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Carry Me 'Til You Marry Me

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Melinda May had gotten rather good at pretending she wasn't fazed by aliens in general -- indeed, the ones who looked human, like Asgardians, actually didn't faze her. The ones who looked less human, well, as long as they were on earth, she could pretend they were just strange monsters, terrestrial in origin.

But when the Bus suddenly flew through a crack in the middle of the air and then just as suddenly appeared in a large hall, all engines cut and the navigation and communication panels unresponsive, well, it was less easy to pretend.

"May, what's going on?" Phil Coulson -- Director Coulson, she supposed she should call him -- said, coming in through the cockpit door.

"I have no idea, sir," she said.

A terrible screeching noise came over the speakers, and Melinda and Coulson both clapped their hands over their ears. The speakers made some noise that came across as something like a throat-clearing, and then someone spoke. "PLEASE EXIT YOUR VEHICLE IN AN ORDERLY FASHION."

"Well," Coulson said.

Orderly, my ass, Melinda thought.

"Orderly, my ass," came a voice through the open cockpit door, and Melinda smiled. At least Bobbi Morse would be as averse to the inevitable next request to leave all their weapons aboard as she was herself.

But the request didn't come in the next few seconds, as everyone filed down to the back of the plane to leave, so Melinda left her guns in her holsters where they were.

The vast hall dwarfed the Bus; Melinda couldn’t see any ceiling or walls, and the line of people who were coming towards them seemed quite a long way off. As they got closer Melinda could see that while they did all have two arms and two legs and something like a head, they just didn't move like earth humans did. Maybe their joints worked differently, she couldn't really tell, but it was just far enough off to make her uncomfortable with assessing their capabilities.

Well, that and they were all varying shades of greens and yellow, with something in place of hair that might be tentacles of practically any color.

A few minutes later, eleven individuals, ranging in height from about four feet to eight feet, stopped in front of them. They were lined up by height, and height appeared to have some correlation to head-tentacle color, but Melinda still had no idea what it meant.

It was probably unspeakably rude to leave her hand on the butt of her gun, but she did it anyway.

"WELCOME," one of the middle-height (spring green, with blue-and-orange head tentacles) aliens said, although the voice appeared to be coming from somewhere other than (its?) mouth. "WE ARE GLAD TO BE HOSTING THE EMISSARIES FROM --" and then there was a word that sounded like "BLARGAX 48745-3," but Melinda wouldn't have sworn to it.

"Excuse us?" Coulson said.

"AH, YOU MUST BE THE QUEEN'S CHIEF ADVISOR," the same alien said and again, its lip movements did not match up with the words in English. Some sort of translation device?

Coulson looked at Melinda, which was a little gratifying that he assumed she was the queen they meant. "Let's go with that," he said. "The emissaries from where? And," he said with a wince, "could you perhaps lower your volume a bit? The queen has sensitive ears."

"Ah," the alien-speaker said, at about half the previous volume. "We are sorry about that, your majesty," it (? they, Melinda was going to use 'they') said, plainly addressing . . . Simmons?

Simmons looked at Coulson before answering. "That's quite all right," she said, at his small nod. "Erm . . . could you tell me where we are, and, ah, introduce yourselves?"

"Yes, of course!" the alien said, making a strange face -- well, probably a normal face for them, Melinda amended. She supposed it was a smile, or other expression of happiness. It looked like an extremely complicated grimace to her. "I am Blue River, of the Clan of the Western Hills, and I am First Assistant Foreign Secretary to the Queen of the Teal Mountains. We are so glad that you chose our part of the planet to visit for your inaugural diplomatic contact!"

"Ah, what planet is that?" Simmons asked.

"Corphira 56739-4," Blue River said. "We are so happy to have gotten representatives from five of Blargax 48745-3's major genders!"

"Erm," Simmons said. "To my knowledge --"

"Excuse me, your majesty," Coulson said without a trace of irony. "Which genders do you feel you've gotten?” he asked Blue River. “Just to make sure we're on the same page."

"How very Prime Directive of you, sir," Melinda said out of the corner of her mouth, and Fitz, standing somewhat behind Coulson and near Simmons, snickered.

"Picard is a more useful role model here than anyone else," Coulson said, also without a trace of irony, and looked expectantly at the aliens.

Blue River gestured, and one of the other mid-sized aliens came forward and gently herded the humans into several groups, arranged mostly by height. Melinda peered around the front and saw that yes, Mack was on the opposite end.

"The queen," Blue River said, making a gesture that came across a little like a bow to Simmons. "The queen's advisor." Coulson. "The warriors." Bobbi and Mack . . . not entirely inaccurate, Melinda thought. "The artisans." Melinda herself, and Skye. "And the child-bearers and rearers." Fitz, Hunter, and Trip, and the look on Hunter's face was worth literally any indignity they had to put up with for the rest of this journey.

"Are we not correct?" Blue River said. They sounded somewhat apprehensive and looked a smidge constipated. It was going to take a while to translate emotion to facial expressions, Melinda supposed.

"Well," Coulson said. "Close enough."

"Excuse me, Advisor," Jemma said through clenched teeth. "May we consult over there for a moment?"

Melinda wondered if she could remember how to knit. That was a thing that artisans did, wasn't it?

Jemma and Coulson removed themselves back behind the wheel of the Bus and had a furious whispered argument -- well, furious and an argument on her side, and somewhat less so on his, although Melinda couldn't hear the actual words being spoken. When they rejoined the group, Jemma was a little red in the face, but she said, "Yes. Yes, I am the queen, and he is my advisor."

The aliens made the smile-face again, and Melinda let out her breath slowly. "Excellent! We are glad to have you. Would you please follow us to your accommodations? Your vehicle will be safe here."

"We might like a moment to gather our belongings," Jemma said.

"Oh, no need," Blue River said. "We will provide everything you need."

Jemma looked like she was on the verge of agreeing, but Coulson leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Oh! Oh, right. Um, do you have contact lens solution and --" She named four kinds of medicine that Melinda didn't recognize, but from Fitz's twitch, they were probably his prescriptions.

"Ah, alas, we do not," Blue River said. "I presume those are items rather specific to your planet. We shall await your return."

"Ten minutes," Jemma said, and turned regally on her heel and marched towards the Bus.

Once they got inside and closed up the back temporarily, Jemma turned to the rest of the group. "Was that queen-like? Oh, dear, I never did pay enough attention to the monarchy."

"It was more Elizabeth I than Elizabeth II, but you'll do," Hunter said.

"You're fine," Coulson said. "At the moment, they appear to be nice and able to send us back where we belong. If either of those things change, we'll regroup and make different plans. Right now, Simmons is the queen, I am her advisor, and the rest of you are . . . well, we never did confirm that they, ah, gendered you properly, so we'll play it by ear."

"I would like it a lot," Fitz said, "if, ah, if we can say that I am not a -- I don't have a uterus." He was a little red in the face -- well, a lot red in the face -- but Melinda managed not to laugh.

"We'll figure out what gender scientists are supposed to be, and then you can be that gender," Jemma said, patting him on the arm.

"Can I get reassigned to 'warrior'?" Hunter asked.

"Sure."

Melinda glanced over at Trip, who caught her eye and shrugged. "I don't mind being in the momma gender. Kinda want kids someday anyway," he said. "Worst thing they can do is shove baby aliens at me, which might be nice compared to other things they could do."

"Or they could expect you to demonstrate how humans get pregnant," Skye said. "Haven't any of you read Slaughterhouse-Five?"

"Fair enough," Trip said, after a moment in which he blinked a few times rapidly.

"We should all remember that we are in a potentially hostile situation, yes," Coulson said, "but again, since at this moment they do not seem likely to cause us harm, we'll try diplomacy."

"Which clearly means I'm the best choice to be queen," Jemma said, bitterly sarcastic.

"Actually, you kinda are," Skye said. "I'm the queen of Foot In Mouth, Agent May thinks diplomacy is the thing where you tell someone you're going to punch them before you do so, and Agent Morse is barely any better. So."

"I'm not that bad," Bobbi said, frowning.

"Yes, you are," Hunter said.

"Shut up," Bobbi said, and then winced.

Melinda didn't bother responding to Skye's commentary, because it was close enough to reality, and she did not want to be acting queen for this mission. It would be nice if she could be maybe a hand-maiden, though, and protect Jemma a little more close at hand. She trusted Coulson, usually, although the alien stuff going on with his brain was a little iffy.

Well, then again they were on a planet of all aliens, so she would leave that aside unless he started popping up symptoms again.

"So, I'm the queen, we're all diplomats, that's great," Jemma said. "Now what?"

