On Friday night Lister exited the mess hall several hours earlier than usual. He’d been holding out to talk to Kochanski for a while, but she hadn’t turned up. He thought he’d spotted her hand in hand with a guy earlier in the week, and so he suspected she might be with him tonight. He didn’t blame her. He knew where he’d be if he had any prospects. Petersen, Selby and Chen were blind-drunk already and Lister wasn’t in the mood to bother catching up with them now. He was very fond of them, but he’d wanted a proper conversation with someone tonight. Someone who wouldn’t cackle and make obscene jokes when he talked about wanting to meet the right guy – as in, the one he’d take to Fiji. Although, he had also shaved and taken a long shower before coming, just on the off-chance he actually met the right guy this evening. Or maybe just a nice bloke. But he’d had no such luck.
Walking along the silent corridor to his and Rimmer’s shared quarters, Lister rounded a corner and nearly tripped over somebody sitting on the floor.
‘Watch it!’ he yelped, swerving before he accidently kicked the person’s legs. He steadied himself against the wall, and then frowned when he saw who it was.
‘Rimmer?’ he asked. ‘You okay?’
Rimmer didn’t respond. Lister wouldn’t usually have been surprised to be ignored by him; they weren’t exactly friends. But Rimmer’s eyes looked slightly out of focus, and it now seemed he was more sprawled on the floor rather than just reclining against the wall panels as Lister sometimes liked to if a shift was long.
‘Rimmer?’ Lister tried again, waving a hand in front of his face.
Rimmer looked up at him, opened his mouth and took a thick-sounding gasp, and then he grabbed at a pipe behind him and started to pull himself up.
Lister grinned in disbelief.
‘Surely the Second Technician isn’t out enjoying himself tonight?’ he asked.
Rimmer wobbled and fell back on the floor.
‘Woah!’ said Lister, grabbing his arm to slow his descent slightly. ‘A little too much, maybe?’
‘No... No, I’m n-not drunk,’ Rimmer wheezed out, opening and closing his mouth like Lennon and McCartney did all day. ‘I’m – I’m – ’
‘Panic-attack?’ prompted Lister.
‘ – Nuh?’
Not quite, thought Lister. But Rimmer clearly wasn’t in a good way, either. He was rather pale and sweaty-looking.
‘Medi-bay?’ he asked.
‘No – please!’ panted Rimmer, grabbing Lister’s arm as he tried to stand again.
‘Come on then, Arnie.’ Lister looped one of Rimmer’s arms over his own shoulders to help him the rest of the way up, and steered them both further along the corridor. ‘Let’s get you to bed.’
Thankfully, they didn’t have far to go before they reached their room. Lister helped settle Rimmer down on his bunk and then extricated himself from the other man. He’d been expecting something like this to happen. Rimmer was due to take yet another Astro-nav test at some point this week, and with every attempt he seemed to be getting more and more pompous and uptight. And the more pompous, uptight and certain he was that this time he’d succeed, the worse the inevitable failure was for him. Tonight, however, it seemed the guy was skirting closer to having an actual breakdown.
‘Exam nerves, is it?’ Lister asked him, as he filled a mug from the tap and then handed it over.
‘You could say that,’ Rimmer croaked, his breathing starting to return to normal as he sipped the water with a shaky hand. ‘I failed. Again. I failed again.’
‘Ah,’ said Lister, sticking his hands in his pockets as he watched him gasp and rock slightly on the bed for a moment. ‘It was today.’
Although the news was of no great shock, and he honestly thought Rimmer deserved to be taken down a peg or two, he didn’t think it wise to ignore him and leave him wallowing alone in this state. It was sort of interesting to see the guy with his barriers down for once. He looked much younger. Lister knew he was only roughly five years older than himself, but somehow Rimmer often managed to appear almost middle-aged.
‘Why do you do this to yourself?’ Lister asked him, and Rimmer scowled.
‘Where – I want to get to requires hard work and – precision. I wouldn’t expect- ’
He tailed off, quickly bringing the mug to his mouth to take another desperate slurp of water, but Lister understood. ‘I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Lister, you slob,’ was what he had been about to say.
‘But if this happens to you every time?’ said Lister.
‘Oh – ’ said Rimmer, swallowing his mouthful and waving a hand. ‘This is just – ’
‘A mental breakdown.’
‘Going to keep on happening if you don’t take it easy.’
‘No, Lister, just – !’ Rimmer pointed at Lister furiously, before deflating and looking away from him. ‘Shut up.’
Lister reached over and took the mug from him.
‘ – Thank you,’ said Rimmer stiffly, crossing his arms over himself protectively.
