“This isn’ what I thought my life’d be like,” Arthur slurred, staring up at the ceiling of his cabin with unfocused eyes. He was sprawled across the bed, his clothes from the waist up discarded over the back of a nearby chair.
Ford, sitting beside him on the edge of the bed, dabbed some vile-smelling ointment onto the bruises and scrapes on Arthur’s bared chest. It was harder to find a clear, healthy patch of skin than a damaged one. “Is that so.”
Arthur blinked, a little lopsidedly because his left eye was somewhere in the process of swelling shut. “Yeah,” he said, “it is. I wan’ed… I dunno, something simple. Tradish’nal. ’M… not very intereshting, y’know,” he hiccoughed dully.
“So you decided to try your hand at starting a drunken bar fight?” The Betelgeusian snorted. “That’s traditional. I saw it in a black and white film once.” He worked the ointment into a particularly deep scrape on Arthur’s shoulder. “It didn’t end well, in case you were wondering. The main character didn’t seem to realize that those sorts of things are supposed to be good distractions for slipping out unnoticed without paying your tab, not opportunities to stay and get mashed to a pulp.”
“I thought,” Arthur continued, “maybe I’d live out in the country a few more years, finda nice girl to settle down with, an’ when all’s said’n done I’d… be happy…” He laughed drunkenly, caught halfway between irony and derisive mirth. “But it din’t turn out that way, did it Ford?”
Ford rolled his eyes. “No it zarking well didn’t,” he grumbled, because part of the irony of the situation was that it had been his idea to get Arthur so drunk in the first place. “I could still be out having a good time if it weren’t for—”
“Listen t’me, Ford.” Arthur brought his hand up and caught Ford’s wrist, tugging on it insistently. “Listen t’me… That… whateverwas, alien I got inna fight with, did it ‘cause he was insulting you. You din’t hear, but he was being really awful an’ you din’t mean to knock over his drink but he wouldn’t listen. So I hit him,” he finished proudly.
A look of utter disbelief crept across Ford’s face.
“That’s it?” he demanded, trying to work out why anyone would want to be beaten up on someone else’s account. Like sarcasm and apologies, it was a difficult concept for him to grasp. Arthur gazed drowsily up at him. “For zark’s sake, why?”
“’Cause ’s—” Arthur yawned “—all s’big out here an’ I had these dreams that I can’t do anything with now… ’s all far ‘way… insig, insignif’cant… I din’t need to see the world, much less th’whole Universe, but you… There’s you… an’ I love you, Ford. M’kay?”
Ford stared at him, utterly bemused. “You do?”
“’Course.” Arthur smiled shyly, then yawned again. “’M tired…”
“Oh.” Ford considered for a moment.
If Arthur were even the tiniest bit sober, he knew, they would not be having this conversation. Ordinarily the human seemed to understand that the best way not to become terribly depressed about the destruction of his home planet was to not bring up what his life would be like if he were still on it or what his plans would have been had it continued to exist.
Ford wondered if Arthur was finally beginning to let go of the small blue-green planet and adjust to life as a hitchhiker.
Curious, he shifted in Arthur’s loose grip and experimented with holding his hand. The smile on Arthur’s face relaxed from shy into something warmer and unguarded, and Ford grinned back because that was exactly the sort of unperturbed peacefulness that Arthur had been lacking amidst all his panicking.
And, alcohol or not, it was because of Ford.
“You are so drunk,” Ford pointed out, because he didn’t think that Arthur was in much of a state to realize this for the obvious fact that it was. “But,” he added thoughtfully, “I think you actually mean that.”
Arthur nodded sleepily up at him. “Cross my heart an’ hope t’… t’…”
“Okay, I believe you.”
He wondered how much of this Arthur would remember in the morning, if any. In all probability, Ford mused as he finished dabbing ointment on his friend’s wounds, he would end up having to explain to Arthur just why he was so sore.
Ford grinned – a great deal more predatorily than Arthur, had he been awake enough to notice, would probably have been comfortable with. He was rather fond of the human himself, but he would wait until after Arthur healed from this little misadventure to try anything.
“Go to sleep now.” And he watched with an unexpected degree of affection as the Earthman he’d rescued from a doomed and terminally dull planet obediently shut his eyes and drifted off.