"Pack," Coulson said. "Everything you think you need, all the weapons you can politely carry -- no grenade launchers, but handguns, knives, sure -- and every possible toiletry you'll need for, let's say, a week. Whoever gets done first gets to go bottle some water. Fitz, Simmons -- let me talk to you for a moment. Everyone else can go."

The group separated; Melinda threw clothing on the bed to fold and stuff in her duffel bag while she went over the list of weapons she could probably fit on her person and in her luggage. In the end she had six handguns and eight knives and a garrote; she left everything else in her weapons locker.

She also brought the big bottle of contact lens solution instead of the smaller one she normally carried around. She very much believed in being prepared for everything.

"Lance. No."

Melinda sort of had expected that she'd be first done, but she apparently wasn't; Bobbi was filling bottles of water from the filtration system and shaking her head at Hunter, who had come in with an AK-47 strapped to his back.

"What?"

"There is nothing polite or diplomatic about that gun," Bobbi said.

Melinda had to agree with her, but instead of saying so she just started replacing the caps on the filled bottles of water.

"Speak softly and carry a large gun, isn't that the American saying?" he said.

"Not quite," Bobbi said. She was almost grinning, and Melinda felt a weird sensation in her chest. She was having trouble identifying it, though. Maybe she was hungry?

"Put the big one back, and you can keep the rest," Bobbi said to Hunter, and he did his best hangdog look before tromping out of the room.

Bobbi sighed. "That man."

Melinda raised an eyebrow at her without turning her head, and Bobbi chuckled. "Yeah, I know. My fault. I divorced him for a reason, you know."

"You still seem to get along well enough," Melinda said, and then bit her tongue as discreetly as she could.

"Ah," Bobbi said. "Well. Yeah." She filled another bottle and handed it to Melinda to cap. "Sorry if you heard or saw anything you didn't want to. It's -- I don't want to say it's nothing, but it's nothing."

"It better be nothing," Melinda said. "Especially while we're here. You might knock him up." It was a joke. It was a very deliberate joke, because she wanted to get out of this conversation, and she wasn't a hundred percent sure why.

"Now that would be a sight," Bobbi said, and she laughed outright.

Melinda knew what that warm feeling was, and she squashed it out as quickly as she could.

***

The group assembled in the back of the Bus not too much later, carrying backpacks and duffle bags and, in Coulson’s case, an expensive leather suit bag.

"Hold on a second," Melinda said, before they could exit. "Let's fix everyone's identity, okay?"

"What do you mean?" Hunter asked.

"Well, Hunter, you wanted to be reassigned to warrior, right?" Melinda said.

"Ah," Coulson said. "You're correct. Let's see. Queen Jemma Simmons of SHIELD, obviously; First Advisor Phil Coulson." He tilted his head. "Lance, you wanted to be reassigned to the warrior cast, so you're Warrior Lance . . . ah, what's your middle name? ‘Hunter’ might be confusing."

"David."

"No, it's not," Bobbi said, but Hunter elbowed her in the side and she smacked him back.

Coulson held up a hand. "Honestly, I don't care. You're Warrior Lance David, and we're all of SHIELD, and if they ask specifically where in the kingdom of SHIELD, pick a city with an outpost, not the city you're actually from. May, I have no idea what you're an artisan of, so maybe we should reassign you to the warrior caste, too."

Melinda shrugged.

"Is it gonna look weird if we have no artisans?" Trip asked.

"I can draw," Skye offered.

"I can weld," Mack said. "That's basically an art."

"We have a surprising number of trans-caste people on this plane," Bobbi said, as an aside to Melinda, who smiled.

"Sure. Artisan Mack Mackenzie, Artisan Skye . . . You need a last name."

"Bustamonte."

"All right," Coulson said without batting an eye, "Artisan Skye Bustamonte, Warrior Bobbi Morse, Trip, I have no idea what your title is but if you're okay with pretending to be a dad, we'll go with it."

"So it goes," Skye said ominously.

"That's when someone dies," Fitz said, glaring at her.

"Children," Melinda said.

"Fitz, I'm calling you an artisan until further notice. Are we good?"

"Yeah."

“Good.”

***

The return to the planet was uneventful, and the Cophirans didn’t blink an eye at any of their luggage. “We shall escort you to your rooms now,” Blue River said, and started walking.

"Blue River," Jemma said, and the alien turned to her. "It occurs to me that we've been unpardonably rude and not given you our names."

Blue River made a gesture that Melinda couldn't interpret, and said, "We did not want to knot any tentacles. Some species and cultures are not comfortable with giving names on the initial meeting. Are you not so?"

"We're fine with giving away names," Jemma said. "I'm Jemma Simmons, queen of, er, SHIELD. This is First Advisor Phil Coulson, Warriors Melinda May and Bobbi Morse, Warrior Lance David, um, Antoine Triplett --"

"He is one of three?" Blue River asked, looking around.

"No, he's -- his father was," Jemma said, and Melinda could have applauded her quick thinking. "He's, er, he raises kids, I suppose. I don't know what title you use for that."

Blue River said something that the translator glitched on; it sounded a little like "Fir'hkkk," but Melinda couldn't swear to it.

"Um, well, mostly we call him Trip," Jemma said.

"Then we shall call him Trip as well," Blue River said.

"Anyway, our artisans are Leo Fitz, Skye Bustamonte, and Alphonso Mackenzie, but we call him Mack."

"Ahhh," Blue River said. "So we did, indeed, get a few wrong."

"Well, yes, but . . ." Jemma spread her hands. "Diplomacy."

"Diplomacy," Blue River said, with the facial expression that was analogous to a smile. "We shall take you to your rooms now, and then you can prepare for the presentation of gifts."

"Gifts? I don't know if we have --" Coulson touched Jemma on the arm, and, after a whispered conference with him, tried again. "We were not aware that we would be performing diplomatic duties," she said, each word carefully enunciated, "so we were caught unprepared for physical gift-giving."

"Oh!" Blue River said, a couple of tentacles waving. "That is no problem. We would be honored to see a demonstration of one of your traditional practices. That is a common gift among the different populations on Corphira."

Traditional practices? God help her if anyone started singing, Melinda thought.

"Perhaps one of your artisans can demonstrate their trade, or if you have a traditional martial art, one of your warriors can demonstrate," Blue River said. "Come, follow me."

Traditional martial art. Melinda could do that. She caught up to Bobbi and asked, "Did you bring your sticks?"

"What do you think?" Bobbi said, grinning.

"I think we should offer to do a traditional martial arts demonstration," Melinda said mildly.

"You mean, spar for the nice aliens?"

Melinda nodded.

"Hell, yes!"

***

Which was how, an hour later, Melinda was standing across from Bobbi in a ring, obviously used for other kinds of martial arts demonstrations. The floor was something that was a lot like sawdust and there were arcane lines drawn in it in colors that were just a little off from Earth colors; observers sat in seats around them, and the SHIELD delegation was front and center. Blue River and their assistants sat next to Queen Teal, to whom they'd been presented just a few minutes prior, and she'd been very interested in their offered demonstration. (Melinda felt okay using 'she' for a person called a 'queen.')

Both women were wearing SHIELD catsuits; Melinda had exchanged her normal heeled boots for flat ones, to match Bobbi's, and she felt extremely short. Bobbi had her sticks, but Melinda was bare-handed, and she felt that was fairly even.

She wouldn't have called what they were about to do 'traditional' in any way, shape, or form. Both of them were definitely of the 'whatever I can use to beat you' school, but they'd been sparring together for the last few weeks and they both knew how to stick within a certain set of rules. There was no tactical advantage to be gained from watching this fight; the two of them were too idiosyncratic, and likely any techniques they used would only be useful against each other.

They'd spar to the best of three pins and then be done, and Jemma was about to count them off, but Melinda knew better than to watch Jemma instead of Bobbi.

“Three, two, one!”

Bobbi started by feinting left and attacking right, but Melinda was ready for her and ducked out of the way.

So it went for quite a few minutes, but Melinda really had no idea of time passage; she was in a zone where the only thing that existed was herself and Bobbi and the space between them. Bobbi was much larger and used that size against Melinda, but Melinda had a few years and a lot of tricks on the other woman.

All things considered, they were well matched; Melinda pinned Bobbi first but lost the second bout, finding herself on her back looking up for no more than ten seconds before Bobbi rolled off and offered her a hand up.

They went in for the third and final bout; Melinda ducked a punch and spun around, catching Bobbi’s wrist and yanking --

And then it was over, and Melinda was sitting on Bobbi's chest, looking down at her face, which had gone bright red in the way that blondes often did. The crowd was going wild, and it took Melinda a moment to realize that that weird sucker noise and the hooting was their version of applause and cheering.

