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It had been a bit of a full-on week for David Lister.

In the space of seven days, he’d learnt that not only was he three million years into deep space and the last human being alive, but his bunkmate was dead (however, disappointingly, still talking), he’d inadvertently created a new species and become their god, and he’d rescued and rebuilt an advanced series of robot that hadn’t even existed when he was still back on Earth.

Suffice to say, it had been a lot to take in.

Lister glanced down at his aged body - the physique of a man twice his age with a beer gut to match - and let loose a sigh through a pouting lip. No wonder he’d let himself go a bit.

And then, of course, there’d been the boys.

He swallowed hard, allowing the tidal wave of grief to wash over him before it drew back once more. He wondered how they were getting on. If they were happy.

His bunk still only bore the single polaroid that he had of them. Whatever this strange future was that his young mind was currently living in, it didn’t feature them. Just memories. And a photo.

Despite his melancholy, the Science Room consoles surrounding him chirped happily, their fascias cheerily lit as they busily beeped and buzzed away. Indeed, the others seemed quite lost in their work as they each focused on the task in hand.

Not that he’d been involved, of course. Although his gradually returning memories now recalled their early days marooned in deep space, it was when Holly had still been around to look after the complexities of running the ship. Hence why he’d now been sat to one side like a child and told not to touch anything whilst the grown ups got on with the important things.

Lister clicked his tongue as he glanced around the room before sighing impatiently. Twisting the swivel chair back and forth in experimentation, a playful grin stretched across his face as he pushed hard against the console until his seat twirled on its axis, sending the illuminated lights into a dizzying spin before eventually slowing to a stop.

As his sight settled once more, he caught sight of three sets of eyes watching him curiously. Lister proffered a weak chuckle, embarrassment churning in his stomach as they blinked dismissively before returning to their screens.

He turned back to the console, cheeks burning as he anchored his chin in the cup of his hand with a sigh. He was twenty-five now for smeg’s sake! Okay, his mind was now twenty-five, the stiffness in his knees reminded him. A curious finger reached out to toy with the keyboard. He was hardly some clueless kid who didn’t know what he was doing…

“Uh-uh!” A nasal reprimanding voice sang playfully against his ear and Lister flinched his hand away with a frustrated roll of the eyes.

“What?” He tipped his head back to shoot a glare at the man now looming over him. “I was only lookin’!”

Even upside down, it was clear from Rimmer’s expression that he was wordlessly delighting in his frustration. “You look with your eyes, not with your fingers,” he chided knowingly, a thin smug smile stretching across his features.

“Stop treating me like a kid!”

“Stop behaving like one then.”

“Look, I just wanna be involved, okay?” Lister whined, spinning his chair back to face him. “Y’know, do all that sciencey, button-pressin’ stuff.”

Rimmer arched an eyebrow. “Sciencey, button-pressing stuff?”

“You know what I mean,” Lister sulked as he spun back to the monitor once more. “Besides, it can’t be that difficult if you guys can do it.”

Rimmer didn’t rise to the bait. “How flattering,” he smarmed.

“So why can’t you just teach me?”

“Look, your memories are returning gradually so let’s not overload that bumbling brain of yours, hmm?” Rimmer shrugged dismissively. “Tomorrow you may well have recalled a lot of that knowledge anyway, so what’s the use?”

Ignoring the reflection of the scowl that clouded the man’s face, Rimmer pressed on regardless. “But until then, it would perhaps be best if you left the buttons alone, eh Listy? After all, we don’t want a situation where we suddenly lose gravity.” The Scouser’s scowl deepened against the patronising pat on his shoulders. “Again,” Rimmer added with a cough.

The Cat, however, was less subtle. “Let me tell you, a cat landing on its ass rather than its feet was not a good look!” he complained loudly. “Plus my best lilac suit got severely creased!” He thrust out a perfectly manicured finger in accusation. “You’ll be gettin’ my dry-cleaning bill, buddy!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lister sighed sullenly.

“It was an easy mistake to make, sir,” Kryten soothed in a mother-hen-clucking tone that was just as infuriating as Rimmer’s mockery. “You weren’t to know that it was unsafe to disable it.”

“Absolutely,” Rimmer nodded, arms folded. “Especially if you have a blind spot for flashing red lights and a dubious grasp of the English language.”

Clinging onto the familiarity of the snipe like a lifeline, Lister instinctively leapt for the kill shot. “Was that the same excuse you used for failin’ the astronavigation exam again?”

He grinned. Although the man remained steadfastly silent, he could tell from the screen’s reflection how the man’s nostrils flared dangerously as he cheerfully plucked at his last nerve.

“Ooh,” Lister winced mockingly as he spun back to face him, much like the sound a football crowd makes when a goal is missed by mere inches. “Maybe the kid does know which buttons to press after all.”

Rimmer didn’t reply. However, his jaw ground silently as he bit back some choice words.

“Admit it, man,” Lister sniggered. “You may have got older and ‘more mature’ - ” he punctuated his words with air quotes, “but you’ve totally missed this - ”
his fingers danced back and forth between them, “ - right?”

The Cat leant into the mechanoid subtly as they worked. “Did it ever stop?” he muttered under his breath. Kryten simply shook his head despairingly.

“Come on,” Lister needled. “Admit that you’ve missed this.” When he still couldn’t eke out a reaction from the man, puckered lips began to sprout a sassy stream of teasing kisses.

But rather than the incensed reaction he’d been expecting, Lister clocked how hazel eyes snagged strangely on his mouth, suddenly visibly flustered. A tongue darted out unawares to wet his lips before waggling an authoritative finger at his nose.

“Just...sit,” Rimmer managed eventually, the firm voice he’d been aiming for clearly wavering at the edges.

As the hologram spun on his heels, Lister stuck out his tongue at the man’s back but nevertheless obeyed; subtly studying his face out of the corner of his eye as he returned to his task. At first, he’d found Rimmer’s aged features rather unnerving, although no more unnerving than his own when he’d first caught sight of his reflection. But now his young mind found the change in the older man somewhat alluring.

Unlike the Rimmer he knew - tightly wound-up, petty and shouting at every little misdemeanour - this Rimmer seemed teasingly different. Yes, he seemed to silently despair at his puppy-dog enthusiasm, but his begrudging was far more patient and often even unspoken.

Despite his vocal resentment, Lister rather liked how his once-technologically-challenged bunkmate now actually understood the garbled spiel of Drive Room feedback that reeled constantly on the monitors. He listened, fascinated, as the hologram muttered unfamiliar navigational terms as he scribbled in his notepad. Lister had no idea what they meant, but the image of him nodding his comprehension at Kryten’s verbal report and replying with his own baffling array of terminology made something strange stir in his gut.

Finally, Rimmer’s pen tapped his notebook with a flourish. “Right, chaps! Let’s head out, shall we?”

Lister sat up straighter in his chair. “What?” An excited grin inched its way experimentally across hamster cheeks. “Where are we goin’?”

We aren’t going anywhere,” Rimmer said firmly. “Kryten, Cat and I will be checking out a derelict that’s shown up on the scanner scope. You will stay here and keep yourself out of trouble.” He wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Perhaps take the opportunity for some guitar practice whilst there’s no sentient life within a 200-mile radius to deafen.”

“Oh come on, don’t be like that!” Lister whined. “I’ve only been outta the ship a couple of times.” He folded his arms, allowing the shadow of a smile to grace his face. “The only fun I’ve had out there was seein’ your pished dancin’ on that moon for y’death day.”

As the grinning Cat wiggled a finger in recollection, Rimmer’s feathers ruffled visibly. “That was a long time ago,” he replied, tone clipped. “Besides, this isn’t ‘fun’, this is an important reconnaissance mission - ”

The Cat nodded happily. “We’re gonna see if there’s any new hair products and film vids in their collection!”

Rimmer flashed a glare at the Cat. “We need 110% concentration at all times from an experienced crew. We don’t need a novice bounding around like some excitable puppy.”

Kryten leaned in surreptitiously. “If I may interject, sir,” he muttered, “allowing Mr Lister to join us may well help aid the mind patch’s progress.” Cubed fingers quickly circled one another. “Jog a few memories?”

With a final dubious glance to the Scouser bouncing excitedly in his seat, Rimmer’s eyes rolled their relent. “Fine,” he sighed. “You can come along.”

“Yeeeeeeees!” Lister leapt to his feet, punching the air. With an energy scarcely known to most 50-year olds, he bundled roughly past the trio before scampering out through the door. “Come on, guys!” he shouted over his shoulder. “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

“Okay, okay!” The Cat grimaced as he re-straightened his jacket. “Keep your disgustingly un-fashionable hat on!”

Kryten gestured meekly in the opposite direction. “And the quickest route to the Landing Bay would be this way, Mr Lister sir."

An accusing finger swept back and forth between the feline and the mechanoid. “Just remember that you two vetoed the ‘lock him in the garbage hold for the month’ option,” Rimmer grumbled.

Chapter Text

By the time Lister had reached Starbug, the others were already sat waiting for him in the cockpit with varying degrees of patience. The Scouser hovered, uncertain, in the doorway as the trio all begrudgingly busied themselves at their own workstations to prepare for takeoff.

Lister fiddled nervously at the worn sleeve of his jacket as the entire cockpit glowed in quiet anticipation, the rear consoles displaying scientific feedback data and star-charts that were far beyond him. Yet Rimmer seemed to be calmly focused on his navigational inputting, frowning in concentration as he typed.

He felt the same strange stirring in his gut once again. It was the unbragging nonchalance of it. The knowledgeable focus of a man who simply knew what he was doing was a powerful draw. Like an undercurrent that threatened to sweep him away, despite the calm, familiar surface.

When Lister made no movements to sit, the others turned back to look at him expectantly.

“Well, there’s only one seat left, Sherlock,” Rimmer prodded with unbridled sarcasm before swivelling back to his navigational screen to continue punching in the coordinates mapped out in his notebook. “The clues all point to it being yours.”

Lister’s open-mouthed awe quickly retreated into a scowl. Smeg it all. Just when he thought he had it figured out, the smegger would say something that tossed his calculations out of the airlock.

“The configuration threw me, that’s all,” he bit back, despite the fact that he now felt way out of his depth. Gnawing on his lip, he leant down towards Kryten to whisper conspiratorially. “I thought Starbug only had two seats?”

Kryten nodded. “The earlier models do, yes sir,” he explained patiently. “But this is Starbug 19 - one of the Class C models with the extended cockpit.”

With his impeccable hearing, the Cat waved an impatient hand. “Look, you don’t need to know the techno-mumbo-jumbo,” he huffed. “Just sit your ass down, Junior, and let the grown ups handle this.”

Gloved hands pumped open and closed in agitation. “I AM a smegging grown up!” Lister growled through his teeth, thumping himself down into the pilot’s chair.

“Look, all he’s saying is that we’ve got almost thirty years of space exploration experience on you, okay?” Rimmer soothed but through a distinct smirk. “Leave the details to us - we know what we’re doing.”

“Just so long as you’re looking at the correct panel, sir,” came the hushed yet distinct snipe.

“Shut up, Kryten.”

Lister’s mouth dropped open in surprise before snickering quietly to himself. He didn’t realise that mechanoids were even capable of Bitch Mode. He snuck a look over his shoulder to share a grin of gratitude which Kryten accepted with a small smiling nod. He could always trust Kryten to fight his corner.

Dark eyes flitted admiringly across the shining grey metal of the mech’s body as he focused on his work once more, a small boyish part of him bouncing with glee that he was actually about to explore deep space with a robot. He was rather glad that Kryten had shed the whole ‘butler’ outfit, even if he couldn’t wholly shake the vibe. The bow tie had never looked quite right on him anyway.

Jaw grinding tightly, Rimmer treated the mechanoid to a reprimanding wag of the finger. “You ought to remember your place, m’laddo.”

Pride puffed out Kryten’s chest in defiance. “Well, I’d like to think I’ve rather found my standing, sir,” he beamed happily, “since becoming Machine President.”

Derision snorted down cavernous nostrils. “President of the what now?”

Kryten blinked his confusion. “The machines, sir.” At the hologram’s blank look, he added, “Following my election a fortnight ago?”

“What election?” Rimmer dismissed, attention dropping back to his navigation screen. “What are you jabbering on about, you metal moron?”

Rubber features widened in affront. “It was all fair and above board, sir!” Kryten protested. “Have you forgotten?”

The Cat shuddered visibly. “I’m still tryin’ to.”

Lister regarded the hologram dubiously. “You don’t remember somethin’ that happened a couple of weeks ago?” He snorted in amusement. “What, were you drunk?”

“Of course I wasn’t drunk, you gimboid!”

“On power, maybe,” the feline sniffed.

Realisation lit Rimmer’s features and he snapped his fingers. “I lost a month’s memory after Kryten rebooted me from my backup disk when we rescued you from the M-Corp program.” He sighed piteously with a shake of the head. “Do you have any idea how disorientating that is?”

Lister swivelled the pilot seat round a full 180 degrees in order to ensure the hologram benefited from the full effect of his flat glare.

