As Arnold J Rimmer entered their tiny bunkroom, the smell of home-cooked food teased his nostrils. He smiled happily to see Dave Lister standing at their tiny stove. For a brief second he just stood and took it all in: the decorated room, the smell of cranberries, and his beloved waiting for him. It was all he’d ever dreamed of; it was all he’d ever wanted.
“Hey, welcome back Rimsy.” Lister turned around to face his partner and smiled, then he frowned and looked concerned. “Aw, don’t you look tired me babe. I heard ya worked really hard today. Guess what, we’ll have Christmas dinner in a bit and then it’s relaxing time for both of us.”
Rimmer moved forward to eagerly pull his Listy into a loving hug and kiss…
“Rimmer, Rimmer, wake up. Your break is almost over.”
Lister’s arms around him, just one kiss…
“Rimmer, come on now.”
With a pitiful groan, Rimmer returned to reality. Was someone shaking him? Blinking in confusion, he noticed a face frowning at him in concern. It wasn’t Lister’s though.
“What…” He muttered. “Why?”
Slowly his brain tried to connect to what was going on. Why was he sleeping with his head on a table? He wasn’t feeling well. Why was he aching all over? Why wasn’t he still in Lister’s arms?
“Hey, are you okay? You look spaced out. I told you to eat something," the person tsk'ed. “Here, some water.”
Seeing the catering officer outfit in front of him, he remembered and groaned. “Thank you Olaf.” But he wasn’t able to lift his head up just yet.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and back then he was certain he could handle it.
It was two weeks before Christmas, as he was studying for his catch-up exam (a last chance to make officer before Christmas), Lister had entered looking ecstatic.
“I won!" He whooped. "Smeg it, I won! I can’t believe it!!” He then started cater-wailing an unnecessarily out of tune version of “So Here it is Merry Christmas” much to Rimmer’s annoyance.
“Lister!” He cried out.
“Do you ride on down the hillside
In a buggy you have made
When you land upon your head
Then you bin slayed”
The singing stopped. “Wha?” came the innocent reply.
“Either tell me what you want, or shut up.”
Lister came closer, excited eyes filled with joy met his. Full lips beaming with the biggest smile Rimmer had seen in weeks. Oh, how he’d wanted to kiss that smile.
He immediately repressed that feeling as he had done for months now, ever since Lister had set foot in that bunkroom. It just wouldn’t do; he was Lister’s superior and Lister… well, he would never look at him like that. Lister liked women, as he’d clearly proved when he fell in love with Officer Kochanski. Oh, how he resented her; he was certain she had always looked down on him and then had used Lister, breaking his heart. She had received all the kisses and hugs, all the warm soft things he had longed for all his life, and it had meant nothing to her.
To her Lister had just been a rebound until she returned to her ex and he had been left with a broken man to look after. In a classic Rimmer way, he had ruined the chance of being a friend and shoulder to cry on, instead he had gone for the tough love approach. He’d had to, he didn’t know how to comfort someone.
“I only won a Christmas trip to Mimas!" Lister was back to bouncing around the room. “I applied to that Christmas holiday lottery thing and won the trip. Now me, Chen, and Selby are gonna have the trip of a lifetime!”
Hearing these ecstatic words from Lister sent a chill went through Rimmer. Not just because Lister didn’t even care to think of inviting him, but because, as usual, he had to be the bad guy, shooting down Lister’s happiness. He sighed, standing up.
“Lister, how could you be so stupid!” He snapped, feeling his chest tighten.
In a flash, the bouncing stopped and Lister turned to him in confusion. “You wha?” He asked.
“The Christmas roster hasn’t arrived yet; you could be drafted for the big shift!” In fact, Rimmer was certain Lister would be part of the ever rotating Christmas shift. A hard grind for all the lower staff drafted in. They had to serve the higher-ups on all their Christmas breakfasts, lunches, dinners, receptions, and parties. It was ever ongoing, and for technicians, this came while also having to do an added morning Z shift to make sure the machines were stacked with Christmas treats.
The shifts were rotating so all the staff could rest in five-hour breaks as others would take over in a rotating schedule. As a concession, those that had served the previous year would have the week of the year after, though this meant the waiter team were always hideously understaffed, and thus the crunch was worse than necessary. Rimmer had served every year since he came on board, as he simply had nowhere to go and kind of liked being part of the waiter staff. Always being ready to help out at Christmas had earned him a bit of respect, which he enjoyed. It gave him a sense of duty during the days that were cold and empty for him.
Rimmer’s heart broke as he saw the light in Lister’s eyes die and seeing him shrivel back to the broken man he’d been before. Smeg, he knew the pain of disappointment and a ruined Christmas only too well, he couldn’t bear seeing this reflected in Lister’s eyes.
Then the roster arrived and Rimmer luckily snatched it away before Lister could read it. Immediately he saw; they were drafted for Z shift and on a rotating waiter schedule for the Christmas duration. This would break Lister’s heart, he knew. His first Christmas in space on waiter duty right after that break up with Kochanski?
“Well?” Lister asked, looking more tense than he’d ever seen; this trip clearly meant the world to him. Of course it did, this being his first Christmas in space, away from all he knew and loved. He should get to spend it with his friends and have fun, even though it meant Rimmer would be alone again.
Anxious eyes watched him and Rimmer swallowed, knowing he was setting himself up for a Christmas from hell. But at that moment, he just couldn’t face Lister’s sad eyes any more.
He forced himself to smile. “Good luck Listy! You are free this Christmas.”
To his relief, the smile and light returned to the face in front of him; he’d succeeded!!
“Brutal!” Lister cheered. “Smeg, that’s amazing!” He jumped forward, pulling Rimmer into a bear hug and the second technician waited just a second too long to shake him off.
“Get off Lister, you goit! Go on then, get your friends and make plans.” A happy Lister skipped to the door. It was worth it, Rimmer thought.
Quickly, he hid the roster and wondered how in the world he’d make it work; the exam, the Christmas Eve reception shift, Z shift, and four complete party, lunch, and dinner shifts. But he had to, he had committed himself to this now, and he was Arnold J Rimmer; he knew hard work, he could do this!
