Arthur hadn’t caught the name of the drink Ford had ordered for him – not the first time, nor the second, nor the third. He couldn’t identify the taste of it either, though if pressed he might have mumbled something about blueberry syrup.
These two facts were no impediment whatsoever to spraying a mouthful all over the shiny black tabletop when Ford suddenly said, “I’ve given it a great deal of thought, Arthur, and I think we should have sex.”
“What?!” Arthur sputtered.
Ford shot him a slightly amused look, and pointed at him. “You.” He pointed at himself. “Me.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “Sex.”
“On the table?!”
The Betelgeusian shrugged. “If you like. It’s probably a bit sticky now.”
Arthur glanced around furtively, but thankfully no one else in the bar seemed to have heard any of this. “But – but this is a public place!”
“Well, I was thinking of some place more private. I wouldn’t want to have to share.” His expression brightened. “Since you’re interested, though, perhaps we could—”
“No,” Arthur said, quite loudly. Then he said it again, just to make sure that everything within earshot understood exactly what he was saying: “No.”
(It might be interesting to know that, despite virtually everyone in the universe having one, the babel fish cannot always provide a precise translation. When Arthur said “no” the first time, it was translated for the blue-maroon biped from the planet Draleba Retep at the nearest table to Arthur’s left as, “I would not do that if my only other option were to travel, at my own expense, to the white plains of Ivo and be hunted, ingested, and excreted by a multi-colored Esimorpmoc beast before the next lunar cycle of this particular planet.” This is, of course, a colloquial phrase. Conversely, the unfortunately lumpy quadruped from the fifty-sixth satellite colony of Xuavrialc-fo-dranreb heard the second “no” as, “May your next of kin be flogged to death with onion peelings if I lie; I shall not do this.” But since there are no such things as onions on either Xuavrialc-fo-dranreb or any of its satellites, this is not a particularly accurate translation. Despite these occasional failings, the babel fish remains widely used.)
“Why not?” Ford asked, looking like he might pout. Instead, he took a casual sip of his own drink.
“Because, Ford, I’m not – I’m not gay.”
Ford stared at him unblinkingly. “Why not?”
Arthur was slowly turning bright red. The several glasses of blueberry syrup drink shifted awkwardly in his stomach, apparently wanting to make some sort of point but clearly unable to do so with any effectiveness. He sincerely hoped that he hadn’t unknowingly swallowed anything that was alive. “Well, I… That is, you’re…” He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. “This is hardly an appropriate conversation to have in public.”
“Why? No one cares.” Ford leaned forward in his chair. He seemed completely unaffected by the dingy atmosphere of the bar or by any of his own drinks, the empty glasses of which were scattered about by his elbows – something Arthur envied, having suddenly started to feel very lightheaded. “Sex is a part of every – well, almost every species in the universe. It’s part of nature, Arthur.” He drew a little closer, lowering his voice, suddenly conspiratorial. “You know it. I know it. So why does talking about sex suddenly make it dirty, pornographic?” A peculiar grin, which didn’t quite make Arthur fear for his neck so much as other parts of himself, spread across Ford’s face. “None of which, in my opinion, are bad things, but it does make this kind of conversation difficult.”
“Then maybe we shouldn’t have it?” Arthur offered. He decided he wanted more of his drink, but his fingers seemed to have forgotten how to grip things and he only brought air to his lips. Something strange was happening in his body. It felt like having one’s organs rearranged without ever removing any of them. Or what he imagined that to feel like, anyway.
Ford was even closer now, only Arthur’s hand and a few inches of air keeping them from feeling each other’s breath. “Nonsense. What’s so taboo about it? We observe people, their bodies, doing all sorts of things all the time. Shouldn’t a body, any body, in a state of sexual ecstasy be considered more beautiful? More artistic? More… stirring?”
“Um,” Arthur replied intelligently. His mouth was suddenly very, very dry, and it was impossible to look away from Ford’s bright, unblinking stare. He jumped weakly as he felt a hand on his knee. “F-Ford, what are you…”
“Why?” As people who find themselves in these sorts of situations often do, Arthur was suddenly very aware of himself. He heard and cringed inwardly at the childish whine in his voice; he felt every inch of his skin, painfully conscious of where it touched the fabric of his clothing or the stale-alcohol air of the bar, the sweat gathering at the nape of his neck and his upper lip. And, of course, he was particularly aware of the hand slowly massaging its way up his thigh.
“Why not?” Ford replied, a wicked glint in his glowing blue eyes.
