Chapter 1: May I have a witness?
Disoriented and vaguely nauseous, Howard opened his eyes slightly, then screwed them tightly shut, pained by the harsh lights overhead.
An all-too-familiar nasal voice addressed him. “Ah, Sleeping Ugly stirs. Wake up, you goit.” Cracking one eye open again, Howard tried and failed to focus on Arnold’s face looming over him.
A warm hand was placed on his brow. “You’re in the Medi-Bay aboard Red Dwarf, man,” someone said in a Scouse lilt - the Touch-T? Yes, that was it. “Your bee got damaged on the Trojan by that nutter Crawford, but Kryten and I finally sorted it. How do you feel?”
“Hnngh,” Howard mumbled.
Arnold crowed, “He can’t speak? Marvelous!”
“Only temporarily, sir,” Howard heard his brother’s mech answer. “We’re running your diagnostic and repair program on him now. Some of his files were evidently corrupted by his resentment overload and the trauma of his holo-death, but it’s nothing we can’t fix.
“Oh, joy,” Arnold groused. “Can’t wait.” He leaned over Howard again, hovering a few inches above his face. “Feeling tickety-boo yet, eh, Howster?”
Straining with the tremendous effort, Howard finally found his voice.
“So, it was all a lie, then. No ship, no Lamborghinis, no beautiful women falling at your feet. You’re no better than I am. In fact, I outrank you, Second Technician,” Howard gloated. Rimmer glared at him across the bunkroom table, electing to slurp his wine angrily rather than respond. “Did you ever make First Technician, or was that beyond you?” As Rimmer’s face began to twitch with fury, his brother pressed on, sniping, “We always knew you weren’t officer material, but not even managing First Technician? Really, Arnold, even you should have...”
“Oi, mate!” Lister shot to his feet and pounded his fist on the table, cutting Howard’s sneering short. “You’ll back the smeg off if you have any sense in that thick skull of yours, or I’ll smash your smegging light bee with me bare hands!” As Howard stared at him in shock, cowering slightly in his chair, Lister turned to Rimmer and gently began stroking his arm, soothing the enraged hologram. Resuming his seat, he continued to comfort Rimmer while addressing Howard. “Look, man. Arn didn’t want to bring you back at first, but I talked him into it. Don’t make me regret it, yeah?”
Howard eyed Lister warily. “Why did you bring me back, anyhow?”
“We needed to ask you for a favor.”
“Which would be...?”
Lister faced Howard and stared him dead in the eyes. “We need you to be a witness to our wedding.”
Stunned, Howard found himself unable to speak for the second time that day.
Chapter 2: A little persuasion
So, Howard, are you going to stand up for Arn, or what?
“See? I told you he’d be like that! Didn’t I tell you he’d be like that? He’ll never agree,” Rimmer snapped peevishly. “He always did hate me.” The hologram sat back in his chair, arms folded tightly, staring daggers at Howard.
“Give him a moment, darlin’,” Lister patiently replied, rising to stand behind his partner and rub his shoulders. “He’s probably trying to get his head round all this.” As Rimmer leaned back gratefully into his touch, Lister continued, “Besides, we have to have him if we’re going to do this all proper-like, at least for the way you want it.”
“I do want a traditional Ionian wedding, Listy - well, at least as traditional as we can make it here on this rustbucket, at any rate. It means so much to me.”
Lister smiled and kissed his hologram on his H. “Then we need that smegheaded arse over there if we’re doing this your way.”
Frowning, Rimmer sighed, “Yes, well, it’s not as though we have much of a choice, as I’m required to have a family member witness my marriage. Much as it disgusts me, that gimboid is my only option. Smeg.”
Howard spoke at last. “A wedding? Your wedding? You? But, you’re both men!”
“Glad you noticed,” Lister replied dryly.
“Men can’t marry other men on Io. It’s simply not done!”
