Warning: Contains slash and angst
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Happy Thanksgiving my fellow Americans, if you happen to like that sort of thing, which at the moment I don't.
The first time was an accident.
Ford hadn't felt nearly intoxicated enough by the time Arthur had decided to call it a night, so he'd told the Earthman he'd just stay a little longer. And, well, if he was a little too drunk to think better of a quick tumble into bed with an attractive female from Uytonius 3 an hour later, that was hardly his fault.
Much later, Arthur woke up to a towel falling across his face as Ford tumbled into bed next to him, out before he hit the pillow and reeking of cheap alcohol, ladies' perfume, and recent sex. Arthur twisted the Marks and Spencer's towel in his hands, and it ripped a bit at the corner.
Now, Arthur was not a vindictive person. He had come to accept many things about the greater Universe – among them being the facts that, as an ape descendant from an unimportant planet, he would frequently be ignored; that Ford would get as drunk as possible as often as possible; and that, due to time travel and other forms of adventure, it would be impossible to keep track of their anniversary. But one thing from Earth which he still clung to (along with the hope of finding a halfway decent cup of tea) was the concept of monogamy. It was a word that Ford, Arthur reflected as he nursed a deep and unrelenting hurt, probably didn't even know how to spell.
So when the towel started to rip, Arthur (his heart hardened by the knowledge that not only had Ford cheated on him, but also made no attempt to hide it at all) gripped it harder and yanked. A bit of the worn corner, roughly an inch square, came off in his hand. He tucked it in his pajama pocket, threw the towel onto the floor, rolled over and fell into a fitful sleep.
The next morning, they didn't talk about it. Ford fiddled with the edge of his beloved towel, realized that he must have accidentally done something to make his normally harmless human lover really angry, and sheepishly made it worth Arthur's while to not be upset with him anymore. Arthur forgave him, but the scrap of towel remained in his pocket as a half-forgotten reminder.
The second time was almost an accident, though not quite so much that Arthur was completely unaware of reaching for a pair of scissors.
This time, Ford had something to say about it.
"Arthur," he asked the next morning, "have you done something to my towel?"
Ford waved the towel in question in his face. It was now missing another square inch from the edge. "Well someone has. It was fine last night, so who else could have done this?"
"Maybe it was whoever you slept with last night," Arthur suggested, turning suddenly to glare.
"No, they were quite busy."
"My towel, Arthur!"
"Oh who cares?" Arthur shouted. "If you need a whole one for anything, all you need to do is ask and I'll lend you mine!"
"Who cares?! Haven't you been listening to a single thing I've told you over the past few months? A hitchhiker's towel is his most important possession, not some common household rag that can be lent out at will!"
"I see! So mine isn't good enough for you, is that it?"
"And it follows that, if a person is only as good as his most important possession, I must not mean very much to you either!"
The argument escalated until Arthur decided to withhold sex for at least a week and Ford left the room in a huff, with his wounded towel under his arm. He was surprised to find the next day that Arthur still fully intended to carry through with his threat.
In fact, the impasse lasted only three days. But it felt like the longest three days of Ford's life.
Then there was a third time, then a fourth, then a fifth, and so on. And they never talked about it – Arthur because he stood firmly on the conviction that actions spoke louder than words and Ford because he didn't want to accidentally make things worse – but it was always there, a constant undercurrent.
Ford cared for Arthur quite a lot. More, in fact, than he could honestly say he had for anyone else, and just the thought of losing that for more than three days, perhaps (Zarquon forbid) even permanently, made him want to jump on a table and scream.
That didn't change, but once Arthur gave up all pretext of being subtle and started putting holes in the middle of the towel rather than just along the edge it became very hard to relax. Towels, after all, were a great help in the art of not panicking, but a towel that more closely resembled Swiss cheese was hardly a morale booster.
So Ford started drinking a bit more than usual, because alcohol was one of the two best ways he knew to unwind and forget his troubles, and in his drunkenness he kept on accidentally falling into bed with people, because sex was the other.