Lister shrugged and chucked the mug in the sink. He watched Rimmer for a moment, as the man glowered at the floor between his feet, and then he noticed a letter on the bed.
‘Is that your results then?’ Lister asked gently.
‘What?’ said Rimmer, looking up at him and then down at the paper. ‘Oh – no. That’s from my mother.’
‘She knows you failed already? That was quick!’
‘No, she doesn’t know, you gimboid! She – it’s...’
Rimmer went quiet again, and Lister put a hand up.
‘Forget it, man,’ he said and walked away to sit down at the table. He grabbed a can of lager he’d left there earlier and cracked it open messily.
‘My father died,’ said Rimmer suddenly, in a dull tone.
Lister twisted sharply in the chair to face him.
‘Oh, smeg,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry, man.’
Rimmer made a small noise, and gave a shrug.
‘How did it happen, if you don’t mind me asking?’ said Lister feebly.
‘In his sleep,’ replied Rimmer. ‘Peaceful. Normal.’
Lister helplessly watched him continue to stare into space. He wasn’t sure if this was the done thing with someone you didn’t get on with, but there was always a procedure when someone died, wasn’t there? His adoptive parents had passed away when he was rather too young to understand everything, but his grandmother’s death had hurt badly and he’d appreciated whenever people took the time to talk with him about her.
‘You must have been pretty close?’ he tried again, taking a slurp from his can.
He thought he could imagine Rimmer’s father. Tall, stern, and well groomed, but a man who had probably let loose once in a while and played soldiers with his son after he got in from work. He felt another pang of sympathy for Rimmer.
‘Close?’ repeated Rimmer, still in that emotionless voice.
‘Very close? Do you want to talk about it?’
‘I hated him!’
Lister’s eyebrows shot up in alarm as Rimmer stood up and began to talk. About everything; his parents, his childhood, his education. Lister was shocked by the things he was hearing; the short, tyrannical Rimmer patriarch, the cold, absent mother, the relentlessly cruel older brothers, and the years of humiliation endured at his schools. Quite suddenly, Arnold J. Rimmer wasn’t such a big mystery to him.
‘I had no idea, I thought you adored your parents,’ he said, finishing his lager off and crushing the can down before he tossed it in the bin. Of course, this revelation didn’t mean that the guy wasn’t still a complete git, but it did explain so many of his less-than-agreeable traits. And Lister couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.
‘When I was fourteen I divorced them,’ said Rimmer, his voice finally evening out as he went to sit back down on his bed. Lister got up from the chair and walked over to sit beside him.
‘What?’ asked Lister softly.
‘I took them to court. I got paid maintenance ‘til employment age, and had access every fourth weekend to the family dog.’ There was silence for a moment, and Rimmer sighed. ‘I respected the man, though. Looked up to him, even after that. I just wanted once – just once, for him to say, “Well done”.’
Lister blew out a long breath. He’d long assumed that on some level Rimmer had selected to be alone, given how antagonistic he was with most people. But now he found himself imagining a lonely little boy struggling to live up to near-impossible expectations that, by the sound of it, he’d almost been set up to fail on. Yes, the things Lister could only imagine about Rimmer’s childhood were actually horrifying. And now he wasn’t sure of the best course of action. They were not friends, and Rimmer had never confided in him like this. And even though he suspected Rimmer might reject it, he still wanted to offer him comfort. It would be healthy for Rimmer to understand that he was safe to grieve in this room – in front of him.
‘That’s brave,’ he said finally, and put a hand on Rimmer’s back; not clapping down like he might do on one of his mates – Rimmer probably wouldn’t like that – but gave him a gentle pat that he hoped was soothing.
‘ – Brave?’ said Rimmer after a moment, looking at him.
‘Yeah,’ said Lister quietly. ‘I mean, to walk away from all their smeg. Take a chance elsewhere. Especially when you were so young. That’s very brave.’
Rimmer looked astonished.
‘You really think so?’
‘Yeah! What – you don’t?’
Rimmer blinked and looked around as though he was seeing their quarters for the first time in his life.
‘ – I just... couldn’t take it anymore,’ he said quietly.
‘Good for you, man,’ said Lister, and started to rub Rimmer’s back. He could feel the warmth through his shirt.
‘No one’s ever told me I was brave before,’ said Rimmer, voice sounding a bit dazed again.
‘Hm?’ Lister continued rubbing. The pair of them had never been tactile with each other (which was probably a good thing with the way they bickered), but Rimmer didn’t seem uncomfortable so far. He wondered if he should try and coax him to cry if he needed, or maybe even to go to sleep.
