It wasn’t one thing that drove Lister into the holographic projection program in the middle of the night, but a series of events over the past few weeks that had culminated to snap his trigger when Rimmer snottily suggested at dinner that perhaps Lister didn’t really require chocolate sauce over his carrots. It was an unsubtle dig at the fifteen or so pounds that had crept up around his middle over the past several months of depression and unchanneled restlessness.
“Carrots are nutritious,” Lister muttered aloud in a mock-nasal whine as he futzed with the ship’s catalog to find the specifications. “They’re VEGE-TABLES, Lister. They’re meant to be eaten PLAIN, Lister.” Then he added in the same parody of Rimmer, “I like to shove them up my ARSE one at a time while I whistle Zippity Doo Dah, Lister.”
So, the smeghead liked carrots, did he? Force-feeding him a dozen bags wouldn’t do any good, but Lister could sure make the homophobic git wish he’d gone that route instead. As he changed some coding and meshed programs together, Lister felt the happiest he had in a long while. On this ship, with this crowd, this was sure to provide entertainment for him, Cat, and Kryten for hours, possibly days. It just depended how openly contrite Rimmer could find it in his shriveled, blackened little light bee to BE.
Probably the days one, Lister mused once he was done, hit “execute,” and password-locked the program, getting up to head back to his bunk. DAYS.
The thing Lister noticed when he finally woke up at eleven in the morning, once his brain fog had cleared, was what hadn’t awakened him. He’d been left to wake up naturally so late. That couldn’t be right; had he simply been so tired he’d slept through Rimmer’s yelling? Had it been so loud it had simply elevated him to a higher plane of unconsciousness?
His answer didn’t present itself until he ambled into Starbug’s midsection for some crispies. At first he couldn’t identify the alien sound, but as he dismounted the steps, he realized it was swishing. To be fair, he only realized it when he saw the space’s other occupant emerging from the kitchenette to set his tea on the communal table. Lister bit down on his grin, but not fast enough. Rimmer breathed in at the sight of him, tunnel-like nostrils filling with the oxygen. “YOU.” It wasn’t a yell or a bellow, or a question. It was an intonation; Lister expected winged demons to begin falling from the ceiling.
“Oh, hey, man- um, I mean, Ma’am. Miss?” he corrected himself. “Ma’am? I’m sorry, I don’t know the cutoff age for titles.”
Rimmer straightened, fixing his roommate with a muddy green glare. “Lister, fix this, NOW!”
Lister instead eyed his creation. Already tall, Rimmer was statuesque in the three-inch heels Lister had fixed to his feet via programming; he knew the shoes were there by the minor teeter in Rimmer’s stance. They were of course covered by the hem of cake-like tiers of shiny orange taffeta, draped in loose-parachute folds. The fitted bodice encased nothing but was stretched by a chest deceptively slimmed by Rimmer’s usual quasi-military jackets and tunics. Long-fingered hands were perched on his hips, surprisingly muscular arms tense with presumable rage. “You’re a right picture, there, Commander.” He winked.
Rimmer’s haughtiness was creased by confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“Been whipping the houseboy this morning?” he asked. “Sipping mint juleps?” He nodded toward the cup on the table. He could just about pinpoint the moment the reference dawned on the other man. “For Io’s sake!” Rimmer shouted.
“Face it, Arlene; you’ve been more of a bastard than usual lately. You deserve this.”
“Get me out of this getup!”
Lister shrugged. “I don’t really tilt that way-” He was cut off by Rimmer’s giant sigh. “Look, all you have to do is apologize. And mean it. That’s it.”
Rimmer stared at him, then nodded. “Right. Not like I can’t fix this myself.” He put his right hand down further on his hip, patting it … then looked, and swore, presumably as he realized or remembered his belt control pad was not an accessory to this ensemble. “Well, I don’t need that!” he fumed, jerking to the left toward the cockpit and presumably a mainframe.
Staying quiet, Lister watched him stumble and totter toward the small room, pausing at the door divider to lift his voluminous skirt and step over it, then nearly fall as he tried to negotiate the grating in heels. He waited until the ranting began, then called, “But you might need the password!”