A nervous tongue darted out to wet Rimmer’s lips. “Okay, fair enough,” he relented, before deliberately clearing his throat in a swift subject change. “Are we heading out or what?”

Annoyance quickly forgotten, Lister drummed his hands excitedly on his thighs. “Yeah, man! Let’s do this!” he cried as he spun eagerly back to the console, wiggling his fingers with glee like a kid that had been handed the scoop to the Pick n’ Mix counter.

He turned the key in the ignition with ill-placed confidence, only to be greeted by the choking chuffs of a misfiring engine. Puzzled, he tried again, turning the key once more to the same spluttering struggles.

The Cat leant across knowingly. “You gotta give it that magic touch, bud,” he winked. “Watch and learn.” And with a flourish of the hand, he gave the flight dashboard a sharp thump which immediately brought it to life in a burst of flashing lights and chirpy beeps.

Hesitant fingers flicked at switches and tapped at buttons in what Lister hoped was the correct recollection of the flight ignition sequence; breathing a subtle sigh of relief as Starbug gradually made an unsteady rise into the air. However, his relief was short-lived when it was clear from the loud vibrations that the turbos were dropping too low, leaving the crew juddering wildly.

“U-u-up the r-e-evs!” the Cat cried shakily. “Be-e-fo-o-re it - !”

The engines suddenly bottomed out and Starbug dropped back down to the landing pad like a lead weight, sending the crew thumping down hard into their seats with a spine-jarring thud.

A spluttered wheeze coughed from the Cat’s direction. “ - stalls.”

The Scouser winced as a growl rumbled behind him. “Smooth as always,” Rimmer groaned, rubbing at his sore back. “If Listy’s going to insist on piloting, I hope someone knows a good chiropractor.”

Lister twisted subtly in his seat, trying to silence his own back’s grumbling. “It’s the gearbox, man! I’m tellin’ you!”

With a roll of the eyes, Rimmer gave a protracted sigh of impatience. “Perhaps it might be best if Cat - ”

“Look, I know what I’m doin’, yeah?” Lister insisted before resettling his own ruffled feathers. “I’m not a total newbie when it comes to flyin’, y’know.”

Rimmer’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “How many times have you actually flown Starbug?”

Sporting a guilty grimace that the hologram remained blissfully unaware of, Lister cocked his head in allowance as he gripped the steering column with nervous sweaty hands. “Couple of times,” he mumbled under his breath.

“A couple?!” Rimmer spluttered aghast.

“Stop stressin’, will you, man?” Lister soothed. “It’s just like ridin’ a bike.” The Scouser swallowed awkwardly. He hoped.

After another turbulent take-off, Lister upped the turbos to max to ensure that he didn’t stall the ship again, then with a steadying breath, he pulled back on the thruster with all the finesse of a ham-fisted hippo. Starbug immediately blasted forward into the exit tunnel with a sickening force, throwing the pilots back in their chairs with a wail and their cohorts barrelling backwards into the screens behind them.

“Eaaaase uuuup!” the Cat yowled over the strained squeal of the engines.

The steering column rattled violently in Lister’s grasp as he struggled to keep the ship steady. Each correcting movement seemed to send Starbug lurching from one side to the other like a bucking bronco; bouncing off each narrow wall with a shower of sparks.

As the Cargo Bay exit loomed large in the plexiglass screen, Lister’s eyes scrunched closed in a bracing wince. Starbug’s rear leg clipped the edge of the door panel as it screeched out, sending the ship into a wild balletic spin into deep space as if it were skating on ice. Eventually the gyro regained control and the ship slowed to a grateful stop, hovering silently.

Only when they’d stopped moving did Lister dare peel open his eyes. Releasing a shaky breath, he risked a look at his co-pilot. The Cat’s hair was looking rather more voluminous than before, a panicked grin now cemented to his face.

Lister glanced sheepishly over his shoulder. The wide-eyed mechanoid was clutching onto his console with a grip so tight, he threatened to permanently indent the metal. Rimmer looked equally frazzled, his usually-tamed curls now sprouting out wildly as he fought to slow his frantic ‘breathing’.

Eventually, hazel eyes flicked across to meet his, where they debated silently for a moment before Lister tilted his head in conclusion.

“Y’know, on second thoughts, maybe Cat should - ”

“Mm-hm,” Rimmer nodded stiffly. “Yup.”

Blinking his way back to reality, the Cat scowled. “Man, what is wrong with you?” he cried, running experimental fingers through his bouffant. “You’ll be gettin’ my hairdressing bill too, buddy!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lister mumbled mournfully as he released the steering column to allow his co-pilot to take control. He batted lightly at the now-defunct handset with a sulk, sending it drifting to one side. And with a roar of the reheat, Starbug blasted off into the eternal darkness under the feline’s knowledgeable guidance.

“Any trouble out there?” the Cat called over his shoulder.

Rimmer shook his head as he studied the navigational readouts. “Nothing yet.”

“I’m the last human being alive, y’doink,” Lister scoffed as he crossed his feet on the console which beeped its affront. He gestured out through the viewscreen to the infinite depths of space where nothing but stars blinked back at them. “It’s not like we’re gonna bump into anyone.”

The Cat shot him a disparaging look. “Are you stupid as well as ugly? There’s all kinds of beasties out there!”

Lister’s eyes widened with nervous excitement. “There are?”

“Course there are!” the Cat said, nonchalant. “But we’ve survived ‘cos we’re The Posse!” Canine teeth flashed as he grinned, momentarily releasing the steering column to shake his hands before him. “The Boys from the ‘Dwarf, ain’t that right?”

Blinking curiously, Lister turned back to see the others echoing the gesture, their despairing sighs warmed with a subtle smile.

“You gotta keep your wits about you.” The Cat tapped his temple with an elegant finger. “You gotta be smart.”

“Although, given the IQ of certain crewmembers,” Kryten noted innocently, “it’s not a prerequisite.”

With the polysyllabic nature of the mechanoid’s dig ensuring it sailed happily over the Cat’s head, the feline simply nodded his agreement. “I mean, who wants to end up dead, right?”

Rimmer’s glare radiated hot over the top of his screen. “I’m sat right here, thanks,” he groused pointedly.

The Cat peered over his shoulder, giving the hologram a dismissive once-over before turning to address Lister once more. “Case closed,” he surmised with a nod.

Lister shifted awkwardly in the foam of Starbug’s pilot seat, despite the obvious way that it was already moulded to him. He’d always thought of himself as a pretty laid back guy. Perhaps too much so?

He glanced across to the impeccably-tailored feline as he concentrated on his surprisingly-slick piloting. Maybe Cat was right. Maybe he needed to get wise and toughen up if he was going to survive in this hostile universe that he was yet to explore.

A flashing light from the comms panel snatched his attention and he sat up straighter in his chair. He’d been far too used to the empty monotony of deep space. The imminent prospect of coming face to face with unfamiliar creatures of the cosmos left his heart racing.

“Be ready, guys. Something’s hailin’ us!” Lister’s sharp announcement was met with unflustered, subtle rolls of the eyes that he missed as he punched up the video feed.

Lister watched as the screen above them crackled into life before settling into the image of a gargantuan monster; its matted grey fur and tusk-like teeth unsettling him to the core before flaring into a surge of adrenaline.

“Get a load of this guy’s mug!” he snorted nervously past an awkward pretence of brash heroism.

Kryten cut in quickly. “Sir, if I may - ?”

“Looks like Bigfoot’s ugly brother, am I right?”

Rimmer swallowed audibly. “Er, Lister - ”

“We’re the Posse, you get me?” the Scouser announced with a jut of the chin. He shook his hands before him in an echo of the Cat’s demonstration, nodding in challenge. “The Boys from the ‘Dwarf. And if you reckon you can mess with us, you’ve got another think comin’. Right guys?”

He turned to share his boyish grin with the Cat, which quickly retreated when he clocked the feline’s teeth hissing in a visible wince. Confused, Lister glanced over his shoulder to see Rimmer clutching his face with his hands, groaning into his palms. Kryten too seemed mortified as he reached across to the microphone with a grimace.

“Greetings, Ekwahektey,” the mechanoid mumbled, embarrassed. “How is your father recovering from that nasty rash?”

“Ah.” Cheeks flaming, Lister sank down into his chair. “Right.”

A dangerously irritable growl rumbled over the speakers as Ekwahektey leaned towards the camera. “Does human want fight?” he demanded in broken English.

“No, no! Course not, bud!” The edges of the Cat’s confident smile twitched nervously.

The GELF slowly turned his head, regarding them dubiously through one eye. “Then why does he make challenge?”

“It’s complicated,” Rimmer apologised, scratching self-consciously at the nape of his neck. “You see, he’s um - ” he tailed off thoughtfully. “Do you have a word for ‘idiot’ in your language?”

“Hey!” Lister snapped over his his shoulder. “I’m not deaf, y’know!”

“You’ll wind up dead if you don’t stop talking,” Rimmer hissed back.

“If you don’t mind me being so crass, sir,” Kryten swept in quickly, “he’s had a little too much of your - ” The mechanoid mimed a crass glug of a bottle before nodding sagely.

“Ah!” Sinking back into his chair, Ekwahektey laughed heartily in understanding. He gestured with a clawed hand. “Our wine very good, yes human?”

“Er - ” Lister tailed off, uncertain, before glancing over his shoulder to his cohorts for clarification. With three heads nodding quickly, he swivelled back to face the screen. “Yeah,” he chuckled weakly. “It’s unforgettable.”

With a friendly wave of dismissal, Ekwahektey’s words slipped back into the Sackenyaco tongue. “Katwa eta leesay,” he began. “Tu-marta lete fi soola a batwah helat.”

“Ah, thank you, sir,” Kryten nodded in gratitude. “That’s most helpful to know.”

“You understood what he was sayin’?” Lister whispered incredulously. “I thought he was trying to clear his throat.”

“Yes, it is in throat.” Latching onto the only English word he recognised, Ekwahektey nodded happily before gesturing in encouragement. “Maaaaargh!”

“Maaaaargh!” the trio chanted loudly in gurgling unison before nodding their farewells.

As the video crackled into darkness once more, Lister’s confused stare bounced between the crew. “Well, I hope someone’s got a smeggin’ clue what happened just now, cos I don’t.”

“The Sackenyaco Tribe were hailing us to warn that they’ve spotted Mercenoids in this sector, sir,” Kryten explained patiently, “and were advising caution.”

Lister plucked unthinking at the loose lining of his armrest. “I’m guessin’ they’re bad news, right?”

Rimmer snorted, as if this were the greatest understatement of all time. “If you’re intending on hacking into derelicts and stealing goods, then yes, absolutely.”

“They’re a bunch of hyper-upgraded droids whose CPUs have corrupted so severely that they’re nuttier than a Snickers bar,” Kryten elaborated with a shake of the head. “They’ve taken it upon themselves to keep order in the cosmos.”

Lister nodded his comprehension. It seemed that, even three million years into the future, some things never changed. “So, the Space Filth?”

“Indeed, sir.”

The navigation screen trilled for Rimmer’s attention and he tapped the screen in acknowledgement. “Approaching derelict.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” the Cat grinned happily as Starbug swept towards the stationary ship before aligning up the airlocks with pinpoint precision. “Bagsy first dibs on the beauty products.”

“Because I’m sure the foremost concern onboard a Space Corps battlecruiser was how glammed up you were looking,” Rimmer teased as he plucked himself cheerfully out of his seat and lead the others out into the midsection.

“Hey!” the Cat called after him as he followed. “Kicking ass and looking good aren’t mutually exclusive, y’know.” Lister listened, utterly bemused, as their voices continued to echo from the midsection. “I thought you’d have felt the same when you were off being - ow! Hey, what?”

Lister trailed after them slowly, standing in the cockpit doorway as he watched the trio tossing one another torches and backpacks in an obviously well-practised routine.

“So...what are we doin’?” he ventured.

“What do you think we’re doing, bud?” the Cat yowled cheerfully. Brandishing a couple of bazookoids, the crew beamed winningly at him. “We’re going shopping!”

Chapter Text

The airlock door creaked slowly open before clanging against the wall with a deep thung. Four sets of boots stepped onto the silent ship that probably hadn’t heard footfall in centuries.

Rimmer wafted absently at the flurry of dust that their arrival had cast up into the air. “Is the Psi-Scan picking up any trouble?”

“If I could beg your patience for just a moment, sirs,” Kryten trilled, granting the chirping piece of tech a reprimanding thwack. “It does take a little time for it to warm up nowadays.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the Cat dismissed with a regal flick of the hand. “If we waited for that thing to be ready, I’d risk missing my fourth nap time.” He strutted off, nonchalant. “Besides, I can’t smell anything beyond Gerbil Cheeks’ socks anyway.”

“Yeeeeeees!” Bouncing with glee, Lister swung the bazookoid over his shoulder before bounding excitedly after the Cat like a kid in a toy shop.

“Don’t just run off!” Rimmer called after him, appalled. “We need to check that everything is saf- ugh, why do I bother?”

