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Were Stars to Burn

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In the mid-22nd century, a group of American settlers had arrived on Mimas determined to create a second Las Vegas. Although the results left something to be desired (lashings of seediness, not enough opulence), the venture was counted as a success by most.

Arnold Rimmer silently and fervently thanked those intrepid settlers for the legalisation of “quickie” marriages on all the moons, including Io. A little too fervently, perhaps — some force of emotion was certainly making him scribble instead of forming his usual clean letters.

“You in a hurry, mate? Don’t worry, I’ll grab him if he tries to make a run for it.”

He assured himself that he would have silenced the guffawing clerk with a glare had the latter not been burly and tattooed.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Lister — Dave — rejoined mildly from near his non-writing arm. “Smegging hell, man, even I can’t read any of that. Slow down.”

Rimmer tried to slow down. Controlled breathing. In: One, two, three, four. Out: One, two, three. In: One, three, four. Two, four? Oh, smeg. “Let’s just get it over with,” he muttered, hastily signing his name at the bottom and shoving the form across the counter.

The clerk sucked in a quick breath through his teeth; he looked scandalised. “Listen, mate, I was only kidding earlier. I am required by law to verify that you are of sound mind - ”

“I know.”

“ - and that you are entering into this union of nothing less than your full free will.”

“I’m perfectly aware of the requirements!”

“Give us a minute, yeah?” Lister had already done this once today — carefully taken Rimmer’s hand and steered them towards greater privacy. This time, they ducked behind a stone pillar. “Arn. Look at me.”

Controlled. Breathing.

“Are you sure about this?”

Rimmer cursed his facial muscles for their inability to form reassuring smiles. “It was my idea.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Just.” He still couldn’t stop glancing between Lister and the door, as if - if - “Look, could we just get on with it? I don’t want to go off schedule.” Because it’s not me the clerk should be worried about.

Lister appeared to consider this for a moment. “All righty, then.” The heat of their lips together was almost enough to let Rimmer pretend that no pity or sacrifice was involved in what they were about to do. For the moment, they could be an ordinary young couple who’d known each other longer than a fortnight. They could be in love.

-

What a totally absurd vehicle.

The thing was painted bright green and shaped like a bulbous mutant ant, only with four spindly-looking legs instead of six straddling the path worn into the hill by decades of foot traffic. Probably a decommissioned JMC vessel, but Rimmer was not as adept at identifying ships as he should have been, and he’d never seen one of these in person. Disgraceful, sneered a voice (His father’s? Frank’s?) in his head.

Before the voice could go on more, a man disembarked and got within handshake range. “Dave Lister,” he said confidently, flipping three long dreadlocks over his shoulder. “I’m here to work on the greenhouse.”

As he grasped Lister’s hand, Rimmer had a vision of the greenhouse rebuilt into something like the malformed green insect ship. Daffodils sticking out of random portholes, hydrangea bushes growing in grotesque shapes — well, it would have made an interesting change, anyhow. “Arnold Rimmer. I’m the, er, gardener.”

He was sure Lister had noticed the little wince he always did with that introduction. Those wide brown eyes had already taken in a great deal about their surroundings and about him, he could tell. “Well, Arnold.” He winced again, and Lister noticed again. “Can I call you Arn?”

“Please.”

“Why don’t you show me round the place, Arn?”

Rimmer felt as though they ought to hold hands as they made their way to the greenhouse. It was an idyllic walk — August sunshine tempered by lush green leaves, cobbles under their feet, flowers showing off their fragrance as they got closer as if to tempt them inside. The perfect prelude to a tryst.

Tryst? What on Io had got into him? He wasn’t so pathetic that he started fantasising about people within thirty seconds of meeting them, even if they were gorgeous. Was he?

Once they were safely concealed by the wisterias, he could dip his head, Lister would rise up on his toes, and their lips would be able to meet. Unprofessional. Disgustingly unprofessional. He’d need to ask the doctor about these symptoms as well.

-

Mrs Rimmer’s opinions on “vagabonds” like Dave Lister were thus: They were generally beneath notice, but if they could do a job well, it didn’t hurt to make use of them once in awhile. They would fly or drive in, often for a lower fee than their non-wandering counterparts charged, and otherwise keep to their vehicles. She considered hiring them a kind of charity work.