Arthur watched this, nursing the ever-present hurt and a growing sense of uneasiness but still saying nothing. Mentioning it only led to yelling, because he wanted Ford to be faithful and Ford wanted him to be fair and this was one point on which neither of them saw any reason to compromise. Yelling meant that there was a problem they couldn't fix, and acknowledging that would mean…
No. No, he loved Ford. He loved the glint in Ford's bright blue eyes right before he lunged across the room to shove Arthur against the nearest convenient wall and kiss him silly. He loved the way Ford let himself be held sometimes, when they were away from prying eyes and there was no longer the constant pressure to look cool. He loved it when Ford held him tightly (almost, but not quite, too tightly to breathe), pressed their sticky stomachs together and a cheek against his skin, and murmured proudly that Arthur was his.
It was just the fact that, if they really got down to the matter of fairness, Arthur couldn't in all honesty say the same. Ford wasn't only his, and probably never could be.
Of course it couldn't last. Ford's towel, after all, was not infinite.
The last time was, in its own way, an accident too. Ford hadn't meant to get that drunk, but a game of Janx Spirit had sounded like a good idea at the time and he'd just wanted to forget that his towel was being slowly disintegrated. Of course he'd lost, having already been rather drunk to begin with. Of course he hadn't given any real thought to the forfeit. And he hadn't forgotten about Arthur, really – his brain just hadn't made the connection between "your place" and the bed he and Arthur usually shared.
It wasn't until the being he'd brought home (he was too smashed to remember its name, or even if it were a he or a she) had him pushed up against the headboard and just finished pulling his sweater over his head that he saw Arthur. He was frozen on the other side of the room in shock, with a look of raw anguish that, until that moment, he'd always kept to himself.
With a sinking feeling, Ford muttered something unintelligible and gently pushed the suddenly unwanted guest away. The being barely seemed to notice, but then Arthur recovered enough to walk over and tap it on the shoulder.
"Out," he said flatly.
It considered this for a moment, and might have argued the point, but for the fact that Arthur was a few inches taller, his face had taken on a terribly harsh look, and he was armed with a very sharp pair of scissors.
His gaze shifted and he stared at Ford with stormy gray eyes. "You're bringing them home now?"
Not really knowing what to do, Ford only shrugged.
The scissors glinted ominously in the dim lighting, and the intruder, with a wistful look at Ford's bare chest through the shirt it had just finished unbuttoning, decided to beat a hasty retreat.
As soon as the door shut behind it, Ford sank down a little bit against the headboard. "Arthur?" he ventured. "I din't mean… You can't…"
But Arthur was already moving away and reaching for Ford's satchel where it had fallen between the door and the bed.
"You can't," Ford insisted as Arthur pulled what was left of his towel out of the bag. He pushed himself up and lurched forward, but the room wobbled and he fell on his stomach on top of the blankets.
"In our bed, Ford," Arthur said harshly. His heart was beating too hard in his chest and his mind was racing with, How could you, how could you, how could you do this? There was no room to feel or think anything else. "If you can do it, then so can I!"
Snip. Snip. Snip-snip-snip-snip-snip.
Ford watched, wide-eyed, as slices of towel hit the floor.
It was horribly sobering. Suddenly he felt almost like screaming – at Arthur, at Life, at the Universe and everything in it, but mostly at himself for being so zarking stupid. Because of course this was crossing a line. Of course this was the worst thing he could have done.
He'd never felt guilty about it before, but this was different. This was two aspects of his lifestyle that he'd managed to keep separate before now crashing together, and this was Arthur standing in front of him and almost, but not quite, coming straight out and saying it: This is how badly you're hurting me, this is what isn't working.
And all Ford could do was watch.
Every cut felt so final. Arthur's hands shook slightly as he operated the scissors, until the last piece of towel fell from his hand. Then his arms fell limply to his sides and he just stood there, breathing shakily and staring at the scraps at his feet.
He hadn't even thought about doing it, really. It had just… happened.
Arthur had no idea what to do next. He wanted to drop the scissors and run, but at the same time he felt like he'd already run a marathon. The misery that had been hanging on him since the first time was dragging him down and he was just so tired of it all.
Looking up, his gaze accidentally met Ford's, and he was surprised to see that same misery. Dark circles under his eyes that matched his own, which somehow he hadn't noticed before.