Shortly, Rimmer swayed back into sight, grabbing the sides of the doorway to balance as he stared murder at Lister. “CHANGE. ME. BACK.”
He leaned forward, enunciating as well. “A. POL. O. GIZE.” Instead, Rimmer gave him the middle finger; Lister tutted. “That’s not very ladylike. Keep it up and I’ll give you a hairstyle to match. Rimmer gritted his teeth and muttered something that sounded much like “dog food breath” just under easy hearing.
“Well, the color ain’t bad,” Cat judged at their evening meal as he critically eyed Rimmer between sips of milk. “But that style’s all wrong for his body type and age. And orange doesn’t really work on a redhead.”
“Eh?” Lister looked from Cat to Rimmer, then back again, confused. He looked back, studying Rimmer’s hair, and realized it was sort of a ginger. “Oh, eh. Never noticed that before.” Rimmer continued eating and reading his data pad, studiously ignoring the conversation.
“Sure, it does a lot better with a nice gold, or maybe some deep primary colors,” Cat continued. “Also, those rhinestones are all wrong; man his age and skin tone needs one piece of jewelry, maybe two, tops. Not all blingy like that.” He made a circular motion mid-air indicating Rimmer’s chest area. “Now me, I can pull it off. But that’s ‘cause I make anything look good.”
“It’s not supposed to look good,” Lister pointed out. “That’s the point. I made him look how he acts.” Rimmer briefly glared up. “Don’t give me that attitude; you know how to fix this,” he reminded the hologram.
“Like a sixteen-year-old prom date?” Cat asked.
“Young and immature, yes.” He didn’t explain he’d chosen a dress because he wanted to put Rimmer on his back foot, and misgendering his image was a sure way to do it.
He wasn’t surprised when Rimmer didn’t apologize that day. He wasn’t even surprised when two more days passed in relative silence - a blessing, actually, since of late, Rimmer not only had not shut up, he’d used most of his words toward Lister to complain about something or other. He was surprised when he noticed Rimmer was no longer teetering in his new shoes on the fourth day, but getting around rather gracefully and forcefully, and appearing to give his hips an extra twist here and there to get the giant skirt around corners through narrow doorways.
He nearly went back and fixed the programming himself that weekend when he caught himself staring at the back of Rimmer’s head, musing over how long and slender his neck was and admiring the sharpness of shoulder blades framed by the shiny, taut material. Small auburn curls littered the bottom of his hairline above his neck, and Lister imagined blowing on the wisps to see if he could make Rimmer laugh or shiver. He caught and slapped himself mentally when he considered making an excuse to go shower so he could have a wank at the thought.
This was not good, he determined. Gay was fine for everyone else; he was tolerant. But it wasn’t for him. He definitely didn’t have any attraction for Rimmer. Maybe some other men, somewhere. What sensible straight bloke wouldn’t have slept with the late, great Sir Daniel Radcliffe, if given the chance? The man had been a sex symbol well into his nineties, after all. Even in Lister’s time, the Ryan Reynolds Sexbot had still been a popular purchase for every gender.
But Rimmer? He was officious, arrogant, narrow-minded, and stiff, all angular and pinched, weasel-like expressions marring what should have otherwise been handsome features. His nose was too long, his brow too frowny, lips too thin, hands too large. His throat bobbed too much when he talked, especially visible in that gown; Lister was only distracted when Rimmer would tug at the strap, then run his fingers through his hair, clearly exasperated, then lick his lips. Lister pondered all this as he watched Rimmer trying to study the seventh morning at their bunkroom table, leaned forward on his elbows and mouthing words to himself as his eyes tracked across the page, the front of an open-toed apricot sandal peeking out from beneath the hem of the dress, fingers drumming the tabletop. Lister could see a little down the top of the dress because there was nothing to mold to the built-in bra, and wondered if he pulled the dress off, if it would fizzle and stay off-
He abruptly threw himself forward and up from his bunk, standing. Rimmer jerked upright, shooting him an annoyed look. “Do you mind? You’re like a bull in a tea shop.”
