Ford was drunk.
Now, this wasn't anything unusual, of course--this was Ford Prefect after all. But the reasons for his being drunk this time--as opposed to his usual, "hey, it's a froody way to have fun"--were vastly different.
It was his way of mourning.
Arthur Dent was watching his friend get drunk helplessly. Actually, Arthur was the helpless one; Ford was just plain getting drunk. But the English language is a difficult one to write in, especially when one has misplaced modifiers all over the place.
"Ford, I really don't think this is the best way to deal with the news..." Arthur trailed off when his companion looked up at him blearily through red-rimmed eyes.
"I shall deal with the news any way I please," Ford said with dignity, his words only slightly slurred. "Waitress!" he added, waving wildly at a passing waitress and almost sliding out of his seat in the process. "Get me a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster," he told her when she came back to get his order. "On the double."
Arthur's eyes widened in panic. " Ford, no! You know what that does--"
"I don't care," Ford answered stubbornly. He shooed the waitress away.
Arthur was attempting to dissuade his friend from this drink (which was known to burn through much harder and sturdier things than Ford's esophagus and stomach lining) when two people meandered their way to the hitchhikers' table.
"Arthur Dent?" said the big man with wild curls and too-long scarf. "And Ford Prefect?" added the small woman with long blonde hair in a sailor suit.
"Yeees," Arthur answered warily, looking around the space bar huntedly. He didn't like it when strangers knew his name. He started feeling like Marvin then.
"We just heard," the woman said as she and the other newcomer seated themselves with the other two. Ford blinked at them and tried to take a closer look at the woman, leaning forward. He ended up unbalancing himself and falling over, squashing his nose on the table. He didn't bother moving after that. Loud snores vibrated the table surface.
Arthur looked faintly apologetic. "So did we," he admitted and gestured at his companion. "As you can see, Ford isn't taking it very well."
The man nodded, frowning broodily. "I have an offer to make," he said.
Arthur looked up in hope.
* * *
The three of them managed to sober Ford up by the time they reached their destination (well, make him regain consciousness anyway; Arthur wondered if Ford was ever truly sober). The man with the multi-colored scarf had offered to take the two hitchhikers back to the planet Earth (a different one from Arthur's, the bath-robed Englishman assumed), and Arthur had jumped at the chance. He'd been in so many absurd and bizarre situations of late he didn't even comment on, let alone pay attention to, the mode of transportation they used.
They all stepped out of the blue police box (circa 1963) that was bigger on the inside than the outside, Arthur supporting Ford and both of them tripping every other step. Ford had fallen back into semi-consciousness, mumbling something about Babel fish and the fundamental interconnectedness of all things and St. Cedd's College. Arthur couldn't follow it very well, but then, he never could follow much of what Ford said.
Arthur breathed in the Earth air, felt the Earth gravity, and wished he could be here in happier circumstances. Nevertheless, he silently followed the two strangers, helping Ford walk along the unevenly cut grass.
At last, the group stopped, coming to the place they wanted. They all stood over the spot gravely. No one felt like speaking.
"Ah, belgium," Ford sighed, suddenly aware of his surroundings and seemingly stone cold sober. He let go of Arthur's shoulder and stood on his own, staring down at the tombstone.
Arthur agreed. He was feeling very depressed.
Douglas N. Adams, 1952-2001 said the grave marker. Someone--some someones--had left rocks with the words "so long and thanks for all the fish" and "it is now the long dark teatime of the soul" and "hope you find the Question" engraved on them. A strange offering, but appropriate somehow.
"Never had a better writer," said the scarf-encircled man meditatively. "Or script editor. He truly understood me, I think."
"He just knew how to play up your comedic side," corrected his companion.
"Exactly! So many couldn't. He was truly one of the greats."
"Now what the hell are we going to do?" Arthur exploded, startling everyone else. He was looking at the grave in what appeared to be grief-stricken horror. "He's dead! Our creator's dead! It's like...it's like we're dead without him."
"Naw," Ford said. "We'll still be around in the books, and the radio series, and telly. And people will keep ripping us off--though why they insist on liking that bloody paranoid android I dunno. If I hear 'Life, don't talk to me about life' one more time I might throttle something. Preferably Marvin…only he'd just keep on moaning about how there's a pain in the diodes all down his bloody left side." He shrugged. "He—our creator, not Marvin—you know your language, Arthur, really is incomprehensible—might be off in some highly improbable place with dolphins and bowls of petunias and superintelligent shades of blue, but we'll still be around for a long time."
The others turned their gapes of shock from Arthur onto the non-actor not from Guilford who'd been stuck on Earth for fifteen years and had managed to get an article for the ever-popular Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy consisting of only two words ("Mostly harmless") out of his entire time spent there. "Ford," Arthur said at last when he could speak, "that has to be the most profound, philosophical, and utterly beautiful thing I have ever heard you say."
"Exactly," Ford said. "I'm still drunk. But not drunk enough. Let's go back to that bar; I've got a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster waiting for me." He pulled Arthur's arm, leading him away from the grave, despite Arthur's protestations. "Can I at least get some tea instead?" could be heard plaintively from the Earthman. "This is Thursday, isn't it. I never could get the hang of Thursdays…"
The other two lingered behind at the grave for a moment. At last, the woman gently put a hand on her companion's shoulder and said, "If we're not careful, those two could do something fundamentally inexplicable and awful to the TARDIS," she said softly. "We should catch up with them."
"You go ahead," the tall man said. His face looked completely wrong without its customary overly big grin. "I'll be with you in a moment."
She nodded and followed after the two hitchhikers. He leant down, placing a stuffed animal--a parrot--next to the tombstone. "Don't panic," he said softly. "And I hope you know where you're going. Both philosophically and geographically."
He walked away. The grave was left alone in silence.