TITLE: Two Days... And the First Day of the Rest of Our Lives; 7/8
AUTHOR: Serit.
PAIRING/S: Tucker/Reed.

RATING/S: T+ with explicit sexual language and reference to m/m sex acts.

WARNING/S: Explicit m/m sex: More warm 'n' fuzzy romance between Trip 'n' Mal!
GENRE/S: Cultural misunderstandings: aliens have different customs and traditions.
SUMMARY: The full summary and disclaimer are in Chapter 1.
NOTE/S: Risan words: A horga'hn is an ancient Risan symbol of fertility and jamaharon is a mysterious Risan sexual rite; see TNG, "Captain's Holiday," and the Trek Encyclopedia. I created plikipl'ahn celebrations because I want to mention Kipli (plikipl'ahn, get it?) and her beautiful fic "Touch" (M/NC-17) on Warp 5; it's a lovely story, visit and read it!
NOTE: The "Indian scent" I refer to is Nag Champa, and Malcolm's comments are accurate; if you were hip in the 1960s, you'll remember it. Then again, if you were hip in the 60s, you might not remember much!


A few hours later‑‑not 'later' enough for Trip, it seemed‑‑the day concierge called and woke them, saying he would arrive shortly with the 'ritual skin fondlers' and the traditional plikipl'ahn breakfast in bed. Malcolm was alarmed by the thought of what 'ritual skin fondlers' were or did to one; Trip suggested that he remain calm so they could react quickly if they needed to. They didn't need to react defensively.

The concierge polarized the window wall to block most of the strong morning sunlight. One waiter brought in a cart with a large oval top to serve as a breakfast table for them; its surface was filled with covered platters. A second waiter set up a smaller rectangular cart with induction warmers for oils, lotions, potions, creams, and various other liquids for the 'ritual skin fondlers'. A smaller induction platform was set up on the bedside table on Trip's side of the bed. The 'ritual skin fondlers' were a serene, apparently middle aged Risan husband-and-wife pair of masseurs. "The ritual skin fondlers ask that we uncover the bed for you, honored guests, and recover it for the fondlings," the concierge said precisely.

"Uh, we're not wearin' anythin' under the sheets right now," Trip said, blushing, but the alien masseurs only smiled indulgently. The Risan female 'fondler' smiled reassuringly at Malcolm and extended her hand to him.

"Trip, why don't we just get out for them and find our blues while they do whatever they need to do," he said as he took the Risan's hand and clambered out of bed. The waiters, or general service employees, as it seemed they were, folded back the duvet and blanket, and then removed the two flat and top fitted sheets they had used the previous night. Three additional dry fitted sheets were under the one the employees removed, and two flat sheets remained folded over the blanket and duvet. The concierge placed his translation device on one of the bedside tables and left with the service employees, taking the used sheets with them.

The female Risan 'fondler' examined them, or rather, their genitals. Malcolm had never seen Trip so embarrassed; his enthusiastic lover's whole body was one huge blush, some parts more huge than others. She smiled sweetly and asked, "Are you both the same sex of your species?"

"Yes, ma'am," Malcolm replied timidly, sensing himself blushing hugely. "Are‑‑are those practices forbidden on Risa?"

"Nothing is forbidden on Risa if done in perfect love and in perfect trust," she replied, "Do the balancers‑‑physicians‑‑of your species have the ability to blend your‑‑" her translator squealed, "‑‑materials to create children?"

Trip guessed that her words referred to genetic engineering, "Yes, they do," he replied, "but it's a complicated procedure; we'll decide later when to create our children‑‑"

Malcolm nearly burst into tears. Was Trip just being polite to her, or did he really want to have children with him? He didn't believe that anyone wanted anything of his, not even his genes. "Child‑‑" He looked up in surprise. The Risan woman touched his face, her eyes filled with concern and compassion; it felt like his mother's touch from many years ago, more years than he could remember. "‑‑your myl'ha‑‑" she pronounced it 'meel-hah', "‑‑loves you deeply and holds your soul in his heart, as you hold his. Your fears are unfounded‑‑"

"What‑‑what does myl'ha mean?" he asked.

She smiled and was about to reply, when her husband rang tinkling bells from his place on the other side of the bed, "We will begin the ritual skin fondling now," he said, "Please to lay face up next to each other and hold limbs between you."

She spoke sharply to him in Risan and returned her attention to Malcolm. "You are ill at ease; what is it that causes your discomfort?"

"The Human English word 'fondle' has many meanings, including sexual touch," he stammered quietly, avoiding her eyes, "but in this case, I think 'massage' may be a better translation for what you do, unless‑‑unless it is sexual."