She stood carefully and offered Bobbi a hand to stand up, and Bobbi took it, although she did pretty much all of the work of standing herself. "That was awesome," Bobbi said, although Melinda couldn't hear her over the racket; she had to read Bobbi's lips. Bobbi was grinning, too, which meant she probably wasn't being sarcastic.

"I got run over by the Cavalry; do I get a sticker?"

That was not sarcasm but it was intended to needle Melinda a little, so she poked Bobbi in the side, but yeah, it really had been a great fight, and she couldn't stop smiling herself.

Queen Teal stood, and the audience hushed. "We have been blessed by such a display," she said. "I do not think that our people have seen a pair of warriors so in tune with each other in a long time. How long have you two been married?"

Melinda blinked. Married?

"Oh, we're not --" Bobbi said, and then shut her mouth with a click of her jaw.

Queen Teal tilted her head to one side. "But of course you are. You stand at each other's side, you fight together, you obviously train together, and you are willing to spar. Even now you can hardly be separated."

Melinda looked down, and yeah, they were standing close enough to touch; her shoulder was brushing somewhere near Bobbi's elbow.

"And the lines of iyrzzzzr--" The translator had glitched again. "--run strong between the two of you. Did you think we would not approve? We are not so close-minded to think that two of the same gender should not marry."

Melinda glanced over at Jemma, whose eyes were wide -- no help there -- and then at Coulson, who was mouthing something at her. It took a second try to catch it, and then she saw that he was saying, "Prime directive!" She had no idea how that was applicable, except Bobbi was starting to speak again.

"Well, on our planet it's traditional --"

"-- For couples to wait a year or so before they marry," Melinda said, interrupting her as smoothly as she could, before Bobbi could start to explain the entire history of marriage politics to the nice aliens. "It hasn't been quite a year yet."

"Then you must allow me to marry you! A couple such as you should not be forced to wait one minute longer." Queen Teal clapped her tentacles together in something that was probably glee -- at least, that was the most pleasant option Melinda could think of. "Of course, if your queen approves."

Coulson's elbow in Jemma's side ensured her approval. "Yes, of course."

***

Apparently a traditional Corphirian wedding, at least among those in Queen Teal's realm, was a five-minute affair with a decadent meal afterward, and apparently it was only a matter of a few minutes to transform the welcome banquet into a wedding reception. Melinda approved, other than the whole thing where she was being alien-married to Bobbi Morse.

They'd declined the traditional Tealian robes due to the differences between humans and Corphirans, including the fact that their finest material, something like silk, gave Bobbi a rash on contact. Instead they had on dresses; the only one Melinda had brought was a black sleeveless number that hit her a little above her knees, but Bobbi had somehow managed to keep a red halter number, floor length, with a slit that came up farther than was probably necessary, from getting wrinkled beyond repair. "I have to wear heels with this dress," Bobbi'd said in apology when she appeared and was now an entire foot taller than Melinda.

"It's fine," Melinda said, but she did go and change into the tallest heels she'd brought . . . which put her just around Bobbi's shoulder again. She'd spent her whole life short, so it didn't bother her that much, but she figured she'd have to dance with Bobbi, or kiss her, or something that would end up with her face in Bobbi's not-insignificant cleavage if she wasn't careful.

The setup was a little like a standard Western wedding; she and Bobbi found themselves standing in front of Queen Teal, each with an attendant (Melinda had chosen Coulson, while Bobbi chose Skye, probably so she wouldn't be forced to choose her ex-husband). Unlike any wedding Melinda had ever been to, they were, indeed, facing each other, pressed together; Melinda was very glad for the taller heels, although some part of her was wondering what would have happened if she hadn't worn them.

(She would have had her face pretty clearly in Bobbi's bosom, obviously.)

"Soul to soul, heart to heart, let these two warriors Melinda May and Bobbi Morse be married, until they are parted!"

And apparently that was that.

"Are we supposed to kiss now?" Bobbi asked.

"No, why would you do that?" Blue River said, from their position at Queen Teal's side. Melinda thought they sounded a little disgusted.

"It's a Blargax 48745-3 thing," Bobbi said, "but if it's rude here, I guess we won't."

Melinda really wasn't sure why she was disappointed, but she was.

***

Fitz had some sort of contraption that could tell if the food was human-edible, although it couldn't make any determination on taste, so once he'd approved of the food, someone still had to taste it to make sure it tasted like food and not, say, cardboard. That job fell to Hunter and Mack, and they were both vocally protesting it.

Until they hit a pile of orangey-green spheres, about an inch in diameter, that tasted like brownies.

"Mmph," Mack said. "Yeah, you don't want these." He popped another three in his mouth.

"Nope," Hunter said, shoveling a few dozen into his bowl. "Definitely avoid these."

Melinda deftly reached over them and grabbed a few, which was how she knew they tasted like brownies. "It's my wedding," she said.

Mack and Hunter exchanged a look. "That it is," Mack said.

"That'll make three marriages and three divorces for Bobbi," Hunter said, with an odd kind of cheerfulness.

"Wait," Melinda said. "Who says we'll have to get divorced?"

"Well, I meant --" Hunter took a literal step back, which made Melinda happy. "Maybe it's not binding on Earth, anyway," he said, and it was half a question.

"Don't know," Melinda said. "Not my department." She was almost a hundred percent sure it wouldn't be legal on Earth, at least partly because there was no marriage certificate, but it didn't matter. If it turned out that they were married, they could get an annulment instead of a divorce, on grounds of . . . Well, she wasn't sure, but there had to be relevant grounds.

Anyway.

Bobbi came over. "Ooh, what are those?" She took a brownie-flavored sphere from Melinda's palm and ate it. "Oh. Oh, it tastes like food."

"Yeah," Melinda said, and watched her eat three or four more in rapid succession.

"This stuff isn't bad, either," Fitz said, coming up behind them with a bowl of shredded blue-gray plant matter in some sort of liquid. "Sort of a carrot slaw."

They managed to find another dozen foods that were enough like Earth foods to be pleasant to eat, and Melinda had eaten something close to her usual amount of dinner before Blue River found her and Bobbi and cornered them. "You don't have to stay," they said.

"Isn't it our wedding reception?" Bobbi said, exchanging a look with Melinda, who had a sinking suspicion she knew where this was going.

"Yes, but it's traditional, here, for couples not to stay very long." Their tentacles waved in a strange pattern. "Your personal items have been moved from the rooms we initially assigned you into a single room -- it's across the hall from Bobbi's original room -- and no one will bother you until tomorrow evening at the very earliest." They made the smile-face.

"Oh, of course," Melinda said, although there was no 'of course' about it.

"Yes, we're very happy to hear that," Bobbi said, and rather aggressively linked her arm with Melinda's. "On Blargax 48745-3 newlyweds usually have to sneak out."

"Oh," Blue River said, "you're expected to sneak out here, too." They smiled again.

"We'll do that," Bobbi said, smiling back.

"You want to sneak out and, what, pretend to have sex?" Melinda hissed at Bobbi when Blue River had gotten out of earshot.

"One, they said no one would bother us. Two, they probably have no idea how humans have sex, so I think as long as we stay close by each other, we're fine. Three, if we sneak out, either the party will officially start -- and yes, I've been to weddings where that happened -- or it'll drift to a close, and in either case, everyone else will thank us. Four, I want to get out of these damn heels, and the built-in bra on this thing isn't doing me any favors."

Melinda thought that the halter was doing Bobbi a lot of favors, but she understood that support probably wasn't one of them. "Okay," she said, probably a little too late.

As luck would have had it, there was a curtain off to one side near where the exit for the restrooms were (not that the restrooms looked anything like Earth restrooms, but once Melinda had figured out that you just sort of peed on the thing in the middle of the weird sort of stall and it disappeared, it worked okay) that hid a door. That door led to a back hallway that connected to another hallway that dumped them out about two doors past their new room, and how Bobbi knew that was beyond Melinda. "I'm good with layouts of buildings," Bobbi said with a shrug, and then cracked about ten seconds later. "Queen Teal told me about it when you were getting the last of the brownie spheres."

"Ha," Melinda said.

They opened the door to the new room, stepped in, and, as if they'd coordinated it, stopped and gawked. The room was much bigger than Melinda had expected, probably close to a thousand square feet. Towards the middle was a giant bank of windows that looked out of a clearly-alien landscape, orangey mountains against a yellow sky and a purple forest. Melinda wondered for a moment about wavelengths and the atmosphere, and then just stared for a moment.

