The title is taken from a line in afrai's story, Better Than Tea, to which this owes a remarkably obvious debt.
* * *
Not Exactly The Galaxy's Greatest Romance
* * *
"Look, I don't think I'm into this, Ford."
"Uh-huh. Do you like it when I do this?"
"Unngh. Ye ... no. I mean I wasn't brought up like thii ... iiis. I have certain societal prejudices, Ford, so maybe you could just -."
"Sure, my pleasure -."
* * *
Arthur Dent wasn't sure how he'd ended up as an alien's - pet? Significant Other? Person it's difficult to explain at family reunions?
"Friend, Arthur," Ford said, sighing. "We've been friends for years."
Arthur thought about it. He was fairly sure that his friends didn't usually crawl all over him like Ford was attempting to do. He had the distinct impression that friends went down the pub with you, or to a match with you, or even to the cinema with you, with or without drunken philosophical arguments being conducted at more or less the same time. Ford had done all that, without trying to kiss him as well. Of course, since the Earth had been destroyed, Arthur had felt more than a little adrift, and so had perhaps not given Ford's original query the consideration it deserved.
"Arthur? Do you like me?"
"Well, yes, For - mmmmpf!"
Arthur sometimes thought that one or other of them had misinterpreted the situation somehow. He wasn't sure how to reinterpret it, so he settled for explaining to Ford every single time that, well, things in England had been conducted a little differently, so perhaps Ford could - er, yes. That was quite nice, really. No, no he couldn't really remember what he'd been saying. He just wished that they had saved some toothpaste from Earth, because Ford tasted like motor oil.
"Lay off on the personal comments, Arthur. We both have to be broadminded here."
* * *
After some time continually explaining the situation to Ford, Arthur felt he was making headway. Ford no longer just grinned and treated it as Arthur playing hard to get. Now he looked irritated for a while before grinning and treating it as Arthur playing hard to get.
"I'm not just playing hard to get, you know."
"Sure, Arthur. Now can we please get to sleep?"
* * *
"England, Earth, Societal Prejudices, Parental Expectations? Kiss me."
"I didn't think you had this in mind when you brought me along, you know."
"Yeah, yeah, come here - what?"
"Well, not this. I mean, how could I?"
"I told you, that's how."
"Sorry? You did not. The words, 'Arthur, let's run away to outer space and go to bed together' never crossed your lips. I'd have remembered."
"Well, I didn't use those precise words, no. But what about that awful film club? With those awful lectures? Specifically the one about how science-fiction films all portray a repressed homoerotic desire for the negation of the self in the arms of the totalitarian world-machine Eternal Mother Goddess, expressed as an infantile sexualised fascist abduction fantasy, then? During which you said 'God, I wish someone would abduct me, I can't take much more of this'?"
"I don't remember that."
"Excuse me, but which one of us has perfect recall? And I said 'If I ever get off this miserable ball of rock I'll take you along?'"
"And you said 'Thank God, when do we leave?' And you also said, 'Hang on, does this mean I have to be your love-slave?' And I said 'Yes, please. I'd really like that, Arthur'?"
"And you said, 'Fair enough, let's go'?"
"I thought you were joking."
"Huh. Well, I thought you meant it. I'm pretty disappointed in you, Arthur, leading me on like that."
"Gosh, Ford. I didn't mean to upset you."
"So kiss me."
"I was being sarc-, oh, all right. Just this once."
* * *
After another round of the Explanation, Arthur felt he'd made a breakthrough of sorts. He wasn't sure it was quite what he'd been aiming at, but it seemed to work. Ford looked like he'd never been so offended in his life.
"I've never been so offended in my life," Ford said.
Arthur thought that perhaps "freakish and scary" might not have been the most sensitive choice of words, and wondered if he should apologise. After wondering for a while, he realised he had missed his chance.
"Fine. Forget it," Ford said coldly.
Arthur felt oddly bereft at getting his own way and seeing Ford get up and go away clothed in not much more than wounded pride. Over the next several days he had the distinct impression that Ford wasn't speaking to him. This impression was built up from a lot of little things.
Like Ford saying, "Please ask the alien to pass the jam."
Like Ford leaving rooms Arthur came into.
Like Ford outright telling him, "Arthur, I'm not talking to you."
It was all most embarrassing to have the only comments directed at him come from Zaphod, who inevitably started "Hey, Earthman! When are you and Ford going to kiss and make up?" Ignoring Zaphod didn't actually work, as he had nothing better to do than follow his chosen victim around all day, asking inane questions and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Trillian refused to get involved. Arthur felt that this perhaps had something to do with the way she had looked at him when he bewailed the utter perverse stupidity of getting involved with an alien. He wasn't yet desperate enough to talk to Marvin, but could see the possibility looming. All in all, it was a huge relief to have Ford suddenly jump out of hiding and pull him into a side room. That was normal. He began to prepare the Explanation.
"See this?" Ford said, indicating a display on the Guide. "This planet's atmosphere is really quite close to Earth's. And it has the same rating. It even has plant life that the locals brew up with hot water. We'll drop you off on our way past. Assuming Zaphod hasn't gotten the entire family's assets frozen, I'll give you money, help you set yourself up. See you later."
Arthur stared after him in confusion. He had the strongest feeling this must be a Thursday.
* * *
The planet Wleys does indeed have an atmosphere very close to that of Earth, as an examination of that wholly remarkable book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, will confirm. Very close to that of 19th century London on a really foggy winter day, but well within human tolerances. As long as the human in question is tolerant of quite unpleasant conditions, but that's why most visitors prefer to spend their time indoors. Arthur stared glumly at the fog pressing up against the windows in the arrivals hall.