"No, this is not 'sexual' fondlings; I will relay this word, 'massage', to the university language department; they program the translation devices. Myl'ha means‑‑" she replied with a mechanical squeal again, "‑‑the soul who holds your soul," she frowned, hindered by the inability to communicate, "It is like the Betazoid word 'imzadi', or the Vulcan 't'hy'la'." She unfolded a silky block-printed scarf, about a metre and a half long and two-thirds of a metre wide, wrapped it under Malcolm's bum, over his genitals and narrow hips, and around his hips again, and her husband wrapped one around Trip. "This is the fra'ahn horga'hn, the horga'hn scarf, it ritually protects your personal‑‑" the translator squawked again, "‑‑organs. We have received medical identifications of substances approved and disapproved for you‑‑"

"Uh, even with the translator, that made no sense to me," Trip said, holding Malcolm's right hand with his left.

"They've received a list of chemicals, foods, and flowers to which we can and can't be exposed from Phlox and Chef," Malcolm said.

"May I see your arm?" the Risan masseuse asked him, "I will scan to make sure there will not be any accidents." She ran a flat scanner, shaped like an antique ladies' hand mirror, over his forearm. "Good, we have a selection of scents suggested by your ship doctors‑‑" She passed a decanter cap under Malcolm's and Trip's noses.

"No, that's pineapple, it's a fruit, and I like it very much, but it's a very strong scent and I don't think it would be relaxing in this situation," he said.

"Whoa, what is that? It sort of smells like a rose, but different."

"It's an ancient one. I think it's called a Damascus rose; all hybrids were developed from that original flower."

Trip was holding Malcolm's right hand with his left, and the ritual masseur on his side of the bed leaned over and began loosely lacing and tying a length of indigo blue and claret decorative cord around their joined hands. "Hey, what's this rope-thing?"

"It is the‑‑" he replied, and the translation device squealed; he growled angrily in Risan at his spouse and she replied firmly. He took a deep breath, bowed slightly at the two officers, stepped back from the bed, and began murmuring a chant or prayer.

"My spouse is upset by not being able to communicate easily with you," she said, "This is the dro'ahn myl'ha, the string that symbolically ties your souls to each other; there is one that represents your life during the day, and another which represents your life at night. Each of you will keep one to remind you of your plikipl'ahn celebrations here." She opened another bottle of oil. "What is this scent?"

"Gawd, that smells like somethin' Phlox would use in Sickbay!"

"It's lavender," Malcolm replied, "It actually was used in hospitals on Earth for centuries because it has antiseptic properties. By the way, the Roman Legions had supplies of rose and lavender oils for bathing while they were marching or stationed away from Rome."

"Well, that had to have been interesting."

"They didn't use them together, Trip!"

"What is this scent?" the masseuse asked.

"Oh, gosh, Malcolm, what is that, because it smells like you!"

"It's bergamot, a small citrus fruit, and you sometimes smell it on me because it flavors Earl Grey tea," he replied, laughing. "When my mother and sister learned I was posted to Enterprise, they sent me a lot of things they thought I'd miss‑‑like Earl Grey tea."

"And this is the last scent on the list that we were able to find," the Risan masseuse said.

"Oh‑‑" Malcolm sighed audibly, closed his eyes, physically relaxed, and sighed again. Emotions crossed his face like streaks of sunlight through swiftly-moving clouds on a sunny day. "‑‑It‑‑it reminds me of temples in Malaysia and India," he whispered.

"Oh, gosh, I remember this; Lizzie was wild about it for a time!" Trip exclaimed, "What is it?"

"It's a blend of sandalwood, plumaria, frangipani, and other Indian scents," he replied, "I think it's the most famous incense in the world, but it's not just an incense it's used in massage oils, soaps, skin lotions, anything that can be scented has been made with this Indian blend, but I don't remember its name."

"Then we will use the one you call 'bergamot' and this 'Indian scent'," the Risan masseuse said. She passed the Indian oil to her spouse, and they set the oils aside. "We will use an unscented oil on your faces, and these oils upon your bodies. Also, we will be chanting ancient prayers to our fertility gods‑‑if your faiths prevent you from hearing the prayers of other deities, we can recite them silently‑‑they are an ancient means of counting time."

"D‑‑do you mind?" Malcolm asked, squeezing Trip's hand.

"No, I don' mind if you don'."

"We‑‑we don't mind if you pray aloud. I‑‑I liked what you said earlier, 'nothing is forbidden on Risa if done in perfect love and in perfect trust.' It's a nice saying; I‑‑I want to remember it."

On Trip's side of the bed, her spouse rang the chimes. "Now we begin; please close your eyes," she said. Malcolm could hear her hands rubbing together, warming the oil. She must have leaned over him, because he could hear her whispering the prayers. He felt first her fingertips, then her hands caressing his face, stroking the tension out of his muscles.

"Why does this oil smell, if it's supposed to be unscented?" Trip asked suspiciously.

"It's almond oil, similar to olive oil, or some of the other fruits with pits, like apricot. It doesn't have much of a scent compared to other oils, and it's used as a carrier for stronger scents."

"Oh."

The Risan masseur rubbing Trip down rang the chimes again. The officers smelled the scents of the bergamot and the Indian oils being poured by the 'ritual skin masseurs'. The tone of the prayers changed, as did the motions and strokes upon their bodies. The masseurs carefully manipulated their muscles and joints, working from neck to navel, continuing from the lower hips to the soles of their feet. Malcolm felt Trip twitch next to him. "What's the matter?"