It was very important to Arthur that that hand not make it to its obvious destination. At the same time it was not very important at all – but that yammering part of himself was something he was trying to ignore for the sake of his already tentative grip on reality. “Ford,” he whispered, “please don’t.”
And, unexpectedly, Ford stopped. “Why?” he whispered back. At some point Arthur’s hand had dropped back to the table, and he could feel the word.
“Because you just have to,” Arthur replied helplessly. “This is… I don’t know what’s going on. Why are you doing this?”
“Look,” Ford said softly, patiently, “it has nothing to do with ‘being gay.’ That’s a very silly, narrow way of looking at it. You’re a person, I’m a person, and, personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing you in a state of any kind of ecstasy. So don’t panic, all right?” His gaze flicked a little further down Arthur’s face, then back to his eyes. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he informed the overwhelmed Earthman. “If you don’t like it, I won’t do it again.”
And then he kissed him.
Arthur’s mind reeled, paused to boggle, and reeled again. This was Ford Prefect, it seemed to be babbling. Ford Prefect, kissing… He was being kissed by Ford.
Or so it seemed – even the versatile babel fish can’t translate thoughts into coherent statements. That, of course, is impossible.
Because of his intense confusion, Arthur was too preoccupied to resist the kiss. He relaxed. He felt his lips part, felt Ford’s tongue test the boundaries but not cross them. The hand on his leg twitched but didn’t move, and Ford’s other hand found Arthur’s on the table and twined their fingers. It was almost… sweet. Ford’s teeth grazed his bottom lip as he ended the kiss, and Arthur actually felt his breath hitch in his chest.
For a long moment neither of them moved or said anything at all.
Finally, Ford pulled back just enough to give him an expectant and slightly concerned look. “Arthur?”
Arthur took a deep breath, something he hadn’t exactly been doing for the past few minutes. “Hello, Ford,” he said, sounding as though he had almost, but not quite, convinced himself that Ford had only just arrived and that this was merely a very strange hallucination. “I think I’m going to have to have a crisis about this now.”
“That bad?” Ford asked, sounding like he was trying very hard not to sound disappointed.
“No, it was—” Arthur struggled to find an appropriate word, and eventually settled on “—fine. It was fine.”
“Oh.” Ford frowned a little. “So what’s the problem, then?”
Arthur gave him a rather blank look, and said, with particular emphasis, “It was fine.”
“And that’s… bad?”
“No... Bad I could understand. Good would be – well, at least I’d have learned something about myself. But I… I don’t know, I think I just wanted you to keep going so I could figure out… what exactly was happening. Erm, while it was happening. Please stop looking at me like that, you’re making me nervous.”
Ford, who had started to grin, grinned wider. “You liked it.”
“That’s not what I said—”
“You said that you didn’t want me to stop,” Ford pointed out.
“Well, yes, I did say that, but—”
And then Ford was kissing him again. Arthur felt his eyes slide shut of their own volition and had two epiphanies in such rapid succession that there was nearly a head-on collision. The first was that as long as Ford was kissing him he didn’t have to think; the question of good or bad no longer had to be asked. The second was that he didn’t want it to ever stop. Arthur felt his mouth open again, felt Ford’s tongue slip expertly in, felt himself begin to kiss back, and wasn’t all that surprised by any of it. Ford hummed approvingly.
“Well,” Arthur said breathlessly when Ford pulled away, “maybe I don’t need to have a crisis immediately.”
“Excellent.” Ford shifted even closer, to the point where he was no longer in his own chair. He wasn’t even technically on Arthur’s chair; he was straddling Arthur’s lap, pressing parts of himself that Arthur had not previously given all that much thought against him suggestively.
Arthur swallowed. Hard. “Ford…” One of Ford’s hands was now brushing against the invisible-fine hairs on the nape of his neck, making him shiver. “We are still in a public place.”
“Mm.” Ford paused, his mouth somewhere in the vicinity of Arthur’s neck. “I think there are rooms above the bar for this sort of thing,” he murmured, lips sliding very lightly over skin. “We could rent one.”
“A-are they… clean?”
“About as clean as can be expected.”
“How much is that?”
Ford laughed quietly, and the sensation against his now faintly damp skin was enough to start Arthur shivering again. “Not very.”
“Maybe I could if we were somewhere more ahh—” he sighed as Ford did something very interesting to the soft flesh under his jaw “—more familiar.”
“The ship is only a few minutes away,” replied Ford. “Your room or mine?” His bright tone made Arthur suspect that this had been part of the plan all along – which, indeed, it had been.