As Rimmer made to follow, the mechanoid quickly stepped in to block his path. “If I could just have a moment, sir?” he asked, voice hushed yet firm.

Despite the initial flare of indignation, Rimmer nonetheless obliged with an irritable sigh. “What is it, Kryten?”

“I trust you’ve kept to our agreement that you wouldn’t speak to Mr Lister about your - ” Cubed fingers interlocked in embarassed indication. “ - ‘shared situation’?”

Rimmer blinked his affront before his face settled into a more familiar scowl. “Of course I haven’t told him! I’m not an idiot.”

The mechanoid stared at him mutely.

“Fine. Not that much of an idiot.”

Kryten nodded his satisfaction. “Well, I’m afraid the same must apply for your secondment, sir. Mr Lister cannot find out that you were once - ” he glanced around theatrically to check the coast was clear, earning a roll of the eyes in the process, “ - ‘you know who’.”

“What, Voldemort?” Rimmer replied flatly with a waggle of fingers.

“Please, sir! This is most serious!” Kryten reprimanded. “The human mind isn’t designed to know its own future. If we reveal too many details before the mind patch has had its chance to affix, we risk him suffering a catastrophic stress-related aneurysm. He could be reduced to some sort of dribbling vegetable.”

Rimmer arched a dubious eyebrow. “Reduced?”

“Which means,” Kryten pressed with a frown, “that you must ensure that Mr Lister does not witness your,” he drummed agitated fingers against his chest plate as he searched for the right phrase, “acquired abilities. Otherwise questions are certain to be asked.”

“Hang on. Wait a minute.” Rimmer shook his head in bemusement, eyes screwed closed. “Are you seriously suggesting that if we come up against some alien armour-plated killing machine, that I tackle it - ” They peeled open once more, exasperated, “ - subtly?”

“Or better still, not at all.”

Rimmer blinked twice. “In order to ensure that Lister remains blissfully unaware of who I once was whilst it eats him whole?”

“I was thinking more along the lines of enabling ‘Leg it Mode’, sir,” Kryten offered, grimacing at the hologram’s unwelcome image. “Making our excuses and leaving pronto.”

“What, with a sick note?” Rimmer sniped sarcastically. “Presumably something along the lines of ‘Sorry Mr Simulant, the last human is feeling a tad out of sorts today, and will therefore not be able to attend your torture session. With good recovery, he should be able to make a return on Monday’?”

Kryten huffed, feathers clearly ruffled. “A lot can be said for common decency.”

“For some strange reason,” Rimmer lamented, patting the mechanoid on the blockish angles of his shoulder before leading him into the room where the others had disappeared to, “there’s little civility to be found in the hostile wastelands of deep space.” Clocking what the pair were up to, he folded his arms with a frown. “Speaking of which - ”

Judging by the stretch of tables punctuated with trays of long-disintegrated food and the skeletal collective of dead crewmembers, this had most likely once been the ship’s canteen. Lister was giggling playfully, a navy blue Space Corps dress cap sunk so low over his face that it obscured his eyes. The skeleton beside him now sported a leather deerstalker that was perched on top of its skull.

With long legs elegantly crossed atop the table on the far side of the room, the Cat was using another skeleton’s bony grasp as a cup holder as he flicked idly through its long-abandoned magazine.

“Lister, what are you doing?” the hologram reprimanded.

At the term of address, Lister pushed back the brim of the cap with a cheeky grin. “That’s Captain Lister to you, bucko,” the Scouser corrected gleefully before performing a mocking interpretation of the Rimmer-salute complete with slap to the forehead.

Rimmer shuddered. If he ever came across a dimension where Lister was a Captain, it would prove beyond doubt that the Universe had a cruel sense of humour.

“Cat and I have a bet on to see how many film vids we can rustle up,” Lister explained merrily. “The winner gets to keep any naughty magazines that we find.”

Rimmer shook his head, unimpressed. “If you think I’m letting you go off alone with that feckless feline then you’re mistaken, m’laddo.” He gestured to him with a tug of the finger. “Come on. You’re with me. Kryten, we’ll meet back here in one hour.”

“Oh, what?” Lister groaned past a pout as he switched back the hats. “Why can’t I go with Cat? He says we always buddy up together.” Plus, he grumbled silently to himself, the Cat wasn’t going to subject him to a constant niggling barrage of ‘Don’t touch that’ or ‘Leave it alone, squire’ or ‘Are you even listening to me?’

With a double blink, Lister tuned back in to the affronted hologram’s reply. He’d long learnt how to phase out the sound of the man’s voice; after all, it had been vital for his own sanity. And judging by the way the man was clinging onto his little finger, he’d been making quite a lengthy list of points that he’d thankfully missed out on.

“ - plus, I’m far more qualified to - ” Rimmer tailed off with a scowl. “Are you even listening to me?”

Lister swung back the bazookoid with a sigh until it rested in his grip once more. “Yes,” he replied in a monotonous tone, rolling his eyes as he tailed after the retreating hologram now striding down the corridor.

“You’re not going to spend the next hour sulking about it, are you?”

“No.”

“Just follow me and stay close, understand?”

“Yes.”

Rimmer halted with a visible wince, as if an unwelcome thought had suddenly dawned on him. He swivelled back on his heels, nodding at Lister’s bazookoid in indication. “Is the safety engaged on that thing?”

Uncertain eyes danced hurriedly across the unfamiliar weapon before quickly returning to Rimmer’s expectant stare. “Er, yeah. Course it is.”

A tongue rolled thoughtfully around the hologram’s mouth. Conclusion reached, he nodded back in indication. “On second thought, I’ll follow you.”

Rimmer raised a challenging eyebrow at the dirty look that Lister treated him to as he slouched begrudgingly past. Regardless of whether or not the man took such mistrust in his abilities as a personal insult, his lightbee didn’t particularly fancy taking an unexpected round of bazookoid fire today, thank you very much.

 

Sadly, the search had proved less than profitable in the film department, with many of the titles already on Red Dwarf’s database. However, Lister had managed to salvage a copy of Baked Bean Bombshells: Vol XXX from one of the bunkrooms, much to his delight.

“You’re absolutely repugnant,” Rimmer sulked as they ambled absently through the Cargo Bay. “You know that, don’t you?”

“What?” Lister teased with a nudge of the elbow. “Jealous, are you?”

Flustered, Rimmer’s eyes darted back to meet his. “P-pardon?” he stammered. “No, no, of course not! I mean, whatever you get up to in your own time is none of my concern.” He laughed nervously. “Obviously.”

Lister shot him a curious glance before dismissing it with a shake of the head. “Whatever, man,” he smirked, trailing thoughtful fingers along the stacks of wooden crates as they browsed. “You and I both know you’re just gonna sneak a watch when me back’s turned.”

“Er, yeah,” Rimmer agreed weakly. “Right.”

Suddenly a loud clang reverberated around the Cargo Bay, echoing eerily through the maze of crates. Startled, Rimmer whipped back to face it.

“Why did the door close?” he mumbled guardedly.

“Would you relax, man?” Lister sniggered at the hologram’s agitation. “It’s probably just Cat and Kryten.”

A menacing voice - low, snarling and laced with electronic feedback - called out into the vast wooden maze. “Is this where you hide, humies?”

Eyes widening, Lister cocked his head in allowance. “Y’know, if er - ” Despite the facade of flippancy, nervousness distinctly began to swirl below the surface as he gripped the bazookoid tighter. “ - if Kryten’s vocal unit is on the blink.”

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

A nervous tongue darted out to wet Rimmer’s lips. “It’s a Mercenoid,” he whispered.

“Those space filth smeggers?” Lister hissed back. At Rimmer’s tight nod, he tried to keep his frustration as quiet as possible. “Why didn't the Psi-scan warn us they were on board?” He snorted nervously. “That useless piece of junk picks up less than you during your navigation revision.”

“We know you are here.”

Rimmer grimaced. “We,” he echoed under his breath thoughtfully. “More than one.”

“Looting derelicts is a crime punishable by death. You will not escape jurisdiction.”

With panic beginning to claw at his gut, Lister found himself instinctively turning to the hologram for their next move. It felt so surreal. The Rimmer he’d known wouldn't even still be standing there. He'd have enacted his best squealing Roadrunner impression and left him to face the music.

But this older version seemed to fall still and thoughtfully quiet instead, a silencing hand resting insistently on his jacket arm that made something flutter furiously in Lister’s chest. Hazel eyes narrowed as he listened intently to the distant pattern of footfall that echoed teasingly around the expanse of the Cargo Bay.

“Two,” Rimmer confirmed in a whisper, wary eyes darting left and right. “I think they’ve separated off to try and trap us.”

Lister’s breath quickened as the hologram’s brow frowned in concern before the hand on his leather sleeve suddenly tugged him back behind a row of crates with an urgency he’d never seen before.

“Load!” Rimmer barked with a nod to the bazookoid. “Quickly!”

Blinking out of his shock, Lister’s fingers hovered back and forth in a crazed panic over the baffling row of flashing bazookoid buttons before taking a stab at the red one. In a hissing puff of smoke like a magician’s trick, the barrel and cartridge both sprung loose from the handle before clattering uselessly to the deck.

Rimmer stared down at the broken components, aghast. “What are you doing?!” he spluttered. “That’s the dismantler, you stupid - !”

His insult tailed off as a tell-tale movement teased the edge of his peripheral vision. Attention snatched, his scowl suddenly retreated in wide-eyed realisation. “Look out!”

Lister had no chance to react. By the time he’d clocked the mercenoid across the Cargo Bay, the droid had already levelled his gun towards him.

Chapter Text

Rapt with horror as he stared down the gun barrel, Lister’s gasp of realisation whispered hauntingly in his ears, as if this breath would be the final sound to imprint itself on his memory.

He didn't have a chance to react. But thankfully, Rimmer did.

In the split second before the death knell of gunfire sounded, the air was suddenly ripped out of Lister’s lungs as the hologram rugby-tackled him to one side. And in the same moment that the pair crashed to the deck in an inelegant tangle of limbs, the crate they’d just been stood behind was colandered with bullets.

Lister’s spine sang with a chorus of pain but he couldn’t quite register it. Instead, his perceptions slowed unnaturally as his body went into shock, his hands starting to quiver uncontrollably. Fear and disbelief contorted his usually-chirpy features as he stared up at the man that he'd been convinced had harboured little more than a begrudging tolerance of his existence that was now pressed protectively on top of him.

However, Rimmer seemed to be paying little attention to his stunned reaction, barking out some muffled instructions that his hearing could no longer make out. Nimbly springing back into a crouch, he quickly hoisted Lister to his feet by the scruff of his jacket and bundled him forwards into a stooped run. They each instinctively thrust their hands over their heads as the crates continued to pulse with bullets in their wake before tailing off in the other direction in what was now obviously a blind sweep of the area.

Under the deafening cover of gunfire, the pair wound themselves deeper and deeper into the dizzying maze. Satisfied that they were out of harm’s way for the time being, Rimmer dropped to his haunches with his back pressed against the crates. Dumbstruck, Lister quickly followed suit, trying to keep his noisy panting to a minimum.

Only once the gunfire had stopped did Rimmer let loose some sniping of his own. “What the hell were you doing?!” he seethed as quietly as his indignation would allow. “Haven’t you used a bazookoid before?!”

Lister shot him a frown that escaped beyond his open-mouthed affront. “How would I know how to use the smeggin’ mining equipment?!” he fired back in a whisper.

Despite his silently restrained anger, Rimmer’s hands worked through an impressive range of furious, flailing gestures before he trusted himself to speak once more. “Then why didn’t you let me hold the bazookoid instead, you moron?!”

“I dunno!” Lister protested, suddenly feeling utterly ridiculous. “I thought it made me look - ” Under the weight of Rimmer’s expectant stare, he merely managed a sheepish shrug. “ - sexy?” he ventured.

Rimmer dragged clammy hands down his face with a despairing groan before shooting him a glare that, should the mercenoids not kill him, would most definitely do the job instead. “Trust me,” he ground out. “Right now it’s having quite the opposite effect.”

“Surrender yourselves, humies!” called a distant, distorted voice from somewhere behind them. “There is no escape!”

At the mercenoid’s threat, Lister finally felt the welcome rush of adrenaline and with it, his usual plucky spark. “Why don’t we look for a crate that’s storin’ some weapons and pump those guys full of laser?”

“It’s a nice thought,” Rimmer acknowledged with a tilt of the head. “But unless the crew had a penchant for eating a bowl of grenades for breakfast, then it’s highly unlikely that we’ll find something of any use.”

At Lister’s confused glance, Rimmer rolled his eyes. “This is the food storage area, you modo. Can’t you see?” He gestured to the stamped labels on the face of each crate. “...Oats...Raisins...” He brightened for a moment. “Ooh, Wheaty Flakes! I like those.”

Despite their lethal situation, Lister still managed a scoff. “Trust you to have a dull choice in cereal.”

