Lister felt no need to rush forward with a proffered sleeve to wipe them on.

Though he’d like to, just once, capture a moment like that. True vulnerability from someone whose presence still hadn’t quite defined itself in his life. Antagonist, friend, brother, rival, something else.

“You’ll laugh if I tell you,” Rimmer said suddenly, blinking his eyes dry.

“Probably,” replied Lister, “But I’ll try and do it when you’re not watching.” And who was Rimmer kidding saying ‘if’. He knew by now it was always ‘when’. He always told Lister everything eventually. He was his Confessional. Rimmer cleansed his sins and guilt at Lister’s diabolical feet.

Rimmer seemed to decide then in light of Lister’s painful honesty. He would laugh, true, but maybe Rimmer would laugh too. They’d laugh together at his ridiculous notions.

“It reminds me… of a fish bowl.”

Chapter Text

The Cat could handle the patronising sneer from Rimmer.

The Cat could brush off the weary sigh from Kryten.

But Lister – the one gerbil-faced smeghead that he thought would always have his back, frowning at him with fraying patience – something about that sent his freckles or shackles or whatever they were called upright and rigid.

“You are SO not a moron. Look, just don’t say anything Cat, until we can sort everything out. You obviously don’t get how this works.”

“I’m not a moron,” the Cat muttered. Except Lister was giving him a kindly ‘but yes you are’ smile and an ‘it’s okay though’ pat on the shoulder. Insulting, much?

The Cat thought he’d been doing really well all these years. Considering he was frequently working in a second language (these monkeys relying far too much on words rather than gestures), reading in script instead of smells (any sensible person would write in smells), and constantly translating idioms and colloquialisms that hadn’t made it into all the human television he had grown up studying.

Okay so he didn’t understand quasars and time skips and white holes. Didn’t THEY understand it was a smegging miracle that he could pilot Starbug and work the computers, considering his upbringing? When they first met him, he didn’t know you could press buttons on the vending machines to get food out. All those years he and his few cat mentors had spent just breaking them open. He’d broken so many fingerclaws doing that, it was a damned shame.

“I’m not a moron,” he repeated louder and the others jumped. Maybe he’d been too loud. “I know how this works.”

“Cat, it’s fine,” Lister reassured him.

“No,” he pouted, a plan uncurling from its comfy sleeping ball in the back of his mind. “I know exactly what we’re going to do. Kryten is NOT going to make me a ten-course fish supper, I am NOT going to eat as much of it as I want, and you two,” he smirked as he eyed the uneasy humans, “are NOT going to go to your bunkroom and have hot sweaty dude sex.”

“Cat!” Kyrten exclaimed unhappily as he slid a fat darne of salmon onto the plate in front of him. “What have you done?”

“A favour,” he sniffed blissfully, seriously contemplating foregoing the knife and fork and just diving face-first into the meal. But he hated the clean-up afterwards.

It wasn’t long before two very sheepish humans slunk back into the Science Room, Rimmer clearing his throat theatrically as he helped Kryten take the cooking equipment from off the console so they could get back to work, and Lister shuffling over to the Cat. “How’d you know?” Lister asked softly, exchanging timid smiles with Rimmer.

“I told you,” Cat preened. “Unlike you guys, I’m not a moron.”

Chapter Text

Lister knew it was an invasion of privacy but Rimmer had one of the best imaginations he had ever experienced, especially when it came to the AR suite. Rimmer picked up coding relatively quickly (though Lister suspected if he ever took a test for it he would probably put a pair of underpants on his head, stick two pencils up his nose and say “Wibble!” throughout) and had created several custom-made programs for his own amusement. Lister had easily guessed exactly what kind of amusement and had ‘borrowed’ a few of the scenarios in the past for his own entertainment.

Was that a weird thing to do with another person’s fantasies – even when you were all alone in space with no other methods of comfort?

For Lister, morality and integrity had long been thrown out of the hopper’s window and he eagerly brought up Rimmer’s secret file and typed the recently changed password of ‘g4zp4ch050up’ which was actually quite inspired and showed how desperately Rimmer wanted to keep them all out of his private collection. It was the one phrase he hoped they’d never guess considering how much he hated it.

Lister pulled on the visor, gloves and groin adapter and brought up a simulation he’d not tried before; tree.exe. He was always a little wary of trying new things, especially as the AR programs had a habit of backfiring when controlled by bizarre minds like Rimmer’s. He was unlikely to be trapped though, without live interference. He clapped his hands and the simulation began.

The first thing he felt was an odd flutter of imbalance in his stomach. He lurched back and clung to a gnarled rough surface that he realised was tree bark. He scratched at it. The smell wasn’t exactly pleasant but not awful enough to move away and he looked up when a long tress of leaves brushed his face. A willow tree, not that he knew that. He recognised the difference between palm and fir and that was as far as his arboreal knowledge took him.