Most of the days that followed were filled with the fulfilling sight of seeing Lister growing back to his old self as Christmas grew closer. He, Chen and Selby planned and laughed as they prepared for the trip of a lifetime. Sometimes, being excluded stung Rimmer a little, especially as he sat studying and Lister and the guys would mock him and his work ethic as they lazed around and had fun. Most of the time, though, his hours away from work and studying were spent with fretting about his exams and how to pull off the toughest working day he would ever have.
Secretly, he created a new schedule that made it all work: the exam was on the 23rd, so if he scheduled his Z shift early in the day, he would have enough time to recover from the stress. He needed to be reasonably rested for the events that followed, starting on Christmas Eve. He hoped Lister wouldn’t question why he would reschedule the shifts. Not that Listy would mind an excuse for having the evening of the night before he went on holiday.
On holiday… Rimmer couldn’t remember ever having been on a real holiday, except for a few school trips. As a child, he was usually left behind to do extra classes while his family went away. He had never made much use of his leave while working for the JMC either, preferring to keep working. The only days he took were sick leave for the days after exams to recover from the stress, to sleep off whatever breakdown he'd suffered, not that he'd admit to it.
That wouldn’t happen this time, as the day before the all-important exam a note was delivered. Due to unforeseen circumstances (why does no-one ever explain what those are?), his exam would now be taken on the morning of December the 24th. Any other day, an extra day of study would be welcome, but now Rimmer just stared dully at the paper as terror overtook him. His plan, his carefully crafted plan! This meant there would barely be time for rest at all.
The door opened, a worried looking Lister was presented to the room.
“Hey, erm Rimmer…” He said softly, the look in his eyes melting Rimmer’s fears away. “I heard they moved your exam, man. I know how hard that stuff is for you, I could not go and help you out.”
Oh Listy! Rimmer thought that was the kindest thing anyone had ever offered him. No one had ever offered giving up on something for him. He’d never take the offer, of course, he couldn’t do that to him.
He smiled. “No, no, I’ll be fine, I always am.”
“You sure?” Lister looked sincere.
“Yes, but thank you.”
The nights before the exam were mostly spend with late revisions and little sleep, something he was used to by now. It was just that the anxiety over his schedules made everything worse.
The alarm went off and Rimmer groaned tiredly. Smeg, already? He’d only fallen asleep half an hour before after a night of panic. It was exam day and he was exhausted already. Great, this was just great. Tiredly, he dragged himself out of bed to shower and dress. He tried to dress himself as quietly as possible but couldn’t help bumping into a chair in his anxious exam panic. A sigh from the upper bunk.
“Go back to sleep Lister.” Rimmer whispered.
A drowsy smile from the Scouser. “Good luck on your exam Rimmer, I mean it.”
“Check yer desk.” Lister muttered as he turned over and started snoring again. For a second Rimmer felt jealous about that. Then he went to look on his desk, finding a breakfast bar and a note.
“Try eating before an exam for a change, you smeghead!”
Shaking his head, Rimmer put the bar in his pocket. It was a sweet suggestion but there was no way he could eat before an exam; it would only make him throw up.
He arrived early, making time to set up his pencils without feeling rushed like in previous years, and waited for the exam papers to be handed out. Todhunter walked by and left the pages, moving on to the three other people. Palms began to sweat as he waited for the test to begin, anxiety growing with each passing minute until it was overwhelming. When the announcement for the start of the test was made, he couldn’t get a good enough grip on the exam paper and, after fighting with it for a moment, ended up ripping it in half. Without a word, he collected his pencils, gave the officer a standard Rimmer salute, and left.
His heart didn’t stop thudding in his chest until he was back to his quarters in defeat, the only saving grace being that he didn’t have a panic attack that landed him in the infirmary so that he’d still be able to join Lister for his last Z shift before leaving. Rimmer was so busy trying to keep up with the loaded schedule, he didn’t notice at first how extra nice Lister was being, how he didn’t hum or sing or backtalk, but was helpful, even offering tools before being asked.
Once finished, they dropped by their quarters so Lister could pick up his bag before, with Rimmer following, meeting up with Selby and Chen at the docking bay.
"What's he doing here?" Selby asked Lister sotto voce.
"To send me off, why else?" Lister hadn't actually thought he would, but felt it was nice of Rimmer to. For a brief second he felt guilty for not even asking Rimmer if he’d wanted to come along. The man looked as if he could do with a break. Then he shook his head, nah Rimmer would never be interested in spending time with him outside of work.
“See ya smeghead,” Chen mockingly did a Rimmer salute, causing Selby and Lister to laugh at Rimmer's scowl, before they headed to the loading ramp.
Seeing Lister walk to the shuttle Rimmer felt a pull in his heart. He wished he could say… no, he’d never say that. But… he wanted to say… something. “Oh, Listy… erm,” he called, not sure if what he had to say would be welcome, but after how well they’d gotten on since he lied about the holiday shift, Rimmer felt like this was worth saying. “While you are there… just be careful, okay? A lot of people going to Mimas lost everything in those Casinos. I wouldn’t want to… have to retrain a new technician so soon.”
Lister nodded with a slightly confused look on his face, before leaving with a wave; Rimmer stayed and watched the shuttle depart, belatedly realising he needed to rush back to their quarters for a shower before his first shift serving the Christmas Eve Ball.
By the time he got there in the crisp uniform he’d been issued for the event, hair gelled down with two layers to make sure his rebellious curls stayed in place, they had already begun sending people out with trays. After a few hours, he was regretting his decision to waste time on gelling instead of taking a power-nap mightily, his hair still going wild due to the steam and heat from the kitchens as he went in and out with trays.
The workload for the Christmas Eve ball was the greatest he'd ever seen and Rimmer thought for sure they ate triple the amount of the year before. Endless hours of serving and standing around waiting. He was used to this: family lunches and cadet college had prepared him for long hours of standing, but being already ravaged by anxiety, sleep deprivation and a full working day it was tough, especially in uncomfortable waiter shoes. Finally, around one o’ clock the guests had left. Bed! Was all a worn out Rimmer could think of. But no, to add insult to injury Rimmer, along with others who had no-one to go to on Christmas eve, was told to stay after with the cleanup crew. For two long hours Rimmer was wiping tables before sweeping and mopping the floor before returning to the sleeping quarters around 3 o’ clock, knowing he only had time for a short rest before a Z shift at 5 o'clock.