Near the bank of windows, to the right, was a giant version of the smaller round beds they'd each had in their individual rooms; it could easily have slept five or six. To one end of the room was some sort of water feature, bubbling gently, and to the opposite end was a sitting area with a sunken fireplace. The flames were a lovely shade of purple, but Fitz had determined that they weren't putting off any toxic byproducts.

There was a table with flowers on it, the flowers in shades of dark green and red, sort of between the fireplace and the bed; other parts of the room had been sectioned off into what Melinda would guess were sitting areas. (One of them she wasn't sure about, though; if she had to guess, she thought the strangely-shaped forms wouldn't be that comfortable for sitting on, but then again, she wasn't built like the aliens, so what did she know.)

"Well," Bobbi said. "This is an upgrade. We should call getting married every time we visit an alien planet."

"If we want to do that," Melinda said, "we can't let anyone else see this room."

"I'm on board," Bobbi said immediately, and Melinda smiled.

"Well, if we're here for a while, I want to brush my teeth," she said.

"Yeah, and I'm going to put on something actually comfortable for once," Bobbi said, already stepping out of her shoes.

It wasn't late enough for either of them to be tired, but Melinda grabbed her pajamas before she went into the bathroom. She wet her toothbrush from the faucet -- at least, it worked like a faucet -- and went to start brushing, but spit out the mouthful of 'water' and toothpaste immediately. "Ew," she said, and stuck her finger under the faucet before tasting it. Sure enough, it was vinegar. She tried the other set of taps, and it was vinegar, too. The touchpad that controlled everything wasn't helpful, so she went back out and grabbed bottled water out of her bag, carefully avoiding looking at Bobbi, who was still wrestling with her dress. She used a little bit of it to brush her teeth, and then set it aside.

After changing into her pajamas, she went out into the room, noting that Bobbi was dressed this time. "The taps are putting out vinegar," she said.

"Oooh. Dilute?"

"About the same strength as kitchen white vinegar," Melinda said.

"Hmm," Bobbi said. "Let me see." She strode into the bathroom, and no, Melinda wasn't noticing Bobbi's butt in her rather thin knit cotton pajama bottoms.

When Melinda got into the bathroom, all of two seconds after Bobbi, Bobbi had already started poking buttons on the touchpad. "If only their translators worked a little better with written text," she was muttering.

Melinda came up behind her and looked at the screen. "What are you doing?

"They use some sort of generator, like a Star Trek replicator, for the washing vinegar," Bobbi said. "I'm trying to convince it to make only water molecules instead of five percent acetic acid molecules."

"Oh," Melinda said, and she must have sounded skeptical because Bobbi turned to her, one eyebrow raised.

"One, this is exceedingly basic chemistry, like, seventh grade or something, and two, you do know I have a Ph.D. in biology, right?"

"Of course I knew that," Melinda said, nettled, because she had, she'd just . . . shuffled that information to the back of her brain.

"So yes, I should have pure water coming out shortly."

Melinda said nothing, because there was nothing to say.

Bobbi turned on the taps once and tasted the water before making a strange face, and tried again. "Ahhh," she said, and motioned Melinda to come forward and taste.

It tasted like . . . well, like bottled water, actually, rather than tap water with its faintly metallic-chlorinated tinge. "Is this what water actually tastes like?" Melinda asked.

"No," Bobbi said, grinning. "I added trace amounts of sodium bicarbonate and silica and just a hint of sodium chloride -- salt -- so it would taste like expensive bottled water instead of tap water. Don't worry, it's nowhere near hard enough to affect us if we bathe in it."

Melinda was, in fact, impressed, and she gave Bobbi the warmest approving look in her repertoire. “Nice.”

"Like I said, seventh-grade chemistry," Bobbi said with a shrug. "Now it's my turn to brush my teeth."

Melinda left the bathroom and picked up her tablet before stretching out on the bed. The Corphirans slept on platforms that had mattresses made of something with a texture somewhere between memory foam and gel. It wasn't uncomfortable, but it was strange at first, and she was trying to mound the stuff up into a pillow (the aliens didn't do pillows, apparently) when Bobbi got out of the bathroom.

"Is that working for you?" she asked.

"Not really," Melinda said. "I'm probably going to have to go sit in a chair if I want to read, or do anything on this bed other than sleep."

"Or have sex," Bobbi said, waggling her eyebrows exaggeratedly.

"We're not having sex," Melinda said, "so that's irrelevant."

"Oh, I know," Bobbi said, and then tilted her head to one side. "Do you even sleep with women?"

"On occasion," Melinda said. Probably the socially-acceptable thing to do there would have been to turn the question back on Bobbi, but Melinda didn't care. Or, well, it was more that she didn't want to know.

But Bobbi answered it anyway. "Yeah, me too, despite the two ex-husbands," she said, sighing. "Maybe I should stick to ladies."

It was probably in her file, who the other one was, but Melinda didn't remember. Despite that, it was irrelevant, and Melinda didn't need to know, but somehow her mouth opened and she said, "Who's the one who isn't Hunter?"

"Barton," Bobbi said easily.

No, Melinda would have remembered that. "Clint Barton?"

"About yea tall," Bobbi said, holding a hand a couple inches below the top of her head, "blondish, great arms, shoots a bow for a living? That one."

"When was that?"

"Uh, 2008? Thereabouts. Long before the --" She waved her hand in the air. "The thing with New York."

"Huh," Melinda said.

"You've got an ex-husband, too, don't you?" Bobbi asked. She sat on the edge of the bed and swung herself around so she was facing Melinda, legs crossed tailor-style.

"Yeah," Melinda said. "Just the one. Didn't end well." She pointedly and deliberately returned her attention to her tablet.

"So we're done with sharing time, is what you're saying," Bobbi said. "I didn't bring any nail polish, so that's out, and I suspect there's a very low chance you'd let me braid your hair. What kind of sleepover is this? There isn't even any alcohol to sneak."

"You went to much more interesting sleepovers than I did," Melinda said. Then, without being a hundred percent sure why she did it, she set the tablet aside and said, "If we move over to the fire pit, you're welcome to braid my hair."

That was a lie. She knew why she did it. She just didn't want to think about it, and therefore she was only letting Bobbi braid her hair so the other woman wouldn't be bored.

"You know what," Bobbi said, "that was meant as a joke, but hell yes, we should move to the fire pit and you should let me braid your hair." She unwound herself and stood, grabbing a blanket off the end of the bed as well as one off a chair before striding over to the fireplace and its sunken seating.

Melinda blanked the screen of the tablet and made sure it was locked before she set it on the table beside the bed and following Bobbi.

"Here," Bobbi said, patting a part of the cushion/mattress sort of thing in front of her, closer to the fire. Melinda sat obediently and tugged the ponytail holder out of her hair, handing it to Bobbi, who slipped it on her wrist with the ease of long practice.

"I learned how to French braid on a Cabbage Patch Kid," Bobbi said conversationally, as she finger-combed Melinda's hair. "So I'm really good at French-braiding someone else's hair, but I can't do my own without two mirrors and a third hand, and at that point it's just easier to ask someone else to do it."

"Ahh," Melinda said. She was listening to Bobbi, she really was, but she also had a nice set of tingles running over her scalp and down her spine. It wasn't sexual, not really, but it was very pleasant and at that moment she would put up with whatever Bobbi wanted to talk about to keep her hands in her hair.

In fact, she was enjoying it more than she really thought she would, and she closed her eyes and sank into the cushions a little more. She stretched out her toes towards the fire and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

"Lance was never any good at it, but you wouldn't believe how good Clint was -- man was a whiz with makeup, too." Bobbi chuckled, warm and dark. "And here I am, talking about my exes on my wedding night. Good call."

"Doesn't bother me," Melinda said. "Just . . . keep talking, keep braiding."

"You like this?"

Bobbi sounded surprised, and Melinda rolled her eyes up and tilted her head a little to look at her. "Yeah," Melinda said. "Fire, a scalp massage, and someone I trust not to knife me at my back? I'm good."

"Huh," Bobbi said. "So there's this podcast I've been listening to, when I have the spare time. It's called 'Sawbones,' and there's one great episode about . . ."

Melinda couldn't have said how long Bobbi kept talking and braiding, but at some point Bobbi tied off her hair with the elastic and slid onto the cushions next to her. "Ahhh, it's warm down here," Bobbi said. She balled up one of the blankets, dropped it in Melinda's lap, and rested her head on the makeshift pillow. "My turn."

"Hmm?" Melinda said. Her whole body felt heavy, but in a good way.

Bobbi picked up one of Melinda's hands on set it on top of her head. "Head rub. My turn."