Rimmer rounded on him, feathers ruffled. “I’ll have you know that it’s a hell of a lot more nutritious than that god-awful chocolatey kiddy crap that you gorge on, m’laddo,” he reprimanded with a finger wag.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” The dangerously playful tone was edging closer now.

“Besides,” Rimmer continued, dropping his voice low. “You think you can beat every beastie out there just by being stronger?” He shook his head knowingly, his eyes lit with a wisdom that had clearly seen far more than he was willing to reveal. “That’s the way you end up dead.”

He glanced around, listening in to the distant pattern of footfall that was nevertheless closing in on either side of them. “You’ve got to be smarter. Quicker.” A weasel-smile crept across his face. “Sneakier. And sometimes, just sometimes, when there’s nothing else for it - ” He drew in a deep ‘breath’ before releasing it steadily. “ - you use the ace up your sleeve.”

“And what’s that, then?” Lister teased with a snigger. “Always knowin’ where your exits are?”

Jaw grinding, Rimmer dodged the question and hissed some urgent instructions instead. “Look, just stay low and don’t give away your position, okay?” He flicked a dismissive eyebrow. “I’ll shut the smeggers down.”

All humour dropped from Lister’s cheeks as he registered the sincerity in the man’s words. “Woah, hang on!” he blurted as Rimmer began to sneak off into the shadows. “You can’t be smeggin’ serious?!” At the lack of reply, determination set on Lister’s features as he quickly followed him. “If you’re gonna take ‘em on, I’m comin’ with you.”

Alarmed, Rimmer wheeled round to face him. “No, no! You’re going to wait here,” he asserted, knocking him back with a single look. “I can handle this by myself, okay?”

“You wha’?!” Lister spluttered. “No way am I leavin’ you to face ‘em alone, man! Have you gone completely wacko jacko?!” The hologram’s personality files had to be suffering from some sort of major glitch for Rimmer to even consider a stand-off against such murderous, deranged droids. “Have you seen those guys?! You can’t take ‘em out by yourself without any guns!”

Despite the man’s utter bemusement, Rimmer’s unfazed stare returned his. “Yes. I can,” he replied simply. “Now, stay here and wait until I give you the all clear,” he ordered, turning back to creep along the endless maze of crates once more.

As he clocked the Scouser’s hushed footfall continuing to follow him, Rimmer’s brow creased with a scowl as he lost what little patience he still maintained before whipping back angrily to face him. “Are you even listening to me?” he snapped. “I told you to stay here!”

“And I told you that it ain’t happenin’!” Lister replied defiantly. “I’m not lettin’ you do this alone!”

“I’m not arguing with you over this!”

“Well that’s settled then. I’m goin’.”

“Ugh! Why are you being so smegging stubborn?!”

“That’s rich, comin’ from you, y’know!”

It took monumental effort for Rimmer to bite back some choice words. “I have not got time for childish bickering!” he spat. “You are not coming with me, and that is final!

Lister ground out a long, frustrated growl as Rimmer promptly turned his back on him to leave yet again. “For smeg’s sake, I’m NOT a kid!” he hissed after him, fuming. “You’re gonna get yourself killed, y’stupid smegger!” When he still couldn’t eke out a reaction from the man, he stormed after him, launching forward to snatch at Rimmer’s sleeve. “Why won’t you let me help - ?!”

Riled, the hologram rounded on him furiously, gripping Lister by the leather lapels of his jacket as if to shake some sense into him. “Because I can’t risk losing you, you idiot!”

“You - !” Lister fired back automatically before the full effect of Rimmer’s words sucked the wind from his sails and slackened his grasp on the man’s arm. Despite the familiarity of the insult, he blinked unsteadily at the unnerving sincerity that lay between the lines as well as the sudden realisation at quite how closely entangled they were. “ - what?”

With his scowl retreating in realisation at what he’d let slip, Rimmer swallowed hurriedly. A gamut of panicked emotions each flashed briefly across his face as guilty hands sprung away as if burnt. “N-nothing,” he mumbled, visibly flustered. “I just - ”

As Lister’s startled eyes searched his, Rimmer’s mouth hung open as if to continue before sinking closed, glancing away with a sad sigh. Lister’s lost gaze danced across the man’s face, desperately trying to find an answer to a question that he wasn’t even sure was there.

Steeling himself with a low, steady exhale, Rimmer grasped the man gently but firmly by the shoulders. “Listen to me. Just for once in your smegging life, I need you to do as I say, okay?” His voice was so quiet, Lister could barely hear it, but his sincerity spoke volumes. At the man’s stunned silence, the hologram gave him a reassuring squeeze. “Everything is going to be tickety-boo. Trust me.”

Lister’s head spun madly, as if it had lost all sense of compass direction. He had no idea why, but a small, insistent instinct knew that Rimmer was telling the truth. Unable to find the right words, he found himself simply nodding in reply.

The hologram shook his head with a weary groan that could only have been borne from fastidious hen-pecking. “And don’t tell Kryten, okay?” he begged. “I’ll never hear the smegging last of it.”

As Rimmer proffered a small, reassuring pat against his arm before slipping away once more, Lister shook himself free from the spell that seemed to hold him still and silent. “Don’t tell Kryten what?” he managed, his voice now far too small and rattled to be heard. “Rimmer?” he called quietly into the shadows. “Rimmer!”

When nothing but a hushed echo of his own voice replied, Lister sank back to his haunches, dark eyes bouncing curiously back and forth across the deck. He found himself wishing, not for the first time, that he knew what the smeg was going on.

Scraping back his fingers across the metal grating, he curled them back into determined fists as he glanced up once more into the darkness where Rimmer had disappeared. Maybe it was time to find out.

 

Using skills he hadn’t used professionally for a couple of years now, Rimmer managed to track down the first mercenoid pretty easily. He allowed a triumphant grin to stretch across his face as he spotted its enormous bulk traipsing slowly through the maze of crates, brandishing its gun up and down the shadows. Perfect.

A sneak attack would definitely be best, he thought to himself as he followed it quietly. Picking one off then the other as not to rouse suspicion.

Edging along the crates, he crept as silently as he could - in uniform boots that were frankly too stiff and unyielding for the task - to gradually close the gap between them. Hazel eyes flitted expertly across its gorilla-like armour plating, quickly locating the CPU housing. A quick blow to the back of the head to stun its visuals, followed by a hard wrench at the cables that snaked up to the back of its helmet would probably be enough to subdue it.

He was only five, perhaps six metres away when a distorted-electronic voice barked from behind him. “You! Stay where you are!”

Rimmer’s stomach plummeted as he whipped back to see the second mercenoid further down the row of crates, its gun already levelled towards him.

Well. That hadn’t quite gone to plan.

Panicked, Rimmer waved his hands frantically. “No, no wait!” he stammered. “I-I invoke Act 22185 of the Space Federation Agreement!”

The neon red glare of the mercenoid’s eyes blinked in confusion. “With the obvious exception of pantomime horses, the accused should not wear fancy dress costumes to court hearings?”

Rimmer’s eyes winced closed, shaking his head hurriedly as he cursed under his breath. “Smegging - SIX then! 22186!”

“OH!” the mercenoid nodded in understanding. “The accused should always retain the right to a fair trial?”

“Yes. Obviously.

The mercenoid behind him shrugged as it too levelled its weapon towards him. “Alright then,” it sniffed before giving a deliberate clear of the throat in preparation. “The accused was spotted looting a Space Corps derelict at approximately 3:17 this afternoon.”

“I picked up an old copy of Morris Dancer Monthly!” Rimmer protested. “How is that ‘looting’?”

“A criminal act according to section 73, point two of the Space Federation Agreement,” the mercenoid continued calmly. “The punishment for which is death, I’m afraid. Case closed.”

Brandishing his hands in affront, Rimmer stared back and forth at the mercenoids open-mouthed. “How was that a fair hearing?!” he spluttered.

The mercenoid to his right straightened authoritatively, as if reciting a well-rehearsed script. “All complaints should be filed to the Judicial Regulation Board, post-sentencing.”

Rimmer blinked twice. “What, after I’m dead?”

“We don’t make the rules, hologram,” the mercenoid to his left replied with remorse as honest as a used car salesman. “We merely enforce them.” It gestured with its gun. “Hands in the air, if you’d be so kind. Sentencing to be carried out immediately, which is - ”

“Execution, yes yes,” Rimmer cut in with a weary sigh as he surrendered. “I already guessed that.”

The mercenoid glared at him dangerously, clearly not particularly happy to be interrupted. “You do not seem concerned that you face imminent death?”

Snorting dismissively through flared nostrils, Rimmer shrugged, nonplussed. “Once you've already done it a couple of times, it begins to lose its edge, I must say.”

Plucking a rogue piece of fluff from the shoulder of his tunic, he flicked it away with a tut. “Besides,” he shrugged, “why should I be concerned when I’m capable of shutting you both down in the space of, say - ” Rimmer clicked his tongue thoughtfully as his feigned concentration bounced between them, like a dodgy plumber about to give an estimate. “ - 45 seconds?”

Despite their lofty scoffs, the mercenoids nonetheless found themselves tightening their grip on their weapons. “And how do you propose on doing that, hologram?”

Unfazed by their threats, hazel eyes danced with mischief. After all, the game was far from over yet. “Well, step a little closer, gentlemen, and I’ll let you into the secret.”

Despite their numerous armoured upgrades, mercenoids were not the most intelligent of droids. However, even they suspected that something was somewhat amiss.

At their understandable hesitance, Rimmer released a protracted sigh of irritation. “Look, don’t dawdle,” he chided. “I haven’t got the time or the patience these days.”

Hands still held aloft in surrender, he gestured them closer with an enticing tug of the fingers. When the mercenoids’ look of confusion flitted between one another and their weapons, Rimmer rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, bring your guns - ” he prompted wearily, much in the way a despairing teacher would speak to a clueless class of five-year-olds. “ - obviously you’re allowed those.”

As Rimmer began to calmly to whistle the score from Peter and the Wolf, the two mercenoids willingly closed in - like a pair of fishermen that had become snagged on their own lines, only to have their prized catch lure them to their fate instead.

With a swift, assessing glance left then right to ascertain the proximity of their new positions, Rimmer kept the façade of his expression as collected as possible. “That’s better,” he acknowledged. “Right! Now when you’re surrounded by opponents who clearly have the armed upper hand,” he explained patiently, “you try and entice them as close as possible to you.”

Assessment complete, Rimmer kept his hands in their subtle surrender as he turned to face the mercenoid on his right square on. An air of satisfaction tugged at the corner of his mouth as the gun brushed feather-light against the chest of his tunic, right in line with his lightbee.

“That way, it’s much easier,” his soothing, sing-song tone drew back just enough to pointedly add: “to kick their arse.”

As the bot blinked its confusion, Rimmer leapt on the window of opportunity. In one seamless movement, he made a swift sideways lunge out of harm’s way whilst the surrendering hands shot out to fasten their grip onto the mercenoid’s gun arm and tug it forwards into a hard, sharp twist.

The moment the mercenoid lost its footing, Rimmer hooked his boot around the outstretched arm and pulled it back, quickly wrenching the gun from its hand whilst sending the droid spinning round just in time to shield himself from an onslaught of gunfire from its cohort.

Thrusting the gun onto the crook of the sparking mercenoid’s shoulder to steady his aim, Rimmer returned fire from behind his makeshift barricade, peppering the partner with a swift flurry of bullets. He grinned smugly as the distant droid collapsed lifeless to the deck.

However, his victory was somewhat short-lived as his peripheral vision clocked the red eyes of his mercenoid-shield flame into life once more. With their faces mere millimetres apart, Rimmer’s smile sagged in realisation.

“Ah.”

His gun hand wasn’t fast enough. A forcible head-butt sent him staggering back dizzily. And as Rimmer turned his back to blindly cradle his throbbing nose, he suddenly grunted in pain as the mercenoid forced him into a rear arm-lock.

“Re-re-resistence is useless!” its now-faulty vocal unit growled in his ear, fighting to wrestle back its weapon.

“Oh, smeg off!” Rimmer bit back.

With an instinct that still coursed through his programme, his left hand shot back to brace his weakened captive arm. Then using their new combined strength as leverage, he thrust back his boot into a sharp mule kick that quickly released him before spinning back into a follow-up roundhouse kick that sent his captor sprawling onto the deck.

By the time the defenceless droid had glanced up, the gun was already aligned with its head. “Nice try, squire,” Rimmer smarmed. Then he pulled the trigger.

No sooner had the gun sank back down in relief, the Cat’s yowling voice sang cheerfully across the chilly, recycled air of the Cargo Bay. “Hey, hey!” he cried. “What did I tell you guys? Anti-wrinkle cream and leg wax strips - !”

As the Cat and Kryten rounded the corner, the feline’s victorious announcement tailed off as he clocked the metallic devastation that littered the ground. However, having immediately established what had obviously just happened, rubber hands thrust on the mechanoid’s hips, frowning at Rimmer in wordless reprimand.

