He looked up, red-eyed, and tried to cover the fact that he was crying by faking a yawn and rubbing his shirtsleeves over his eyes. “Oh,” he mumbled, “hello, Arthur. I was… just dozing off here, on this rock. Good thing you came along. And woke me up.”
The ape-descendant didn’t seem to be going for it.
“Ford, you’re sitting alone on a rock, at night, in the rain.”
Zarking humans and their constant need to state the obvious. Ford glanced at the umbrella Arthur was holding over them as if he had just noticed it, and this time wasn’t faking anything; he had barely noticed the rain, much less its sudden absence. That did explain why he was so wet, though.
“‘Oh’ indeed.” Arthur frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Ford sniffed, attempted to force a hoopy expression, and failed, probably because he was painfully sober. “Nothing…” But the mere act of saying this made tears well up in his eyes again. Because even if he wanted to explain (which he didn’t, particularly), Arthur wouldn’t even be prepared to begin to know how to believe it, and thinking about it like that made things seem even worse.
Arthur sighed and sat down next to him, effectively condemning himself to wet trousers for the rest of the conversation and however long it would take him to finish walking home afterwards. Their shoulders touched and Ford automatically leaned closer to the warmth, suddenly aware that he was quite cold. Noticing this, Arthur switched the umbrella from one hand to the other and put an arm around him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked softly.
“I miss…” whispered Ford. “I miss…”
But he couldn’t explain exactly what he missed. It wasn’t the planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. It wasn’t talking his way into being welcome on this ship or that, or the occasional rush of terror and excitement when banking on good-will towards hitchhikers proved fallible. It wasn’t even the infinite varieties of parties and drinks that the universe had to offer, though that was definitely a perk. If anything, it was having the option of access to any of those, and more, at just about any given time. Not quite homesickness, but something like it.
“I—” sniffle “—miss…” He felt his face scrunch up, and hated it because he knew it wasn’t even remotely hoopy. The only thing he could do about it was turn and bury his face in Arthur’s shoulder. “Everything,” he cried into the Earthman’s coat. “I d-don’t belong here and I hate being stuck and I wish someone would come along already—”
Arthur’s arm tightened around him. “Ford…”
“—And give me a lift somewhere else, but of course no one ever does because it’s the middle of zarking nowhere and there’s nothing interesting here ever. Miserable planet with its miserable weather—”
“—Can’t even see the stars when they sky’s so cloudy half the time—”
Arthur was shaking him a little, and Ford realized that sometime during his tearful rant he had lifted his head and was speaking directly into Arthur’s neck. Embarrassed, he shifted reluctantly back to his side of the rock.
“Right… Sorry. Sorry, Arthur.”
After all, if there was one thing Ford had learned in the past fourteen years or so it was that no self-respecting Englishman would want a sodden friend dripping cold rainwater on him while being berated for The Way Things Were.
But Arthur apparently disagreed with this assessment and tugged him back almost immediately. “No, it’s all right, never mind.” He juggled the umbrella again, freeing his closer hand to pull a creased handkerchief out of his pocket and using it to dry Ford’s tears.
It was a futile but endearing gesture, because on the whole it was not the water dripping from his eyes that was making his face so wet. But even though his normally bouncy ginger curls were still plastered soddenly to his forehead, cheeks, and neck, Ford appreciated it. He even smirked a little when Arthur paused and tried to wring the handkerchief one-handed, and the look his human friend shot him was somewhere between exasperated and pleased.
“See? Things aren’t so bad.”
He brushed the wet cloth against Ford’s cheek, and suddenly seemed nervous.
“Er, Ford… can I ask you something?”
The Betelgeusian sighed inwardly and steeled himself for whatever the question was.
“Well, I’ve been… Would… Do you… um…”
Ford felt the corners of his mouth twitch upwards again, in defiance of Earth’s gravity.
Arthur stopped talking, apparently in an effort to stop the nonsensical sentence fragments from tumbling out, and the effect was like closing your front gate to keep an avalanche out of your garden – if that were to actually work. He stared at Ford and visibly hesitated, a neat trick which humans and, amusingly enough, fish, could do when confused or flustered.
Then, with the utmost care, he leaned in and kissed him.
This was not the kind of question Ford had expected. His eyes widened momentarily with surprise, but then, as his brain decided that this was not an unwelcome surprise at all, drifted closed. A warm feeling streamed through him, pooling in his belly like the first mouthful of really good alcohol. Good enough that, when he wrapped his arms around the considerably less wet and shivering human, he forgot how cold it was, all without a single word. When they parted, he was breathless.
“Whatever it is you miss, exactly,” Arthur said, “I don’t mean to… to say that I’m a perfect substitute by any means, but…”
“Sounds good to me,” Ford interrupted. He grinned, his melancholy mood more or less gone. “You really know how to cheer a guy up, you know that?”
Arthur blushed, but managed at the same time to look incredibly relieved. “If only that worked for everyone, the marketing possibilities would be endless,” he quipped. “Come on, let’s get to my house and get you into some drier clothes.”
“Or at least out of these ones,” Ford added.
It was rather cute, he decided, the way Arthur’s face somehow managed to achieve a slightly brighter shade of red at the suggestive comment. So maybe Earth wasn’t a complete waste of space after all.