‘No one likes me,’ muttered Rimmer.
Lister sighed, pausing the movement of his hand. He could sense another rant about to happen. Clearly Rimmer was feeling extra sorry for himself tonight. He was half-tempted to tell the man that he couldn’t just expect people to like him with the smug, superior attitude he usually went about with, but decided against it. Rimmer could be weaselly and unpleasant but something had always prevented Lister from completely writing him off as a potential friend. Maybe it was because he was just so easy to annoy, or because he did actually find him quite funny when he was unleashing one of his tirades, or correcting people’s grammar, or criticising their tastes. And Lister had to admit that he was a soft touch. Anyone who shot a sad look his way tended to melt his heart, and Rimmer really did look pathetic tonight. It was also stirring up other feelings in him, ones he’d been stamping down on since they first met.
‘I have no friends,’ Rimmer continued morosely. ‘No parents. No achievements. No career. No love life. Can’t remember the last time I had a kiss.’
Lister smoothed his hand up Rimmer’s back again; and let his arm rest over the other man’s shoulders.
‘It’s gonna happen for you, guy.’
‘When? Who? What would anyone see in me?’
Lister paused; his brow furrowing as he thought.
‘Oh, thanks,’ huffed Rimmer.
‘Wait a sec, yeah?’ grumbled Lister. Truth be told, he’d had a bit of a crush on Rimmer from the get go, but he’d thought it unwise to explore why that might be, let alone make his bunkmate aware of his attraction. ‘Erm, so you’re very... organised.’
‘“Organised?”’ Rimmer repeated sarcastically.
‘What? Lots of people like that in a partner.’
Rimmer snorted, and Lister bit his lip as he thought harder. The trouble was, Rimmer’s ego was either pumped up to delusional levels of arrogance, or in an absolute, self-despising shortage; there was no in-between for him. Lister didn’t really want to feed him the kind of reassurance that would have him riding high for ten minutes only to crash violently the next. He wanted to be honest with him.
‘You’re very presentable,’ he said, reaching over with the arm not around Rimmer to tug the man’s beige tie gently. ‘You’re really quite handsome, you know?’
Rimmer stared at him.
‘You once told me my nostrils were like the openings of a twin-tube road tunnel that had to be widened after two double-decker buses capsized within them,’ he said in disbelief.
‘I meant that as a compliment!’ said Lister hastily; tightening his hold around Rimmer and running his fingers down the tie in what he hoped was an affirming way. ‘And they are, but it doesn’t make you not handsome. They’re a defining feature. Some people have hardly any nostrils at all.’
Rimmer rolled his eyes, but said quietly, ‘Go on.’
‘You have a nice face. Expressive. Interesting. Like your voice; it’s very clear and... smart-sounding!’
He was expecting to be scoffed at again, but Rimmer appeared to be listening to him attentively now. He continued.
‘You have good posture. Strong jaw line. Nice broad shoulders. Slim. Fit. And you’re tall. There’s something about a tall guy...’ Lister’s voice trailed off.
‘You like – tall men?’ Rimmer asked after a moment, and Lister was suddenly aware of how close their faces were to each other.
He had essentially just given himself away, Lister realised. Although, perhaps if Rimmer’s self-esteem was still taking some downtime the guy wouldn’t have noticed. He needed to watch it.
‘ – Yeah, I do,’ he said despite himself, staring into Rimmer’s sad, hazel eyes.
‘You’re funny. Your salutes drive me mad but they’re so – you. And the things you say – your putdowns are killer.’ Lister paused, heart beating fast as Rimmer laid a hand on his. ‘’Specially when you’re angry. You get so het up – And when you’re happy you look so smegging pleased with yourself. But you make me laugh.’
‘Lister – ’
‘ – And you’re really, really cute.’
Rimmer let out a tiny gasp as Lister leaned in, Lister hesitating only to make sure that he didn’t look scared or try to pull away, and then he pressed a kiss against his parted lips. Rimmer brought a hand up to Lister’s jaw and pressed harder against him. Lister shut his eyes and allowed himself to be drawn closer.
This was a bad idea, he knew. Rimmer was a git. Rimmer didn’t like him. He was amazed the guy hadn’t pushed him away in horror, actually. And he was extremely vulnerable tonight; was Lister just taking advantage of him? Possibly. But maybe if he was careful about the way he handled things from here he could leave the guy feeling good about himself. Besides, the kiss was... nice. Really nice. With anybody else, Lister might have been open to having a one-night stand, but he wasn’t sure if Rimmer would be able to handle continuing to live in such close proximity with him afterwards. As the kiss deepened, Lister searched for the right words to end this; something that might flatter Rimmer some more and wouldn’t make him feel as though he’d just been used.
