trekwriter151: (phlox)
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Seven

Hoshi Sato reflected that she'd been in so many weird situations that it should be almost standard procedure. After all, she'd been on a Klingon ship that was sinking into a gas giant, stuck in the transporter for eight seconds, and been a "guest" of a lonely telepathic alien. But this was rapidly edging its way into her top five list of all time.

She stood at the side of Johannes's Birkenwald's biobed, while Treesal stood on the other side. Treesal held Johannes's hand with white-knuckled intensity. Feezal and Captain Archer stood nearby, anticipation on Feezal's face and confusion on Archer's. Hoshi didn't blame him; this was an unexpected surprise.

The doors opened and Bernhard Mueller and Trip Tucker came in. Bernhard stopped short at the sight of Johannes lying on the biobed. Trip nearly ran into him, and Malcolm Reed nearly ran into Trip as he rushed into Sickbay. Apparently, news of Johannes's situation had spread faster than a warp 8 engine.

Phlox came out of the lab with a PADD in his one hand and a hypospray in the other. Treesal looked ready to have a nervous breakdown as she gazed at her father. "Will he be all right? I'm sorry, Father, I had no idea—"

"I'll be all right, Liebchen," Johannes said. His voice was hoarse, but he managed a smile. "It probably won't be the last time a fh'rhein tried to eat me."

"I could have killed you, Johannes!" Treesal nearly wailed. Tears trembled on the end of her lashes. "How can you joke about it?"

"I must have a sense of humor, considering my occupation, Liebchen."

Trip glanced at Bernhard. "Liebchen?" he asked the Bavarian in a low voice.

"It's pronounced 'leeb-kyen'," Hoshi whispered back, trying to hide a smile as she corrected Trip's German. "It means 'dear' or 'sweetheart'."

Trip stared at Hoshi, then at Johannes. "When did he start calling her 'Sweetheart'?"

"What happened?" Malcolm demanded.

She put a hand on her husband's arm and replied, "Treesal, Johannes and I were in the Mess Hall earlier and she introduced him to fh'rhein, a Denobulan delicacy. There didn't seem to be any problems after that, and then we went to talk with Captain Archer in his Ready Room. Midway through the meeting, Johannes started having trouble breathing, so we rushed him here."

Phlox took up the explanation as he injected the hapless Armory Officer with a hypospray. "There is a small percentage of the population who is sensitive to a compound in the fh'rein's molecular structure. It's similar to being allergic to certain chemicals in Earth foods." The Denobulan gazed pointedly at Malcolm, as if daring the Armory officer to comment. "Apparently, Johannes falls into this small group."

"And I didn't know it until I had the reaction," Johannes said ruefully.

"It usually happens that way," Malcolm assured him, not without sympathy.

Phlox studied the reading on the biopanel above Johannes's head. "There. You should be free of the allergen in an hour or so, Ensign Birkenwald. Take it easy, and don't touch anything containing the Nak'when compound."

"I can make sure he doesn't, Father," Treesal said. "There are advantages to being a biochemist."

"Good." Phlox looked over at Feezal, who inclined her head. Then Archer opened his mouth to say something, but Phlox interrupted him, "So...I believe you two have something to tell me, hmmm?"

There was an awkward silence. Johannes flushed bright crimson and looked like he wanted to sink through the floor. Archer sighed and rolled his eyes, while Hoshi stifled a smile. Trip had a flabbergasted expression, and Malcolm a suspicious one.

Bernhard only stared at his fellow German and asked, "Na, was hast Du jetzt gemacht??" What did you do now??

Johannes only met his friend's eyes and replied, "Ich hab' Sie sehr geliebt, Bernhard." I love her, Bernhard.

"Was??????" The Bavarian looked like he was going to faint. Trip and Malcolm glanced at each other; Trip grabbed Phlox's examination stool and pushed it under Bernhard just as he was about to collapse. He sat down on it so hard that the air wooshed out of his lungs. "Du wirst Ihr heiraten???" You're gonna marry her? Then in English, he burst out, "Are you serious?"