"Ticklish feet!"

"What is this, 'ticklish'?" the Risan masseuse asked.

"Because Human nerves are sensitive, a light touch on skin can cause a pleasant reaction with laughter," Malcolm explained, "if it's continued for a long time, it can become unpleasant." She spoke quietly to her spouse and Trip stopped twitching.

A moment later, the Risan clasped his free hand, then released it. "We have finished massaging the daylight portion of your lives together," she said, "Please sit up so we may untie the first dro'ahn myl'ha, soulmate cord, and turn over, so we may tie the second." The young men sat up, the cord was untied, the masseurs held their fra'ahn horga'hn scarves, as they rolled onto their stomachs. The masseurs replaced their pillows with thick, soft donut-like cushions that supported their necks and allowed them to breathe easily. The Risan masseuse wrapped Malcolm's scarf over his rear and around his hips; her husband did the same with Trip's scarf. The second soulmate cord was tied, although Trip and Malcolm had to fidget a bit to find a comfortable position for their clasped hands and bent arms. The masseurs rang the chimes and poured the bergamot and Indian oils again. The prayers changed, as did the motions and massaging upon their bodies. The masseurs carefully manipulated their muscles and joints, working from neck to waist, continuing from the lower hips to their feet.

The Risan man spoke sourly to his spouse and began packing the massage equipment on Trip's side of the bed. She replied firmly to him and untied the second cord. "Please sit up, and I will finish the last part of this ritual." The young men pulled the horga'hn scarves off their backsides and sat up, using them to cover their privates. The Risan masseuse folded the marine blue and amethyst cord in half, draped it loosely around Malcolm's neck, and tied an elaborate knot. She draped the first cord about Trip's neck and tied it in the same way. "These are the dro'ahn myl'ha, soulmate cords, and they symbolically tie your souls together. They encircle each of you, representing your life during the day‑‑" she motioned to Trip, "‑‑and during the night‑‑" she gestured at Malcolm, and then leaned closer to them. She placed one hand on Trip's face and her other on Malcolm's, embracing them at arm's length.

"I feel‑‑no, I know with certainty‑‑that you are good men, and you shall become great men together. You honor Risa by coming here for your plikipl'ahn celebrations, and you will honor your home planet with your actions, now and for years to come." She leaned closer and kissed each man on his forehead, as a mother would. "On this, the last day of your plikipl'ahn celebration, it is customary to wear the dro'ahn myl'ha and the fra'ahn horga'hn over your clothing as a sign of respect for our fertility gods until you have left Risa." She picked up Trip's horga'hn scarf and smiled at his blush, "You should not be ashamed of your bodies; your deities made you in their images, and you are both the children of your gods." She placed the scarf around his neck, tied it in the same way as the cords, and did the same with Malcolm's scarf, and then placed both of her hands on his face again. "We shall pray for your longevity and prosperity. Even though you may not sense it, know that you are deeply loved by your soulmate and your friends," she said and kissed his cheek. "A traditional Risan plikipl'ahn breakfast is here," she added after she released him, "Eating everything on the table to strengthen yourselves is a sign of your fervor for each other," she definitely smiled cheekily at them then. "Peace, longevity, prosperity; may you live together happily for all the days of your lives." The Risan masseurs finished packing their equipment onto the cart and left the suite.

Covered platters filled the surface of the service cart, and the concierge had moved two ice buckets to it. "Boy, I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse 'bout now," Trip said.

"The eating of horses is discouraged, but we can't have you dying of starvation while on shore leave, can we?" Malcolm said, rubbing his hands together, "What exotic delicacies are we presented with now?"

"Lemme grab some of the big pillows for a backrest," Trip said, gently pushing his dearest love down onto the mattress and making a show of clambering over him, pressing and rubbing his body onto Malcolm's until the smaller man poked his fingers into his best friend's ribs, tickling him. "Ah! Oh! Ooh, I get it, Mal!" They stopped "horsin' aroun' " long enough to kiss each other passionately and deeply until Trip finally released his lover and went for the pillows.

Malcolm removed their scarves and cords so they wouldn't become stained with food. The young men covered their laps with a sheet and napkins; Trip pulled the cart closer and swung the top over the bed. They removed the warming lids from the plates, and were surprised by what they held. There were heavily sugared small Risan pastries, and terrestrial and Risan fruits. There were traditional British breakfast foods like terrestrial chicken eggs cooked four ways: kippered eggs, egg and tomato (an egg boiled in a hollowed out tomato), scotch woodcock (which, despite its name, had no poultry in it), and plain boiled (which Malcolm preferred); scones, crumpets, and English muffins with a bowl of freshly curled balls of creamery butter, and bowls of clotted cream, orange marmalade, and strawberry preserves; grilled tomatoes, kippers, sausages, and a fruit trifle with custard. There were also old-style Southern 'Sunday dinner' breakfast foods like eggs over hard and over easy, with Hollandaise sauce on muffins; hominy grits, homemade biscuits and country gravy, hickory smoked bacon and sausage links, catfish fingers with remoulade, homemade fruit cobbler, pecan caramel sticky buns, oranges, and peaches, what Trip said 'folks would come home to after a mornin' in church'.