He really wanted to change Rimmer’s clothing back to the blue uniform. He needed that apology soon. “Are you ready yet to get out of that gown?” he snapped. Rimmer raised an eyebrow, and Lister, uncomfortable, decided to turn the tables. “Or do you like it in that gown?”
Rimmer frowned, then sighed. “It’s just a covering, Listy.”
Are you kidding me, he thought. “So you DO like it.”
“I’m tired of yelling about it, is what I am,” Rimmer insisted. “Though I do wish I knew why orange.”
“You’re the one who loves carrots so much.”
“THAT’S what all this is about? That I said you shouldn’t turn your vegetables into a sundae?”
“That you need to smegging well quit trying to micromanage every move I make, is what it’s about,” Lister informed him. “You comment on what I eat, what I wear, how I move, what I do. What I look like. Always with the criticism! YOU DO IT CONSTANTLY. I feel like I’ve got a stalker, and it’s not even an attractive woman!”
“Is that why you put me in a dress? So you could imagine I’m a woman?”
Lister let out a mid-level growl meant to serve as a warning. But Rimmer kept on. “For what reason, then? Have you gone a bit light in the loafers, Listy? Maybe you’re so desperate that I’m starting to look good?” He was clearly the one taunting now, leaning back in his chair, arms crossed, smirking. “Or maybe that’s why it’s so hideous - so I wouldn’t look SO good, hmm?”
He took a few seconds to compose himself before smiling deliberately and shooting back, “I’m not the giant homophobe here, Rimsy.”
“No, you’re confusing me with you.” He pointed in front of him. “Come stand here. I can get within range of you and it not bother me, but I bet YOU can’t!”
To his surprise, Rimmer stood, nose aflare, did a little pirouette around the edge of the table, and came to stand a foot away from Lister, hands on his hips. He towered as much distance above him, and Lister fixed him with narrowed eyes in challenge. “I see you’re not falling off your shoes anymore,” was the first thing he could think to say.
Rimmer shifted on his feet a little. “You get used to them. Still not pleasant.”
“I could’ve made them stilettos.”
“And I’m supposed to thank you for these?”
They glared at each other, and Lister was dismayed to discover for the umpteenth time in the past few days that he wanted to put his hands on that hard-light fabric, feel how slick it was, how warm from the body encased in it, and maybe even peel it off. “I can see right up your nose,” he taunted. “You have a big nose. How does it feel, getting criticized for something you can’t help or don’t even want, or like, maybe?”
Rimmer glared silently. Presently, he said, “I am not apologizing.” Before Lister could think of what response that could possibly deserve, Rimmer spoke again. “I can … moderate, my observations regarding your person and habits going forward, though, I suppose.” Each word was like chewing a metal gear and spitting it out.
The only thing Lister could wonder was, “Why does it matter what I do?”
“I have to keep you riled up. It’s what keeps you going.”
“Wait, fighting’s not-”
“Listy, think about it,” he sighed. “You do best when you have an enemy. Someone telling you you can’t do something. It’s the only reason you passed your pre-tests so high, because Hollister said he didn’t think you had two brain cells to rub together. Once you figured out after he was just baiting you, though, you gave up on the engineering program and went back to slobbing around on Zed Shift.”
“What’re you saying to me?”
“I’m saying, you have brains just rotting in there that you don’t like to use, and meanwhile, here am I, busting my arse to figure out basic physics that a child should understand!” he shouted, throwing his arms out to the side. “I’m saying you’re not stupid! You’re not a total smegging moron, and it’s hell to watch you wallowing like you are and just wasting what you’ve got!” He was breathing hard, some thick curls coming loose from tightly styled hair, the taffeta rustling with the rise and fall of his chest and shoulders as his eyes bored into Lister’s.
Lister finally said, “You want me to get you out of that getup?” Rimmer gave a little nod - and so he did.
Later, Lister curled an arm around Rimmer’s bare waist as he nuzzled his jaw. “I think I like this look the best on you,” he teased, rubbing his foot along the man’s equally bare shin.
Rimmer gave a little breathless laugh as he shifted on the bed. “You do realize the next time you lose an argument, you’re wearing a ballgown of MY choosing.”
“Bring it on, Big Man,” the Scouser muttered as he kissed his decidedly adult prom date again.