“Well, Dorothy, you aren’t on Io anymore.” Lister padded around the table and planted himself in front of Howard, eyes snapping with unspoken challenge. “Your stupid smegging rules don’t apply here in deep space on our ship. I’m an enlightened twenty-third century guy, your brother is me love, and we want to get married. Now, are you gonna stand up for Arn or not?”
“What’s in it for me?”
Hand to his chin in mock thought, Lister replied, “Hmm, let’s see... Not being shut off and fired out the nearest airlock, for starters.”
“You’re right, I wouldn’t - but he would.” Lister nodded towards Rimmer, who was glowering at Howard. “He might not even bother to shut you off first.”
Howard eyed Lister apprehensively as he slowly answered, “You make a persuasive case, Listerton-Smythe.”
“It’s ‘Lister,’ you moron.”
“Yes. Lister. Sorry. As I was saying, Lister, you’ve convinced me. I’ll do it.”
“Swear you’ll do it, and you won’t be a git about it.” Lister leaned in until his face was inches from Howard’s. “I might not shoot you out into deep space, but I could always use another drink stirrer. This one’s messy.” Human and hologram both glanced over to the bunkroom kitchenette, where the vacant-eyed shell of Sim Crawford stood leaning against the wall in readiness for the next cup of tea.
Lister clapped his hands cheerily, and chirped, “Right, then, that’s sorted! Krytes, how about another round of drinks? Cat, get in here! We’ve got a wedding to plan!”
Chapter 3: Here Comes the Bride?
Naturally, the Boys’ wedding will have two grooms - or will it? Ionian tradition begs to differ.
“Now, as my bride, you’ll have certain wording in your vows that differs from mine as the groom,” Rimmer began.
“Bride? What bride? Me?” Lister scowled indignantly at Rimmer. “In case you’ve forgotten since this morning, I’m a bloke, smeghead! How the smeg can I be your bride?”
“It’s an Ionian wedding, Listy,” Rimmer replied in an annoyingly reasonable tone that set Lister’s teeth on edge. “There has to be a bride and a groom. Obviously, I’m the groom, so that makes you the bride. It’s just a title. It’s not as though you’re expected to wear a gown, although...” Dreamy-eyed, Rimmer trailed off.
Lister snorted in irritation. “You what? Why are you obviously the groom? What makes me more bridey than you?”
Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, and puffing out his chest a bit, Rimmer answered, “First of all, I outrank you, Third Technician. Also, my family is of higher social standing than yours.”
“Tremendous surprise, that,” Howard smirked.
“Howard, shut up. Furthermore...”
“Look, Bud - somebody has to wear a fabulous gown,” Cat interjected. “You can’t have a wedding without a fabulous wedding gown!” Cat slid off his chair and began pacing up and down agitatedly as the others stared at him in confusion. “I’ve waited my entire life for the chance to design the perfect gown! You can’t take that away from me!”
“Don’t interrupt, Gerbil Cheeks! I thought I would get my chance when Officer Bud-Babe hooked up with us, but you went and scared her off!”
Ignoring Lister, Cat continued, “So, since Officer BB won’t be wearing my design for you, you’re gonna have to wear it for Tunnel Nostrils! You owe me!” Spinning abruptly on his elegant Cuban heel, Cat stormed out of the sleeping quarters in a perfumed, glittering rush. As Lister yelled after him to wait, he tossed over his shoulder, “I’m going to get my designing stuff! I’ll be right back!”
Bewildered, Lister asked, “What the smeg just happened?”
“I believe Mr. Cat has volunteered to create your wedding gown, sir,” Kryten responded. “He is a magnificently talented designer and tailor. Oh, sir, you’ll be absolutely lovely! I’m so happy! This must be how the mother of the bride feels,” he squeaked, wiping an oily tear from his eye with a nearby tea towel.
Lister barked, “Not you, too, Kryten! I am not going to be the smegging bride!”
