Fandom: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, bookverse.
Characters/Pairings: Ford, Arthur, Ford/Arthur if you squint.
Date Written: 2005
Summary: Ford in the 29 seconds they spend floating in space.
Rating/Warnings: PG. No warnings.
Notes: Post- Vogon ship and pre- Heart of Gold. Based on the book, not the movie, because while I enjoyed the movie, it did make the Ford-Arthur friendship a little more comical and a little less sincere.
There were many things Ford had experienced in his longish(by Earth standards) and somewhat conspicuous life, most of which could be pinpointed as having taken place somewhere in the space between taking up his towel as an interstellar hitchhiker and being stranded on Earth some fifteen years ago. That left a gap at the beginning and a gap at the end – and it would be the end, of course, because in the catalogue of the many things Ford had experienced, being shot into the vacuum of space was not well-represented at all.
And he had absolutely no idea what to do.
The Guide was useless on the subject. It gave him twenty-five seconds to live at last count, and he would have liked a bit more than that. He realized sickeningly that he’d wasted an entire sixth of the remainder of his life ruminating on how little life he had left. He wasn’t going to waste any more of it in a mental discussion on how blasted ironic that was. There were more weighty things to think about, like the sudden, crushing, utterly complete sense of futility that he found tightening in his throat as he caught sight of the only person on Earth he’d thought worth saving, floating a meter or two away. Arthur wasn’t doing much moving on his own, but inertia and momentum have a say even in a vacuum, and the Earthling was slowly tumbling in the same general direction Ford was, the lax and lifeless dance a language of only one word.
Ford had failed, completely, totally, and with a flourish. When he’d woken up in the middle of the night to see his satchel blinking at him, it’d taken him exactly four seconds to remember what exactly it was his satchel was prone to blink about, and another ten minutes to decipher the signal it was receiving. It had only taken one-and-a-half seconds for him to progress from the thought ‘I have to get out of here’, to ‘I have to take Arthur with me.’ He could no more bear the sight of the Earthman hanging still in the void next to him than he could have stood watching the planet disappear from above knowing that his only friend for the last six years was down there disappearing with it. Fat load of good the sentiment had done, really.
Ford knew, as a hitchhiker, travelling across the galaxy by his shoestrings, taking surreptitious lifts on hostile ships, that he could theoretically end up shot into space or worse at any moment. He accepted this. Arthur had signed up for none of that, and in taking him off of his world, no matter what the circumstances, Ford had volunteered as his protector. And he had failed. And now he was going to die, and Arthur was going to die, and the only thing left of either of them would be two insulting words of minimal interest lodged into the Guide out of sheer obligation. Fifteen years boiled down to two words, and a world no one cared about except for those who called it home.
…he wished he’d had more time, to really explain what had happened, to make Arthur understand the things his kin never had, to grasp the hugeness of space and the possibilities that were out there. To make a little sense of the last Thursday of his life. At the very least, his friend deserved to understand.
There were thirteen seconds left to dwell and not enough time in all the universe to understand. There was no possible way that they would be rescued, the Vogon fleet already a glimmer in the distance, having left space folded as neatly and as utterly empty behind them as they found it. Even if a ship were to happen along in those thirteen seconds, Ford had no idea whether Arthur had taken that lungful of air he’d suggested, or if he had already drowned in the nothing. It wouldn’t really matter, in the end.
There was no resistance from his friend as Ford reached out to grasp a hold on his wrist, to hold onto him and pull them together in the widening maw of space. Arthur’s eyes stayed closed, an expression of concentration frozen on his face. Ford threw an arm around his friend’s back, held onto him, was unable to tell by warmth if he was still alive or not with the void stealing away what little remained of their body heat. Ford felt the pinch of something cold freezing the corners of his eyes. He wanted to apologize, to explain that he’d done his best, but there was no sound in the vacuum, nothing to make the expense of held breath worth it. He would have given his last breath of life to say it, if he’d thought Arthur would hear and understand.
The moment came – a second or two too soon, it seemed to Ford, though with the cold pulling on his skin and the bursts of light behind his eyes, he probably wasn’t judging time correctly anymore. It wasn’t an unexpected thing either way, and Ford was vaguely conscious of Arthur clinging to him in the last second before he closed his eyes. He hoped that that meant he was forgiven.
The universe went very white and very warm, and then there was nothing.