Without tearing away his startled gaze, Rimmer dropped the weapon with a cough before using his boot to slide the guilty gun towards the smoking remains of the mercenoid, as if this would magically make the scenario look less incriminating.

Don’t panic, he assured himself. At least Lister didn’t see any of it.

“How...the smeggin’ hell...did you do that?!”

Ohhh dear.

Rimmer glanced sheepishly over his shoulder to see that, yes indeed, the Scouser was climbing out from behind a crate, gaping openly in disbelief. Turning back, he flashed the mechanoid an apologetic wince as Lister bounded around him like an excitable puppy until he stood before him in faithful expectation.

“I mean, you - !” Lister’s flailing hands struggled to express what his words couldn’t. “ - and then you - !” Finally, his spluttering tongue settled on: “How?!”

With an awkward dart of the tongue to wet his lips, hazel eyes pinched self-consciously. “Ah, yes,” Rimmer said curtly. “See, the thing is - ” He tailed off uncertain, chewing over his words, “I - ”

A marked clearing of the throat quickly drew his attention. Over Lister’s shoulder, Kryten glared at him meaningfully, a subtle shake of the head not far behind it.

Rimmer’s eyes flitted back to Lister’s confused stare. “ - I watch a lot of documentaries on Napoleonic combat strategies?” he ventured with a pained chuckle. “Total military geek. Can’t get enough.”

There was an awkward silence.

Followed by another awkward silence.

With a knotted brow and mouth hung absently open, Lister treated him to a dubious once over but nodded nonetheless. “Riiight,” he drawled.

His curious look lingered for a moment as the Cat hooked him by the arm and lead him away before succumbing to the feline’s enthusiastic chatter about his lucky finds.

The hologram relaxed visibly as Kryten drew in closer, expelling a weary sigh of relief. “How much longer until he gets his full memory back?”

“Hard to say, sir,” Kryten lamented, voice barely a whisper. “It could come in fits and starts or it could be one large rush.” He shook his head sagely. “It all depends on how his brain responds to the mind patch.”

With a petulant fold of the arms, Rimmer’s gaze studied the distant pair as they disappeared around the corner. “Well the sooner the smegging better, if you ask me,” he sulked.

Chapter Text

Shrugging off his jacket with a weary sigh, Lister slung it up to the foot of his bunk to start winding down for the night. Two days had passed since their run-in with the mercenoids, and he still hadn’t slept properly.

Although he’d shrugged it off to the others as a lack of experience with such dramatics, his mind couldn’t stop buzzing about what he’d seen. It outright refused to switch off from the conundrum whose answer was teasingly out of reach and yet staring him in the face. But if there was one thing he knew for certain, it was that Rimmer was lying through his teeth.

Lister tugged on his painted pyjamas before buttoning up the shirt. In fact, his whole existence felt frustratingly bitty right now, like he was trying to complete a puzzle with half the pieces missing. Well. Less ‘missing’, more ‘in the hands of people who were unwilling to share them’. Speaking of which…

The door to the shower room swung open to reveal a tall figure emerging through the cloud of steam, a thin JMC-issue towel slung round his waist. As Rimmer clocked the Scouser’s presence, he halted suddenly.

“Oh!” the hologram blinked, startled. “Sorry, I-I didn’t think you’d be - ”

“Sorry, man.” Lister’s eyes skipped back and forth between averting his gaze and staring the man steadfastly in the eyes. Ignoring the strange flutter in his gut, he jabbed a loose thumb over his shoulder towards the door. “Uh. Did you want me to - ?”

“No, no, it’s fine. I’ll just - ” Rimmer nodded to the folded pyjamas on his bunk with an awkward smile.

“Yeah, sure.” Lister nodded loosely, feeling his cheeks flush for some strange reason. “I’ll be - ” He gestured up at his own bunk, a feigned grin loosely tacked into place.

“Yep, yep. Okay.”

“Mm-hmm.”

They each turned away to focus on their own sleep preparations, not registering the shared pained grimace they both now sported.

With a subtle sigh, Lister carefully clambered into the top bunk. Gone were the days that his young body could nimbly spring up into it with the energy of a boisterous child. The first time his 50-year old physique had attempted the same manoeuvre, he’d promptly landed smack back down on his arse. He hadn’t heard Rimmer laugh that hard in years.

Lister began to adjust his pillows thoughtfully. Of all his numerous observations over the last ten days, there were two things that he’d found particularly odd.

The first was how prudish the older man had become in his later years. Whilst in their youth they’d barely batted an eyelid over the subtle catches of nudity that was inevitable in a shared Bunkroom, this Rimmer now seemed to find the whole affair of public undressing somewhat of an embarrassment.

The second was how he’d recently caught himself sneaking a peek during aforementioned public undressing sessions.

Mind you, it didn’t necessarily mean anything, he’d told himself with a dismissive scoff. It was only natural to be curious of how Rimmer’s body had changed over the years given his unusual modesty.

Not that the man had anything to be ashamed of, Lister noted. Although he retained much of the slenderness of his youth, the hologram’s physique seemed to have tweaked from a lanky gangliness to a subtle tone of muscle.

Lister prodded at his own soft paunch with a sigh. Maybe he should have paid attention to the man’s niggling penchant for daily exercise. That, combined with those dubious-sounding ‘Napoleonic military combat routines’ had obviously paid off in the physique department. The man was looking, well, good.

Almost as if he felt the heat of Lister’s gaze bearing down on him, Rimmer glanced up over his bare shoulder to meet it. Hazel eyes flitted back and forth as they searched his, trying to find something that Lister couldn’t quite determine. With a self-conscious clearing of the throat, the Scouser smiled and offered him a polite nod.

This was obviously not what the man had been looking for. His expression seemed to sink in subtle disappointment before plastering on a polite smile of his own. He turned away to tug on the blue silk of his pyjama shirt.

Lister sank back down onto his pillow, trying to ignore the flutter that fought for his attention once more. He kept his gaze firmly on the ceiling as he heard the hologram settle into the bunk below. The air between them felt charged with something that he couldn’t pin down, no matter how much he tried to make sense of it all.

 

The slow, rhythmic ‘breathing’ from the bunk below must have lulled him to sleep because a part of him knew that he was dreaming. He was back on that derelict, his heart hammering hard as Rimmer pressed himself protectively on top of him. The deafening backdrop of gunfire faded out in deference to the man’s whispered words.

“I can’t risk losing you, you idiot.”

Lister’s mind felt like it was spiralling out of control. The combination of Rimmer’s weight on his own, the intensity of that stare, and the hidden pledge entwined in his words all felt too much, sending something bubbling up furiously in his body and straining for release.

He ran his hands across the hologram’s hips; but rather than the soft sheen of uniform, his fingers came alive at the rough bobbles of a wet towel. Lister threw his head back with a moan as the half-naked man began to grind into him, nipping meaningfully at his neck...

Lister jerked awake in the thick of the night to the hot, insistent tug of an erection. Without thinking, he slipped a hand into his pyjama trousers and instinctively began to pump, quickly bringing himself to an intense and satisfying release.

It was only as he shuddered back down into the sheets, blinking back to himself with a slowing pant, that he realised what he’d just done.

“Oh no,” Lister groaned.

Nice goin’, y’smegger, he berated himself. Because things weren’t awkward enough between the two of you already.

 

It had taken him a long time to fall back to sleep, but when Lister eventually awoke several hours later, the lights in the Sleeping Quarters were already switched on.

“Finally!” A nasal voice wafted across from the tiny kitchenette. Rimmer glanced back over his shoulder at him, an undeniable smile teasing at the edges of his mouth. “It stirs from its pit.”

Lister mopped blearily at his face, wondering what the smeg the time was if the hologram was already up and dressed. “I didn’t sleep that well,” he croaked.

“Well, you seemed to be making a good job of it just now,” Rimmer replied with an amused arch of the eyebrow. “I’m surprised that horrendous snoring of yours didn’t wake you up.”

“Oh, ha ha,” Lister replied on auto-pilot before his cheeks flushed at the memory of what exactly had woken him during the night. “Just feel a bit odd, that’s all.”

He kept his expression as unflustered as possible as he swung his legs round and dropped to the floor, hoping that the man wouldn’t be able to read anything from it. Indeed, Rimmer didn’t reply. Instead, his glance seemed to linger curiously for a moment before turning back to his task.

Blinking his confusion, Lister slipped onto his stool at the table. Beyond his own awkward secret, there was definitely something unsaid that hung in the air between them. This couldn’t all be in his imagination, surely?

No. There was definitely something that he was missing here. A big white elephant in the room that he couldn’t see, and yet Rimmer was desperately trying to avoid all eye contact with.

Lister automatically drew his hands off the table and into his lap as Rimmer set down a box of Choco Comets and a cup of tea in front of him; a beverage that, he’d pleasantly realised over this past week or so, would be made precisely to his liking with no prompting beforehand.

“Cheers man,” he muttered, lost in thought. His distraction was met with neither a snide remark or a pointed insult. Instead, Rimmer settled contentedly into the stool beside him before plucking up his book, Astronavigation for Idiots.

Whatever it was, he couldn’t put his finger on it.

Lister slid his hand directly into the box to grab hold of a fistful of dry cereal and began to munch thoughtfully. Huh. It was funny how this older Rimmer no longer seemed to mind being subjected to his informal eating habits at the shared table.

If he’d have so much as suggested to his Rimmer that he forgo the crockery, he’d have been lectured at length about the importance of ‘maintaining respectable standards as the last remaining representative of the human race’. Or treated to a snapped insult that insisted he refrain from eating ‘like some uncivilised ape’.

Lister glanced at the hologram in expectation. This older version made no moves to fetch, nor insist he utilise a bowl. Not even a despairing roll of the eyes.

Now that was odd.

With his focus set on Rimmer’s every move, the Scouser inched an experimental hand into the cereal packet, gathered a small handful like popcorn, then slowly drew it out again to feast upon.

Nothing. Nada. Smeg all. Not even a curl of the lip stained the man’s face.

Lister’s brow knotted in puzzlement. What the smeg had changed between them that had resulted in such a charged yet comfortable atmosphere nowadays? It was like a contented domesticity that had clearly been long-practised.

Come to think of it, this whole routine was rather bizarre. They even still bunked together after all these years; actively choosing to sleep in the same room when thousands of others on the ship remained unoccupied.

Why had Rimmer’s complaints over his habits simply silenced rather than prompting him to move out and away from them? And more confusingly, why had he chosen to stick with the smegger, despite the continuing obsession with revision study and little teasing insults?

Lister raised the mug to his lips with an amused grin. Sharing a bedroom? Fixing each other breakfast? A fond and familiar bickering back and forth? It was almost as if they were -

The answer hit him mid-slurp; eyes widening before his mug sank back down to the table in realisation.

No way. No. Smegging. Way.

They… Were they - ?

“You’re very quiet this morning,” Rimmer observed with a curious glance. A snort of amusement soon dismissed it. “Not that I’m complaining.”

By the time Lister had gathered the awareness to return Rimmer’s gaze, the man’s attention had already returned to his revision book. He fought back the excited, trembling breaths that threatened to gather at an urgent pace in his chest.

Now Rimmer’s sideways glances of assessment began to make sense. What if the hologram had spent these last ten days or so waiting for the right moment, when his updated memories would return? When he’d finally remember that they were, in fact -

“I can’t risk losing you, you idiot!”

- together.

Dark eyes drank in the man that politely sampled from his own steaming mug. Time had clearly unearthed something new between the pair of them, and there was only one way to see how deep the rabbit hole went.

Taking a gamble, Lister slipped a wordless hand under the table and stroked it up the length of Rimmer’s thigh. He watched, fascinated, as hazel eyes sank closed with a sigh of pleasure before darting back to him once more.

“You’re back?” Rimmer’s words were hushed and guardedly cryptic.

Lister stared back at him, utterly entranced. Back to what exactly, he was desperate to find out. “Yeah,” he lied, voice trembling. And at the spark of excitement that flared hot in the man’s eyes, he unlocked Pandora’s Box with just four whispered syllables. “Did you miss me?”

For some reason, Rimmer couldn’t reply; leaving Lister to wonder why a man who always had the answer to everything could suddenly fail to find the words.

But as the hologram inched his way forwards to press dutiful lips against his, Lister suddenly realised - as his mind whited out in a heady combination of shock and desire - that there probably were none.

Chapter Text

Plucking away, Rimmer drew back just enough to warily assess the man’s reaction. Lister’s eyes danced back and forth between the man’s expectant gaze and parted lips before slowly closing the gap between them once more in wordless reassurance.

With the charged combination of long-denied sensuality for one man and eager curiosity of the unknown for the other, the kiss quickly grew more heated. Desperate hands traced over one another, racing across the smooth sheen of uniform and the catches of pyjama buttons before sliding up underneath clothing to the warm thrill of bare skin.

The pair slid off the stools and not long afterwards, out of their clothes completely after they’d tumbled into Rimmer’s bunk; Lister proffering himself willingly with encouraging moans.

And oh, how the man had learned to pleasure him in all those years he was yet to live. There were slips of the finger and nips on parts of his skin that even he didn’t know could spark such electric pulses through his body, leaving him wondering how far this fantasy would go.