"Okay," Melinda said, and started sifting through Bobbi's hair carefully. "You want me to talk?"

"Nah, I'm good," Bobbi said, shifting around a little.

Melinda smiled, even if Bobbi couldn't see, and rubbed her fingertips behind Bobbi's ears.

***

A knock on the door startled Melinda perfectly awake, although she had no idea when she'd fallen asleep. The last thing she remembered was starting to give Bobbi a head rub, and --

Well, considering that Bobbi was still curled up next to her, one hand on Melinda's knee, the other rubbing her own eyes, she guessed they fell asleep like that.

The knock sounded again, and Bobbi groaned. "Do we have to?" she asked.

"Probably."

"You should get it. Your murderface is better than mine."

"Thank you," Melinda said as sincerely as she could, and carefully edged her way out from under Bobbi's head and the blanket. She padded her way over to the door and opened it, deciding not to care that she was wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and pajama pants but no socks or bra. "What." Belatedly she remembered the promise not to let anyone else see the room, and she stepped into the hallway, closing the door behind her casually.

It was Coulson. Of course it was Coulson. "May," he said. "You look . . . well-rested."

"Thanks," she said. "Did you need me?"

"Just wanted to check in," he said. "How's your wedding night going? I mean, it's technically the next day, but the days are pretty short here -- just about fourteen hours."

"Oh," Melinda said. "We're fine, and Bobbi was still asleep, last I checked."

"Sharing a bed?"

"It's a honeymoon suite," she snapped. "You think there are two beds in there?"

Coulson smiled, bland and guileless. "Well, the lines of iyrzzzzr are strong between the two of you, so the Corphirans were rather convinced that intimacy would go well between you."

"There were aliens talking about my sex life?" Melinda took a deep breath before she could sock Coulson in the jaw, and forced her hands to relax. "So what you're saying," she said, lowering her voice, "is that if we don't appear to be well-fucked for the rest of however long the keep us, they're going to know we're not taking this marriage as seriously as they want."

"That's basically it," he said.

"All right," Melinda said. "Thanks. I'll go see about morning nookie, or something."

"May, you don't have to--"

"Relax, Phil, it was a joke," she said. "Go away. Advise your queen or something."

"Yeah, okay. Have a good morning. Hi to your wife from me." Coulson turned on his heel and left, and Melinda refrained from yelling any four-letter words down the hall at him. She thought it was pretty impressive of her.

She slipped back into the room quietly, in case Bobbi had fallen back asleep, and in fact, the other woman had, curled up into a ball by the ever-burning fire. She'd pulled the blanket over her head like a cowl or something, and her lashes were gold-brown against purple-fire-kissed skin.

Melinda jerked after a moment when she realized she was staring, but Bobbi was stunningly beautiful, and it would take a powerful amount of self-delusion to deny that she could see that. Hell, it was taking a lot of self-delusion to avoid admitting she found Bobbi attractive, but at least she knew that.

She retrieved her tablet from by the bed, as well as a knife, and sat down carefully in the fire pit again, far enough away from Bobbi not to disturb her but close enough to . . . be close. Melinda's lips tightened briefly as she unlocked the tablet, setting the knife on the lip of the fire pit, and deliberately looked for comfort reading instead of anything even remotely work-related.

Bobbi woke up maybe a half-hour later, by which time Vic Warshawski had gotten herself into a terrible mess involving mobsters and murder, and Melinda stuck a virtual bookmark into the novel before setting the tablet aside.

"Hi," Bobbi said, voice creaky with sleep. "Did I dream that someone knocked on the door?"

"No, that happened," Melinda said. "Coulson. Apparently the aliens are . . . interested in making sure that the relationship between us is strong."

Bobbi blinked. "I'm still half asleep. You're gonna have to say what you mean by that."

"We've got to pretend we're fucking," Melinda said.

"Okay," Bobbi said. "Shouldn't be too hard."

Melinda breathed a sigh of relief. "I don't know when we'll be expected to make a public appearance again, but at least we know."

"Yeah," Bobbi said. "Come here."

"Why?"

"'Cause you need to get used to me touching you now, if you're not going to jump when I put my hands on you in front of the Corphirans."

"I let you sit behind me and braid my hair," Melinda said, but she shifted closer.

"No, over here," Bobbi said, patting the cushion beside her.

"You want to spoon?"

"Well, since we're not going to fork . . ."

"Bobbi."

"Melinda."

Melinda sighed heavily and went to stretch out by Bobbi, who draped the blanket over her and curled around her back. "Wait, how come you get to be the big spoon?"

"Because I suggested it," Bobbi said.

"Points for not making it about height," Melinda said after a moment.

Bobbi chuckled and wrapped her arm around Melinda's waist, pulling her into the curve of her body. "I've dated a lot of people shorter than I am. I know the minefield well."

"Fair enough," Melinda said.

"Now if you could manage to relax, that would be nice."

"I'm trying."

"Stop trying and do."

Melinda inhaled to a count of seven and then exhaled to a count of ten.

"There we go," Bobbi said, her breath warm against the back of Melinda's neck. "The good news is that we don't have to kiss in front of the aliens."

Somehow Melinda thought that might be easier than having to fake the body awareness and small, unthinking touches of a couple on their honeymoon, but she didn't say as much.

She didn't think she'd really be able to relax, but she did find herself drifting a little, not quite asleep, until a strange beeping noise started. "What's that?" Melinda asked.

"An alarm?" Bobbi asked. They were both sitting up at this point, and Bobbi had her sticks, untelescoped, in her hands.

"Maybe." Melinda grabbed the knife she’d left nearby earlier and indicated with her chin that Bobbi should take the back side of the room. She herself took the front.

The beeping was coming from a little panel next to the door that Melinda had seen before but not really registered, as it had been blank. "I found it," Melinda said, and Bobbi came up behind her a moment later.

"Ahh," Bobbi said.

Melinda hit the button on the side and said, "Translate to Blargax 48745-3," the way Blue River had shown her for a different device, and suddenly the screen became readable. "Your presence is requested, although not mandatory, at the evening meal, in approximately two hours."

"I'm not going to get used to how short the days are," Bobbi said. "It's almost dinnertime? How long did we sleep?"

Melinda thought for a moment. "Originally about ten hours, and then I was awake for about forty-five minutes, and then we napped for another two hours."

"I guess we needed the sleep," Bobbi said. "Do you think we can be ready for dinner in two hours?" One side of her mouth quirked in a smile.

"I bet we can if we try," Melinda said, returning the grin.

***

Two hours later they were dressed comfortably; Melinda only had two knives on her, and she had no idea about Bobbi since Bobbi had dressed in the bathroom. About four steps before they got to the hall they'd been directed to, Bobbi stopped her and said, "Are you going to be okay with this?"

Melinda glared at her, and Bobbi held her hands up in surrender. "Okay, okay. I just had to ask." She stepped a little back, closed her eyes, took a breath, and then loosened. She opened her eyes back up and gave Melinda a warm smile. "Let's go."

"Oh, my God," Hunter said, about five seconds after Bobbi and Melinda got into the room. Everyone was milling around, because it seemed that buffet-style eating was effectively the norm, and he and Trip were fairly close to the door. "Oh, my God," he repeated. "You're --"

"--Deliriously happy with my new wife, yes, thanks," Bobbi said, interrupting him smoothly while putting a hand on Melinda's waist. "I swear, he's not completely useless," she said to Melinda, under the guise of whispering some sweet nothing into her ear.

"I don't know who I'm more embarrassed for," Melinda said back in the same fashion, "you, since you can fake your 'I just got laid' face that well, or Hunter, who doesn't know when it's fake."

Bobbi laughed, deep and throaty, and oh, yeah, it really did seem like she'd just gotten laid. "I like to think I'm that good," she said, voice rich with meaning the words didn't actually have, and pitched to carry at least to the dozen or so people standing nearby.

It occurred to Melinda at that point that she herself could probably be a little less useless in terms of their charade, and she put the most suggestive smile she had on her face. "Oh, you are," she said, letting her voice drop into a more seductive register.

Bobbi shuddered, and Melinda would have bet her mother's life that it was not faked. Damn.

Somewhere past Hunter and Trip, both of whom looked gobsmacked, Coulson gave her a small nod and a very smug look, and Melinda rolled her eyes at him.

***

By the third or fourth treaty-negotiation session that Bobbi and Melinda were politely excused from, Melinda was starting to get a little annoyed, and she cornered Coulson later. “Are they keeping us out of the negotiation for a reason?”

“They want your marriage to be successful,” Coulson said with a shrug.

“It feels more like they don’t want us there. Are we the wrong gender to be able to negotiate treaties?” she said.