He had wanted to shower and prepare himself for the next day, but he couldn’t muster the energy anymore. I’ll do a quick shower in the morning, Rimmer promised himself as he quickly changed into his pajamas. Then, at last, Rimmer flopped into his bunk and closed his eyes, only to reopen them again less than ninety minutes later as the alarm sounded. Just a few more minutes, his mind begged, as he lay quietly to prepare himself for everything he knew was coming. His body, aware of the strain it had already been through protested at getting up again so soon and Rimmer slowly nodded off again and … overslept.
As the alarm went again Rimmer sat up with a flash; 4:45! He was late; smeg, he’d never overslept before! Why now, at what was already going to be such a difficult day? He had hoped to prepare himself with a high carb breakfast and some coffee, especially as he’d barely eaten anything the day before. No time now; it was a quick wash and go, go, go!
Rushing into his work clothes, he felt something fall out of his pocket, he looked quickly and smiled; Lister’s smegging breakfast bar.
“Thanks Listy,” he muttered it as he pocketed it again. “Looks like it might come in handy after all.”
A look in the mirror, quick gelling and out he rushed to the lift where he could take a breather; he’d damn well made up for his error and was right on time. One of the perks of being one of the few people awake and working this early was that the lifts were empty.
With a smile, Rimmer ordered a cup of Christmas tea from the dispensing machine when the lift came. He got in and sat down to eat his breakfast bar whilst sipping his drink and listening to the soft Christmas muzak as the lift took him to his destination. Later, he would remember this moment fondly as it was the last moment of rest he’d have in a long time.
If he thought he and Lister had had a full schedule of repairs the day before, it was nothing compared to this one. Not only had the entire shopping center’s payment system broken down, but it had caused a cascading effect through the vending machines that made them all to malfunction. The only fix for the vending machines was based on repairing the software of the payment system. It wasn't until the auto report system added the same machines he had just repaired back to the list that the officer in charge of the scheduled listened to Rimmer. This meant he had to finish the initial Z shift list twice, the second time where he simply checked over his work.
Wiping his face of sweat in the washroom while he changed, Rimmer realised it could have all gone much better had Lister been there. But he had sent them away and now he had to start his waiter shift and then take over for the wait shift that would have been Lister’s, the thought of that cherub cheek grin flashing across his memory as he wondered if doing this was really worth it. It was.
Then it begun: the Christmas rush. Officers, miners, assistants, trainee officers, secretaries and so on. All day they would come, demanding to be fed, only to eat more at the big dinner that evening. Only to drink themselves silly and throw it all up again after the ball that followed. While eating and drinking they mocked the staff, especially Rimmer as they knew he would not answer back. Longing to be an officer made him bite his tongue. Although watching these people lording it over everyone, then puking up their guts at the party made even him wonder if he really want to belong to that scene.
On the other hand, he found himself liking the other wait staff, especially as they were not as cruel as the diners and party guests were being. Still halfway into his second, Lister’s, shift Rimmer was finding himself getting short with them and having to apologies constantly. Exhaustion was creeping in far too early. While waiting for a platter, he took a moment to sit and rest his eyes. Unfortunately, he closed his eyes a little too long and was jolted awake when catering officer Petersen tapped his shoulder; the Dane had noticed Rimmer’s presence and looked at the schedule before approaching.
“Rimmer, you still here? Where is Lister? This is his shift.” Still dazed from the all too brief nap Rimmer shook his head a moment before answering.
“I… I made a mistake. Misread the roster with all the studying for my exam and accidentally let him go on holiday. Please don’t make a fuss of it, I made the mistake and I’ll fix it.
“I’ll just do his shift as well, it’s the right thing to do, we’re understaffed as it is.”
Petersen frowned. He knew from Lister’s tales how worked up Rimmer would get for an exam. This obviously meant Rimmer hadn’t slept the night before he waitered at the Christmas Eve party. His shift had lasted till three a.m. and Z shift had started at five this morning. Right now the second technician had served about seven hours of waiter duties on top of all that and the man looked not so much pale as transparent. Against his better judgement, he felt a bit worried.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea Rimmer? You’re not looking well.”
“I’ll be fine, it’s only one day.” Rimmer grumbled, he only had five minutes to relax and this berk had just wasted one of them.
“Well, look after yourself anyway, okay? Eat something on your break, I’m sure it’s been a while.”
Rimmer nodded; he wasn’t about to tell Petersen that all he’d had since five a.m. was that breakfast bar Lister had left him.
Within five seconds the entire waiter staff knew what was going on and everyone congratulated him for being such a trooper, although some wondered if it wouldn’t be too much for him.
“I’ll be fine,” Rimmer said again. Lying to himself as much to them: he was beginning to feel anything but.
If anything, the rest of his shift was worse than before, turning into endless hours of pure hell. Trying to do his duty in his already sleep deprived state, Rimmer had been faced with hateful diners with no compassion: wearing him down emotionally. While the endless walking and standing was taking it’s toll on his legs and feet. He had tried to avoid sitting down or resting as it got increasingly more difficult to find the will and strength to get up again. But eventually, he needed a break after being berated by a guest about the taste of food he had no hand in making. He had been called an idiot who would never ever make it as an officer if he couldn’t even serve food properly. Thankfully it was almost his ten minute break. He considered taking a power nap in one of the empty store rooms, but before he could slip out a figure approached him.
“You’re on your ten minute break, Rimmer.” Petersen said, handing him a plate. “Sit down and eat something.”