‘You drive me insane,’ said Rimmer when they separated, cutting off Lister’s thought process, and suddenly he was up again, pacing to and fro across the room. ‘With your fat little gerbil smiles, and your flicky dreads, and the way you suck on your cigarettes and smegging lollipops and I can’t stand it!’
‘This is a turn up, I thought you hated me!’ said Lister sardonically, stamping down on the disappointment and hurt that was rising up in him to give Rimmer one of his gerbil grins. He was all for cheering Rimmer up but he’d be damned if he let the bloke just insult him and walk away. He was such an idiot – he should have known kissing him would be a mistake.
‘Hate you?’ said Rimmer, shaking his head. ‘How could I? I hate what you do to me! You’re annoying, illiterate, loud, dirty and downright rude. You torment me with your very presence!’
‘Hmm – I think that’s still technically hate?’
‘I’ll tell you who I hate!’ boomed Rimmer, pointing at him. ‘I hate that oaf, Petersen!’
‘Petersen?’ Lister frowned. ‘I know you and him don’t get on like, but what did he do?’
‘He’s all over you, isn’t he?’
Lister stared at Rimmer then, a small flicker of hope registering in his heart at the very obvious jealousy in the man's voice. He thought he was beginning to understand now.
‘Is he?’ he asked knowingly.
‘There’s that hideous tattoo you’ve got on your leg for one thing!’
‘Ah, you’ve seen that, have yeh?’ drawled Lister, letting his accent roll out strongly as the leg in question gave an almost involuntary twitch. ‘Didn’t realise I’d flashed you me inner thigh; I must be more careful.’
Rimmer clenched his fists.
‘I was drunk, man,’ Lister continued. ‘Petersen got me in the tattooist’s chair after I’d had a few. I do love him – but just as friends, you know? And anyway it was his revenge on me for sellotaping his head when he was pissed one time.’
‘Come off it, Listy, I’ve seen you together in the mess! You get all tarted up like you are tonight and then you go and sit right where he wants you, isn’t that right?’
‘Like last week. You were sitting on his lap and your thighs were straddling his great, hairy thighs and I hated it! I hate him!’
‘Ah, come on. Peterson’s just me mate. He’s into girls.’
‘I loathe him. If you had to sit on anyone’s lap why couldn’t it be mine?!’
Rimmer panted after his outburst, seeming to come to a slow realisation of what he’d just said. He lowered his hand from where it had been clasped over his heart, and looked at the floor.
‘Ah,’ said Lister, nodding. ‘So that’s the problem. You like me despite all the things that drive you crazy.’
‘Lister – ’ said Rimmer desperately, looking up at him. ‘For some ungodly reason, I adore you. And the thought of anyone else touching you or calling you their boyfriend makes me want to throw up and physically hurt somebody.’
Lister watched him for a moment, a soft smile growing on his face.
‘Well, thank God for that,’ he said pleasantly.
Rimmer swallowed, his expression frightened and searching.
‘You’re not disgusted?’ he asked.
‘Er, I think it was me who kissed you just a moment ago, wasn’t it?’ said Lister. ‘Didn’t you hear what I said about you earlier? Of course I’m not disgusted, love.’
‘You like me?’
And Lister knew it was true. Despite the smarminess, the anal retentiveness, the salutes, the no smoking signs, the tapes playing into the small hours, the made up rules, and the constant criticism, Lister really liked Rimmer. It was probably why he found him so damn annoying – he’d never quite been able to just dismiss him as meaning nothing to him.
‘I want to go out with you – properly, I mean,’ said Rimmer abruptly in his businesslike way, but still standing there as though he was afraid he’d fall through the floor if he moved.
Lister beamed at him.
‘I should think so too,’ he said in his most charming voice as he leant back to show off his body a bit.
‘I haven’t really – ’ Rimmer paused, blushing and flicking his gaze up and down at Lister’s motion. ‘I mean, I don’t go on a lot of dates with men. I’m not sure how it works.’
Lister clucked his tongue, deciding not to mention that he was quite sure Rimmer didn’t go on a lot of dates full stop.
‘Well, I think it’s much the same dating girls,’ he said casually. ‘We could go out for drinks, or there’s games night in the mess on Tuesday evenings... we’d probably end up killing each other, mind. Then there’s next Friday, of course. Music and dancing – more drinking.’ Lister watched Rimmer tense up at each suggestion. He understood; each one he’d made so far would inevitably involve being around other people – people Rimmer disliked, or who disliked him. ‘We could catch a movie, or – oh, wait. You don’t like films, do you?’