“I doubt it, because there are a couple other warriors still there,” he said. “Do you want me to say something to them?”

“Let me think about it,” Melinda said and left.

“What was that about?” Bobbi asked when Melinda caught up to where she’d been waiting a few feet away. “Was it about the way they keep kicking us out any time anything starts to get interesting, or go past an hour?”

“Yeah,” Melinda said. “You noticed that, too?”

“Of course,” Bobbi said. “I don’t so much care about import laws, but I was hoping to find out something about the planetary defense system here, or on any other planets. Plus, scientific exchange could be nice.” She looked wistful. “The -- whatever you want to call them, replicators -- those would be nice.”

“Jemma’s probably pushing for as much scientific exchange as she can,” Melinda said.

“And everyone will be interested in planetary defense,” Bobbi said with a sigh. “I know. We’re almost redundant.”

Melinda frowned. “No. We’re not redundant. It’s possible we’re better people for the job than some of the people actually doing the job right now.”

“Forced vacation?” Bobbi said, trying to smile.

“Sure,” Melinda said. “Let’s go with that. Maybe it’ll be easier to palate.”

“Let’s hope.”

***

The rest of the week was very much in the same vein: Bobbi did an excellent job of pretending that she was no more than an hour out from orgasm at any given point in time, Melinda much less so. The Corphirans complimented them on their iyrzzzzr connection, whatever that was, and excused them from any possible diplomatic event as soon as possible, so they could go back to their rooms and, presumably, fuck. Being that they weren't actually fucking, Melinda and Bobbi caught up on sleep, did a lot of reading, sparred occasionally, and once in a while, talked.

"So the screen by the door is useful for more than just reading messages," Bobbi said. She and Melinda had been sparring, but they'd finished, and now they were both in the ridiculously-large bathtub, which Bobbi had convinced to contain bubbles as well as jetting hot water around them. Bobbi was unselfconsciously nude; Melinda wasn't wearing clothes, either, but 'unselfconscious' hardly described the way she was feeling at that moment.

"Oh?" she said, because Bobbi seemed to expect it. She crossed her arms over her breasts, and then under them because it was more comfortable, and nudged a pile of bubbles into a little more strategic location. She wasn't actually that body-shy; it was just that . . . Well. Anyway.

"Oh, yeah," Bobbi said. "I've managed to convince it to give me at least some basic information about the Corphirans, things that are too impolite to ask in the meetings. Like, did you know that the water feature isn't because it makes a nice noise?"

"Well, I did notice that it was more concentrated vinegar," Melinda said. She kept her eyes on Bobbi's face and not on the soft curve of breast that was just barely visible above the bubbles.

"Yeah," Bobbi said, and stretched out her left arm, hooking it behind the lip of the tub and kicking her feet gently; Melinda could feel the movement in the water near her own legs. "That's . . . it's essentially a conception aid, for the Corphirans."

"What?" Now that she considered it, it wasn't that surprising; they were in a honeymoon suite, after all.

"The higher levels of acetic acid are required for something, I'm not sure, exactly, either for certain genders to release gametes -- sperm or eggs but really neither -- or for the gametes actually to be capable of forming new life. It's a little unclear in the texts they'll give me, possibly due to the translation." She grinned. "Did you know there are actually seven genders of Corphirans? Almost all of them are fertile with one another, so if I really were a warrior and you an artisan, you could get me pregnant."

"Oh," Melinda said. "That's . . . something."

"Isn't it?" Bobbi said. "Yeah, no thanks. I mean I'd be honored to have your babies but I really don't want kids on a permanent basis."

"I think we're both in the wrong line of work if we actually wanted children," Melinda said, shrugging.

Bobbi's eyes dipped down below Melinda's face quickly, so quickly that Melinda wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't been keeping her own above the waterline so assiduously, and . . . and nothing. It meant nothing, she told herself.

"True," Bobbi said, after a pause, and they both lapsed into a mostly-companionable silence.

***

The very last day -- and because the days were so much shorter than Earth days, it felt like simultaneously four and seven days later -- there was a final diplomatic ceremony, in which the treaty that Coulson and Jemma and the Corphirans had been hammering out for the last week would be signed. There would be more food, of course, and a formal goodbye before the Earthlings got on the Bus and the Corphirans opened the wormhole to send them back home.

Bobbi and Melinda were back in their wedding garb, neither having brought any other formal gowns; Jemma was in a rather plain but flattering blue dress, and Skye was wearing traditional Corphiran clothing, interestingly. It consisted of a tube from a silk-like material with strategic holes -- or holes that would have been strategic, had Skye been built quite like an Corphiran. As it was, she had a strange hole in the fabric on her left side, several in her shoulders, and much more skirt than she really needed. Nonetheless, it was oddly flattering, possibly because of the iridescence of the purple-green-brown fabric.

(The men were all wearing suits, because they were boring.)

The signing was a dramatic affair, with the entire treaty -- all thirty-something pages of it -- read out loud. It took most of an hour, and Blue River, who did the reading, didn't linger or read over-dramatically. Melinda tuned it out after a few minutes, as the majority of the treaty was in an off-kilter legalese that she assumed was mostly due to the alien influence. If she needed to know what was in the treaty, she would read the copy they'd be taking with them. Besides, she wasn't an attorney; neither was Coulson, but he was the best rules-lawyer she knew, so she trusted he'd have negotiated an acceptable document.

After the treaty-reading was finished, Queen Teal and Jemma signed the document, with Blue River and Coulson and then Skye and an alien Melinda didn't know as witnesses. One copy of the signed treaty was rolled up and tied with a bow and ceremonially placed in a sort of treasure chest; the other one was rolled up, tied with a bow of an entirely different color, and presented to Jemma with a flourish.

"And now, the ceremonial blessings," Blue River announced.

Melinda had gathered that when the Corphirans talked about blessings, they mostly meant well-wishes from the rulers, so she was unsurprised when Queen Teal called her and Bobbi forward. "Melinda May and Bobbi Morse," the queen said, and Melinda spared a moment to wonder why they'd never used Bobbi's full first name. Not important. "May you have a long and successful marriage, and may the lines of iyrzzzzr always run as strongly between you as they do now."

"Thank you, your majesty," Bobbi said, and Melinda echoed it.

"In your honor, you will find--" Here Melinda heard a glitch with the word 'cake' overlaid. "--made with Melinda and May on the table over there."

"Wait, what?" Bobbi said, rubbing her ear.

"Melinda and May," Queen Teal repeated. "Your namesakes? We found it convenient that you share your name with common foodstuffs."

"Oh, of course," Melinda said. Her last name, at least the original Chinese version, meant 'plum,' although she had no idea that they had plums or something like plums on this planet. Also, it made her question how the names were translating. Was 'Blue River' just the literal translation, rather than the actual syllables used?

Also, that meant that Coulson had been right: Lance Hunter was, well, the most obvious name ever. It was a good thing he'd used a fake last name the whole time.

The rest of the group was blessed as one with safe travels home, something Melinda could definitely get behind, and then Queen Jemma offered her own blessings for health and prosperity for Queen Teal's entire realm, which Queen Teal accepted gravely.

The rituals apparently having been satisfied, Queen Teal declared it time to feast, and Melinda headed as directly as she could over to see what exactly her cake was made out of.

The indicated serving bowl was full of more spheres, like the brownie bites, and Melinda let Fitz scan them before she tasted one. "Oh," she said. "Honey and plum." The texture was a little off and the color was definitely wrong, but it was pretty clearly some sort of honey-plum cake.

"Ohhh," Bobbi said. "Yeah. Meli-, the prefix, means 'honey.' I didn't necessarily think that was what the name meant, but hey. Give me a piece of our marriage cake." She grinned at Melinda, who rolled her eyes and stepped aside to let her at the bowl.

"Wait," Bobbi said a few minutes later. "Does that mean they've been calling Fitz the Son of the Lion this whole time? That's great. We should tell him that."

"He's as brave as lions are supposed to be," Melinda said mildly.

"I would never suggest otherwise," Bobbi said. "I couldn't do what he does -- what he did. Oh, oh, but forget that: what do they think of Lance?" She dissolved into giggles, and Melinda chuckled.

At least ten different Corphirans came up to Bobbi and Melinda to tell them what a lovely couple they made, and Blue River made it a point to tell them how much stronger the iyrzzzzr lines were just since they'd gotten married. They said this with a gesture that Melinda was fairly certain was the local equivalent of a wink. "But of course you have been doing much bonding while you were here."