Her main charity project, however, was her youngest son, who had had the double misfortune to be a failure and to have been sired by their long-deceased former gardener, “Dungo” Dennis (surname unknown). No, a triple misfortune — he’d not been told the truth until after he’d exhausted every attempt to make his supposed father proud of him. By age 30, he was fatherless in more ways than one, had no real career prospects, and didn’t have anywhere to live except back home with his mother.

Arnold tried not to wonder whether her decision to make him gardener was her twisted way of giving him a connection to his real father, whom he’d known and liked in early childhood, or if it was simply her idea of a joke. He liked the work well enough; it got him out of the house for hours, for one thing, and caring for plants was about the only way he had of expressing his artistic talents, which had of course been too inferior to astronavigation and quantum physics to be allowed to flourish. But while he was inside that house of torment, not one meal went by without attention being drawn to some flaw of his. Weak, wet, slow learner…on Sundays his brothers either sniggered or looked on apathetically as their mother criticised his hair, which reverted to its natural messiness after a day in the greenhouse, or dredged up lurid tales of subpar exam results from twenty years past.

To be kept from homelessness by a mother who in all likelihood despised him, and who would still wallop him with broom handles and heavy tomes if only he were the lanky, sickly boy he’d once been, was intolerable. It was small wonder he had attacks of dizziness and heart palpitations; his soul was failing, so why not his body?

-

Rimmer already loved the sight, if not the smell, of Lister smoking.

He started by patting his trouser pockets, apparently as a ritual — he never found cigarettes there, as the day’s supply resided in his hat. Then he pulled a silver lighter from the other side of his hat, shielded the flame with his free hand with as much care as he would a baby bird, and (this was possibly Rimmer’s favourite part) sucked in his cheeks. He was always slow to release that first puff, the better to follow its path out into the world with great concentration.

Rimmer had followed the smoke the first time too. Having found nothing very interesting in it, he now kept his eyes trained on Lister’s face instead.

“Want to try?”

“Wh - of course not!” he exclaimed guiltily.

“How come you always watch me, then?” Lister looked up slyly (with bedroom eyes, he dared not think), sizing up his mouth as though it were worthy of attention. “I know fascination when I see it, man.”

It wasn’t the cigarette Rimmer was fascinated by, although…oh, what the smeg. He gingerly took it from Lister and held it out at arm’s length.

“It won’t bite, you know.”

“I thought it would burn,” he admitted.

“Nah, that’s only if you hold it too close to the end, or if you smoke leftovers like I do sometimes.”

“Leftovers?!”

“Just sometimes.”

The image of Lister sat in a darkened room over a bowl of half-smoked fags was sexier than it had any right to be. Rimmer coughed the treacherous thoughts away and brought his hand up to his lips.

Two seconds later, he was bent double, wishing for a swift death so that he would be delivered from the burning in his nose and throat. “You goit,” he wheezed. “You knew - you knew - that was - ”

Lister quickly plucked the fag from his shaking hand and stamped it out. “I didn’t!” he protested. “I swear I didn’t, I didn’t think - look, I’m really sorry.”

“Sure - you’re sor - ” Sarcasm was difficult to convey, Rimmer found, when your lungs were determined to expel themselves. At least the agony would stop once they’d gone. “Forget - just - forget it.”

Lister, apparently undaunted, clapped a hand on his back once the worst of the coughing had passed — in a bracing, blokey way, obviously. “You going to be all right?”

“Yes, fine,” Rimmer lied. The hand was still on his back. In fact, unless he was mistaken, it was making small soothing movements.

“That’s good.” The tilt of Lister’s head put him in mind of characters in films when they were about to kiss, but what a farcical notion. Or was it? Physically it was well within the realms of possibility, and those eyes, that sweet concerned face…left his vision as Lister hugged him, once again in a bracing, blokey way (he decided over the rush of even more blood to his ears).

“I’ve got to go, man, but I’ll see you tomorrow. I mean, if you still want,” Lister chuckled softly against his cheek.

In the span of a few milliseconds, their faces went from much too close to much too far apart. “Yes,” Rimmer responded automatically through his shivers. “Tomorrow.”

-

In Rimmer’s youth, Ionian heartworm had been bandied about by cruel schoolmates as a bogeyman of sorts. Nausea and nasty swoopy sensations before exams were a sure sign that he had it, and since he was going to die soon anyhow, an extra punch here or a pinch there could hardly matter, could it? Finding out that the disease was rare had been small comfort; it was also a new world disease, one that had emerged only after the complete colonisation of Io, and as such had no known cure or vaccine.