Johannes's smile faded as he regarded his friend. "I've never been more serious in my life, Bernhard."

"That's why he and Treesal asked me to come with them to talk to the captain," Hoshi said gently. She couldn't help but chuckle at the pole-axed look on Bernhard's face. "He wanted to make sure there wouldn't be any...well...complications if he joined your family, Phlox."

"Did you tell your mother that you're marrying a Denobulan?" Malcolm asked. "She is a MACO major, you know."

"Oh, crap," Trip muttered. "She'd better not be like Hayes was."

"Mother knows, and it surprised her, but she's given her blessing, once she talked with Treesal and Feezal," Johannes said with another shy smile. "Captain Archer contacted her from his Ready Room and we had a long talk."

Trip glanced at Archer and said, "You old romantic softie." Hoshi grinned as Jon flushed scarlet.

"Well, I see no problem with it," Phlox said with a chuckle. "I know Johannes is a fine young man and would be a kind and compassionate mate." He put down the PADD and the empty hypospray, took Treesal's hand in his left and Johannes's in his right. "Treesal Phlox, nu'Feezal ka Phlox, Sa'ana hu anatik ra?"

"Treesal Phlox, of Feezal and Phlox, do you agree to this bonding?" Hoshi translated for the others.

Treesal looked at her father, then to Johannes. "Ya, Sa'ana hu anatik." Yes, I agree to this bonding.

Then Phlox asked Johannes, "Johannes Birkenwald, nu'Ulreike ka Lars, Sa'ane hu anatik re?"

Johannes nodded and answered, "Ya, Sa'ane hu antik re."

Phlox's grin widened as he glanced back at Feezal. "Beloved, will you continue?"

"It will be my pleasure." Feezal glanced behind her at Lailah, who had appeared out of Phlox's office. Bernhard tried not to react to Lailah's presence, but she only smiled at him. Hoshi saw a wistful sadness in her smile and wondered at it.

Feezal and Lailah took up either side of Johannes and Treesal and began a two-part chant. Hoshi translated, "We welcome you, our brother, our son; we bless you and your mate, our sister and daughter. May you be together in spirit as well as in reality and support each other as one—"

The doors to Sickbay exploded open and two Denobulan males stalked into the room. Hoshi recognized them as Kannik, who was Azkiel's second husband, and Bogga. Azriel's third. Bernhard leaped to his feet as they advanced on Phlox, Feezal and Treesal. Bogga's mouth twisted into a snarl as he brought his arm up to strike Treesal, but Malcolm intercepted the blow.

"This is an abomination!" Bogga growled. "I will not permit a Human to join our clan in marriage! It is bad enough we have one through adoption! If we could cancel that relationship—"

Malcolm's tone was low and deadly. "If you lay one hand on my wife, I will make you pay."

"This violates the sanctity of the Denobulan rites!" protested Kannik. "Your son has already made one transgression, Phlox, and now your daughter! Where is your loyalty to your clan, Phlox?"

Phlox walked over until he was toe-to-toe with Kannik. Kannik was a small man; he had to tilt his head upwards slightly to meet Phlox's gaze. "As a father, I have a responsibility for my children's welfare and happiness. My daughter has chosen her first mate and I have approved. She is of my blood, not either of yours, and so my approval is first and foremost. I have the blessing of my wife and Treesal's sister, who are also of Treesal's direct bloodline."

Bogga scowled at Hoshi, who continued to translate the women's chant as if the other men weren't even in the room. "But the other members of the clan can object, Phlox, and I formally give my disapproval."

"As do I," added Kannik.

The Sickbay doors opened and other members of Phlox's family trickled in. Phlox watched impassively as Vesena and Kessil, Bogga's two other wives, stood proudly behind their husband. Arla and Myske, Kannik's two other wives, followed suit.

"So, who joins the side of righteousness?" Kannik spat at the rest of the gathered Denobulans. "Who objects to this travesty of Denobulan culture?"