Leaning back in his chair, Howard drawled, “Dave, although it pains me to say this, my baby brother is correct. For your marriage to be valid in Ionian tradition, there must be a bride and a groom. One of you has to assume the title. As Arnold is the only Ionian in your... relationship, it naturally follows that he is the groom, which makes you his blushing bride. Don’t worry - you aren’t obligated to be wed in a gown, although I do think you’d be rather fetching in bridal white.” As Lister growled threateningly, Howard added, “I must admit that I’m delighted that you two resurrected me, so to speak. This promises to be tremendously entertaining.”
Lister groaned and slowly rubbed his temples. “This whole smegging thing promises to be a disaster, more like. So much bloody drama! Taking the Wildfire for a quickie wedding in a fly-up chapel by Holo-Elvis in Space Vegas is looking better and better.” Hearing Rimmer’s sharp intake of breath at his words, Lister glanced at the hologram and noted his crestfallen expression. He hugged Rimmer to him with one arm, and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m sorry, darlin’,” he soothed. “I know you want all this wedding crap, and I want you to be happy, so I’ll go along with it. It’s just that I’m not the bridal type, yeah? I’ll take the title if I have to, but I am not wearing any stupid smegging dress.”
As Rimmer gently nuzzled Lister’s cheek in unspoken thanks, Cat bounded back into the bunkroom, an enormous satchel in one hand, and a suitcase stuffed full of fabric in the other. Gleefully, he yowled, “Let’s go, Bud! It’s design time!”
Lister slumped forward and banged his forehead off the table in frustration.
Chapter 4: Brotherly Love
As the debate over attire rages on, the Brothers Rimmer have a bit of a tiff.
“I’m wearing a suit.” Lister folded his arms and set his jaw in defiance.
“Nope. A gown. A fabulous gown. Here - look at this sketch.” Cat shoved an enormous sketchbook across the table towards Lister.
Pushing the sketchbook away without looking at it, Lister snapped, “Cat, no smegging gowns!”
Indignantly, Cat shot back, “Bud, like I said, you owe me! Somebody is wearing a fabulous gown for this wedding, and it ain’t gonna be Goalpost Head. Although, he does have the height and legs for it - maybe a mermaid style or a dramatic silk sheath...” Cat broke off and began studying Rimmer thoughtfully, much to the hologram’s annoyance.
“Cat, you idiot, I am NOT wearing a blasted gown! I’m the groom, and I’ll be wearing my dress uniform!” Rimmer scowled a challenge at Cat, silently daring him to push the issue. Cat didn’t deign to respond, however. Instead, he picked up a pencil and began a new sketch, occasionally glancing at Rimmer.
Howard, who was lounging on the sofa munching popcorn and enjoying the show, piped up, “Oh, come now, little brother, why not? You certainly have the hips to pull it off, and you always were the most girlish of us all.” Face flaming, Rimmer whipped around, attempting to bore a hole through his cheeky git of a brother with an infuriated glare. Howard snickered. “Arnold, it’s far too simple to get a rise out of you. You really should try controlling that temper of yours for your health. Lower your T-count. Try yoga or meditation, perhaps, or even shagging your - ahem - bride more often. That’s always good for stress relief.”
Rimmer launched himself from his chair and dove over the back of the sofa after his brother, murder in his eyes. Sniggering, Howard turned soft-light and phased through Rimmer as he crashed inelegantly onto the cushions face-first. “Missed me, Arnold.” His face pressed into a throw pillow, Rimmer let loose an extensive and rather creative barrage of muffled curses directed at Howard.
Still laughing, Howard shifted back to hard-light and turned to fetch a fresh glass of wine from the kitchenette, only to find himself blocked by Lister, who was standing in his path puffed up with anger like a feisty bantam rooster. The Scouser grabbed the hologram by his collar with surprising strength, growling, “I told you to back the smeg off! Are you a nutter, or just stupid? Mate, I’ll personally lob your bee out into deep space if you don’t stop being an arsehole!” His innate cowardice kicking in, Howard stammered a shaky apology to Lister. “It’s not me you need to be sayin’ this to,” Lister said. “It’s your brother.” Shaking Howard like a terrier with a rat, he continued, “Now, apologize, smegger!”