Looking down again, he could see the ground far below his dangling skinny milk-white legs where the only hint of colour was pink knees and a small bleeding gash along one shin. One leather sandal clung to his foot and the other lay alone and miserable on the sunlight-dappled grass. He felt around his head and found a long nose and car-door ears.

“There he is!”

A light voice that made David instinctively nervous for some unknown reason cut through his reveries and a young man of college-age years stepped under his branch. “I found him. What are you doing up there, buddy?”

“Thinking,” said a shy voice that echoed around David’s head. Ah, of course, it was him.

“Introspective little mite, aren’t we?” the older boy teased gently. “Come on, you’re missing it.” He turned around and patted his shoulders and David slipped easily onto them with a giggle.

A woman that David recognised instantly, even though she was many years younger and there was not a single letter of spaghetti to be found on her, approached them from behind a rowan tree. “Oh well done, John.” She picked up the other sandal and wrestled it onto David’s wiggling foot with a warming laugh. “Has my little soldier been in the wars?” she exclaimed when she saw the fresh wound on his leg. He nodded shyly and watched as she plucked an antibacterial wipe and a plaster seemingly out of thin air, cleaned him up and affixed the plaster in place with a tender kiss.

“Come on, buddy,” said John and hiked him up higher into his shoulders for comfort and Davy lowered his head out of the way of the low limp branches that tried to hold onto him just a little longer.

He hooked his hands under his big brother’s chin and each step he took clacked his teeth together but it didn’t seem to bother him. It was a matter of moments anyway before they were at their destination; a large picnic table under an old oak, covered in all the finger foods a child could want. Frank and Howard were already tucking in.

“Boys!” their mother scolded. “I said to wait for your brother.”

“He doesn’t mind!” Frank whined and offered Davy the biggest cupcake he’d ever seen with a small ‘H’ written in blue icing on the thick rich butter-cream. He licked the letter away. Somehow he found it offensive.

A large hand patted his back and he turned to see a short man with a bushy moustache holding a cake box. “Look what I got for my little man.” He placed the cake on the table and upon lifting the lid Davy saw a large red fondant spaceship.

He squirmed impatiently and his father held out his arms to take him down from his other son’s shoulders. Wrapping his legs and arms around his father and feeling arms wrap around him also, he watched excitedly as his mother poked a 6-shaped candle into the hull and lit it. There was suddenly a squawking rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ and he hid his face in embarrassment.

His father’s chuckle vibrated through his chest and he brought him back out so he could blow out the candle. A small whistling sound escaped him and the light was extinguished to a round of applause. His father pressed his nose against Davy’s forehead and Davy pouted at the way the moustache itched his own nose.

“What did you wish for?” asked Howard jumping in his seat; not much older than he was and easily excited.

“Don’t need a wish,” Davy replied and his mother cooed affectionately at the sweet answer. His father let him down to eat and John handed him a plate already overflowing with his favourite treats.

He looked past them towards a yew tree and watched the gardener turning over some top soil. He thrust his tool into the ground and leant on it, smiling at him as he tipped his hat in greeting.

Lister’s hands slapped together and he pulled off the visor and threw it to the ground as his tears streamed down his face all the way to his boots.

Chapter Text

“Can I ask you something, Kryts?”

The mechanoid lifted his head out of the blocked toilet with a cheery, “Of course, sir!” at Lister’s question.

“It might be my imagination but have you by any chance put on a bit of weight over the last, well, day?”

“That’s impossible, sir. I am a mechanoid. I am exactly the same weight I was the day I was created; laws of physics in space not withstanding. Obviously that will have had an effect.”

“That’s what I thought but…” he made a motion with his hands around his waist as if he were trying to spin a hula-hoop in place. “You look like you’ve got middle-age spread.”

Kryten wiped his hands clean and regarded his kind human with a wistful sigh. “Oh sir, there’s no fooling you. I manufactured an extra bit of girth to my torso unit in order to imitate the aging process, like Mr Rimmer has done with his program.” He gestured to the offended hologram in his bunk.

“I think you’ll find I am as svelte today as I was at thirty-one when we met,” Rimmer snapped.

“Shame the same thing can’t be said about all those wrinkles,” said Cat.

“I’ll grant you I have the odd line on my face but I think we’re all in agreement that they only serve to make me look more distinguished.”

“Aw!” Cat jumped up from the sofa. “You’re supposed to say you’ve got laughter lines so I can say nothing’s that funny. You ruined the set-up to my joke.”

“I wasn’t aware I was supposed to be setting up anything! Anyway I WAS going to point out that you’ve kept trim as well but I retract my compliment.”

Kryten watched on in quiet reflection as Lister laughed and broke up the tiff with the reassurance that both men looked great for their age and tried to sound as platonic about it as possible before either of them panicked.