Rimmer nodded and took the plate, looking for an empty seat somewhere in the busy kitchen. He sat down for the first time in ages. He knew he should be sensible and use this moment do some breathing exercises and or eat, and yet…
Having been asked to get Rimmer back from his ten minute break, Petersen found him slumped over a table next to his plate of untouched food. Getting closer, he soon realised the second technician was fast asleep, mouth a little open and snoring. The staff tiptoed around his area, all very aware of how exhausted he was, and no-one wanting to be the one to wake him before his break was fully over. Petersen felt like a heel when he placed his hand on the exhausted man’s shoulder to wake him up, but they needed all the help they could get. He shook him a while, calling out his name as he did, but got no response. In fact Rimmer only started snoring louder. Finally after several more attempts Rimmer muttered something that seemed to resemble “What… Why?” followed by a groan. Petersen noticed Rimmer didn’t seem to recognise him or his surroundings and didn’t make any attempts to get up. Trying to be as considerate as possible under the circumstances he took a glass of water from a tray when it passed, sensing Rimmer would need it. Then he sat himself down next to him.
It took him awhile to get him fully conscious, but finally, Rimmer’s pale face lifted itself from the table. Petersen noticed that there were now dark circles under his eyes.
“Hey, you still haven’t eaten a thing, have you?” A stupid question, seeing the plate was clearly still untouched.
Rimmer shook his head; he had been too exhausted to eat and rest had been more important. Also, after serving this food all day, the smell was making him nauseous by now.
“Are you able to get up? If you’re ill, this has to stop, understaffed or not.” Rimmer looked so spaced out, it was scary. Petersen also knew Lister cared about this man and would be upset if anything happened to him.
“I’ll manage,” Rimmer muttered.
Slowly and groggily he got up from his seat; his legs were like lead, his feet were throbbing, his back was aching. His head… he didn’t even want to mention it, he could barely see through the spinning blur of pain and exhaustion. He had to lean on the bench for a few seconds to stop the spinning and take a few deep breaths. Maybe all this had been a bad idea, he pondered. Maybe he should admit he couldn’t take much more so he could finally go to bed. Peterson was right, he probably was ill. But it was no-one’s fault but his own and the other waiters shouldn’t have to pay the price for his stupid crush. In his mind, he convinced his body that this was just temporary, that tomorrow he could rest for as long as he wanted. He took a few sips of water, then it was back to work.
In the hours that followed, things didn’t get much better for the, by now broken, second technician. He was painfully slow due to the combined efforts of his ever-growing exhaustion and his unwilling legs and feet. He was so sluggish it soon started to annoy the customers. Urged by the head waiter he tried to focus, to be professional and speed things up, but he just didn’t have anything left.
Soon, however, things were even worse than they had been before.
Two people insulted him straight to the face, a female officer just screeched at him because he’d had the gall to place a cup an inch too far to the left.
He felt like he was being treated like a robot instead of a person.
When he stumbled over nothing, breaking several thankfully empty plates, he knew he was reaching the end of his tether. A little later, he nodded off he leaning against a wall waiting for the next order to be handed over. The clattering sound of his empty tray falling to the floor shook the tired man from his moment of peace.
On it went; taking orders, full trays, empty trays in and out the kitchens. Mocking remarks, people with complaints that their orders weren’t what they ordered or cooked right or tasted right. Nothing he did was right. In the end, he finally snapped and tried to strangle Officer Todhunter with some Christmas lights after he’d told him off for taking too long with his order, claiming his soup was cold.
He knew what that meant, all the officers knew what that meant, and they started sniggering. This was too much and he saw red. He only realised the Christmas lights were in his hands when Officer Kochanski pulled them from him. Seeing her face glare at him was the final straw: “It’s all your fault, you bitch!” he screamed.
He had been led out into the hallway, crying and hyperventilating, utterly humiliated.
Back in the staff room, he just couldn’t stop crying. Knowing he’d been on duty longer than anyone and had done a full Z shift on top of it all, most of the wait staff had actually been supportive of him; they knew how nasty those officers could get. A nice guy had gotten him to a chair while one of the girls had brought him some water. Hearing all the commotion, Petersen went to see what was going on and noticing Rimmer’s state, immediately ordered him to take an hour of R&R in his room before the big Christmas dinner and dance.
It was the least he could do, higher ups wouldn’t take kindly if he gave anyone the night off. But looking at the staggering and still crying Rimmer being supported to the lift, the catering officer frowned; there was no way he’d last five minutes at the smegging ball, let alone five hours! He’d better call Lister.
“Hey Davey boy, sorry to spoil your fun, but you better get your butt over here to help out that insane bunkmate of yours!”
Lister had, in fact, not been having fun at all. Well, that was a lie: the journey to Mimas had been fun: flying in deep space to a new world was an event. Laughing and singing with Chen and Selby as they went was a joy as well. But after that … Well, so far, he’d seen nothing of the planet except his bed, the bar and the casino. They’d barely put their luggage in the room before Chen and Selby had dragged him out again for an all-night drink and play session. Lister had grumbled at the idea of gambling on their first night, remembering Rimmer’s warning of how fast money went in casinos on Mimas. Wisely he had only taken a tenner and left the rest of his money in his wallet that he put in the safe. He played for a while, had some drinks, and then went to bed; he wanted to check out his first planet in the morning, and he didn’t want to do it with a hangover.
Soon Rimmer was proven right: Chen and Selby had drunk and gambled their entire year salary away during the night. They also lost their hotel room, watches, and other valuables. Lister couldn’t believe it when they called him for help at five o’ clock: they had only had one night at the place, how the smeg were they gonna last till New Year's day? To prevent his friends being thrown out Lister managed to sweet talk a friendly receptionist into moving all of them to a double room.
Most of the day, they had sat and watched telly, waiting for the casino to open again. Lister knew they would hit him up for money soon enough and he was right. They sulked and tried to emotionally blackmail him, but he refused to budge and wouldn’t give them a pennycent for the vending machines. After that, all they did was whinge, but he refused to go out and lose his own money much less have them tag along and try to bully him into forking over anything.
This was not what he’d had in mind for his first space adventure. A few times he wondered if he hadn’t been better off with Rimmer. Having the man plan a full artillery that took him past all of Mimas’ art and culture centers would have been preferable to this. At least he’d have got to see the planet instead of laying in bed staring at the walls. He could have done that on the ship.