"Come on," Ford said shortly. "I'm not paying spaceport prices."
Outside it was dank, and damp, and even foggier. Arthur shivered and pulled his dressing gown tighter. Ford strolled down the street like the dank, damp fog didn't worry him, all the way to the local town. He wandered into little dank shops, and bought Arthur a small suitcase and a new pair of slippers. He led Arthur to a rather dank hotel, and got him checked in. With a tight little smile he organised Arthur getting a cup of the local plant-life-brewed-with-hot-water, and handed over a roll of Altairian dollars.
"Good thing I haven't been able to access my salary for 15 years. The employment exchange is down that street. You might want to take a few remedial classes in just about everything before applying for a job. See you around, Arthur."
Arthur blinked down at his cup of brewed local plant life. It didn't really look like tea, but when he looked up to tell Ford this, Ford was gone. He strolled back over to the reception desk, sipping at the cup. It didn't taste of anything really.
"Er, excuse me? The gentleman who was with me? Did you see him go?"
The creature behind the desk shrugged.
"What's the job market like at the moment?"
The creature looked up from its magazine. Arthur felt that it was annoyed to be disturbed, although he couldn't quite make out any facial expression. Or any face, for that matter.
"There's a recession. You'll have to join the waiting list for a job permit."
"Oh. How long does that take?"
"A year or so."
"And you have to prove you can support yourself before you'll be considered for one."
"So, in order to qualify for a permit to allow me to work to support myself - at a fairly basic level, I should imagine - I have to be of independent means?"
"Yep. Or you'll be deported at your own expense."
"Deported? Where to?"
"Planet of origin," the creature said turning back to its magazine.
Arthur struggled to stay optimistic. What could they do after all, toss him out the airlock at Earth's former co-ordinates? He decided not to think about that.
"I bet this place looks quite cheerful in the summer," he said.
"Mister, this is the summer," the creature replied, turning the page with one slickly furred tentacle.
Arthur ran out into the street, dropping the cup of brewed plant life as he went.
He ran up the street, coughing in the not-so-balmy, dank, damp summer pea-souper. How far could Ford have gone anyhow?
There was no need to panic, Arthur told himself. All he had to do was get back to the spaceport, get through security without any form of identification and get back onto a stolen spaceship piloted by the galaxy's most-wanted man. He began to gibber. He wondered if it would be beneath his dignity to run up and down the street crying. Perhaps he'd give it a go, just to see.
"Arthur! What are you doing? You've run past this pub three times!"
Arthur decided that weeping with joy was perfectly acceptable and flung himself on Ford.
"Ford! Don't leave me!"
Ford raised his eyebrows and pulled him indoors. He crossed his arms and looked sternly at Arthur.
"And would that be a 'Ford, don't leave me, I can't stand it without you'? or a 'Ford, don't leave me here all alone with funny-looking people who've never even heard of the word tea'?"
Arthur tried to decide on an answer that would express the fact that (a) he was so glad to be with someone who knew where Guildford had been, even if that someone had turned out to not be from Guildford after all but from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse that he would happily do anything Ford suggested, right now, on the bar counter if necessary; and that (b) he wasn't easy. He didn't think he would be coming up with a satisfactory reply any time soon.
"Ah, forget it. I don't know why people think honesty is a good thing in relationships. Will you at least try to stop whining about Earth?"
Arthur nodded, keeping a close eye on Ford in case he decided to do another disappearing act.
"And you won't complain about the food?"
"And," Ford paused significantly, "I still like you."
Arthur's relief at having at least one person left in the galaxy that did was made up of equal parts of his desperation to hold on to part of his old life, crazy alien guy though that might be; and the fact that Ford had decided that all was fair in what he assumed Arthur would think of as love and war, and was rather determinedly projecting pheromones in Arthur's direction. He never told Arthur this.
Arthur nodded. Ford looked a little less stern, sat down, and signalled the bartender.
"OK. Bartender, another two of these."
The bartender peered over the counter at Arthur.
"That him, then?" it asked in a tone that indicated it had heard quite a lot about Arthur and thought Ford could do better.
Ford just tapped his fingers on the bar until two rather large, rather black and definitely moving drinks were produced. Ford gulped at one, and indicated the other was for Arthur. He looked at it warily, and sniffed cautiously. It smelled awful. And rotten. And quite corrosive. Ford was finishing his with every indication of pleasure.
"Er, Ford? It's not that I don't appreciate it, but I don't think my metabolism -,"
"Complaining already, Arthur?" Ford asked, shoving some money across the counter and getting up.
Arthur came to a swift decision. One of the only four people in the entire galaxy who'd ever set foot on Earth was about to head out the door. He seized the drink, knocked it back in one, then grabbed Ford and kissed him.
"Arthur! I like the bold new you!" Ford said when Arthur finally let him up for air. He grinned in a way that made it clear that whatever his species was descended from, they hadn't been vegetarian, and looked approvingly at the empty glass.
"You drank it. Good man."
He patted Arthur's shoulder in a kindly way.
"Let's go get your stomach pumped."
"Oh, good," Arthur said, in a pale voice.
When he woke up the next day on the Heart of Gold, Ford had his arms round him and was kissing him. Out of habit, Arthur thought about the Explanation, but let it go, once and for all.
He'd never appreciated how sweet the taste of motor oil could be.