‘No – !’ said Rimmer. ‘I – I’d like to see a film with you.’
‘Okay, we could do that, then? Tomorrow?’
‘Yes. Please. I mean – I’ll take you. That is – I’ll pay.’
Lister couldn’t stop smiling at the guy’s stammering. He didn’t think he’d ever been asked out so formally. And he never thought he’d see Rimmer nervous around him of all people. He really was adorable.
‘I’d fight you on that one but I’m skint at the moment,’ he said, pushing up off the bunk and coming over to stand in front of him.
‘I know – ’ said Rimmer softly. ‘You’re utterly useless at saving.’
‘I’m very good at saving. I have plans for my savings.’
‘What sort of plans?’
‘All in good time, babe.’
Lister had to stand on his tiptoes to kiss Rimmer again, until he relaxed into it. He put his arms over Rimmer's shoulders; folding them loosely behind his neck, and parted his lips to give a few tentative licks against Rimmer’s mouth. The other man groaned against him, bringing his arms around his torso and opening his mouth to allow Lister’s tongue entry. They stayed like that for a while; Rimmer finally growing bolder and using his hands to stroke up and down Lister’s back. One hand stopped just above Lister’s backside, a noticeable tremor going through it. Lister broke the kiss to check in on him, and was delighted to find Rimmer looking no-less interested than he had a moment ago.
He had been going to suggest that Rimmer went to sleep; after everything he’d gone through that day he could probably have done with a rest. But there was colour in his cheeks now, and his grip on Lister was strong. And there was something else – something indefinable hanging in the air that told Lister they wouldn’t be doing their usual bedtime routine tonight. Rimmer was looking at him with an intensity that was making him very hot beneath the collar, and the knowledge that he’d felt this way for a while was a surprising turn on.
‘You feeling okay?’ Lister asked him softly.
‘Yes, I’m fine – now,’ murmured Rimmer, voice slightly hoarse.
‘And you’re definitely not drunk or on any medication?’
‘Fully in control?’
‘Not gonna run out on me in the morning?’
‘Lister – !’
‘You want to fuck me?’
Rimmer gave a strange choking sound.
‘Yes,’ he whispered frantically.
‘Lock!’ Lister called over his shoulder, and the doors slid shut.
Half an hour later, most – if not all of Lister’s earlier concerns about Rimmer had faded away for now, because the guy was finally unwinding. After a couple of false starts where Lister had given him an enjoyable (albeit interrupted and short) blowjob, Rimmer seemed to have gotten the hang of things. He was thrusting into Lister madly, gripping him with a passion that was almost alarming, and gasping and moaning against Lister’s shoulder. Lister grinned and shut his eyes as he palmed Rimmer’s arse and let the man rock them both to ecstasy in the bottom bunk.
‘Did you enjoy it?’ Rimmer asked afterwards, when they were lying together, both still sweaty and out of breath.
‘Yeah,’ sighed Lister dreamily as he lit up a cigarette.
Rimmer propped himself up on an elbow to look at him then, and Lister thought he was about to be told off for smoking, but he said, ‘I’ll get better.’
‘Aw, look, man,’ said Lister, reaching with his free hand to cup Rimmer’s cheek. ‘You must have heard the sounds I was making. I really enjoyed it!’
‘Yes, but I’ll learn more. And I’ll give it you whenever you want.’
Lister burst out laughing at that, and Rimmer looked cowed.
‘Rimmer – it was great! I’ll hold you to that, though. I always did get a bit hot and sticky when you got your clipboard and pen out.’
‘Lister,’ said Rimmer, his tone quickly turning serious. ‘I didn’t mean to imply that we could abuse the rota willy-nilly. We may be together now, but when we are on duty – ’
Lister exhaled some smoke into his face, stopping him mid-rant, and grinned. Rimmer was clearly back on form. But it didn’t matter what he said; Lister was definitely going to seduce him during their next shift.
‘I really enjoyed it too,’ Rimmer said then, still blinking rapidly from the smoke as he covered the hand Lister still held against his face with his own and linked their fingers together. ‘You don’t know what this meant – what it means to me.’
‘I have an idea,’ said Lister, giving their hands a little squeeze.
They went at it again a few minutes later; rubbing off against each other as Lister grasped their cocks in one hand, and afterwards Lister let Rimmer fall asleep with his head on his chest. He stroked his fingers through Rimmer’s wild hair, having teased out all the gel in the earlier action.
He smiled. It looked as though he’d found the man he was taking to Fiji, after all.