Howard looked over at Rimmer, who was sullenly slumped on the sofa. “My apologies, dear Arnold,” he cooed insincerely.
Lister smacked the back of Howard’s head. “Not like that, ya smarmy git!”
Warily eyeing Lister, Howard said, “I’m - I’m - I’m sorry. There. Happy now?”
Rimmer harrumphed in reply, but seemed mollified, so Lister let go of Howard, who promptly scrambled out of arm’s reach. As the Rimmer brothers and Lister glared at one another, Cat proudly purred, “Bud, look! It’s the perfect design! Now, stand still so I can get your measurements!”
Lister rolled his eyes. “Smeg - here we go again.”
Chapter 5: Vows
Rimmer lay in his bunk in the darkened sleeping quarters, reading his Ionian wedding guide. “Listy,” he said, gently nudging Lister, who was snuggled drowsily against him. “Listen to this. ‘I, Groom’s Name, do plight thee my troth, and cleave to thee as my lawfully wedded wife before all the witnesses gathered here today.’ Isn’t that romantic?”
Lister burrowed his face into Rimmer’s side, mumbling incoherently. Rimmer nudged him again, a bit less gently. “Listy, pay attention. This is important!”
Turning his head slightly, Lister peered blearily at the hologram through one barely open eye. “You wha’?”
“Our vows, you goit! I want to read you our vows!”
Lister groaned. “Rimmer, I’m sleepin’. Tell me in the morning.”
Rimmer sat upright, dislodging Lister from his cozy nest. “Lister, you know this is important to me! Why can’t you just indulge me?”
Burying his head under the blankets, Lister grumbled, “Why can’t it wait, man? I’m trying to sleep here. The book’s not going anywhere.” When no answer was forthcoming, he poked his head back out of his bedding cocoon. “Are you pouting?”
“No, I’m not. I don’t ‘pout.’”
“I don’t ‘sulk,’ either.”
“Looks like you’re doing a bang-up job of not sulking.”
Noting the sullen look on Rimmer’s face, Lister relented, not wanting to upset him further so close to bedtime. “All right, babe. Read me the smegging vows if it’ll make you happy.” He tugged at the blue silk of Rimmer’s pajama sleeve, urging him to lie down again. Mollified, the hologram allowed Lister to pull him down into an embrace. Lister kissed him on his H, then nestled his head on Rimmer’s shoulder and resigned himself to listening as his partner picked up his book again.
“Now, as I was saying, Listy, listen to this. ‘I, Groom’s Name, do plight thee my troth, and cleave to thee as my lawfully wedded wife before all the witnesses gathered here today.’”
“You what?” Lister raised his head and looked quizzically at Rimmer. “What’s all that smeg supposed to mean?”
“It means that I’m telling everyone at the wedding that I want to marry you, you gimboid.”
“No, I mean, what’s all this about plights? Doesn’t plight mean trouble?”
“It doesn’t mean trouble here. It means that I’m promising you my troth.”
“Trough? Like for watering animals? Well, I guess that would be useful on Fiji, but here?”
“No, no, not that kind of trough. Troth. It means, um...”
Lister snickered and poked Rimmer’s side, joking, “You don’t know, do ya? So, you’re going to stand there and make promises about being a good Ionian husband to me without even knowing what it means? I’m not sure about this, man, not with all this talk about plights and troths and cleaving and smeg.”
To Lister’s surprise, Rimmer seemed disheartened. “Please don’t tease me, Listy,” he sighed sadly. “I know you’re only playing, but it still bothers me a bit.”
“All right, more than a bit. This wedding means so much, and I want it to be perfect for us.”
Propping himself up on one elbow, Lister pressed a gentle, apologetic kiss to Rimmer’s lips. “I’m sorry, babe. I don’t mean to hurt you, but all this flowery language sounds stupid to me. Why can’t we just write our own vows? I could write you a song...”
