The first time it happened, it happened more or less by accident.
"We're not - " Tom started to say, because even if they might be partners, they weren't - well.
"Back home, there's a law against it," Carl said, which sounded a bit harsh, really; it wasn't so much that there was a law saying they couldn't as that there was a law saying only other people could.
Tweeleet whistled, high and sharp. (Binding ceremonies are forbidden on your world? What a strange concept. But, of course, if this is how your species chooses to live, I am sure it is all right.) His voice contained a rather dubious note.
"It's only forbidden when you're - " Tom began to explain, before it occured to him that he didn't really know how to explain gender to someone still making a strenuous effort to wrap his mind around the concepts of noses and what humans used them for. "Well, it's complicated."
(But you wanted to?)
Tom looked a warning at Carl, who grinned back at him and said: "Absolutely."
(It's customary to have a modest celebration,) Tweeleet said, clearly relieved to be back on more or less familiar ground. (Would you do me the honor of allowing me to host one for you?)
"Absolutely," Carl said, again. "We'd be delighted."
"I don't like you very much right now," Tom informed Carl, three days later. His ears were still ringing and he strongly suspected his headache would last for at least another week.
Carl, unfairly, appeared fully recovered from Tweeleet's species' idea of 'a modest celebration', already.
"You want to get a divorce?"
They were just words, Tom told himself. It didn't mean anything. In the Speech, they wrote their names as being each other's partners, and they'd been doing that for years now. The Speech didn't care if they were married or even if they were sleeping together. Being partners wasn't about that.
"I don't think I'd feel up to it right now."
Carl smiled, and Tom's heart did not skip a beat. "You're such a romantic."
On quite a number of planets, it seemed all that was required to get married was to sleep together or to sign a piece of the local substitute for paper saying that you wanted to.
It became a bit of a thing, for a while. Get married as often on as many planets as possible, because no matter what Tom told himself, it meant something, to have people know about him and Carl, and have them celebrate what bound the two of them.
He wrote an episode for a popular TV show including a gay character and it came back rejected within two days, with a pointed reminder that part of the audience for the show consisted of children between the ages of seven and fifteen. ('But we really like the plot with the talking potted plant' was scribbled at the bottom of the official letter, as an afterthought. 'More of that, please!')
"We've got to stop getting married like this," Tom said, because there was a limit to the number of times he wanted to get dragged out of bed in the morning by screaming aliens who thought he and Carl must be rather conservative people, for marrying someone so physically alike to themselves.
"I'm open for suggestions on other ways to get married," Carl said and winked, and Tom thought that, all right, more sleep would have been nice, but he could get that back home, too.
The novelty wore off, eventually, or maybe Tom just got tired of the frustration.
"How come you've got all the blue ones?" Carl asked over dinner, which consisted of something almost but not entirely unlike rice, with some local vegetables mixed in.
"Because you picked out all of yours already." Tom'd been a bit lost in thought, but not that much. "Here - want mine?"
(And that was how they ended up getting married for the thirty-eighth time, because apparently, giving someone food off your own plate meant you wanted to break off any sort of relationship, and even if they might never visit this planet again, Tom still wasn't comfortable letting something like that just stand.)
They got married for the forty-first time on a nice little planet with a not so nice little problem to do with weather patterns and a rainy season that kept getting shorter combined with a sun that kept getting hotter.
Of the two dominant lifeforms on the planet, one looked like trees, which meant they didn't move around a lot - although if they did, it was generally pretty fast, which explained why the great barren waste of the equatorial area really was empty; it'd been evacuated in under a week, and just in time, too.
The other lifeforms looked like creeper vines. They generally stuck close to ground level, but once in a while, a vine would wind around itself around a tree, which would then produce blossoms, which might then turn into seeds, which might, eventually, given ten years or so, turn into either new vines or a new tree.
All very elegant, and when not producing actual seeds, the trees still came up with some sort of fruit - or a whole lot of fruits, actually, given that the process apparently involved a considerable amount of conscious choices to make on the part of the tree.
(What do you think?)
The fruits thing had a definite upside, in that it meant they were able eat locally, rather than spend the energy on a spell to fetch the kind of food humans could live on - 'could', of course, being something altogether different from 'wanted to' in some cases.
"Tastes pretty good." Carl took another bite, chewed and swallowed. A bit of juice ran down his chin and Tom resisted the impulse to lean over and lick it away.
On their last assignment, it wouldn't have been a problem - in fact, it might have been taken the wrong way if he had left the juice where it was, but thus far, the manual'd been rather close-lipped about the customs and cultural pitfalls of this place, so it seemed best to practice some restraint.
(I only had about five years to work on it.) Orli sounded pleased. His full name translated to a certain kind of way for sunlight to fall on leaves in the second week of the rainy season, but he'd graciously informed them 'Orli' made for an acceptable substitute.
"There've been other human wizards here that recently?" The manual hadn't mentioned that. Nor had any of the other people they'd spoken to so far.
Orli's leaves rustled. Tom hadn't worked out yet what it means when a tree did that at a time when there was no breeze to account for it. (We had word,) Orli said at last.
It didn't take a wizard to figure out Orli wasn't keen on discussing the matter further.
"Well, then," Tom said. "Shall we get started?"
It took them about six hours to complete the spell - (A quick wizardry,) Orli commented, and Tom supposed that to a tree, it might seem so.
To a human, six hours was a fairly long time to be casting a spell, and Tom felt completely wiped, after. Carl looked like Tom felt, but he was also grinning, so possibly, not quite as bad off as Tom.
A hug seemed perfectly acceptable, under the circumstances, if only to make sure he wasn't actually going to do any falling over.
Carl felt perfectly solid. "You all right?"
"I could probably sleep for a week, but other than that, yes."
(Oh,) Orli said, again. Tom wasn't sure if he wanted to know why. (I was unaware that you were about to entwine. My apologies. I am very proud to bear witness, of course.)
Tom groaned, hopefully too softly to be overheard, although he still wasn't entirely clear on how hearing worked for trees, anyway.
By the time they settled down on Earth for good, the total number came at fifty-two - fifty-one, if you subtract that one divorce. A good number, Tom thought. Many humans only got married once, and only on one planet.
"This is a bad idea."
Carl looked up from preparing a platter of snacks and scowled. "Would you stop worrying?"
In less than two hours, their house would be filled by people - humans and non-wizards, all. People Tom knew from his writing, or Carl from his work. One or two might be famous enough to get a journalist down here. Tom wasn't quite sure yet what to do about that, if it happened.
His writing name was fairly well known in certain circles by now, but thus far, he'd always managed to keep his real one under wraps. His Wikipedia page just said he 'prefered anonymity' and that one of his rejected scripts for an episode of a quite popular TV show had sold for a considerable sum in a charity auction for GLAAD not two years ago.
"I just wonder why I ever suggested we do this."
Carl shrugged. "My powers of persuasion are awesome?"
"Something's going to go wrong, and then we'll need to wipe everyone's memories and then this whole thing will have been completely pointless."
"Thanks for trying to make me feel better."