Fruit juice, water, champagne, and a red, spicy alien alcohol were on the cart with their food. Surprisingly, even though all the plates made it appear as if there were a lot of food, like dinner the previous evening, each serving was just large enough that the men could appreciate the food, but not so generous that they were filled by any one helping. They told stories to each other about the foods served at memorable family gatherings‑‑well, Trip told those, and Malcolm listened in awe because he had nothing similar to compare with them. They dipped the Terran and Risan fruits and fed them to each other. More than a little dip 'spilled' on the young men, and much kissing, licking, and giggling ensued.
*****

"I still feel like takin' a shower," Trip said, wiggling in bed after they finished breakfast.

"I don't think the massage oils are meant to be washed off," Malcolm replied.

"Okay, what about just wipin' my armpits an' legpits with a washcloth?" Malcolm burst out laughing, rolling back and forth, his hands over his mouth. "What?" Trip asked, confused.

It took a few minutes for his dearest love to settle down and reply, "I've heard it called many things, but 'legpits'?"

"Yeah, well, evolutionarily, we got two armpits, an' we got two legpits."

"I don't think the analogy carries."

"Sure it does. Armpits‑‑" he rolled over and pinned Malcolm beneath his body, fingers prepared to tickle his armpits, "‑‑Sex organs‑‑" Trip swooped down, suckled one of his love's nipples, released him quickly, moved, and caressed his thighs, "‑‑Legpits‑‑" and he was about to mouth his sweet phallus.

"Oh, god, Trip, don't! We'll die from exhaustion and the captain will find us this way!" Trip leered mischievously and ran his tongue around the tip of Malcolm's stiffening erection. "Don't, Trip; oh, god, don't!" He exclaimed even as he thrust his groin up for more contact.

"Ya gotta admit, it's a heavenly way to go. Evolution didn' touch you, darlin' deares', because you are angelic," he stretched out over Malcolm's body and kissed his flushed lips.

Malcolm persuaded him to descend from the heights of arousal and pack to leave the hotel for the spaceport and their return to Enterprise. Trip returned to his room just long enough to pack his bag and bring all the things he purchased back to Malcolm's room. They gathered their clothes and accessories scattered amidst the wilting flower petals and thrown onto the furniture. Trip picked up the silky blue shirt he wore to dinner the previous night and frowned. "Well, this looks pretty wrinkly, even to me."

Malcolm looked up and appeared horrified. "Don't tell me you're going to wear one of those gaudy shirts with your suit!"

"Don' tell me you wan' me to wear the suit today!"

"Well, yes," he replied and blushed, "You‑‑you look v‑‑very handsome when y‑‑you're well dressed‑‑" He averted his gaze because he didn't want to see Trip's ridicule.

"Oh." Trip replied softly. Malcolm didn't hear anything else until he felt his best friend's hand gently lift his face and he looked up into love-filled ocean-blue eyes. Trip's smiling mouth pressed his in an appealing, tender kiss. Malcolm was engulfed again by the love flowing through Trip's kiss, and how he gently clasped him in a warm embrace. He calmed, closed his eyes, opened his mouth, and melted into Trip's kiss, becoming a boneless puddle of desire with his best friend's comfort wrapped about him. When they finally separated, Trip whispered, "I guess I'm gonna pack up my clothes an' let you dress me up in your love when we get back to San Francisco."

Malcolm appeared unnerved. "Trip, I don't want you to change just to please me!"

"You're not gonna be changin' me that much. Look, I wear a commander's pips, I really should start lookin' the part even when I'm not in uniform," he replied, "an' I know you have really good taste‑‑you picked me, after all‑‑"

"‑‑I could say the same about you‑‑"

"‑‑Not when it comes to clothes," he laughed, "Mal, you ain' wearin' that cashmere sweater today, are you? It's gonna be warm outside, and I was hopin' to get in a little sight-seein' today, since the only sight I was seein' yesterday was you‑‑"

"Very funny," Malcolm replied, "I have another shirt." He unzipped his travel bag and pulled out a silken black shirt that was only slightly less wrinkled than Trip's.

"Call the Front Desk and ask if someone could iron 'em for us."

Their pressed shirts were returned and the officers were dressed, and Trip was about to pack his horga'hn scarf and soulmate cord in his travel bag. "You aren't packing the dro'ahn myl'ha and the fra'ahn horga'hn, are you?" Malcolm asked.

"Uh, yeah, I was."

Malcolm had been moved by the masseuse's kind words. "Please, wear them for me, Trip," he said, "The masseuse said it's customary to wear the scarf and cord over our clothing until we've left the planet as a sign of respect for the Risan gods."