“Please, no, for the love of Io - I don’t think I deserve that punishment.” Despite himself, Rimmer couldn’t help grinning as Lister smacked him on the arm.
“Fine. I could write you a poem, and you could make some long, flowery speech in your own words. You’d like that.”
“Well, yes, I would, but I’m afraid that, to be married properly, we have to use the traditional vows.” As Lister rolled his eyes and harrumphed in annoyance, Rimmer added, “We could use your idea at the reception, though.”
“Yeah, OK, smeghead. Now, put down that book and come here. I want to show you poetry in motion.”
“Charmer.” Rimmer reached up and switched off his reading light.
Chapter 6: Guests
The guest list, such as it is, is slowly taking shape.
“No. Absolutely not.”
“What do you mean, no? He’s a friend.”
“I’d hardly call Hogey a friend, Listy. Our obnoxious space neighbor, yes. An annoying acquaintance, certainly. That bloody nutter who keeps barging in on us, absolutely. But, a friend? No.”
Lister tapped his pen on the table in slight irritation. “Look, man. The guy is here all the time, and it’s not like we’re spoilt for choice for guests.” As Rimmer harrumphed, Lister added, “Besides, he knows about the wedding, and wants to come. It would smeg him up not to be invited.”
Arching his brow, Rimmer asked, “And, he knows about it, how, exactly?”
“I told him when he was here watching Westerns with me the other week. I’m inviting him.”
Rimmer rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Fine, but no plus-ones. One dry-rotted rogue droid is quite enough.”
“No worries - we supposedly keeled his brudder, remember? He doesn’t have anyone to bring.” Lister scrawled Hogey’s name down in his notebook. “At least we know what he’ll want to give us as a gift.”
“Let me guess. ‘Humos, for your present, I challenges you both to a duel across time and space!’ No thanks. We’ve already got one.”
Lister snorted at his hologram’s flawless impression of the rogue droid. “We’ll just tell him we’re too busy for the next Ice Age or so. Now, how about Butler?”
“He’s catering. Kryten asked him, and he said he’d be delighted to help. He’s also Kryten’s date.”
“Oh, that’s romantic. I’ll be sure to toss him me bouquet. I’d like to see a mech wedding.”
Rimmer laughed. “I want to officiate over that one. Do you, Captain U-Bend, take the far more accomplished Butler to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold through deep cleans and mounds of laundry until decommissioning do you part? ‘I do, Mr. Rimmer, sir!’” As Lister swatted his arm with the planning notebook, he continued, “Bob, may we have the ceremonial gold-plated toilet plungers, please? Now, repeat after me. With this plunger, I thee wed. You may now scrub one another clean.”
“Stop, ya smegger! I don’t want him to hear you. He’s sensitive enough about being with Butler.” Lister tried to glower sternly at Rimmer, but failed miserably, and began chortling despite himself. “You’re like living with a mynah bird, smeghead.”
Preening himself, the hologram replied, “I try. Who else do you have on that list of yours? Random GELFs? At least they’d bring alcohol. A few Simulants, perhaps? I always pictured myself battling for my life on my wedding day. Maybe a BEGG or two? We could send them through the decontamination showers before we let them on board, and we wouldn’t have to worry about garbage cleanup.”
“Deb, Arlene, Kryta, Dog - and the boys.”
Suddenly serious, Rimmer stared at his partner in disbelief. “Jim and Bex? Is that even possible? What about the accelerated aging? Do you mean via commlink?”
“No. Here. Butler says he knows how we can do it. It involves a bunch of stasis engineering smeg for localized fields that I don’t begin to understand. He’s working on it with Krytes, Snacky, and Kryta. They should be able to come. I was gonna surprise you...” Lister broke off as, eyes filling with tears, he choked back a sob. Rimmer embraced him tightly, resting his chin on top of Lister’s head as the Scouser buried his face in the hologram’s chest. “We’ll have our boys with us, love,” Lister whispered softly. “Our sons...”
Rimmer just held him as he cried.