Another smegging great Christmas this was, he thought sourly, scowling at the sleeping figures in the other bed. At least he had a nice full sized bed all to himself. Lister was about to get up for some food when the phone rang, and he rushed to get it before the sound woke the others. Petersen was on the other end and he’d never heard the Dane sound more worried.
What was he saying? He had to get back to help out Rimmer?!!
“Rimmer, what’s up with him?
“He’s been working for eighteen hours now and I don’t think he’ll last much longer.”
“Wha’? Who’s making him work for that long, and what for?” Lister was horrified.
“Well, seems he’s covering for you…”
“Wha’…?” Lister asked again, but then it immediately hit him; the way he ‘surprisingly’ wasn’t needed for duty and could ‘conveniently’ go on his holiday. A quick succession of thoughts went through his mind, all asking: why? Why would Rimmer put himself through this?
Did he need money that bad? No, he never really saw Rimmer actually spending money. He was notorious for being frugal to the extreme, so he wouldn’t need the money. What if he had a secret expense? Child support payments? Nah, Rimmer was also notorious for being the most virginal member of the Love Celibates and that was saying something. Blackmail? For what? Rimmer was so afraid of breaking the rules he didn’t so much as steal a candy bar when filling the machines, even if he was hungry. What reason would the man possibly have for working so hard? Pride? Hope for promotion by showing dedication? No, even Rimmer wouldn’t be that stupid.
That left only one option and that made him feel very uneasy; but no, no, not Rimmer, he wouldn’t.
“He said he’d made an error with the roster and would make up for it.” His friend verbalized the outcome he didn’t think possible.
“Don’t… tell me… I was scheduled for waiter and Z-shift duty?”
“Smeg, now I’ll miss out on me bonus!” Lister tried, desperately not wanting to hear what he already knew was the truth.
“Actually… Rimmer insisted the money would still be added to your account. Can’t believe he took all those extra shifts without pay…”
A chill overtook Lister. He couldn't deny it anymore. All clues pointed to only one answer. Did he do it for me? Why me? How did he think this was going to work? How can I make it up to him? When was he going to tell me? What did he expect to happen?
"Gotta tell you Dave, no matter what I think of him, that guy can work!” Petersen went on, unaware of Lister's growing turmoil. “He’s done a Z shift at five a.m. and has been on waiter duty ever since, but I think he’s broken. Problem is, we’re low on staff right now as is and still need him.”
Oh no! Lister thought. This smeg stops here. No way is an exhausted man working any longer on my behalf. From the corner of his eye, he noticed Chen and Selby had woken up and were fighting over the remote. Looking at them a plan formed inside his head.
“What if I tell ya I’ve got two idiots who lost their entire years salary ready to put in some overtime?” Problem solved.
When the lift finally arrived at his floor Arnold Rimmer slowly shuffled out and then all but crawled the last few yards to the bunkroom, every step seeming to take an hour now.
“Open!!” He grunted as he reached his door at last, then he saw his bed and burst into tears again.
“You okay Arnold?” Holly asked, sounding as worried as a computer possible could.
Rimmer didn’t reply, he’d barely even heard him.
“Wake me in half an hour Hol...” He slurred, then he kicked off the torture devices that were his shoes and collapsed on his bunk, not even caring to take off his waiter jacket and stained apron. The second he laid down he was gone, his exhausted snores filling the room.
Half an hour went by far too soon for someone in Rimmer’s state and Holly felt regret moving through his electrical currents when having to sound his alarm.
“Is it really time already?” Rimmer croaked in a regretful voice; he felt like he’d had no rest at all.
“Sorry Arnold.” Holly looked as apologetic as he could for someone made of pixels. “You better get ready for your next shift.”
With another sigh, feeling as if knives were stabbing his feet as he stood, Rimmer got up and dragged his painful body to the bathroom. Maybe a shower would help him wake up. A shower a fresh shirt, socks and underwear would surely give him a lift. He just hoped he could get his shoes back on his swollen feet. Maybe if he could get five minutes extra he could cool them in some ice water. Oh, how he longed for that.
Walking to the shower, he could barely keep his eyes open, and when he could, the room wouldn’t stop moving and kept going in and out of focus. The last thing he remembered was stepping into the small cabin and turning on the tap, then everything went black.
It took Lister a lot of coercing to get Selby and Chen to pack up and head back to the shuttles. This included pretending to check out himself under the guise that he was no longer feeling like being on Mimas. He didn’t check out though, he only asked how long the room would remain his if he were to not check in every night, thinking he might just return after helping Rimmer.
Then, finally, they got the shuttle for the half hour flight back to the Dwarf. This time Lister had too much on his mind so the view didn’t impress him. There was no singing either as Chen and Selby sat sulking in a corner, the loss of their entire years salary finally hitting home.
Lister was glad when they finally boarded the big red ship. He quickly hopped out, told Chen and Selby to follow him and dashed to the kitchen.
“How’s Rimmer?” Lister asked, entering the kitchen to find Petersen with the two broke smegheads in tow.
“He hasn’t come back yet. We’re ever so worried, he looked terrible when he left and he was crying an’ all...” One of the girls told him. Petersen nodded as he came to join them.
“I haven’t been able to check for him yet.” The Dane said in a quiet voice. Lister nodded, not wanting to show that he was starting to feel worried.
“I’ll go look for him and let ya know. Meanwhile, here are the idiots I promised ya, get ‘em to work for their pay, kay?”
For a brief second Selby and Chen looked at each other in horror as Lister left and a smug smiling Petersen wrapped an arm around them. “Get your aprons boys, it’s time for work.”
With a sigh the friends decided that they might have earned this punishment and … well at least the bonus and overtime meant that they’d end the evening with more money than they had at that moment.
“Rimmer!!” Lister called out as he entered their bunkroom, but there was no sight of him. “Rimmer?” He tried again, his worry heightening.
Then his instinct made him walk to their shower cabin. He opened the door, where …
“Smeg!! Oh smeg!!”
Slumped against the wall was Rimmer unconscious, his fingers, toes, and lips almost going blue with cold. Lister quickly knelt next to him. Thank smeg, he thought, when noticing he was still breathing. Gently he shook him, then carefully slapped his cheeks.