He’d scraped up the last of his courage to sneak off to Dr Tranter, whose practice was a good 15 miles from his house. He couldn’t trust his normal GP, with whom his mother had most likely had an affair at some point, to be discreet about out-of-the-ordinary scans and blood draws. Although he knew very well that she was at a ladies’ luncheon and would come home inebriated, he couldn’t be sure that there was no secret surveillance equipment tracking his every move. She’d always had an uncanny ability to detect wrongdoing on his part, whether it was filling a sketchbook instead of studying or taking learning drugs.

A shrill alarm shattered Rimmer’s reverie. Dr Tranter hastily withdrew the last of the blood vials and sprang up. “Under normal circumstances, I would have you wait here for the results, but - ”

“I understand!” Rimmer shouted over the sirens as they made their way to an emergency exit. “I was going to ask for the results by post, anyhow. For discretion.”

“Not in person? Or over the communicator?”

“No, no. And if you could use an utterly unremarkable-looking envelope, I’d be most grateful!”

Dr Tranter watched, bushy eyebrows drawn up, as the young man walked away as briskly as he could without running.

-

“Are you seeing anyone?”

The pruning shears abruptly clamped shut around a rose. “What do you think?”

Lister laughed softly from atop his ladder. “I don’t know what I think. That’s why I asked. I mean, for all I know, you go out to orgies every night after I’ve left.”

A blush exploded across Rimmer’s face. “I don’t go to…those.”

“Not even once in awhile?”

Rimmer dropped his shears and glared at Lister until he climbed down and gave him a hug. Hugging had become a daily ritual for them since the cigarette disaster, and every time it happened, Rimmer imagined himself whispering I don’t want you to leave into Lister’s ear. Maybe on the fast-approaching final day of Lister’s contract, he’d be desperate enough to actually say it. Maybe. He had his doubts.

-

Dear Mr Rimer,

The greeting felt like a personal insult. Misspelling aside, it ought to have had more gravitas in light of what followed: A short statement on his future, which incidentally was also expected to be short.

In light of certain symptoms…

…consistent with Ionian Heartworm…

…the results confirm…

Once the phase of rapid decline begins, it is imperative that…

…discuss your options.

Options. That was a laugh. He didn’t have options, only a continuation of his current dreary existence to consider.

Hours passed before Rimmer realised he’d been lying on his back (in preparation for cadaverhood?), staring unseeingly at the ceiling with his death sentence clutched to his chest. His first thought after returning to a semblance of consciousness was Lister: Lister laughing, eyes flashing, brimming with life. Playfully cuffing Rimmer on the arm. Waxing poetic about the virtues of hot curry. He was probably one of those people who’d live to be a hundred and seventy-one and proclaim that they owed it all to daily smoking.

It was unbearable. How was it possible to die without having lived? Once again Rimmer thought of Lister: zooming around the Solar System in Starbug, unburdened by outside expectations and disappointments. Rimmer had always believed in a settled life with a career, a house, maybe a family if miracles could be arranged, and it occurred to him then that despite never staying in one place for more than a few weeks, Lister was well ahead of him on those points.


By the time that afternoon’s cigarette met its fate under Lister’s heel, Rimmer had cycled through half a dozen breathing exercises, each accompanied by a different potential outcome to his plan.

“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve got something weighing on you.”

“I…” This was not going to go well if Lister could read minds.

“Look, man, if it’s the stuff about your mum and dad and that, I told you it was no big deal. I don’t think any less of you for it. I mean, I’m hardly in a position to.”

Right. It was time. Rimmer squared his shoulders, much as he liked to think he would before a firing squad. “Marry me.”

He wondered if he should have phrased it more eloquently, or perhaps got down on one knee; Lister might not have started laughing if he had. “Really know how to woo a guy, don’t you? Mind you, it is time I thought about settling down. It’s what my gran would’ve wanted.”

“Stop.” The bleakness of the plea made Lister sober up and take notice. He stood silent, lips slightly parted, until Rimmer stuttered out his next sentence. “I’m serious. Will - will you marry me?”

“Why?”

Lister’s incredulity, while perfectly understandable, stung a little bit. “Because - ” Rimmer paused to let the lump in his throat clear. If he wanted to make this work, he had to present his idea rationally, not emotionally; should Lister say no, he’d at least be able to hide how much it hurt. “Because I think I could live with you. Despite your - habits.”

Lister smiled at his poor imitation of smoking.