But as Rimmer began to climb purposefully on top of him, Lister realised with a sudden clawing of nerves quite how far.

The hologram’s heated pant began to slow in consideration as he clocked the tense expression below him. Rimmer’s brow pinched in concern. “You okay?”

“I-I’m fine,” Lister replied shakily.

He wanted this, smeg, he wanted this; especially as his bodily instinct seemed to be racing knowingly and excitedly ahead of him. However, his mind had been left spluttering behind, desperate to keep up yet nonetheless pensive of what lay in store on the path ahead.

Lister noticed the doubt start to cloud the man’s face and immediately began to panic. No, no, no - this couldn’t stop now! After all, he’d already strayed this far; now he wanted to see how far from home this path could take him.

“Look,” Rimmer began gently. “We could always - ohh, holy smeg....” His words rapidly tailed off into a blissful shudder as a warm hand grabbed him by the cock, slowly caressing it before embarking on a gentle but persistent pump.

Lister’s own cock stirred in delicious intrigue as he watched the reaction unfold above him. Well that wasn’t an expression he’d ever seen on Rimmer’s face before. No wonder he’d begun to bed the man if he made gorgeous faces like that.

“Are you absolutely sure?” Rimmer managed between rapidly gathering gasps.

And with the last of his nerves sparking away into a frenzy of arousal and excitement, Lister jutted his chin in invitation. “Are we gonna shag or what, y’smegger?”

Rimmer started slightly at that, and for a worrying moment, Lister was convinced that his bolshy move had blown it. But when the man surged forward to claim him with a passionate kiss, the low growl of undiluted lust rumbling into a tingle between their locked lips, he knew that he’d managed to throw him off the scent.

Lister whimpered into the kiss as he felt Rimmer push slowly and steadily inside of him. His whole body tensed for a moment and he quickly hooked his arms and legs around the man to cling onto him, the whole sensation feeling decidedly surreal.

But once the slow, languid shifts back and forth built into a faster thrusting rhythm, the knot of tension in his stomach began to unravel. Each of his senses seemed to slowly alight, building with an intense passion that soon had Lister howling with a pleasure he’d never known.

“Oh my god - !” Lister’s words came in breathless cries as he clung on tighter. His mind felt dizzyingly blissful at the sensation of Rimmer’s skin under his touch and the man’s weight pressed on top of him.

His body simply knew that this was right; the two of them connected together like this, melting into one another and groaning in intense satisfaction. To be claimed, taken, and protected and...and...

“Oh, smeg!” Lister gasped desperately, feeling his orgasm building rapidly with hot quivers. “Rimmer - !”

“Oh god, Dave - ” the hologram grunted in his ear which suddenly blurted into a pleasured gasp as Lister felt the man pulse hard inside of him. The very act quickly tipped him over the edge and he cried out as his own orgasm hit him, spurting between them with uncontrollable shudders.

Lister slumped back utterly spent, sighing happily as he felt Rimmer dot loving, lazy kisses all over his face. A kiss lingered lovingly on his lips for a moment as Rimmer withdrew, then plucked away to allow two more pecks to follow before they snuggled down, exhausted, into the welcoming crook of one another’s embrace.

“Missed you,” Rimmer mumbled through a kiss on his curls.

“I’m not surprised!” Lister quipped, breathless. “Smeggin’ hell, that was incredible.” A smile that Lister had never seen before - one that seemed to be borne from pure contentment and happiness - flushed Rimmer’s face. He giggled as that long nose nuzzled against his before treating it to a chaste peck.

“God, I thought you’d never get your memory back, you clueless smegger,” Rimmer teased through a chuckle. “Do you know how frustrating that all was?” He sighed bodily, snuggling back into the pillow to stare up at the underside of the bunk. “Not able to tell you about us? About being Ace? Trying to shut those bloody mercenoids down without you noticing?” he added with an amused grin.

Feeling skilled fingers trace affectionately up and down the ticklish hairs on his arm, Lister gave a warm snort. “Well you had a few nifty moves on that derelict, man,” he snickered lazily, “but I’d hardly describe them as ‘ace’.”

The fingers halted suddenly at that. “What?”

“I mean, yeah, you’ve had all those years to learn some new moves, but come on, guy.” He patted Rimmer’s bare chest jokingly. “It’s not as if you’re ever gonna be a smeggin’ space hero, right?”

Rimmer drew back from their embrace, carefully shuffling back to the far end of the bunk to regard him warily; a gaze that Lister forced himself to return, despite the uncomfortable churning in his gut that instinctively warned him something was very wrong.

Even given the now-distance between them, it was clear that something had shifted in the man’s eyes that he couldn’t quite interpret. It certainly wasn’t anger at his jibe; indeed, the man seemed to be more fearful than affronted by what he’d said. Perhaps he’d read the relationship wrong. Perhaps they didn’t go in for sniping between the sheets.

“Did - ” Lister shifted awkwardly. “ - did I say somethin’ wrong?”

And with those words, the dreaded realisation flooded Rimmer’s face. “Oh smegging hell!” he breathed, wide-eyed.

Despite the calm façade, Lister’s hands gripped the sheet so tight, his knuckles turned white. Smeg, he knows, he thought with a terrible sense of dread. He knows.

Tearing away his gaze in a frenzy of panic, Rimmer snatched up a pillow to cover his bare crotch as he hurriedly fumbled out of the bunk, tripping over his own gangly legs in his haste. “How could I have been so bloody stupid?!”

Lister fumbled to sit upright. “No, wait! Rimmer man, hear me out!” he begged, suddenly feeling horrendously out of his depth. “I-I can explain everythin’, I swear — ”

“You said you were back!” Rimmer spluttered, aghast. Hazel eyes danced across the deck, plucking up his scattered clothes with his free hand. “God, you were lying, weren’t you?” he lamented before anger clouded his features in a storm that Lister knew full-well was coming. “How the hell could you lie about something like that?”

Because his curiosity had overridden all sense, as usual? Lister shrugged pathetically. “I dunno,” he mumbled. “I just wanted to see what - ” He bit his lip, trying to find the right word. “ - happened?”

Something about that particular expression stirred old memories in Rimmer’s mind that had long settled in the sands of time. “How old are you now, exactly?” The question blurted out before he realised that he didn’t wholly want to know the answer.

At Lister’s guilty grimace, he shook his head furiously. “God no, don’t tell me,” he quickly added. Dropping the pillow, he bent down low to fumble his boxers back on as not to display himself any longer than necessary.

“Why are you doin’ that?” Lister protested. He sank back to lean on the crook of his arms with a roll of the eyes, making no attempt to cover himself. “If you didn’t want me to see y’cock, it’s a bit late now, eh?”

Shuddering at the now-evident brashness of youth, Rimmer clasped his t-shirt to his face despairingly. “For the love of everything that is holy, please tell me you remember something semi-recent,” he mumbled into its depths before risking a glance once more. At Lister’s blank look, he threw out a desperate flurry of creatures. “The Joy Squid? Simulants? Psirens?”

Lister clicked his fingers in recollection. “Yep, know them.”

“You remember the Psirens?” Rimmer nodded in encouragement.

“Yeah, course,” Lister scoffed with a frown. “They got to Number 12 with ‘Shake It on the Dancefloor’.”

Rimmer paled visibly. The man was clearly on the wrong side of 30. “Lister, what’s a polymorph?” he mumbled stiffly.

“Well, y’know, it’s - ” Under the weight of Rimmer’s expectant stare, Lister fumbled for an answer before sighing his relent. “Fine, so I’m 25 right now, okay?”

“Twenty-smegging-five!” Rimmer lamented in a wail. “God, that makes me some kind of cradle-snatcher - ”

“And havin’ just slept with a dead bloke, I suppose I’m ‘robbin’ the grave’?”

Rimmer scowled his affront as he thrust his hands through each of the t-shirt’s sleeves. “Stop being such a kid!”

“I’m not a kid!” Lister growled.

Quickly gathering up the loose material in his hands, Rimmer snorted dismissively. “Well, you are to me,” he sniped before taking cover as he ducked under the material then emerging once more through the neck hole. As he tugged the t-shirt down his stomach, he finally caught sight of Lister’s incensed glare.

“I’m hardly a smeggin’ minor, y’know!” the Scouser snapped before flashing him a cocky eyebrow. “I’m capable of making my own choices, thanks.”

“It doesn’t stop it from being the wrong choice!” Rimmer insisted. His cheeks burned with shame as he hurriedly pulled on his trousers. “I’m more than twice your smegging age!”

“Only up ‘ere,” Lister countered, tapping his temple with a turmeric-stained finger. Dark eyes dropped in self-assessment, regarding himself critically. “Judgin’ by the beer gut, it’s the same body you’ve been tappin’ for smeg knows how long. So what’s the problem?”

Appalled, Rimmer gently shook his head. “You really don’t understand, do you?” he pressed. He tugged on his tunic a little too stiffly, buckling it closed with deliberate emphasis. “You’re not ‘you’ yet. Don’t you see? You’ve not become the ‘you’ that I fell for.”

Wounded, Lister recoiled hurt before his face hardened with scorn. “Huh,” he scoffed flatly. “Didn’t seem to be a problem when you were happily getting me off just now,” he bit back. “So what kinda pervert does that make you, eh?”

Rimmer reeled, blinking unsteadily. His mouth hung open for a moment before closing again in a low growl as he spun on his heels and headed for the door.

“Oh, so that’s not changed then!” Lister called after him shakily, not quite wanting to admit to himself quite how rattled his last shot had left him. “You still run away when an argument gets too tough for ya!”

The hologram halted, hands pumping open and closed in frustration before wheeling back to face him. “No,” he snapped. “The difference is that I’ve learnt to walk away before I say something I regret.” Rimmer frowned against hot angry tears that threatened to gather as he snatched up his forgotten boots. “Something that you’re evidently yet to learn.”

Lister’s defensive scowl retreated, groaning his realisation into his hands. “Rimmer, man, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that,” he began before his face dropped as he realised that he was apologising to a rapidly retreating figure. “No, wait! Listen to me! Rimmer!”

When he realised that his protests were clearly fruitless, Lister sighed raggedly. Thumping back down into the bunk, he tugged a pillow over his face with a groan.

“Smeg!” he cursed into its dark depths.

Chapter Text

Red Dwarf’s library was silent; much as it had been three million years ago, really. Some things never changed.

Hunched in the orange glow of one of the many study booths, Rimmer was clutching his well-worn copy of Astronavigation for Idiots. He stared down absently at the page, knowing full-well that he wasn’t taking any of this in right now.

Planetary approach trajectory calculations should allow for gravitational phenomenon when plotting aforementioned orbital rendezvous.

is what the book explained.

Congratulations! You managed to obliterate 10 days of carefully-crafted secrecy with a single 5-minute bunk session. Bravo.

is what he read.

Rimmer flopped backwards in his swivel chair until the forgotten book fell onto his chest with pages spread akimbo, and released a long, loud growl into his palms.

What the hell had he been thinking?

Well, that was precisely the smegging point. He hadn’t been thinking. He’d been so desperate for ‘his’ Lister to return, that all sense had buggered off and left him. His heated, lovesick mind had rashly added up the clues to be 1+1=56 before jumping straight into bed with the man.

“So what kind of pervert does that make you, eh?”

Rimmer knew full-well that Lister hadn’t meant what he’d said. He recognised that look in his eyes all-too-well from the man’s youth - a bruised pride that could only be avenged through brash, thoughtless words. A crime they’d both been guilty of all those years ago.

But in a way, Lister had been right. A small, instinctive part of him had known that something wasn’t as it should be, but he’d ignored his suspicions and carried on anyway, turning a blind eye. And it was that recklessness that Rimmer had found the most perverse. For smeg’s sake, he was supposed to be the more mature of the pair; not the one responsible for inadvertently enticing the younger man into his bunk in a moment of weakness.

Despite hiding himself away for the last couple of days in a self-induced, guilt-ridden penance, he’d been carefully watching Lister’s movements through the security camera footage. He'd been terrified that the Scouser’s glimpse into his own future would cause the mind patch to overload as Kryten had warned.

But no, despite a strange melancholy about the man, there didn’t seem to be any permanent damage done. And the mechanoid’s curious mother-hen-clucking hadn’t managed to eke out what had happened between the pair of them.

Rimmer gnawed his concern into his thumbnail. He was bloody lucky the revelation hadn't short-circuited Lister’s brain with the shock of it all.

Not that he seemed too disgusted by the prospect of jumping into bed with you, a lustful voice purred in his mind. Maybe he wanted this just as much as you did?

Rimmer dismissed the prospect with a snort. After all, what 25-year-old knew what was best for them? Lister was practically a kid.

A kid that YOU led astray.

With an irritable shake of the head to try and dismiss his mind’s warring commentary, Rimmer plucked up his book and stared down at the page once more.

Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid….

is what stared back up at him.

Rimmer snapped the book shut, petulant. Bloody know-it-all book.