Silence. Treesal gripped Johannes's hand, but he was still too weak to rise from the biobed. Feezal put a hand on Treesal's shoulder, then on Lailah's. Lailah gently laid her hand on her mother's, then slipped her other hand into Bernhard's.

"Du hast dein Herz verloren," Bernhard told Johannes with a smile. "Ich bin froeh, dass es Dir endlich kommt." You've lost your heart. I'm happy it's finally happened to you.And Bernhard squeezed Lailah's hand and extended his other one to Trip.

One by one, they formed a strong chain: Johannes, Treesal, Feezal, Lailah, Bernhard, Trip, Hoshi, Malcolm, Jon. Zariel appeared on Jon's other side and boldly gripped his hand, while her sons Neznus and Reestus joined the chain. Zariel's mates Bennu and Vennas, then her daughter Okrna, her son Ghoris, and both of their intended mates.

Kannik's daughter Yutis didn't even glance at her father as she slipped her hand within Ghoris's. Kannik's face reddened in embarrassment and anger as his own daughter defied his command. Opur, Groznik's daughter, nodded and joined her half-sister in the chain.

The Sickbay doors opened once more to admit Azkiel, Groznik, T'Pol and Travis Mayweather. T'Pol only gave Kannik and Bogga a cursory glance, then went to join her thy'la. Travis nodded and put his hand on Zariel's shoulder.

"What about you?" hissed Kannik to Azkiel. "To whom to you give your loyalty?"

Azkiel reached up and pushed the hood of her robe onto her shoulders. "Our sacred rites are more than words and forms, Kannik. It is also heart and soul. They are useless without the intent and the meaning behind them."

Kannik smirked. "'A Denobulan marriage cannot be formed if the following is considered lacking: mental fitness, stability, worthiness of a mate—"

Another voice overlapped Kannik's and Kannik stopped suddenly as the voice continued on. He glanced behind him to see Mettus standing in the doorway to Phlox's office. "'—dedication and heart. It falls to the majority of the clan to verify this with observation, and it falls to the blood-father to approve or disapprove forthwith. If the majority of the clan gives approval, then the bonding is approved and the marriage will take place.' Rule Thirty-Nine, codas 3C, 3D, and 3E." Mettus inclined his head and added, "I presume you would quote 3C and disregard the rest, Second-Father."

Bogga's eyes bulged in disbelief. "You, of all people, should know the Sacred Rites and Rules by heart, Mettus! The Matriarch made sure you memorized them all and learned their significance!"

"And bless her soul—" Mettus made a gesture that encompassed the entire Sickbay, "—that she did, indeed. She made me study their significance and their heart, Third-Father. The meaning behind the Sacred words." His clear blue eyes held none of the sullenness or anger that had been there at the beginning. "And it seems that you have missed that meaning."

So Mettus walked up to Phlox and Phlox's eyes misted as his youngest son put his hand on his arm.

Groznik and Azkiel glanced at each other. Then they completed the end of the approval chain. Azkiel didn't break eye contact with either Kannik or Bogga as she stood straight and tall.

"So the majority has spoken," Phlox announced. "The bonding is approved."

Kannik's hands trembled as he dropped them out of his wives' hands. "You started this, with your insistence on serving on this Human vessel. The contagion has spread. You have destroyed our clan."

Phlox's smile didn't reach his eyes. "Destroyed it? Or enhanced it?"

Kannik glared as Azkiel. "You are no longer my wife. I am no longer your husband. Yutis, I am no longer your father; you are no longer my daughter. I withdraw from this clan." He turned and pushed his way out of Sickbay, with his supporters following close behind. The Sickbay doors hissed closed with finality.

"It has been spoken. It will be done." Phlox said. Then he grinned. "So, who will be the first to congratulate Johannes and Treesal?"

A collective sigh went up from the gathered crowd. Trip laughed and slapped Johannes on the shoulder as Feezal hugged her imminent son-in-law. Hoshi squeezed Treesal's hand and said, "Welcome to our family, Treesal."