It took some time, but in the end Rimmer showed some signs of life, though it was clear the poor man was utterly confused and completely out of it.
“Rimmer, you okay?” Lister tried, his heart breaking a little at the state the man was in.
“C… cold…” Rimmer gasped through chattering teeth, his entire body shivering.
“Here…” Lister said, producing a towel. “Let’s get ya warm and dry, okay?”
“Warm… yes… please…”
Gently he helped the Second Technician dry himself, then wrapped him into a big warm bathrobe Rimmer had never seen before, but liked immediately as it was soft, warm and cozy.
“This was my Christmas present for you, cause yer always cold. Like it?” Lister babbled.
Still spaced out and shivering, Rimmer could only nod. Confused about what was dream and what was reality he came to the conclusion that he was probably on his break wrapped in a blanket so decided he would sleep and just closed his eyes.
“Rimmer, what are you doing?” Lister asked as Rimmer slumped into his arms.
“Sleeping…” Rimmer muttered.
“Think doing that in bed might be better.”
“No, no. Please let me sleep now, my break only lasts ten minutes.”
To Lister’s horror, Rimmer sounded utterly traumatized. Why would Rimmer have put himself through all this for him? He would have to be gentle.
“Rimmer man, yer not waitering anymore mate. Come on.”
Slowly and unwillingly, Rimmer opened his eyes again to look at the voice talking to him. He realised he was laying in Lister’s arms. This had to be a dream.
“Listy… you’re real?”
Lister nodded. “’Course I am.”
“Where am I?”
“Yer in the bunkroom, ya passed out in the shower. Come on, let’s get ya to bed. You can stand, can you?”
A vague nod from Rimmer. Lister took that as a confirmation he was truly awake and tried to get him to stand. His heart skipped a beat when Rimmer hissed in pain as he helped him up.
“Are ya hurt?” He asked, feeling anxious.
“Feet… pain…” Rimmer droned.
“Don’t worry, ya only have to do a few steps.”
Finally, a bit more aware of what was going on, Rimmer realised Lister was bringing him back to bed. He knew he wanted to go there desperately, but… he wasn’t supposed to go to bed, was he? Also, Lister wasn’t supposed to be here yet. What was going on? Shouldn’t he be working?
“I… I’m supposed to be back… working… late…” Rimmer slurred, finally reaching the bunk, swaying and swooning against Lister as he spoke.
“Don’t be daft Rimmer, you can’t even walk properly. The only place yer going is bed mate…” Lister grumbled as he opened the covers and helped ease Rimmer in.
“But… they’re short staffed… Can’t let them down…” Rimmer’s voice was cracked, barely above a whisper.
“No, it’s okay. Chen and Selby are there now, taking over. Really, it’s okay.”
For a brief moment, the fact he hadn’t succeeded in his duties didn’t matter as much, and the news that he didn’t have to stand anymore sent a current of relieved sobs through Rimmer’s worn out body.
“Thank you…” He whispered, eyes moist. “Thank you…”
“Erm… yeah… Rimmer, ya gotta rest man, I’ll get Holly to bring a doctor up to check on you and get everything sorted.”
It took time for Rimmer to store any information at that moment so he just nodded. He didn’t care anymore as long as he didn’t have to do anything, as long as he could sleep, anything was fine with him.
“Want anything while we wait for the doctor?” Lister asked.
It took a while before Rimmer answered. “Drink something…” he muttered, realising he was parched.
“Sure.” Lister smiled, heading to the dispensing machine. He decided a nice warm cocoa could be just what Rimmer needed to warm himself after getting so cold. With regret he also decided that he wouldn’t be going back to the hotel that night. He couldn’t leave Rimmer on his own in this state. The man barely understood what people were saying to him.
Rimmer was already half asleep when Lister brought him the cocoa, but seemed grateful enough for the drink.
After a few more minutes the doctor arrived. It was a nice elderly man who had been on the ship for many years. He had known Rimmer for a long time and had always felt sorry for the 'poor boy'.
“What has happened to him Dave?” He asked as he used the portable medi scan to assess Rimmer's condition.” Lister explained what Rimmer had done for him. The doctor shook his head. “Poor boy. He tries so hard...”
To Lister’s relief, Rimmer wasn’t suffering from anything really serious, on the whole he was simply overworked and utterly exhausted. The hard work on no food and very little fluids and sleep were causing his spaced-out behavior and the mild fever he had. The doctor diagnosed him with chronic malnutrition as well, Lister wasn’t surprised, Rimmer rarely ate much, especially during exam season. He was confused when the scan told them this was a condition stemming from his childhood. All this meant Rimmer’s body was depleted of necessary vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D.
“He rarely goes of ship. Not much chance for sun or natural light.” the doctor nodded.
Meanwhile Rimmer's leg and feet tissue had inflamed in protest of the constant strain put on them. After the second technician’s swollen legs and feet were treated the doctor handed Lister a few pills.
“Make him take these with a large glass of water. Make sure he gets lots of rest, food and fluids, and he’ll be fine in a few days. I will prescribe a vitamin and mineral cure and also prepare a few cooling gel pad soles, he might need them for a while.” The doctor wrote up the order before nodding to Lister on his way out.
“Here’s yer pills.” Lister handed them over with a glass of water and Rimmer took them without argument. It took a few moments before Rimmer sighed, looking up at Lister with the most apologetic look he’d ever seen on his roommate.
“Listy… I’m sorry I… It wasn’t meant to be like this!”
“Don’t Rimmer, I’m sure you meant well. Smeg. What were ya thinking, doing all those shifts on yer own?” Lister asked, not understanding.
“It… it’s your first Christmas in deep space and you’ve just been dumped by that Kochanski woman. I wanted to let you have some fun with your friends. I wasn’t to know they’d move that exam.”
“Yeah but Peterson told me what it was like. You’ve been working over eighteen hours straight and were on your way to do five more. Why do that for me? I didn’t even know you liked me that much.”
“Like you?” Rimmer frowned. “If only you knew … People do strange things when they’re in love ...” Rimmer sighed as he fell into a deep sleep; the pills had kicked in.