Overlaid over 'bonding' was 'lovemaking,' in a way that meant the word had multiple meanings and the translator couldn’t decide, and Melinda chose to hear the base word rather than the shade of meaning. "We really have," she said, and it was true, which imbued it with a ring of sincerity she wasn't a hundred percent sure she could have given the words otherwise.

“What do you and Bobbi do, on Blargax 48745-3?” Blue River asked.

“We’re . . . warriors?” Melinda said.

“Yes, I can see that,” Blue River said, “but what . . . do you not have an occupation?”

Melinda blinked. “Wait, so ‘warrior’ is --”

“It’s not a job, it’s a gender,” Blue River said. “I, myself -- since you probably didn’t know -- am an artisan, and as an occupation I’m a politician.”

“Oh,” Melinda said. “So, wait, what do you call someone who, uh, fights for a living?”

“A soldier, you mean?”

“Sure,” Melinda said. “We’re soldiers.”

“Then what gender are you?” Blue River asked, their tentacles twisting.

“Female,” Melinda said.

“Huh,” they said. “Strange.”

“It is,” she said. “It’s fine. The genders you picked for us were accurate enough.”

Blue River looked a little skeptical. “If you say so. Maybe next time we can exchange scientific information.”

“Maybe so,” Melinda said.

After two hours of food and mingling, a smallish delegation of the aliens accompanied the rather-overdressed Earthlings to the Bus; they said yet another set of goodbyes and, finally, got onto the plane.

"Sheesh," Skye said. "That was --"

"That still is," Coulson said, "until we get out of here."

"That's my cue," Melinda said, and she kicked off her shoes, picking them up with one hand and heading straight for the cockpit.

She didn't relax until the Bus was back through the crack in the air and suddenly in airspace above an ocean somewhere. The GPS unit in the plane quickly told her they were some hundred miles out from the coast of Greenland, and Melinda quickly made sure the stealth mode was activated -- it was -- before plotting a course back to New York.

Coulson came in a few minutes later. "I can send in someone to take over if you want to change or talk to your wife or something," he said.

"We're back on Earth," Melinda said to the console. "We're not married anymore."

"Well, actually, you are," Coulson said, his voice holding a tone indicating mild interest. "Blue River was insistent on including a clause ensuring that marriages performed on Corphira would be recognized as legal under US law."

"But the treaty won't be filed anywhere and won't be ratified by Congress, so it contains no force," Melinda said. "So we're ceremonially married according to a useless document."

"It's our first official extraterrestrial treaty," Coulson said. "It may not be valid right now, but it very well could be in the future. More importantly," he said, and shifted in his seat before continuing. "More importantly, it's valid to the Corphirans."

"So if we ever go back to visit," Melinda said, "or if they come here, Bobbi and I will either be all lovey-dovey again or we'll have gotten a divorce."

"All right," Coulson said after a moment. "How long until we get to the States?"

Melinda checked. "About two hours."

"Thanks. Keep me posted, Agent May."

"Yes, Director Coulson."

***

"Your wife is in the kitchen," Skye said, when Melinda poked her head into the meeting room.

"She's not my wife, and I'm looking for you, anyway. You're late for sparring practice."

"Oh," Skye said. "Okay."

***

"Agent Morse, where's the other Agent Morse?" Hunter asked, with a giant shit-eating grin on his face.

"She's not my wife, she's in the garage, and what makes you think I changed my name?" Melinda asked, without missing a beat.

"God knows she's not gonna change her name," Hunter said.

"I would, under the right circumstances," came Bobbi's voice from behind Hunter, and both Hunter and Melinda turned to look at her. "What?" she said. "I would if I managed to marry someone with a significantly-cooler name than mine, or, you know, if I needed to prove the legitimacy of my marriage, or if I needed to change my identity for some reason."

"Fair enough," Hunter said, once he'd managed to close his mouth.

"What did you need me for?" Bobbi asked, and Melinda caught her eye and gave her a smile over Hunter's shoulder before they walked away.

***

"Hey, Melinda," Bobbi said from the doorway. "Wanna spar?"

"Sure," Melinda said.

If she'd thought about it at all, she wouldn't have. It had only been about a week since they got back from Corphira, and things had been . . . tense. Nothing was particularly said, but Melinda tried to avoid being alone with Bobbi, and vice versa.

She changed into athletic garb and conveniently forgot that Bobbi would be wearing Lycra, too, at least, until she saw her, standing on the mats in the room they used as a gym. “Oh, boy,” Melinda said under her breath.

“What was that?” Bobbi asked.

“Nothing. Let’s go.”

“Okay.”

It should have been a good fight; they were both in good fighting shape, and Melinda certainly had a lot of spare tension to work out. But it wasn’t; they were both distracted, and when Melinda flipped Bobbi over her arm and onto the floor, it was a surprise to them both.

"Oh, God, don't do that," Bobbi said on a groan, closing her eyes.

"Don't do what?" Melinda wasn’t entirely sure how she’d ended up crouched over Bobbi, holding her down by the wrists, but, well, there she was.

"Before you call a pin, you always lick your lips, and it's the sexiest thing ever, okay?" She looked pained, brows furrowed and lips thinned. "Especially when you're the one who just got pinned."

Melinda sat back, letting go of Bobbi's wrists. "So you've been throwing bouts so I'll pin you?"

"How did you get that out of what I said?" Bobbi asked, eyes opening. "No. It's much sexier if you just plain won." She scraped sweaty strands of hair off of her forehead and licked her own lips, and . . .

Well. Maybe she had a point.

It didn't mean anything, though, did it?

No, it didn't have to mean anything, but it could, and she was incredibly tired of lying to herself about how much she wanted Bobbi. "If I were to kiss you right now, what would you do?"

"Kiss you the hell back and not question my good fortune," Bobbi said promptly, and Melinda chuckled as she leaned down to touch her lips to Bobbi's.

True to her word, Bobbi kissed back, a little aggressively and a lot passionately. She didn't ask any questions at all, but she did wrap her arms around Melinda's waist and rearrange them into a sitting position, Melinda mostly in Bobbi's lap. Bobbi's legs were crossed tailor-style, though, which meant that their heads were level.

Her hands didn't stray anywhere interesting, though, probably because Melinda's own hadn't, and once Melinda broke the kiss, Bobbi said, "I have wanted to do that since, at the very least, our wedding."

"So now we're officially married?" It was supposed to be a dry joke, but it came out less dry and a little more . . . sultry.

"Sealed with a kiss," Bobbi said with a crooked grin, and leaned back in for a second round.

This time it was a little more heated, Melinda nipping at Bobbi's lower lip and cupping the back of Bobbi's head under her ponytail. She tasted of salt and coffee, but Melinda was sure she did, too, and the faintly earthy smell of clean, sweaty woman wasn't in the least off-putting.

The smell of old sweat on vinyl mats was, though, so Melinda pulled away reluctantly. "Not here," she said.

"Kinda public," Bobbi said, wrinkling her nose. "Wait, though -- just so we're clear, you're saying we should go somewhere else, like my quarters or yours, to have sex, right?"

"Yes," Melinda said.

"I'm game," Bobbi said, "but you have to get up before I can."

Melinda gave a wry grin and unwrapped her legs from around Bobbi's waist. She stood and held a hand out to Bobbi, who waved it away and stood on her own, all grace and economy of motion despite -- or maybe because of -- her height.

"So, your place or mine?" Bobbi asked as they headed into the hall.

"Mine," Melinda said, not for any real reason except a decision had to be made. That and, she amended as they got closer, her own quarters were much closer than Bobbi's.

Once inside, the door shut and locked, Melinda disabled the lone surveillance device she allowed and turned to Bobbi, reaching for the other woman's waist.

"Hey, one thing first," Bobbi murmured as she pulled Melinda against her. "Don't put your hand over my mouth, or it'll be unpleasant for both of us."

Melinda nodded, broadly enough that Bobbi should have been able to feel it, and said, "I don't think you'll trip any mines of mine but don't call me names."

"Bad names, or any kind?" Bobbi asked.

"Bad names. Or stupid ones, but that's just a matter of taste."

"'Sweetheart' okay?" Bobbi said. "'Honey'? 'Baby'?"

Melinda pulled back and wrinkled her nose. "'Sweetheart,' maybe, but that's mostly for after, isn't it?"

"No pet names, check," Bobbi said. "'Agent May' all right? 'Sir'? 'Ma'am'?"

"How about we save the roleplay for next time?" Melinda said, and pulled Bobbi's head down for a kiss before she could answer.

"Next time, I like that," Bobbi said, in between kisses. "So this time, it's okay if I rip off your clothes and just get down to business?"

"Mm," Melinda said. "A-plus for imagery but I like this bra, so let's make it a more collaborative effort."

"Ha."