"Thank you," Treesal whispered, with tears in her eyes. "Thank you." She looked over at Azkiel and Yutis, who clung to each other. "I'm sorry it came to this; I had no idea that Kannik would—"

"It's for the best, Treesal," Yutis said with a trembling smile. "My—well, Kannik has showed his true colors at this family gathering, and I can honestly say that if he refuses to open his mind, he does not belong in this clan." She nodded at Treesal and Johannes. "Welcome, my Brother and my Sister."

Phlox glanced at Mettus, who returned the measured stare. "Well, your book learning has served us in good stead, my son. You revealed the truth within those words and bested Kannik at his own game."

Mettus ducked his head at the praise. "If I can help others, then the Matriarch's course for me is the correct one after all, if I open my mind."

Phlox grinned. "I can think of no better purpose in one's life, my son."

Eight

"Okay, Doc, one more time. I gotta take the Dagger of Truth in my left hand—"

"—right hand, Commander."

"—right hand and saw through the ropes bindin' the couples' hands, but I gotta do it in a way that won't hurt any of 'em. Then I'm supposed to take the dagger and chop off a piece of hair from each of their heads—"

"Just a lock will do, Commander."

"And hand them over to the Denobulan Judiciary so he can put 'em in the Holy Fire and pronounce all of 'em married."

"Precisely. Just make sure you use your dominant hand—your right—to do this part of the ceremony. I know you're ambidextrous by necessity, but no part of your left hand should touch the ropes." Phlox grinned widely at Trip Tucker, who seemed nervous about holding the Dagger of Truth. Of course, "dagger" was somewhat of a misnomer; the blade was half the length of his arm.

"I just don't get why I gotta do this and not Malcolm. He's the weapons expert."

"Because Lieutenant Commander Reed's the one who binds their hands together in the first place," Phlox pointed out patiently. "Tradition holds that the one who binds them will always hold them close, even when they are physically apart. It's bad form to have the Binder be the Sunderer. Some people consider that extremely bad luck."

"Okay."

Phlox glanced across his Sickbay. The Jupiter Station engineers had accomplished a miracle in the past week. All of the biobeds had been replaced, even the one designated for Reed. The new imaging chamber now functioned correctly; Tucker had identified the electrical problem that had eluded the Jupiter Station engineers and corrected it. The walls were now covered with red, orange, gold, and green silks, while the floor glimmered under a layer of silver mats. Candles decorated the shelving and counter tops, while incense smoke wafted from the burners.

The various guests sat on thick cushions on the floor. The Enterprise senior staff all wore their dress uniforms or cultural dress. To Phlox's joy, other members of the crew showed up to lend their support. Somehow most of the Armory team had gotten leave to attend; they all wanted to see one of their own get married. Ensign Liz Cutler and Phlox's medical staff were there, as well as some members of Trip's engineering team. He spotted Rostov and Hess over by one of the new biobeds.

Rostov's marking Lieutenant Commander Reed's place again. How thoughtful of him. Phlox thought so, but judging from the deadly glare Reed was giving them from across the room, the lieutenant commander didn't appreciate the gesture.

"Quite a turnout, Phlox," Feezal commented as she came up next to her husband. "I don't recall having this many people at our wedding."

"Well, we have more than one family present, my beloved," Phlox replied.

"True. And our immediate family is going to be bigger." Phlox's grin became wider, if that was even possible. "And as Commander Tucker puts it, 'the more, the merrier.'."

Feezal grinned and said, "How wise of Commander Tucker. Quite wise, indeed."

*****

"For Goddess's sake, Johannes, stay still." Lailah pinned the fabric so it lay flat against Johannes's shoulder. "I don't want to stick you by mistake."

"Sorry, Sister," Johannes apologized. "I'm just nervous."

Second Cousin Floos, who had arrived with the Denobulan Judiciary earlier that evening, looked curiously at the Human wearing Denobulan marriage robes. The other members of the clan had updated him on the events of the past few days. Floos's eyes showed nothing but sympathy for the younger man.