"You don' strike me as the kind of person who wears Mardi Gras beads, but if you want me to, then I'll wear 'em for'ya."

"I don't think they're Mardi Gras beads, but we don't want to endanger Risan-Human diplomatic relations, do we?"
*****

When they exited the lift and reached the lobby to check out, Trip and Malcolm did not expect a grand farewell from the hotel staff that included traditional music and dance performances and symbolic gifts. They received the lux myl'hahree, slender, decorated candles to hold, jamaharon flower wreaths like Hawaiian leis, to wear over each man's horga'hn scarf and soulmate cord and Malcolm's wreath was checked so he wasn't allergic to the flowers in it and the primitive carving from the niche above the holoscreen fireplace in Malcolm's room. Trip was given a wooden box containing more pastries, preserved dipped fruits, and a large jar of the dip they 'fed' to each other in bed; Malcolm was given a large wooden box containing two sizeable jars of the 'Indian scent' and bergamot massage oils.

"Risa, Nuvia, Grand Jewel Hotel, our staff, all is pleased and proud that you honored guests from the faraway star have come here to observe your celebrations," the corporate concierge gushed, "May the horga'hn bless you and remember your plikipl'ahn celebrations and keep your sacred jamaharon ever‑‑" the translator squealed with static, "‑‑rigid, plum, and breathless." When he finally realized what the concierge meant, Malcolm appeared mortified and speechless.

The equivalent of a valet parking attendant had a groundcar waiting and helped pack their travel and shopping bags in the trunk. The car was about the size of a taxi, but was also more opulent, like a limousine. "Before you leave Risa, you go to the Horga'hn Temple," he said, tapped the driver's side window, and they pulled away from the curb.

"Trip, what is going on?" Malcolm asked.

"Well, the Cap'n rang a peal over me the night before last, an' Chef chewed me out yesterday mornin', an' I really didn' want you to end up in Sickbay, so I thought it was a good idea to do somethin' cultural. This is just one of those cultural things Chef suggested," he replied, "I mean, we'll see the Risans and all the other galactic tourists at this temple, you know‑‑"

"Did you even take any photos at the Technology Museum?"

"Naw, I was too busy watchin' you bein' happy," Trip replied, grinning sheepishly. Malcolm rolled his eyes, but smiled at him fondly.

They arrived at the magnificent Risan Horga'hn Temple, the largest in the city, and the driver helped them bring their bags into the large foyer, where they were met by an unctuous religious person. "I am Deacon Sumehn, today's‑‑" his translator squealed, "‑‑arranger. Greetings, honored guests from the faraway star," he said and guided them into the forecourt. "You keep the fra'ahn horga'hn, horga'hn scarves, dro'ahn myl'ha, soulmate cords on, wear fertile flowers, and hold the candles of devotion. All other things will be stored safely here," he opened a wide locker for their travel bags, museum purchases, and other packages, and then gave Trip the key. "You will be next at the central altar."

"Altar? Did he just say 'altar'? Are we some kind of sacrifice?" Malcolm squeaked.

"Oh, no, I think it's a lot worse than that," Trip replied, "Remember when I said I didn't think the hotel staff thought we were dignitaries?"

"Yes, why?"

"I think all the suites on the penthouse level are honeymoon suites."

"We aren't married!" Malcolm's eyes couldn't get any wider. "Did we get married when we were massaged?"

"No, but I think these folks celebrate the honeymoon before the weddin'," Trip replied, "to make sure the partners are compatible." Malcolm looked stunned when he realized the enormity of their situation. Trip appeared concerned. "Are you okay?"

"‑‑N‑‑no‑‑"

"Malcolm, my darlin' deares' love of my life, do you love me?"

"‑‑Yes! Of course I love you! I love you more than life itself!" he exclaimed.

"Do you love me enough to marry me?"

Malcolm's eyes were wide open in surprise; his fog-blue irises were nearly iridescent white, and his pupils were dilated as much as humanly possible without medication. His mouth dropped open in shock and his arms fell to his sides. Tears and disbelief filled his eyes, and his mouth moved soundlessly for a minute until he said, "Are are you serious?"

"I've never been more serious about anythin' or anybody in all my life," Trip said quietly.

Malcolm appeared stunned, overwhelmed, and panic-stricken. "No‑‑no one‑‑no one h‑‑has ever‑‑"

"‑‑I think I love you more than anybody else‑‑"

"‑‑No‑‑no one else has ever w‑‑wanted me enough to want me to stay with them‑‑"

"I want you enough to stay with me for forever, if you'll have me," Trip whispered.

"D‑‑do you seriously want me? Is this a joke? Are you lying?"

"Yes, I seriously want you, Mal. No, it's not a joke, and no, I ain' gonna lie about somethin' as important as the rest of our lives together, deares'," he said patiently and placed a shaking hand on his dearest love's cheek. "Do you love me‑‑do you trust me‑‑enough to marry me? B'cause if you're not ready now, then I'll wait until you are, for as long as it takes you to get ready."