A high-pitched beep trilled from the monitor at his study booth, snatching Rimmer’s attention. A pop-up window from the ship’s network messaging system now waited in silent expectation on the screen; the hamster-grin of the profile photo sat next to just two words:

Miss you.

The hologram sighed heavily, hands dragging down his face until they clasped the bridge of his nose. After a brief pause, they dropped down to his lap as he wheeled the chair forward with a push of his feet and began to type on auto-pilot.

I miss you tI

Rimmer stopped, heart torn as he blinked at the cursor that pulsed patiently. His fingers hovered uncertain over the keyboard, eyes flitting back and forth at the screen as they weighed up what to do.

Finally, with a shake of the head, his finger jabbed repeatedly at the DELETE button before wheeling his chair away to leave.

He’d done enough damage already. To encourage this would be downright irresponsible.

 

 

Exercise was always best at times like this. Rimmer could release his pent-up frustrations without having to think. And thinking wasn’t proving particularly helpful right now.

He’d been in the gym for almost two hours, trying to focus instead on perfecting his hand-to-hand combat techniques. Rimmer unleashed yet another steady, measured barrage into the punchbag - his typical nitpicking attention to detail ensuring his form and balance were properly aligned - before drawing back for a moment to steady his ‘breath’ and composure.

Rimmer rolled his head languidly back and forth as he panted, trying to release the stiffness from his shoulders. He knew full-well that he needed to relax into the movements and stop tensing up, but something was throwing him off his focus.

A part of him, deep down, already knew what it was. It was a honed skill that fades back but never truly disappears.

“Feels a bit weird, y’know.”

Rimmer whipped back to the sound of the voice that a tiny scrap of instinct had already been expecting. The Scouser was stood sheepishly in the doorway, twiddling at the worn sleeve of his jacket. He’d clearly been stood there a while simply watching him, trying to build up the courage to speak.

Gloved hands sank back down to Rimmer’s sides as he dropped one defence and hurriedly erected another, hazel eyes flitting over the man in wary assessment. Seeing him was a strangely painful joy; an ache that warmed yet clung heavy to his chest.

Not quite meeting his gaze, Lister attempted a smile that soon slid back down his cheeks once more. For a man who'd grown accustomed to being stranded in deep space for three million years, he looked so…lost.

Rimmer offered a polite nod, a tight smile tinged with sadness staining it. “I’m sure it does,” he replied. Feeling a hot prickle of self-consciousness tease up his neck, he turned back once more, steadying the gently swaying punchbag between his gloves in the pained silence that followed.

“I meant how my mind keeps insistin’ that you’re gone for good - ” Lister added, voice unusually quiet. “ - and yet you’re stood right there. Right in front of me.”

It took Rimmer a moment to realise what the man meant. Then all at once, a rush of realisation - relief tinged with mourning - flooded through him. More memories had clearly returned. But not all of them back then had been good.

Swallowing back the guilty lump that now sat at the back of his throat, Rimmer glanced back over his shoulder to the dark, watery eyes that met his. For him, that particular crossroad had long been passed and forgotten. A heroic secondment that they’d both tended not to speak about for fear of dredging up painful memories. Funny how raw it could all suddenly feel again from just a single broken glance.

A question wrestled at Lister’s features, trying to decide whether to voice it or not. “How long?” he managed, voice unsteady.

Rimmer, too, felt torn - his loyalties ripped in half. Eventually he sighed his relent. “Eight years.”

“Smegging hell,” Lister gasped quietly with a disbelieving shake of the head. “No wonder it hurts so much.”

A sympathetic grimace tugged imperceptibly at Rimmer’s expression as he glanced away. The sports clock mounted on the wall seemed to click out the countless seconds that marked the painful length of his absence. Every single one of them had felt impossible at the time.

Lister forced out a light snort of amusement as he closed the gap between them, gesturing awkwardly to the punchbag. “Enough time to perfect those ‘Napoleonic military combat moves’, I’m guessin’?” he quipped.

Tilting his head in allowance, Rimmer chuckled at that. “Something along those lines, yeah.”

In the quiet that followed, Lister nodded slowly. “I’ve really - ” But with each nod, the feigned smile gradually melted into sorrow before he broke down into quiet sobs muffled into his gloves.

Tugging his hands free from his own, Rimmer gave a roll of the eyes that was nevertheless warmed with fondness. “For smeg’s sake, why the water works?” he teased, tossing the gloves on the mat before slowly drawing the shorter man into a reassuring hug. “I’m right here, you silly sod.”

Holding Lister close, he rubbed a patient thumb up and down the back of the man’s neck as he sobbed with grief, easing a pain that he’d not been able to at the time.

 

Eventually the tears drew back to shudders before gradually sinking into a thoughtful silence. Lister knew instinctively that the man’s reassurances were perfectly platonic. Yet despite a distant ache of disappointment, he felt strangely relieved and contented to leave things there for now. After all, he knew that his bruised heart had just begun its journey in falling head over heels for the man.

But even so, such hugs of reassurance were quite the departure from the travelling companion he’d once known. Or perhaps this remained a rare display of unspoken affection - a brief moment where events had simply fallen into alignment before being cast into chaos once more.

Just as he began to wonder if the man had gone soft in his old age, did Rimmer snort his derision. “You're like those silly saps that cry at the sad scenes in romantic films, even when they know it's going to have a happy ending.”

And there it was. The comforting complexity of the man’s thorny words which entangled a rose that bloomed so very rarely.

Nuzzled into the hologram’s chest, Lister could hear the strange yet reassuring buzz of his lightbee. “Just cos you know it ends well, doesn't make the sad bits hurt any less, y’know,” he mumbled into Rimmer’s clammy t-shirt.

Rimmer didn’t reply. Instead, he rested his chin on Lister’s curls with a sigh, holding him protectively in a wordless vigil.

Chapter Text

Despite of - or perhaps thanks to - the events of that day, the following week had seen a strange new dynamic blossom between the pair.

For Lister, his excitement had built with each returning memory, knowing that every recollection and developing wisdom brought him another step closer to the man that waited for him on the other side.

Rimmer had watched the whole affair unfold with the warm fondness that comes with looking through an old photo album; as if he were now able to realise, from this new distance, why he’d fallen for the smegger in the first place.

And of course, just as Lister had eagerly chatted to the hologram about every newfound detail of his journey, conversely Rimmer had remained steadfastly silent about his feelings on it all. After all, he didn't want Lister to think he was some romantic sap.

Finally, about a month after the life-changing events of the tyrannical M-Corp, Rimmer was sat at the table in the Sleeping Quarters one evening with nothing but a glass of red wine and a round of Solitaire for company. Funny how Patience had become a game he’d grown rather adept at.

Suddenly, Lister came bounding in, his cheeks flushed in a whirlwind of excitement that could only mean one thing.

“I let her go,” he gasped as he set his can of Leopard Lager on the table, his face beaming with pride.

Rimmer glanced up, mid-card-turn. He didn't need to say her name to know who he was talking about. Through the mists of his memories, Lister had clearly just been back to Earth...and back again.

“Did you now?” he replied, trying to keep his submerged smile from bubbling to the surface.

Biting his lip in a rodent-like grin, Lister nodded eagerly as he slid onto the stool opposite. He searched the hologram’s face for any flicker of suggestion. “I must be gettin’ close, right?”

Attention returning nonchalantly down to his cards, Rimmer swept a sequence line across to the newly revealed Jack of Hearts. He rolled his tongue thoughtfully around his mouth. “How old are you now?”

“45.”

Hazel eyes flitted up to meet his. “Hmm,” Rimmer hummed past a tantalising smirk that refused to be tamed. “Maybe.”

Lister’s face lit up like Blackpool Illuminations. “Ye-es!” he cheered before sighing happily. “About smeggin’ time.”

Cavernous nostrils snorted. “You can say that again.”

In the comfortable quiet that settled between them, dark eyes snagged on the cards, narrowing in assessment before raising once more. “You want some company?”

Rimmer looked up in surprise before the barest grace of a smile teased at the edge of his mouth. He didn't deign to reply, instead sweeping up the cards to gather them into his hands.

“The usual?”

Lister nodded which Rimmer acknowledged with a nod of his own. He resettled into his stool, shuffling the cards thoughtfully.

Leaning forward onto his arms, Lister linked his fingers together in proposal. “Let’s make it interestin’, eh?”

“Oh, so playing poker with me isn’t already interesting?” Rimmer teased with an arch of the eyebrow as he trilled the cards against the table before allowing them to flutter in a return shuffle back into his palms. “How flattering.”

Lister rolled his eyes at the dig. “You know what I mean,” he sniggered. He tapped a challenging finger before him. “Let’s get some decent stakes on the table ‘ere.”

The hologram fixed him with a knowing look as he began to deal out five cards each. “I’m not taking anything off, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“No,” Lister huffed, although with a distinct air of disappointment. “I wanna play for info. Find out more about - ” He waggled an indicative finger back and forth between them. “ - y’know.”

The hologram’s hand halted mid-deal to shoot Lister a disapproving glance before continuing to distribute the cards with a shake of the head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he muttered, frowning.

“Look, it’s no biggie!” Lister protested. “Besides, the MediComp reckons I'll get my full memory back within the next 24 hours. Your little nuggets of info would just give me somethin’ to look forward to, that's all.” He flashed him a cheeky wink. “Somethin’ nice to dream about tonight.”

Despite his disapproval, Rimmer still felt heat flush his cheeks. “Still, I don’t think it’s a great idea if I answer everything,” he pressed. “I could inadvertently reveal something that blows half your IQ away.” He smirked subtly. “Those twelve points can really stack up, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lister batted away the insult before treating the man to a stuck-out tongue. “Anyway, Kryten said I’m way past the ‘rejection risk’ phase, so no chance of me brain short-circuitin’.”

At Rimmer’s dubious look, he sighed loudly. “Okay, look, if you don’t wanna answer a question, you gotta - ” Lister bounced impatiently on his stool, glancing around the room for inspiration before lighting upon Rimmer’s glass with a snap of the fingers. “ - take a slug of y’wine instead.”

“Drinking games?!” Rimmer replied with a curl of the lip, settling the remainder of the deck in the space between them. “Are you sure you’re 45 and not 25?”

“Don’t be borin’!” Lister needled, eagerly snatching up the bottle. Rimmer opened his mouth to protest as the man leaned across the table to pour, but promptly closed it again with a weary sigh as the wine sloshed into his glass in an inelegantly generous top-up. “A slug of your drink for each dodged question.”

“One doesn’t ‘slug’ Shiraz, as you so eloquently put it,” Rimmer chided, arms folding with a superior sniff. “Besides, I was drinking it anyway. Hence me pouring it in the first place?”

“Come on,” Lister prodded with a meaningful look, replacing the bottle on the table with a thud as if throwing down a gauntlet that couldn't be refused. “Are you a man or a munchkin?”

After a charged mutual stare, Rimmer relented with a roll of the eyes. “Oh, FINE,” he huffed, snatching up his cards before fanning them out in inspection. “If it keeps you quiet for half an hour.”

“Ye-es!” Lister cheered once again, drumming excited hands on the table. “And every round you beat me, I have to drink too.”

“Silently,” Rimmer swiftly added, shooting him a look over the rim of his hand. “Two whole minutes of blissful silence, if you deem yourself able to do so?”

“Okay,” Lister nodded chirpily. “Deal.”

After an initial inspection, cards were redrawn and rearranged before Lister regarded the man over the top of his own hand. “Go on then,” he prompted, voice guarded. “What’ve you got?”

Rimmer beamed back at him smugly as he presented his cards. “Three-of-a-Kind,” he announced, his trio of tens aligned in a starched row.

With a tilt of the head, Lister blew a jet of air past his lips. “Gotta say, that's a good one.” However, a teasing tug of his brow suggested otherwise as he threw down his own hand with a wicked smile. “But it's nothin’ without an ace kicker!”

As Lister rubbed his hands with glee, the triumphant smile sagged from Rimmer’s cheeks. “You have got to be joking?!” he moaned, eyes darting back and forth in disbelief over the man’s hand. But indeed, three Queens flanked the trumping card, as if fawning over it soppily.

Rimmer slumped back in his stool, arms folded petulant. “Go on, then,” he sulked, already knowing what the question would be. “I know you want to.”

With a yellow-stained fingernail, Lister tapped the card that bore the famous namesake. “What made you come back?” he asked simply. Elaboration really wasn't needed. “Too many women trippin’ over themselves to sleep with you?” he teased. “Fed up of the upkeep of floppy blonde locks? You wouldn't tell me at the time.”

Rimmer didn't even pause. Instead, he swept up the discarded cards with a single, grumpy hand before beginning to shuffle. “You,” he mumbled, attention firmly fixed on his task.

The Scouser’s cheeky smirk retreated at the word, eyes blinking unsteadily as he swallowed back the strange lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat. “Really?” he managed, voice quiet.