"Don't worry, Johannes," Floos reassured him with a friendly clap on his shoulder. "You get used to it. By the time your second and third marriage come around, you won't be so nervous anymore. Technically, this is my fourth, but my other third wife decided to leave, so it really is my third. Again."

Johannes only nodded; he didn't tell Floos that multiple marriages weren't the Human norm. Considering how easily Denobulans seemed to dissolve relationships and marriages, he'd worried about Treesal leaving at a moment's notice. But Treesal's sweet voice echoed in his mind: Beloved, I will never leave you. I chose out of my own will and my own heart. My heart knows it has made the right choice.

At the moment, Bernhard Mueller stuck his head into Phlox's office. "Fuenf Minuten, Johannes. Five more minutes. Any last words before you walk the plank?"

Floos wrinkled his nose. "That sounds painful."

"It's a traditional thing for your Human groomsman to ask," Johannes said dryly. "It's your last chance to reconsider a lifetime commitment—or a lifetime sentence, whichever one it may be." He chuckled as he turned to Bernhard and replied, "Gott sei Dank, es wird kurz." Thank God it'll be short.

Bernhard laughed. "The other grooms are waiting for you two. Just don't stumble on your robe and you'll be fine."

"Danke, Bernhard." Johannes reached over and grasped the Bavarian's arm in a gesture of thankfulness. Bernhard clapped his free hand over Johannes's and grinned. Then Johannes went past him into Sickbay. Floos nodded and followed.

Lailah turned to him and mirrored the smile. He was relieved to see her happy, as opposed to devastated. Bernhard hadn't wanted to hurt her by refusing to play her marriage games. She seemed to read his mind, for she said, "I am glad to welcome you as a Brother, Bernhard, if you would be willing to accept me as a Sister."

"Of course," he rumbled, as he placed his hand, palm down, on hers as she offered it, palm-up, to him. He'd seen Yutis offer the same gesture to Hoshi when Yutis adopted Hoshi. "We can still talk about our homes and our dreams, if that's acceptable to you."

"I would be honored, Herr Mueller," she answered with a laugh. Bernhard raised his eyebrows at the formal address, then relaxed as he realized she was only teasing him.

He offered her his arm and she took it, then they went out to join the other guests.

*****

It turned out Johannes was only partially correct. The ceremony was short...if you were a Denobulan. There were chants and invocations, testimonies and stories about the brides and grooms. Malcolm, Bernhard and Hoshi shared some humorous stories about Johannes, specifically about certain Away missions to save a certain accident-and-capture-prone Captain. The assembled crowd laughed and cheered, even as Johannes blushed under the praise. Captain Archer told about how he was a valuable member of the crew, and how Archer was glad to see him happy.

Zariel had plenty of anecdotes about her daughter Okrna and son Ghoris; her amazing mimicry and talent for storytelling held the audience spellbound. Azkiel related some events from Second Cousin Floos's life; Floos looked a little uncomfortable with his second-tier-cousin's revelation of his childhood antics, but bore it with good grace.

Then came the Roster of Witnesses. The Denobulan Judiciary asked Mettus, his newly appointed Trainee, to read the list. Mettus, splendid in his new robes of green and gold silk, unrolled a scroll of parchment, on which he'd painstakingly written every name of everyone who could vouch for the brides' and grooms' requests to be married (which basically listed everyone in the room) and Mettus asked each one whether or not they agreed that it was a good idea.

"Porthos?" Mettus asked, with a confused expression. The Enterprise crew laughed as he asked, "Um...do you approve?" Porthos, who sat in Jon's lap, barked once, enthusiastically, much to the audience's amusement.

"He agrees," Jon said.

"They ask their animals for permission?" the Judiciary asked him, sotto voce. Mettus only shrugged and continued down the list.

After many gong rings and song interludes later, Phlox was starting to get worried about Johannes. The young man was starting to wilt, and as the third hour approached, Phlox hoped he wouldn't have to treat his new son-in-law as his first patient in the new Sickbay.