Malcolm nearly burst into tears. "Yes, Trip, I love you, I trust you enough to marry you, here and now," he mumbled.

Both officers became nervous as they stood in front of the central altar. Two officiants‑‑a male and a female Risan‑‑stood before them. The female stepped back, gestured towards a curtained area, and another male Risan officiant joined the first. They spoke Risan, and their translation device began emitting something that sounded like a marriage rite. "‑‑Oh, shoot‑‑details, details! Please, please, excuse us," Trip said loudly, "we're unfamiliar with your rites. Deacon Sumehn? Deacon, where are you?"

"Honored guests, is there a problem?"

"We don't mean to offend the priests, priestesses, or the other participants here, but I must speak privately with my myl'ha. We shared personal matters during our plikipl'ahn celebrations, but there are details I've overlooked, and we must discuss them now."

"Say no more," Sumehn said, "You wish some time, we understand; I will speak with the‑‑" more static from another translation device. He went to speak with the officiants, returned, and guided Trip and Malcolm to a large tiled circle on the ancient stone floor.

"I‑‑we need to put these candles down for a moment‑‑"

"‑‑Do you wish to cancel the ceremony, honored guests?"

"No, not cancel it, pause it," Trip replied, "A lot of cultures within our race use their han's to gesture an' emphasize things; I guess Humans aren' used to holdin' things for long periods of time when they have to do other things as well." He noticed meter-tall metal stands being brought to the adjacent altar. "What about usin' one of those little stan's? Do they have a purpose?"

"Those are consecrated for funerals!"

"Well, do'ya have any that haven't been consecrated for funerals?" he asked in annoyance. Sumehn gestured to another Temple functionary and whispered to him. "I forgot a lotta details, an' we don' have time to go to our ship an' get what we need before we gotta leave Risa, so we have to find what we need on the spot," he told the deacon.

"‑‑What‑‑what are you doing, sir?" Malcolm whispered coolly; he had noticed the stares of the Risans and other aliens in the Temple upon them, and they made him uncomfortable.

Trip spun around quickly to face him. "Do you remember what I tol' you las' night?" he asked sharply.

"You said many things to me last night, Commander."

"Yeah, well, one of the many things I tol' you, deares', is that I never again wanna hear you call me 'Commander' or 'sir' when we're off-duty!" He grasped Malcolm's shoulders and mashed his lips upon the slender man's mouth. When their lips parted, Malcolm appeared as if he had been pole-axed and didn't know enough to fall to the tiled floor.

Sumehn's assistant returned with one of the stands, except it looked much cleaner than one next to the funeral altar. The priestess came forward with two attendants: one who held open a book for her, and a second who swung a metal censer, smoky fumes puffing out as it swayed over the stand. She murmured words from the book, her hands above the stand's top, and her assistant tapped the censer, ashes falling onto its top. The ashes were swept into the book with its stiff bookmark; Malcolm shuddered, dirtying a book was anathema to him. The priestess draped an orangey-red cloth over the top, and then she and her attendants stepped back, looking expectantly at Trip. He gently took Malcolm's candle from his clenched, sweaty hand and placed it, with his, on the cloth-covered stand; he then took out a clean handkerchief from his jacket pocket, dried his friend's sweaty palms, and kissed each when he was done. "Honored guest, what other things do you need?" Sumehn asked solicitously.

"The most important thing in a Human weddin' is the exchangin' of rings," Trip replied, then explained, "In mos' Human cultures, exchangin' rings is a symbol of the union, an' precious metals are used to show how important an', um, emotionally valuable the marriage is‑‑"

"Trip, we don't have any rings or precious metals with us," Malcolm reminded him, "And I have the feeling that, if we leave without conducting the ceremony, we won't be allowed back."

"Yeah, I think you're right," he admitted thoughtfully, then looked to Sumehn. "If we leave the temple to find a jewelry store, we won't be allowed back to the altar, right?"

"That is correct," the Risan priestess said with a strong accent.

"But may I be allowed to leave this circle, go to our locker, and bring things back here?"

"Did you not know these things would be needed?" Sumehn asked in confusion.

"Humans aren't very logical at our best," Malcolm interjected, "and we forget minor details because we're focusing on the whole situation. I think my belov‑‑" he paused and that pole-axed appearance crept over his features again, "‑‑Trip, did you call me your myl'ha?"

"Yeah‑‑I'd've thought you'd've figured that out by now, deares'."

"I didn't think you were paying attention."

"When we're together an' someone's talkin' to you, deares', one part of me is always listenin'," he replied. "I have to go to our locker. I know exactly what we c'n make our rings from; you got any engineerin' backgroun', Mal?"

"I'll have you know that I'm a better engineer than you are an Armoury Officer, Commander Tucker," Malcolm sniffed haughtily, but smirked impishly.

"I know, 'Loo-tenant,' an' I wouldn' change anything abou'cha," he replied, kissed his love again, and left the circle with Sumehn trailing behind him. He returned a minute later with two communicators, a general-purpose scanner, the universal translator, and a small toolkit. "Here, get these opened up," he told Malcolm as he began unscrewing the back cover of a device.