Lister stared at the sleeping man in utter shock, his mouth gaping, “He… he said… smeg… he said…”
His brain replayed what had just been said, slowed it down and examined every inch of the revelation. After all the times that his superior had insisted he was straight or into women, and with some of the most misogynistic ideas too. Well, these remarks had usually been about Kochanski, Rimmer had always resented her presence. Lister had joked about the second technician being jealous of her after one of these outbursts. Rimmer's nostrils had flared and he'd stormed out. Lister had thought the reaction over the top, but still had never considered that perhaps Rimmer was just gay. He'd certainly never considered himself being this man’s object of affection!
More confusing was that, while surprising, it didn’t disgust him whatsoever, quite the opposite. He felt something like interest, even if his heart ached a bit still from Kochanski. The prospect of being with someone who loved him first seemed appealing.
Had Rimmer ever planned on telling him any of this: his feelings or what he had done for him if he hadn’t collapsed? Would Rimmer really work himself beyond exhaustion without expecting any reward?
He would have been enjoying his break while Rimmer would have been here ill and alone. It hurt him to think that Rimmer would probably still trying to struggle through Z-shift once he was back on call again, stuck in his routine – even when ill. Well, he had to stay by his side now to stop him from doing just that.
Or, an idea struck him; What if, he wondered, Rimmer could enjoy a break away from everything? Rest at a place where the food had not been added to the machines by the technician himself. A place where he hadn’t been locked away in for the last decade and a half.
Lister rushed from the room quietly and hoped the doctor got caught up at the lifts. He gave a whoop when he saw the guy and skidded up to him.
“Hey doc, d’ya got any advice to help Rimmer relax?” He began the conversation.
“Well, he needs to eat at least three meals a day, drink plenty of water, and get adequate sleep right now, as well as be careful how much he walks.” Lister nodded before trying to get his idea out.
“Can he travel?” He begun. “A real short distance, to a nice hotel?”
“You want to take Rimmer on a break?” The doctor smiled, and Lister even thought he looked relieved. “Oh, that is a great idea. I don’t think the poor boy has been off this ship in years except to run errands. If you take good care of him and make sure he still gets enough rest, it should be fine. I will clear it with the captain and get some medication ready for him for him to take on his trip.”
Lister beamed his smile.
“Smegging wonderful, it’ll do him a world of good.”
The plan ready, Lister set to laying the table for a big breakfast the next morning, having asked Petersen to go all out and make the best breakfast possible. He wasn’t disappointed when it arrived. Not long after, Rimmer was woken by the smell of baked eggs, pancakes, luxury toast and cocoa, herbal tea, croissants, orange juice and hash browns.
“What’s this?” He asked, groggy as he sat up slowly, wondering if there was one part of his body that didn’t ache.
“Yer breakfast. Here, let me help ya to the table.” It might have only been a foot, but remembering the last time he tried to walk, Rimmer didn’t argue and let Lister help.
“Thank… thank you.” He began to eat, trying not to be bothered being watched, but after a while somehow it felt comforting.
Not wanting to disturb him, Lister waited until he had finished eating to ask him any thing that may be unconformable.
“So… were ya planning on telling me what you had done for me?” Lister asked as Rimmer started on his after breakfast cup of tea. The man looked up in confusion.
“No… I just wanted you to have a Christmas break, I couldn’t burden you and spoil it.” Rimmer put his tea down and bowed his head. “And still I did, useless gimboid that I am.”
Seeing Rimmer put himself down like that after all he had done almost made Lister cry. He never knew Rimmer was so vulnerable. Gently he placed his hand on Rimmer’s.
“Rimmer… If someone almost kills themselves from overwork for my sake that… that’s not a throwaway thing, you know? You are not useless, or a gimboid, you hear?!”
He looked at the thin man in the dressing gown sitting in front of him. The quiet questioning eyes, the soft looking lips and sleep worn tousled curls, cheeks still flushed from the fever he had. This confused mess had just worked himself beyond exhaustion, for him, just so he could go on a break. The man he and his friends teased everyday cared about him, was in love with him and had never shown, probably scared he'd laugh at him. Oh Rimmer…!
Suddenly, and without thinking, Lister jumped off his chair and lunged at him, trying to hug and kiss him on the cheek all at once. Obviously surprised by this ambush, Rimmer turned slightly, which made the kiss end up… on his lips.
A gasp from Rimmer.
A strange sensation of Rimmer trying to… kiss back?
As quickly as he could manage without making Rimmer think he was repulsed by what happened, Lister broke off the kiss.
Shiny, hopeful hazel eyes beamed at him. Below them a tear slowly ran down his cheek followed by a shy smile. The fever blush had by now been deepened by an added actual blush.
“Rimmer… I… I…”
“Oh…” Rimmer sighed in utter delight, the happy tear still slowly rolling down his cheek. “Oh Listy… I… I… I don't know what to say. This is more, so much more than I could hope for. Yes, I've loved you for months now… but… all I dreamed about was that maybe… maybe we could be friends. I mean… you and Kochanski have only just split up and I assumed you were straight…”
“Nah… I'm bi…” Lister muttered, without actually understanding why. Yes, he was bi, but saying this would only make things worse when he broke Rimmer's heart by telling him… What?
“Listy…” Rimmer sighed again. “This… this means so much! I thought no-one would ever love me… and now there's you… I…” He exhaled ecstatically and closed his eyes. “This… this is the happiest day of my life!”
Smeg, smeg, smeg! This was not going to happen, he was not going to hurt this man, especially not at this moment. As Lister watched Rimmer’s smile get wider, he couldn’t help wondering if maybe, just maybe he might already have some kind of feelings for Rimmer, and maybe, just maybe he could fall in love with someone so eagerly willing to do the things this man had done for him so selflessly.
No more thinking, he decided. There was something important that had to be said.
“Hey, I still have me hotel room until after the new year, d’ya wanna come back with me and relax? Doc said he’d clear it with the captain, so you won’t get in trouble or nothing.”
An audible gasp from Rimmer, confused eyes that shot up at him. “You’d be willing to share your holiday with me?” Rimmer looked as if someone had just handed him the golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory.