“Whereas I can’t live with my mother any longer. And…there’s something else.” He fished Dr Tranter’s letter out of his pocket and handed it to Lister; neither his voice nor his brain could be trusted to explain coherently. When he found the courage to look up again, having allowed far more time than necessary, Lister was staring at him, completely still like he’d forgotten how to breathe.

“It’s only,” he finally exhaled and chewed pensively on his lower lip. “I wouldn’t mind, exactly, except - okay, so we’d be eating breakfast or something, right, and I’d look up, or I’d roll over one morning, and you’d be dead. It’s a bit much, you know?”

That would mean I was happy to the very end was what Rimmer wanted to say, but his heart sank along with Lister’s falling face. “They said there would be a period of decline which would make obvious - but look, forget it. Forget I said anything.”

“Oh, eh, I didn’t mean…”

“Just forget it.” He turned away to hide his cheeks, which had begun to burn in shame, and his muscles tensed up in preparation for a swift exit. “I have to go.”

“Wait.”

Nothing but that gentle request could have made him stop and look into Lister’s eyes. They were dark, fearless — hardly a match for his murky, cowardly ones.

“It didn’t say how long you had.” Lister paused and looked at the letter again. “No, it does. Six to eight months?”

“A year if I’m lucky.”

“And in the meantime, you want to be married.”

“Yes.”

Lister raised an eyebrow. “With all that implies?”

Yes. “No, I, that is,” Rimmer stammered, “as much as you’re comfortable with. I’m not asking for - ” - for you to be madly in love with me. “I mean - to whatever extent.”

“Until the time comes.”

“Yes.”

Unbelievably, Lister stepped closer. “That’s what you want, to be married to me?”

“Yes.”

“Then let’s get married.”

It was Rimmer’s turn to stare incredulously. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

Well, Lister had little to lose. He’d squander one year of his young life at most, and after Rimmer…afterwards, he’d be free to go back to normal. Rimmer wanted to give some reassurances to that effect, as much for himself as for Lister, but he couldn’t think of anything to say aside from “Thank you.”

The unthinkable had happened. No event from this moment until the imminent end of his life would shock him. When Lister leaned in to press a soft kiss to his lips, then another, then took his hands, he wasn’t even surprised.

“I should probably tell you what to expect.”

What? Rimmer blinked; he’d been waiting, eyes half-closed, for the next kiss. “Yes, yes, I suppose.”

Kiss. “I’m a slob.”

“I never would have guessed.”

“Cheeky.” Kiss. “All I drink is lager and coffee.”

“Oh.”

Kiss. “Erm…I like to smoke in bed.”

“Eurgh.”

“Maybe we can compromise on that.” Kiss. “I have a cat.”

Rimmer drew back. “A cat?”

“Her name’s Frankenstein and she’s two years old. I think she’ll like you.”

“I don’t know anything about cats.”

“Eh, I’m lying. She probably won’t like you.” Kiss.

“Why not?”

“It’s nothing personal.” Kiss. “She’s just not the sociable type. Want to see a picture?”

The snapshot that Lister pulled from his wallet showed a sleek black cat who was none too pleased about being held up to the camera. “It looks as though she’s about to gouge your eyes out.”

Lister shrugged. “She didn’t, though. Isn’t she cute?”

“I suppose,” Rimmer conceded dubiously. His family had had dogs when he was growing up, never cats. Would he get a claw in the face if he tried to pet her? Would she sit and stare at them while they…did things, assuming any things were on the table? The questions were too silly to be spoken aloud.

“Hey.” Unless he was mistaken, there were arms about his waist. “Why don’t you tell me about you?”

Lister’s face was inches from his; the tiniest of movements could lead to another kiss. Rimmer cleared his throat nervously. “I’ve told you all there is to know.” Except for the small matter of how I feel about you. “There’s not much.”

The waited-for kiss fluttered against his lips. “What about, like…why the rush to get married? Not that I mind, but you could just, you know.”

“Run away?” Rimmer had considered that. “If we get married, you’ll be my next of kin rather than any of - them.” He gestured vaguely toward the house. “I can’t trust them to follow my instructions, or to make…the end…comfortable for me. I think I can trust you.”

“You can.”

“I wouldn’t be asking you to do this if things weren’t the way they were, but they are, but if you want to back out, it would be…” Rimmer paused. He’d been about to say it would be fine with me, but it wouldn’t, not really.

Lister shook his head. “I won’t. I want to help you, cos I know how smegging miserable you are, living in that house, living with your mum. You know that, yeah?”