Finally, the actual wedding ceremony began, with the Song of Love and Affection. He and Zariel sang the Denobulan version, then Hoshi and Malcolm sang the English version, translated by Hoshi, "May you be joined together, as long as the stars shine, as long as the sun will burn, as long as the wind blows true...May you find peace and contentment, as long as the heart beats strong, as long as the breath comes and goes—"

Phlox realized that he'd never heard Malcolm Reed sing before; after all the Armory Officer was usually reticent, and when he was in Sickbay, usually unconscious. But Phlox thought Reed had quite a nice tenor voice and when he looked into his wife's eyes, more than one member of the audience dabbed away tears.

Phlox couldn't help a tear himself as he watched Mettus assist in the Ceremony with a steady hand and a calm expression. Mettus helped Reed bind the four couples' hands with white rope, then after the prayer, Trip Tucker approached with the Dagger of Truth and cut the rope with the precision of a trained engineer. He also cut the locks of hair with a steady hand and gave them to the Judiciary. The Judiciary bound each couple's hair, then tossed the bundles into the Holy Fire, with an incantation of protection.

Finally, after a ceremony lasting nearly four hours, the Judiciary pronounced Okrna, daughter of Zariel and Vennu, married to Pletsin. Then Ghoris, son of Zariel and Bennas, married to Nubrie. Then Floos, second cousin of Phlox and Feezal, married to Anrias.

And finally, Treesal, daughter of Feezal and Phlox, married to Johannes Birkenwald.

The audience burst into applause and cheers as the various couples did the "smell and greet" for the first time as husbands and wives. Phlox chuckled under his breath at the sight of Johannes bending down to rub his nose close to Treesal's. Then, as a final gesture in an already unorthodox marriage ceremony, Johannes pulled Treesal into his arms and kissed her soundly...in front of everyone.

"It's gonna be one hell of a honeymoon," Phlox heard Trip Tucker mutter under his breath. The doctor sighed, rolled his eyes, and prayed for patience.

*****

The wedding reception lasted until the wee hours of the morning. By the time the revelers stumbled (or were carried) to their beds, it was midway through Gamma shift. Jon Archer sat in the deserted Mess Hall, along with Phlox, Azkiel, Trip, T'Pol and Bernhard.

"So how long will Johannes be on Denobula?" Trip asked.

"The usual 'honeymoon period', as you call it, lasts three weeks. After that, Johannes plans to return to Enterprise. I believe Lieutenant Commander Reed was glad to hear he'd be returning," Phlox replied.

"The Armory wouldn't be the same without Johannes," Bernhard agreed.

"But then Johannes and Treesal would be separated, wouldn't they?" Trip asked again, a worried frown on his face.

Phlox smiled at Azkiel "If it's meant to be, Commander, they'll find a way to stay together."

"Indeed," T'Pol agreed. She extended two fingers to Trip, under the table and below the sight of the others, and her husband copied the gesture. Phlox saw it and smiled.

Jon glanced as Azkiel, who had shed her mourning garb and wore a bright yellow gown. "Will Yutis and Opur be all right, Azkiel? I noticed that they didn't attend the reception."

Azkiel nodded and squeezed Phlox's hand. "My daughters are strong, Captain Archer. They will find mates who are worthy of them and who will treasure them as Johannes treasures Treesal. It is every parent's wish to see their children happy."

"Indeed," Phlox agreed. "And Mettus has finally found his place in life."

Mettus appeared at his father's side as if conjured. "Thank you, Father. I am grateful for all you have done for me." A shy smile flickered over his lips. "Perhaps we can begin again...and not be estranged?"

"I would like nothing less, my son," Phlox replied as he bade Mettus to sit between himself and Azkiel. She squeezed her son's and husband's hands with a sigh of relief.

Captain Archer smiled at them and asked Phlox, "So, I take it you haven't buried your sanity?"

Phlox chuckled. "I still have my sanity, Captain, but I've also gained some other important things. My family—" he glanced at Mettus, "and my peace of mind."

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trekwriter151

May 2012

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