“Well yeah, that’s what boyfriends do.” Lister watched carefully for the reaction and was not disappointed; if he thought Kochanski had a pinball smile, it was only because he’d never seen Rimmer beam with unadulterated joy. He looked younger and his eyes lit up even as creases appeared in the corners, but it was an unmistakable look of true happiness on that tired angular face.
Then Lister kissed Rimmer again, and this time he actually aimed for his mouth.
Rimmer agreed instantly to going on the trip and the rest of the morning was spent running around packing all the things he would need. Lister did most of the running as Rimmer sat and folded, not wanting Rimmer to strain himself. Lister was glad his case was still packed, he’d only brought his things to dupe his friends into coming back to the ship. After getting the medications and official notice of leave approval, they made the trip back to Mimas. The shuttle trip was overall uneventful, even with Rimmer making a fuss because he had to wear oversized gentleman’s slippers for his swollen feet so that the gel pads fit, but Lister stopped him from being too embarrassed by telling him they looked better than his work shoes and that no one was looking at his feel anyway.
After that, the view was enjoyable again, with Rimmer pointing out several things he’d missed on the previous journey.
Waiting in the lobby, it soon turned out that the trip had been a little too much, too soon for Rimmer; he was starting to feel exhausted and faint from standing in the queue, his legs and feet protesting to standing after what they’d just been through the day before, despite the gelled soles.
Hearing him whimper, Lister looked up. “Hey, are you okay Rimmer?” Lister whispered, noticing he was turning a little pale.
“Just… just a little painful standing so long.” He tried not to make his pain obvious, he wanted to seem strong even if his companion (his boyfriend, he crowed privately) knew the truth.
“Oh smeg, of course, here lean on me.” When Rimmer immediately obliged, Lister knew he had to be in a lot of pain; Rimmer despised any public display of weakness, and certainly wouldn’t be ready for already showing affection. Rimmer groaned and Lister hoped the queue would hurry along so Rimmer could rest.
“Hey luvvie, is your boyfriend alright?!” One of the receptionists called out. Lister knew her well: she had checked him in to his first room, the second and had kept his room waiting for him to return. Lister had been nice each time, tipping and complimenting her and was now rewarded for this kindness.
“Not really no!!” Lister called back.
“Come to the front ‘ere, the poor guy looks like he’s gonna faint!!”
“Boyfriend?” Rimmer thought, that was soon for people to notice. But he was in no particular mood to protest, he just wanted to sit down somewhere. Noticing Lister was walking towards the voice, he just let himself be dragged along.
“Hey can ya just give us me key back?” Lister helped lean Rimmer against the counter to help keep him standing up.
“What happened?” Her voice was full of concern as she looked them over.
“Well, I had to go back when I heard my boyfriend here got ill. I thought let’s get him in for a good and restful recovery break instead of having those two idiots lose money they don’t have.” She chuckled with him.
“Aw, don’t he look pale?”
“Yeah, he’s pretty unwell. I got some meds for him.”
The receptionist nodded and took to work. “Okay then, you’re in room 45? Now that won’t do, it’s not at all romantic. Look, how bout I upgrade you two, you’re such a cute couple and this poor guy looks like he deserves a bit of luxury.” She went to work on the computer in front of her for a few moments before handing over new room keys.
“Brutal, that would be great!”
When they arrived, Rimmer simply collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep without so much as seeing the room. He only found out they had been given the wedding room when he woke up a few hours later to find Lister in bed next to him reading a comic.
Seeing Rimmer turn to him, Lister smiled. “Evening Arn…”
“Where… am I…” Rimmer asked confused: surely this was the dream?
“The Wedding Room of a five star Mimas hotel.”
It took a few seconds for Rimmer to take this in, then he started to snicker softly.
“What’s so funny?”
“Two days ago, I had nothing; no hope, just dreams I thought were wasted and now… Now I’ve shared a kiss, I’m on my first date in a wedding room, and been called a boyfriend for the first time.”
“It’s Christmas Rimmer, don’t question it,” Lister smiled, going back to his comic.
For the next week, Lister taught Rimmer what a real holiday was like. They stayed in bed the first day and a half and this time Lister didn’t mind. They talked about their lives and Lister fell more and more in love with Rimmer with every tale. Rimmer’s life had been unhappy and Lister wanted him to know nothing but joy for now on. He made sure Rimmer ate well, the two of them ordering room service every breakfast and dinner, but taking the time to go to one of the many restaurants nearby for lunch. The hotel provided them with a wheelchair after seeing how slow and unsteady Rimmer was even with the special soles and so Lister pushed him around the garden every day.
Sometimes they went into the casino with only a single dollarpound bill each, never more than fifty and that was only once. They usually went back to their room after an hour, if they weren’t broke before that. At least once each, they left with more money than they started with. Much to his joy and surprise Rimmer even won a minor prize of a gift card to the clothes shop inside the hotel where everything was made to measurement.
For the first time in a long time, Rimmer had an outfit that wasn’t assigned to him, and the last time he’d had this, he was a small boy. Lister also got a new outfit because his boyfriend insisted. Over the days Rimmer blossomed: fresh air, vitamins, food and kindness bringing back his strength and the colour on his face. This was also the first time he’d truly, mentally, relaxed, sleeping so much better next to a warm body, and finding himself enjoying the little touches Lister would give during the day and the way he would bury his face into any nook or cranny on the other man at night.
It was New Year’s Day morning and Rimmer lay in bed, covered in nothing but a sheet sipping champagne and eating strawberries. His smiling face was flushed, his curls were tousled. His body was still glowing from what he’d experienced only hours before: his first time, at last.
At twelve on the dot Lister had pulled him close and kissed him, so powerfully overwhelming that Rimmer had fallen down in the bed taking Lister with him. Once there, things had just progressed so naturally that Rimmer hadn’t been scared or nervous for a single moment. He had relaxed and let Lister take charge. It was euphoric, being intimate with another person, and feeling so wholly loved and adored. As he ate and drank, he would sigh contently at the memories and wonder what the future held. Life seemed brighter, and all the things he worried about seemed so far away. Of course, he knew that wouldn’t last, but for a short time at least, everything was perfect.