***

Nwork hated salvage missions but as the youngest daughter of the Chief there were very few ways to make her father proud without being married off to another infamous GELF tribe, and becoming a salvager had been one of the better choices. The large red ship appeared to have been created by humans and though food and other consumables had probably been long exhausted there was usually something of use, even as scrap metal for weapons.

It wasn’t long before her troop came across an antique mechanoid, scrubbing away at the floor. He looked quite ashamed as he jumped to his feet. “I must apologise; the ship is a mess. We saw we had visitors but there wasn’t enough time…”

He was speaking in an archaic GELF tongue but she managed to decipher his words. “You are not alone here?” she steadily replied.

“Not at all!” He opened up his chest to reveal a cavity with three indentations; a light-bee in one and a metal canister in each of the others. “This is my crew.”

And she didn’t know what to say to that.

Chapter Text

“The truth is… I love you.”

Lister pressed rewind on the video Rimmer had left for him before running off to be Ace. He found it not long after the second death of the Red Dwarf crew (or first death of the second crew, was it?). He had played it all the way through only once.

The first time, after those words, he had slammed his hand down on the stop button of the console and not approached the video player again for days. Then he’d watched it completely; every small sad smile, every bashful glance away from the frame, every grimace of regret. Once.

After that, he played just that one line over and over. The crux of the confession, the bare beautiful honesty of Rimmer’s long-term awkwardness around him.

Now he was back and Lister wasn’t sure how to approach the subject.

Fortunately, the subject approached him.

“You found it…” Rimmer said from behind Lister’s chair. He swivelled round with a sheepish grin. Rimmer cringed. “I must have sounded like such a pathetic goit.”

“Actually I thought you were really cute.”

“Give over…” Rimmer bashfully glanced away exactly as he had done in the video. “Really?”

“Really.”

Rimmer cleared his throat. “How cute? If one were to measure.”

“About a kiss’s worth of cute.”

“Just one?”

“Yeah,” said Lister as he stood up and wrapped his arms around Rimmer’s waist. “But it’s gonna last so long even you’ll come up for air.”

Chapter Text

“I think you’re perfect. Even with your flaws, you’re nothing but perfect.”

“So you admit I’m flawed.”

Lister had expected the compliment to be doubted. It always was. Every now and then Rimmer went through a period of needing constant reassurance about their relationship. To an outsider, the neediness probably looked annoying and unhealthy but Lister was a patient man with a deep understanding of Rimmer’s emotionally neglected past. He had no problem indulging his insecure beau.

Lister patted the cushion beside him on the sofa and moved along.

“I’m not falling for that miladdo. You can’t distract me as usual.”

“Just sit down, y’smeg.”

Rimmer gingerly perched on the edge of the seat, keeping his distance. Lister shifted closer. Before he could start anything Rimmer grumbled, “Your tongue in my ear, whilst very pleasant, is not an answer to my queries, so don’t even try that again. Stay over there.”

“I was just going to snuggle you.”

“Oh it always starts that way…”

Lister could see Rimmer was after some more ego-pampering. “Want me to do ‘The List’?” Lister asked with a soft chuckle. Rimmer nodded and despite his earlier protests he allowed Lister to pull him down so he could lie upon his chest for a chaste cuddle. Lister let him settle down and relax, breathing slowly and gently as he gazed lovingly up at him. “First on the list,” said Lister, “I love your hair.”

“It’s frizzy.”

“It’s curly, and it clings onto my fingers when I stroke it. It’s gorgeous. So’re your eyes.”

“Mud-coloured.”

“Hazel,” Lister corrected.

“You can’t possibly like my nose.”

“I like the way it digs into my cheek when you’re snogging me really hard.”

“Oh god, does it?” Rimmer whined.

“Yeah, but it’s sexy.” Lister’s grin widened but Rimmer was unconvinced. Lister tapped at the thin pale lips below the aforementioned feature. “These are sexier. Or at least, the stuff I can do with them.”

Rimmer turned into the back of the sofa with a groan, but it was an unhappy one rather than amorous to Lister’s disappointment. Rimmer mumbled something into the fabric.

“Eh?”

“I said, I’m sorry I keep making you do this. Why do you put up with me? And don’t say it’s because I’m perfect; it’s nonsense.”

“You are though. Maybe not perfect as far as people go, but you’re perfect for me. And that’s all that matters.”

Rimmer came out from the cushions. “I don’t deserve you.”

“That’s true.”

“Git.” He tugged one of Lister’s dreads over his back and caressed it fondly. “I am sorry though. Needing you to validate us. Me. I’m probably always going to be like this, you know. I’ll always need you to tell me you love me.”

Lister just kept smiling the smile he reserved just for Rimmer as he leaned up to kiss him. “And I always will.”