Together they wrestled off compression gear and sports bras (Bobbi's was an even more complicated contraption than Melinda's); Bobbi tripped, trying to get out of her shorts, and fell onto Melinda's bunk. Melinda laughed until Bobbi pulled her down with her and they ended up stretched out together on the mattress, Bobbi propped up on one hand, licking a rivulet of sweat that had been falling between Melinda's breasts.

"Ohhh," Melinda breathed, because it had been funny and comfortable with a side of sexy before, and all of a sudden it hit her that she had all five feet eleven inches of stunningly-gorgeous Bobbi Morse naked in her bed and damn.

Bobbi looked up and smiled warmly. "Yeah," she said, and stretched up for a kiss, a nice, long, scorchingly-hot one that left both of them panting. "If we'd been pretending to be married for a mission on Earth," she said, "at least we'd have been expected to kiss. And maybe we'd have ended up here sooner."

"Maybe," Melinda said. "But we're here now."

"Damn right we are," Bobbi said with a predatory grin. She kissed Melinda again, short and blistering, and then proceeded to cover every inch of Melinda's torso with kisses: sharp ones that were nearly bites over her collarbone, long sucking ones over her breasts, tiny dots down her sternum. She darted her tongue into Melinda's navel briefly and licked long stripes over her hips before pressing her mouth to Melinda's pubic hair and inhaling through her nose for a long moment. "Mmm," she said, lifting her head enough to see Melinda's face. "Yes?"

"Hell, yes," Melinda said, pushing the top of Bobbi's head down, her emphatic tone at odds with the gentleness of her fingers.

Bobbi was still laughing when she kissed Melinda's labia, and the sensation made Melinda squirm a little. "Ticklish?" Bobbi asked.

"Not particularly," Melinda said. "Feels good. Keep going."

"Your wish is my command."

"I thought we'd decided to save the role-play for next ti--ohhh."

Bobbi wasted no time once she'd decided what she was doing; she dove in face-first, left a loud, smacking kiss on Melinda's clit, and started licking all the way down to her taint and back up again. At that point, Melinda really couldn't do anything but lie back and enjoy the ride.

And oh, God, it was a ride -- Bobbi was, it was clear, determined to get Melinda off as soon as possible, and she took every single reaction of Melinda's, every shudder, every sigh, and integrated it into her actions as surely as if she'd had a battle plan.

At one point she brushed a gentle fingertip over Melinda's slit, but Melinda said, "No."

"No?" Bobbi asked, raising her head and replacing her tongue on Melinda's clit with two fingertips.

"You can fuck me with your fingers or you can eat me out, but I'd rather you don't do both at the same time." Melinda was really rather proud of herself for coming up with the words to explain all that while she was maybe two steps shy of orgasm, and she gasped sharply when Bobbi hit a particularly good spot.

"Okay," Bobbi said, and dropped her head back down, darting her tongue between her fingers.

She pushed Melinda higher and higher, switching between fluttering the tip of her tongue over Melinda's clit and sealing her mouth over her and sucking, and right when Melinda was considering screaming in frustration, Bobbi shoved her hands under Melinda's ass and tilted her up a little. It was a prelude to a long, concentrated spate of Bobbi's tongue in exactly the right place doing exactly the right thing, and Melinda clenched her teeth, squeezed her hands into fists in the sheets, and finally came, seeing stars and flashes of light and, oh, Bobbi's smile, behind her closed eyelids.

She was still trying to remember her own name when Bobbi slid up the bed, one hand still between Melinda's legs, and kissed her, slow and lazy like Bobbi'd just been the one to come. "Good?" Bobbi asked, her hand working slow circles over Melinda's clit.

"Oh, God," Melinda said, still shuddering a little with each movement. "You are really, really good at that."

"Thanks," Bobbi said, that warm smile -- the one she'd imitated before -- on her face, and the real thing was decidedly better.

"Tell me what you like," Melinda said, "while I'm recovering." She tried to slow her breath down, but it was too much work just yet.

"Uh, most things?" Bobbi said, shrugging. "If I wore you out too much, I can get myself off."

"The hell you will," Melinda said, and gently extricated Bobbi's hand from her cunt.

"If the ceiling in here was higher, you could stay where you are and I could sit on your face," Bobbi said, reaching up to touch the aforementioned ceiling with her fingertips.

"Let's put a pin in that for later," Melinda said. "Maybe on the couch, or the floor."

The fingertips became a fist, which punched the air. "Yes," Bobbi said. "Definitely. For now, though, turn on your side, facing me? I can do most of the work."

"You don't even have to," Melinda said, but she turned. "I am not going to leave you hanging." Since Bobbi was also on her side, Melinda was able to run a hand from her shoulder to her butt, and then gently press the other woman's hip until she lay on her back. She curled into Bobbi's side, her face tucked against Bobbi's upper arm, and pushed her knees under Bobbi's until her legs were splayed. "Talk to me," she said. "Tell me how it feels."

"A little exposed," Bobbi said, but as Melinda drew a hand up her abdomen and traced light circles around a nipple, she added, "but that's, oh, that's good."

"Yeah?" Melinda said, and cupped her breast, leaning over to take Bobbi's nipple into her mouth.

"That's -- that's even better, oh, maybe a little teeth? Not too much."

Melinda scraped her teeth very gently over Bobbi's skin and was rewarded with a groan. "Oh, yes."

Without moving her head, she slid her hand down to Bobbi's cunt, and Melinda felt incredibly gratified to discover that Bobbi was dripping wet. She rubbed her fingers in the slick fluid and then found Bobbi's clit. "Oh, yeah, right there," Bobbi said, voice breaking. "Just -- yeah, that."

Melinda adjusted the size of her motion based on Bobbi's words, and how exactly she squirmed, until Bobbi was pressing the side of her fist against her own mouth to muffle the noises she was making. "Oh, God, don't stop."

"I won't," Melinda murmured against Bobbi's skin, and rubbed a little faster until Bobbi's cries rose in pitch and then she jerked and shuddered and gave a final, wordless, "Augh!"

Before she'd really stopped coming, Melinda was pretty sure, Bobbi reached down, grabbed Melinda's wrist, and said, a little slurredly, "Fuck me."

"Yes," Melinda said, and carefully slid a finger inside Bobbi.

"Mmmf, yes, more!"

Melinda added a second finger and started moving inside her very slowly, in and out.

"Ngh, please," Bobbi said, sounding strained. "More."

"More fingers, or faster?"

"Faster!"

Melinda propped herself up farther, so she was partway over Bobbi; it gave her a little more leverage to fuck her fingers into Bobbi harder.

"Oh, God," Bobbi said, her head tipping back. "I'm just -- Melinda --"

"Yeah?" Melinda said. "Are you going to call my name when you come this time?"

"I will -- scream your name to the high heavens if you don't -- stop --!" Bobbi said, squeezing her internal muscles tight around Melinda's fingers.

"Not going to," Melinda said. "Not going to."

And she didn't, not until Bobbi was, in fact, calling out her name, and then reaching out with fumbling fingers to grab Melinda's face and drag her in for a sloppy, off-center kiss. "Oh, God, Melinda, you're amazing, sweetheart," Bobbi said, sounding half-drunk and completely happy.

"You too," Melinda said, pulling her fingers out and wiping them on the sheets. She reached up and gently took the ponytail holder out of Bobbi's hair, finger-combing the blonde strands. "Sweetheart."

"Are you calling me 'sweetheart,' or making fun of me for it?" Bobbi asked, a lazy grin on her face. "Because you said I could, after. It's after."

"A little of both," Melinda admitted, and kissed Bobbi on the nose. "Can we --"

"Nap? Yes." Bobbi made a grabby gesture at the blanket at the foot of the bed, but no more effort than that.

Melinda huffed a theatrical sigh and sat up enough to snag the blanket, dragging it over them. "I'm the big spoon this time," she said.

"You definitely are," Bobbi said, and turned over, leaving a long expanse of back for Melinda to fit herself against. "So, next time, role-play?" she asked. "Actually, right now I don't care, as long as there is a next time."

"There will definitely be a next time," Melinda said.

"S'all I can ask for," Bobbi said, and squirmed back into Melinda.

Melinda stilled. "No," she said slowly. "No, that's not all you can ask for. We have dangerous jobs, it's true, but God, Bobbi, you aren't just a fuck or two."

Bobbi scooted far enough away to roll onto her back and look at Melinda for a long moment. "How does Agent Morse-May sound?" she said.

Melinda smiled at her. "I like it," she said. "But let's start with dating first, okay?"

Bobbi grinned, quick and bright, and stretched up for a kiss. "Okay."