“Yes, really,” Rimmer sighed impatiently, his attention still steadfastly focused on the cards as he dealt once again before thumping the remainder of the deck between them. He didn’t particularly want to have this conversation yet again. “And don’t go all soppy over it like you did last time. You treat everything like it’s some god-awful romantic film.”

“It is romantic!” Lister insisted, eyes watery.

Glancing up in expectation, Rimmer tutted at the reaction but with an undeniable warmth. “Just look at your cards, you lovesick fool,” he teased.

Gathering up his hand and fanning the cards before him in inspection, Lister shook his head in mocking despair. “I don’t know what I see in you, y’know.”

“Yes you do.”

Lister’s eyes darted up at the bold starkness of the reply. But Rimmer’s focus was solely on his own hand, giving nothing away. The butterflies in his stomach threatened to escape up through his mouth, but a deliberate clearing of the throat dismissed them.

At the end of the round, Rimmer set down his hand with a frustrated growl. “Pair of fours,” he declared, knowing by the man’s ridiculously over-the-top poker face that it wasn’t going to be enough.

Only then did Lister drop his indecipherable guard and allow the grin to break through. “It’s a flush!” he cheered triumphantly, setting his streak of diamonds down onto the table.

“Oh, you’re loving this, aren’t you?” Rimmer scowled.

“What? Beating you at poker or makin’ you squirm?” Lister gave a wheezing chuckle. “Cos I gotta admit, both are feelin’ pretty good right now.”

Rimmer dragged his hands down his face in resignation, growling loudly into them. “Go on then,” he mumbled into his palms, unseeing.

It was a question that Lister had been desperate to know the answer to for weeks now. “Who made the first move?” he prompted.

Allowing his hands to slip down into his lap, Rimmer regarded him flatly. “Both,” he countered matter-of-factly. At Lister’s frown of confusion, he snorted in amusement. “You see, the answer changes - ” he added with a teasing arch of the eyebrow, “ - depending on which particular ‘move’ you’re talking about.”

“O-kay,” Lister chewed slowly over the suggestion, utterly enraptured. “Well, who - ?”

“Uh-uh!” Rimmer cut in, gathering up the cards. “You’ve used up your question, I'm afraid! Next time be more specific.”

“Wha’?!” Lister scoffed, clocking how Rimmer flashed him a wink as he shuffled before dealing out five cards each. “You’re a cheeky bugger, y’know that don’t you?”

Setting the remainder of the deck in the centre once again, Rimmer took a smug victory sip from his wine. “Two can play at this game, squire.”

An undeniable smile stretched across hamster cheeks. “Oh, you’re on!” After a hurried exchange of cards, Lister nodded in invitation. “Go on then. Let’s see ‘em.”

Nostrils flaring proudly, Rimmer lay down his cards. “Three-of-a-kind and an ace kicker!” he announced. Long fingers steepled under his chin. “See? I told you two can play at this game.”

Lister shrugged, nonchalant. “Yeah, but it’s me who’s gonna bring it home with A FULL HOUSE!” He brandished his victorious cards across the table in a glorious sweep.

The once-unassailable smugness quickly melted from Rimmer’s face. “I don’t believe this!”

“HA!” Lister slapped a hand on the table. “Right, y’sneaky smegger! Who - hang on, why are you drinkin’?” He sniggered as the hologram sipped begrudgingly from his glass. “You don’t know what I’m gonna ask yet. Are you foldin’ already?”

“No, I’m mentally preparing,” Rimmer sighed sullenly. “Because I have a strong suspicion that you’re not going to take any prisoners with this next question. Even if I dodged it with a drink this round, you’d ask the same question over and over until I was sloshed under the table.”

“You know me so well.”

“Indeed, I do. For my sins.”

“Fine, I’ll go easy on you,” Lister acknowledged. After all, he was keen to keep the man on side and talking in order to find out as much as he could in one night. And, of course, ensure that he didn’t restart their relationship, post-recovery, in the dog house. He leant forward on his arms, as if in conspiracy. “Who kissed who first?”

Hazel eyes blinked their surprise. Okay, to the man’s credit, that could have been a lot worse. In fact, his innocent eagerness over the whole relationship was pretty adorable in a bumbling, puppy-like sort of way.

Allowing the glass to sink back down to the table, Rimmer swirled his wine thoughtfully before a whimsical smile gently warmed his features. “I think it was more of a mutual thing, come to think of it.”

Lister, however, was less than convinced by this. “Come on,” he goaded. “Don’t you give me a cop-out answer!”

“I’m not!” Rimmer protested through a chuckle. “It just sort of - ” He shrugged fondly, attention lost in the swirl of the glass. “ - happened.”

At Lister’s sideways glance of suspicion, he sighed his relent, raising the glass to his lips to drink once more. “Fine,” Rimmer swallowed bitterly. “Let’s just say, if it hadn’t have happened as it did, I’d have been sure to have snogged you senseless first. How’s that?”

Smiling broadly, Lister nodded his acceptance. And was that flirtation he could sense peeking in between the battlements of his words? He watched curiously as the man dealt out the cards with baffling nonchalance once more. Only Rimmer would be capable of firing out compliments like they were insults.

They each made their adjustments to their hand before Lister nodded in invitation once more. Eyeing the man carefully, Rimmer lay down his cards. “Two pair.”

“Sorry,” Lister shrugged, his tone nowhere near the realm of apology as he proudly presented a trio of fives. He glanced up to a sulking shake of the head.

“No, you’re not.”

“You’re right. I’m not.”

Arms folded, Rimmer’s glare threatened to bore a hole in the man as he slowly tapped his fingers on the table, mockingly mulling over his next question. “Ooh, decisions decisions, eh?”

“You are a complete and total - ” Rimmer immediately clammed up as the bunkroom door swished open.

“Sorry to interrupt, sirs,” Kryten muttered as he crossed to the kitchenette, gesturing with a cubed finger to the feline’s fridge. “I forgot to fetch Mr Cat his night-time beverage.”

“No worries, Krytes,” Lister smiled in reassurance before turning back to the hologram. “So - ?”

“Mm-mm.” Rimmer’s sharp interruption was masked by a deliberate dodging sip from his wine glass. Lister raised an eyebrow. This was obviously a game that Rimmer didn’t wish to go public.

Lister’s attention flitted over the man’s shoulder to check that the mechanoid was preoccupied before snaring the hologram’s gaze once more. “Okay,” he smirked playfully, slipping off his stool and edging around the table to join him. “Have we - ?” The rest of his question was whispered teasingly into his ear.

Rimmer immediately flushed red, a muffled snort jetting down flared nostrils. His highly embarrassed giggle echoed into his drink as he tilted it again to his lips.

Dark eyes flared with intrigue, wheezing happily behind a hushing fist. “Takin’ the smeggin’ fifth!”

Smirking back his mouthful to quickly glance over his shoulder, Rimmer swallowed it back in amused affront. “I am not answering that, you shameless sod!” he hissed.

Lister tutted, shaking his head with a flash of a grin. “Actions speak louder than words, Rimmsy,” he whispered back.

Hazel eyes narrowed. “You dirty bugger.”

“Pot, kettle, black,” Lister winked.

The pair hurriedly straightened in their seats as Kryten returned with a glass of milk, stilling their faces as much as their flushed expressions would allow.

“Goodnight, sirs,” Kryten trilled, neon-blue eyes flitting between them suspiciously.

Rimmer gave a flustered clear of the throat, nodding in acknowledgement. “Mm-hm. Goodnight.”

“Yeah, g’night, Krytes,” Lister managed, his lips trembling with the effort as they bit back a guilty grin that threatened to scamper across his cheeks.

The moment the door slid closed, Lister exploded into riotous laughter, clapping his hands in mirth as Rimmer’s clasped his face to mask his groaning chuckles. Eventually they slid southwards to shoot the younger man a reprimanding look.

“You did that on purpose, you cheeky git!”

Lister shrugged his innocence. “Well, you can't accuse me of not bein’ specific.”

“Well, no!” Rimmer spluttered, cheeks flaring red once more. “Quite!” With a shake of the head, he gathered up the cards and shuffled before dealing out another round.

Fanning out his cards, Rimmer tried to keep the subsequent raise of his eyebrows to a minimum. These were pretty darn good. In fact - a quick switch of a card gave him the final piece of the puzzle he needed - he had a perfect run of numbers.

He glanced up subtly to assess Lister’s reaction. By the way he was gnawing on his lip and frowning in concentration at his hand, he was finally about to lose his winning streak.

Lister eventually returned his gaze, nodding in invitation. “Go on then,” he smiled.

Presenting his cards, Rimmer jutted his chin with pride. “Straight,” he declared.

The Scouser snorted. “I’ve got evidence that claims otherwise.”

“Don’t try and be clever,” Rimmer tutted. “It doesn't suit you.”

“You’re right,” Lister agreed with a sigh, brandishing his cards on the table. “I think luck is far more my style, don't you?”

Aghast, Rimmer stared down at the winning hand in disbelief. Not just a flush. A Royal smegging Flush, to boot. He eyed the man suspiciously.

“What?” Lister challenged with an insatiable smile. “No Rimmer-salute for me royalty?”

Regarding him flatly, Rimmer treated him to the middle finger.

“That's better.”

Sweeping up the cards, Rimmer jutted his chin in invitation. “Come on then, squire,” he snipped. “Next question.” He paused as a thought struck him then treated the man to a smirking finger wag. “But no filth, understood?”

“Spoilsport.” Chewing thoughtfully on one of his dreads, Lister jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “Do we end up tellin’ the others about us?”

“Yes,” Rimmer smiled as he shuffled the cards. “They’re quite aware.”

Lister blinked in confusion. “So why did you hush me up back then?”

“There’s still such an art as subtlety, you know,” Rimmer smarmed, dealing out the next round. “Perhaps you could try it some time?”

 

Three glasses later, however, subtlety was no longer on the cards. As more and more wine was consumed, more and more teasers were willingly offered - sometimes when the information hadn’t even been sought after.

Lister knew that he’d entered safer territory. That delicate tipping point when, despite the deliberate sincerity that attempted to firm Rimmer’s features, playfulness skipped across the edges of his stern expressions.

For the first time in weeks, Lister grinned to himself, he finally felt like he held all the cards. But as he made to deal another round, Rimmer made a dismissive sound into his glass, waving his hand in refusal as he swallowed.

“I’m done,” he surrendered. “I know when my game is up.” Placing the glass carefully back onto the table, he needled the man with a knowing look. “In fact, it was up before it had begun, wasn’t it, m’laddo?”

Dark eyes darted away as Lister reshuffled the deck of cards with suspicious dexterity. “I dunno what you’re talkin’ about,” he mumbled.

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about, Listy,” the hologram pressed. “I began to notice the suspicious little marks on the cards and slips of your hand when you thought I wasn’t looking.” Rimmer waggled an unsteady finger which he hoped still looked terribly authoritative. “You’ve been planning this, haven’t you?”

Lister shrugged loosely before shooting the man a cheeky grin. “Just struck lucky I suppose,” he replied in a lofty chirp. “I clocked that you were playin’ with my deck when I came in.”

Plucking up his wine, the hologram heaved a sigh that dangled precariously between despair and contentment. “See, that’s the thing about you.” He gestured with an extended finger that peeled away from the glass. “You always know how to play me.” Tipping it up to drink once more, his thumb wiped at the inevitable red stain left behind on his lips. “I can’t decide if that’s highly aggravating or highly alluring. Maybe both, hmm?”

Lister smiled warmly whilst he watched him, thoroughly amused. “You know you’re supposed to confess things about us OR drink your wine, right?”

“Pfft.” Rimmer dismissed this notion with a snort that was a little too loud to be considered fully sober. “When did you become such a stickler for the rules?”

With a relenting shrug, the Scouser held his gaze meaningfully. “Some things can change, I guess,” he muttered.

Smile sinking back, Rimmer’s eyes lingered sincerely on his. “Indeed,” he conceded with a distant nod.

Nervous fingers twiddled at the worn edges of the cards in the charged silence that followed. Lister knew he hadn’t earned the question, but he’d be kicking himself all night if he didn’t risk asking it. “Do you love me?” he whispered.

For a moment, Rimmer stared at him wordlessly. Then, a broad smile stretched across his flushed face as he raised his wine to drink, eyebrows tugging teasingly over the rim of the glass.

“Oh, come ooooon,” Lister whined. Despite his win, he couldn’t help but feel like he’d still missed out on the big prize. “Don’t hold out on me!”

But Rimmer shook his head, refusing to give anything away. “Spoilers,” he surmised, then drained the glass.

 

Rimmer knew instinctively when Lister was back. In the quiet depths of the night and a wine-induced slumber, he stirred slightly to someone climbing into bed with him.

“You’re not trying to jump me, are you?” he mumbled sleepily.

“Oh, shut up, man,” came the groaning reply as Lister squeezed himself into his usual spot by the wall. He snuggled into the welcoming crook of Rimmer’s arm and exhaled deeply. “I’m too old for midnight romps now.”

Rimmer chuckled as he kissed the snoring head of curls before his eyes drooped closed once more. “Too smegging right, you are.”