Rimmer chewed on his lower lip, trying to arrange his feelings more neatly. His plan had worked — surely he should be happy. The part of him that felt happiness, or at least relief, reasoned that he couldn’t expect Lister to feel more than pity and a degree of attraction towards him. Another, less rational part of him had been hoping for something more, perhaps a confession that Lister was secretly as smitten with him as he was with Lister. That, however, was nonsense, and he knew it. Few people in his life had been genuinely attracted to or kind to him; he was in no position to balk at either.

-

“…I declare you married,” the ancient registrar intoned in her quavery voice. “Congratulations.”

“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Lister whispered as their foreheads touched.

Rimmer slid his thumb over the smooth band on his ring finger. No, not bad at all. It had been as nice a once-in-a-lifetime experience as any and, Rimmer assumed, a pleasant first go for Lister.

-

“Good afternoon, Mother.”

Mrs Rimmer immediately clocked that something was wrong. Her son had not only sung out his greeting as he strode in, he was smiling — actually grinning, smug as could be.

“Where have you been?” she demanded.

“It’s funny you should ask, Mother,” he chirped, “because I’ve been off doing something important.”

“Is that so?” she sniffed.

“Something monumental. No, no, life-changing. Things will never be quite the same again.”

“Arnold, do stop talking nonsense - ”

“I was getting married.” Still grinning madly, he held up his left hand for her benefit. “Look, I’ve got a ring and everything.”

Oh, this was good. Her cheeks went blue, then mauve, then a dark, patchy purple. “Married,” she repeated quietly. “To whom, if I may ask?”

Rimmer suddenly felt a great reluctance to answer her. What did his mother know of shy (on his part, at least) kisses exchanged under the registrar’s placid gaze, or of the daydreams of his new life he held close to his heart lest he upset the balance of their arrangement? He couldn’t bear to think of how ridiculous she would make him feel about all of it. “Does it matter?” he deflected. “It’s not someone you would have chosen for me.”

Mrs Rimmer stared hard into his carefully pleasant face as if she could will it to crack. “You were never a good liar, Arnold, so don’t try. Who is it?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t give two weeks’ notice, but time was of the essence.”

She silently followed him up to his room and watched him gather up the bags he’d packed the night before, then silently followed him down the stairs. “I’ll find out anyway,” she spat as he stepped over the threshold.

“I’m sure you will.” With every step he took, Rimmer’s heart lifted a bit more, and his bags felt feather-light once he realised that his mother wasn’t following him.

-

The door to the main cabin of Starbug creaked open. “Here we are,” Lister announced cheerfully, letting Rimmer enter the living/dining area first. “Hey, Frankie!”

The cat took one look at Rimmer and reared back. Her mouth opened frighteningly wide, displaying an arsenal of very sharp-looking teeth.

“This is Frankenstein,” Lister said unnecessarily.

Rimmer gulped. He was picturing his arms and legs covered in puncture marks. “I don’t think she approves of me.”

“Well, you’ve got to live together, haven’t you? Come here, Frankie, I want you to meet Arn.”

“No, that really won’t be - ”

Frankie hissed and dashed off toward the back of the ship, where she melted into the darkness.

“She’ll come round,” Lister said with the same easy optimism he’d shown all day. “Put your bags down, I want to give you a tour.”

“Did you, er, inform Frankie that you were getting married?” Rimmer enquired as they walked arm-in-arm towards the stairs.

“I did, as it happens. Mind you, she did seem smegged off when I told her cats weren’t allowed at the register office…”

-

The sleeping arrangements were also easy, at least to Lister. “You can take the outside,” he said grandly, indicating the doubled bunk. “You need the leg room more.”

“Right.”

“Unless you’d rather have your own bed.”

What a preposterous idea. “No, I…the outside will…no. I mean, yes, I’ll take the outside.”

Being kissed goodnight, however briefly, put a clown-like grin on Rimmer’s face. He was going to sleep not in his tiny bedroom at home (though it wasn’t really home, never really had been), but next to the man he loved, and he hadn’t even set an alarm for the next morning. No more Mother. No more Sunday dinners. No more hiding sketchbooks. It was bliss.

Ten minutes later, he found himself on the other side of the room, his bliss thoroughly disrupted.


“Arn?” Lister muttered groggily. “What are you doing?”

Rimmer continued to pace the path he’d been carving for the better part of three hours. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Why?”

“‘Why?’, indeed. You see, I assumed you’d told me everything I needed to know. More than everything. I mean, you even showed me how to adjust each individual chair in the cockpit, which I would have figured out for myself, believe it or not.”