"Let's try to save one communicator in case we need it, and the universal translator," his friend said as he reached for a screwdriver.

A few minutes later, Trip wove three wires‑‑yellow gold, platinum, and palladium‑‑into a braid, fitted it onto Malcolm's finger, cold-soldered the ends atop the knuckle of his love's third finger of his left hand, and slid it down. "How does that feel, deares'? Too tight, too loose, any metal snags I should melt down?"

"It‑‑it's wonderful, Trip, it's perfect‑‑there's nothing wrong with it," he replied, turning it around his finger, "I don't think we'll be able to wear them whilst on duty, though safety protocols‑‑"

"We'll get chains to wear under our uniforms."

"I‑‑I wouldn't want to lose it somewhere in the ship or when we're on a landing party‑‑this‑‑you‑‑are so very precious to me‑‑"

"We'll work it out, deares'."

With that, Malcolm examined the remaining wires of precious metals that came from the scanner and translator. He soldered two short platinum lengths to make one long one, and repeated the action with the last of the yellow gold. He had Trip hold two screwdrivers so he could fold and weave the wires together in an intricate Celtic braid pattern, fitted the ring to his finger, and cold-soldered the ends together. "H‑‑how does that feel, Trip?" he stammered.

"It feels great," he said, and Malcolm lifted his head to gaze at his best friend and lover. Trip was smiling like the sun rising, and Malcolm felt that his heart would explode from happiness.

The Risan priestess stepped forward and asked, "Are you both ready to proceed with the ceremony? Whatever your vows are, you must speak them each to the other, and say your name and your myl'ha's name, for this ceremony to be legal." Malcolm and Trip looked at each other and nodded simultaneously.

Moments later, they both stood before the altar, awe-struck and tongue-tied again. Trip gently cupped Malcolm's face in his hands and kissed him slowly, deeply, and lovingly. He then surprised his best friend and everyone else in the temple‑‑himself not the least‑‑and he knelt before Malcolm as the younger man held their candles and tried not to weep. "Malcolm, you are my deares' love, an' there is no one above you in my heart. I'd move Heav'n an' Earth to be with you, stay with you, an' I don' think anyone else has ever made me feel what I feel when I'm with you. I love you dearly, I love you completely, an' I want you in my life, for as long as we both shall live, for as long as you drive me nuts aboard Enterprise an' wherever else we go," he murmured and placed his hands on Malcolm's narrow hips. "I want to be the person you come to when you feel doubts, or you feel lonely, or you have nightmares. I want you to look into my eyes ev'ry mornin' to see the love I feel for you when we wake up, an' I want you to look into my eyes ev'ry night to see the love I feel for you b'fore we go to sleep. I want you to be happy every day of our lives, an' I will be very happy to be beside you every day of our lives. I am jus' so happy to be kneelin' in front of you like a grinnin' idiot to ask you, Malcolm Reed, will you please do me the great honor an' pleasure of becomin' my legally wedded husband?"

When it was his turn to speak, Malcolm gasped for breath and words. "Trip, how can you love me? How can you want me, knowing what you know about me? I'm selfish, I'm demanding, I'm pathetic, I'm worthless, I'm sick, I feel filthy‑‑" his eyes were fear- and tear-filled. "I'm frightened and I'm lonely, and I've wanted to love you since I met you, but I felt sick and immoral pining for you. I'd wished I could tell you about my desire, and I hoped I might receive a little understanding or even some kindness from you," he whispered, "but I vowed I'd never say anything because I was afraid you'd beat or laugh at me for expressing my pathetic feelings." He moved to kneel, but Trip grasped his arms and stopped him. "You're the one person closest to being my friend in my adult life; I don't know how to keep your friendship, but it's the most precious intangible I possess, and you are the one most precious person in my life. I'm afraid because I don't know when you'll throw me away, and I can't understand why you haven't cut me loose from your friendship long before this."

"I will never throw you away, or cut you from my friendship, an' I'll stay with you forever, if you want me for forever, because a lover is someone who knows everythin' about you and loves you anyway," Trip replied, smiling. The two men gazed at each other as Malcolm tried to understand the depth of Trip's words. "An' I want you because workin' with you, spendin' my free time with you, and especially kissin' you, all make a warm spot in my tummy."

"Are you sure that's not indigestion from Chef's meatloaf?" his best friend asked archly.

He shrugged, the rascal‑‑he shrugged! "Yeah, I'm pretty sure," Trip said. "I, Charles Anthony Tucker the Third, love you, Malcolm Stuart Reed, an' with this ring I thee wed," he said, tugged the ring off Malcolm's finger, and then he slipped it back onto his dearest love's finger. "This gold an' platinum an' palladium I thee give; with my soul I worship thy soul; with my body, an' m'lips, an' m'mouth, an' m'tongue, an' all of m'body, I thee worship‑‑"

"What?"