Oh god, Arthur thought with dawning sense of something almost entirely unlike motion sickness, I've done something just as terrible… He looked back down at the towel's remains – Ford's towel, and he knew how much that meant.
"It wasn't on purpose," Ford said suddenly, in an uncharacteristically small voice. Not meek, or timid, or really even all that apologetic, just very, very quiet. "I mean, I was drunk…"
He trailed off. Arthur wasn't looking at him, or giving any indication that he was listening at all. The room was shrinking while they seemed to be moving further and further apart.
Where was his confidence? Where was his cool? Ford had always assumed that, if it ever came to this, he'd somehow be able to talk his way out. After all, there was an explanation for everything. But this wasn't even another argument, and there was no room for explanations – just awful, inescapable silence.
He had to do something. He couldn't lose his towel and Arthur.
So he got up, walked somewhat unsteadily over, and locked his arms around Arthur in a tight hug. The security of that embrace was all he could give, as much as he could promise, and he'd take from it whatever refuge from the consequences of his actions, wrong or otherwise, that he could find.
The scissors slipped from Arthur's hand and Ford flinched a little as they hit the floor, disproportionately loud. He held on anyway, hoping Arthur hadn't felt that.
Arthur's breath caught painfully as Ford squeezed him, and not just because he was being half crushed. For the longest time, this was all he'd wanted. Something, some hint that Ford needed him and was afraid to lose him. But this – he felt like he'd broken something to get it. He didn't know if he had the right anymore to be raising his hands and clutching desperately at the back of Ford's shirt (which he was) or turning his head and burying his face in the familiar, comforting scent of Ford's hair (which he also was).
"I could get a new one," Ford ventured, buoyed somewhat by the reciprocated clinging.
"A new what?"
Suddenly Arthur realized that Ford was standing on the remains of his old towel, and that at some point a choice had been made, a value judgment, and Ford had put him ahead of the most important thing a hitchhiker could possess. That was not a casual or transitory thing; it was not something that could ever come out of a one night stand or forfeit.
It was those moments when Ford held him tight and said, Mine.
Arthur insisted on buying the new towel, and Ford let him. Humans always seemed to know much more about the finer points of reconciliation than he did, after all, so that was simpler. And he was distracted by something.
There was something subtly different about Arthur's fingers. Not all of them, mostly just the thumb and forefinger. Ford happened to notice because, well, he was very sensitive when it came to that sort of thing.
And he wasn't the sort of person to worry, but they had just patched things and he was still new to the concept of compromise. What if he'd misunderstood something somewhere and Arthur had started sleeping with other people too? He couldn't quite put his finger on why that thought bothered him so much, he just knew that it made him prone to throwing empty glasses at walls for no readily apparent reason.
Except, that wasn't quite the sort of thing that would change the way a brush of fingertips felt. It was just... odd.
Ford woke one morning to find Arthur sitting on the edge of the bed, with a collection of towel scraps in his lap. Something twisted in his stomach, but – upon closer inspection, those scraps looked very familiar.
"I, I wanted to give you this," Arthur mumbled. "I was going to, but it looks awful."
"… I didn't know you could sew," Ford said finally.
Arthur smiled weakly, because it was very obvious that he couldn't.
Intent blue eyes raked over the towel. It was a terrible repair job and undoubtedly the towel was useless for any of the things for which it might normally have been used, but it was all there.
"You kept every piece?"
"I didn't know what else to do with them," Arthur admitted, looking away. "I couldn't just throw them out."
"Ah." Ford fiddled with the edge of the towel, which was still in Arthur's lap because he wasn't sure how well it would survive being moved. For one very uncool moment he felt tears threaten to well up in his eyes, because, well, no one had ever taken the time to so utterly fail at fixing something for him before. He pushed the feeling back, draping his arms around Arthur's neck from behind and propping his chin on one of the human's shoulders, and said, "Good."
It wasn't simple, and it certainly wasn't perfect, and it wasn't really something they could talk about. There would still be accidents. But they'd stick it out anyway and hope for the best, because that's just the kind of people they were.