“So?”

“So.” Rimmer sat down rather violently on the bunk and took a deep breath to replenish his outrage tank. “Not once during all your briefings, explanations, and assurances did you see fit to inform me that you snore like an elderly boar who’s had a few too many!”

“Ah. That.”

“Yes, that.

“What, so you wouldn’t have married me if you’d known?” Lister’s sleepy-eyed grin would have softened anyone’s resolve. Rimmer wasn’t to be blamed for feeling weak in the knees, especially given how much he’d been pacing. “Is that what you’re saying? It’s too late, man.”

“I’m saying that a warning would have been appreciated. Where are you going?”

“I’ve got earplugs somewhere. Yeah, here we go…these should help.”

“I doubt it.”

“All right, I’ll tell you what.” Lister abandoned the earplugs and plonked himself down on Rimmer’s lap. It was so casual, yet so intimate…too intimate? No, they were married, after all, and Lister felt good in his arms. “I give you full permission to wake me up and tell me to stop if it gets too much. Deal?”

Rimmer yawned, nose squashed against Lister’s shoulder. The way his jaw stretched wide open reminded him of Frankenstein, but he was too tired to care about the disturbing comparison. “Deal.”

He napped the morning away, serene in the knowledge that no one would nag him over it.

-

It was happening again. While the earplugs blocked out some of the sound, Rimmer was certain that the vibrations were shaking the whole ship and that it couldn’t possibly hold up against such an assault.

At minute five, he gave up hoping and shook Lister by both shoulders. “Dave,” he hissed. “Shh!”

“Shh,” Lister mimicked.

“No, I mean - look, stop snoring.”

“Okay.”

It started again just as Rimmer was about to take the first step into Dreamland. “David,” he groaned, mashing his hands into his face. “Please.”

“Huh?”

“You’ve. Got. To stop. Snoring!”

“Why?” Lister rolled onto his side and threw an arm around Rimmer, who gasped at the closeness and once more at a leg wedging itself between his. Wonderful. That is, the intimacy felt wonderful, but he was surely doomed to a night with snores thundering even closer to his ears. He waited, convinced that they would resume at the worst possible juncture. For all that Lister smiled like an angel in his sleep, he probably had a sixth sense for when they’d cause maximum aural and psychological damage.

Rimmer considered the possibility that this whole marriage business had been a mistake after all. It was a shame; he had so looked forward to sharing a bed with someone he could stand, assuming it would be generally lovely and cosy and unlike anything he’d ever - actually, it was lovely feeling Lister’s deep, even exhales skimming across his collarbone.

A spring breeze carried them up into the night sky on a float of fluffy clouds. Rimmer closed his eyes and slowed his breathing to match Lister’s; their safety depended on them being in sync, somehow, and he was curious to see where in the universe they’d end up…

-

One of Rimmer’s favourite things about his new life was that he could sleep when he wanted, within reason. His mother wasn’t there to upbraid him for being lazy when he curled up for a nap after a hard day’s work. To be fair, however, he wasn’t sure that Lister would appreciate him turning in a few minutes early and spreading out starfish-like over the entire bed.

A light swat landed on his calf. “Shift.”

“Absolutely not.”

Lister sighed and began to wrestle his way into bed. “You’re a bloody lazy sod, you know that?” he grumbled, pushing Rimmer’s arms and legs around to make room for himself. “You would have fit right in at art college, even without the art.”

“Mmm.” Rimmer shrugged and re-settled his head on his pillow. He was ready to be lulled to more complete sleep as usual by Lister’s pulse beating near his and fingers lightly stroking his hair.

A few confused minutes passed before he realised that Lister wasn’t so much stroking as pulling at little tufts, patiently teasing the whole mass to unprecedented heights.

“It looks good like this,” Lister explained in response to a questioning frown, as though that should be the last word on the matter.

It occurred to Rimmer then that he’d been quite quick to get used to all this. Lister’s hand was now pushing a stray curl back behind his ear, and the familiarity of that gesture, the soporific warmth of their bodies flush against one another, something more heated spreading over his neck and chest and oh, now he was awake.

He fought down a mad urge to grip Lister by the dreadlocks and kiss him until he was squirming and breathless. He could not, he reminded himself for the umpteenth time, have more than Lister was willing to give. Considering their circumstances, the amount of physical affection he gave and received daily was staggering; Lister was nothing if not tactile. But if only. If only.