"‑‑An' with all my worldly goods I thee endow‑‑" he looked to see if anyone was watching them closely, pointedly ignored the two Risan priests, then tugged the waistband of Malcolm's trousers down an inch or so with one hand, pushed up his shirt with the other, and kissed his inward-dimpled navel on his muscular torso.

"What the hell are you doing? We're in an alien temple! A public alien temple!" he whispered frantically.

"‑‑Yeah, but your body is a temple, a divine creation all its own, an' I love worshippin' at your altar," Trip replied, smiling. "I want to worship your sacred body with my mouth, my lips‑‑" he whispered, rested his head against Malcolm's rippled abdominal muscles, and held his friend's narrow hips.

"For heaven's sake, Trip, if you're going to torment me like this, let's do it back at the hotel, or on Enterprise, but not here in public!"

"Wha‑‑what did you say?"

"I said, if you're going to torment me to the point of nearly exploding and then stop for no good reason, we can do that in a hotel room or someplace private on Enterprise!" Malcolm grabbed an ear with one hand and painfully pinched Trip's shoulder with his other.

He shot up like a rocket because having one's nerves pinched could cause that. "Ow! Ya don' hafta ask twice!"

"Let me say the words and finish this!" he said and looked, really looked, into Trip's face, and finally understood what Trip felt for him, how he felt about him, and the magnitude of his best friend's love for him‑‑and he was speechless. Trip was still smiling at him like a "grinnin' idiot" with love, tears, and sunlight shining from his eyes. Malcolm Reed inhaled deeply, discovered that he was suddenly calm, and spoke. "I, Malcolm Stuart Reed, love you, Charles Anthony Tucker the Third; I think I've loved you since the moment I met you," he whispered, "With this ring I thee wed; this gold and platinum I thee give; you are my best friend, but I don't know how to keep your friendship. With my soul I worship thy soul; with my body I worship thy body; and I don't know what I would do if you don't want a committed relationship with me, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow," he pulled the ring off Trip's finger, slid it back onto his best friend's third finger of his left hand, and lowered his head.

A gentle hand slipped under his chin and raised his head; Trip stood before him and kissed him‑‑and the flash of a camera went off, making stars‑‑not the kind he wanted to see‑‑before his eyes. Trip wrapped one arm about his neck, his other in the curve of his back, and Malcolm threw his 'reticence' out of the figurative window. Moments later, they separated.

Sumehn held Trip's antique digital camera and was snapping photos. Lowering the camera, he said, "Please to come to sign for us the‑‑" he gestured towards an alcove as his translator squawked, "‑‑book. Do you have‑‑" another whine from the device, "‑‑to show your identity?"

"Huh?"

"We have to prove that we're us, love, they need to see our Starfleet identity cards," Malcolm said, withdrew a thin metal wallet, and pulled out his Starfleet personnel card.

Sumehn looked at it, then turned to the priestess who consecrated the stand. "Many pardons, great lady; what do they do?"

"The same as we‑‑ they write their names here, and their residence‑‑"

"Does that mean the starship we're on?" Trip asked.

"Yes, and sign again here, and here," she said, pointing at the lines. After each man signed, she moved the book aside on the altar-like table and withdrew a woven paper scroll from a capped tube, "You also sign this, here and here, and it is countersigned by the priests who performed your ceremony."

"Wh‑‑what does this say?"

"This is the‑‑" more static came from her translation device, "‑‑of the Ancient Horga'hn, uniting you in sacred jamaharon for all your lives together, until you are reunited in‑‑" The translation device squealed again.

"A‑‑are you saying that this is a‑‑a marriage certificate? Is this a‑‑a legal document?" Malcolm asked in a whisper.

"Yes, yes, this is proof that you are married by the gods of Risa, verified by the Council of Nuvia and the Premiers of Risa," the priestess replied.

"What does it say?"

"T‑‑Trip, w‑‑we're‑‑we're‑‑" Malcolm stammered.

"One of our university linguists has translated it into your language," she answered and pulled out a second sheet of paper, similar to the certificate.

"Yeah, darlin' deares', we're married, forever an' for always," Trip said, then turned to glance at the officiants. "Sumehn, let's get a shot of us with the priests‑‑unless that is not permitted?" Trip asked. He couldn't have become culturally aware by having sex‑‑making love‑‑with me, could he? Malcolm thought in surprise.

"Most participants do not take images within the Temple," another voice said, "But it is not forbidden in our scriptures." They turned, and the Risan ritual masseuse was standing next to the two priests.

Malcolm gasped happily. "Did you come to see us get married? I'm very pleased that you're here," he blushed and dipped his head awkwardly, "You and your companion didn't tell us your names at the hotel."

"We are based in the Temple," she replied, smiling serenely at him, "I am Lati'ahn, and my spouse is Danehn; new languages come slowly to him. No, I did not come to see you marry specifically‑‑" she said, "‑‑but I am very glad I was here to see both of your say your most heartfelt words each to the other." And Sumehn snapped an image of Trip, Malcolm, and Lati'ahn appearing rather motherly in her traditional Risan clothing.
*****