"Keptin," Chekov began hesitantly, looking troubled. But then, Len supposed anyone forced to wear that weird space metal bejeweled crown, which Chekov had been obliged to don as soon as the inhabitants of Regalis Prime had discovered him to be their heir apparent, might look just a little bit troubled.
"We'll figure this out, Chekov, don't worry," Jim said. He flashed Chekov what was meant to be a reassuring grin before he returned to poring over the documents the Regalian parliament had given him and Spock a short while ago. "Actual fucking parchment," Jim had said in awe when he'd received the stack of ornately lettered and illustrated papers, clearly impressed as he drew a finger reverently along the top page.
Spock leaned over to read Regalis Prime's ancient laws, occasionally raising his eyebrow at what Len would bet dollars to doughnuts must have been a particularly crazy passage. He wasn't too sure how Spock was supposed to be able to concentrate, standing as he was now crowded right up against their captain. Len figured a stray mote of light couldn't find its way through between them, shoulder-to-shoulder as they were.
Over at the doorway, that poor idiot Jim insisted on calling Cupcake stood guard along with his fellow security officer Harris, each of them looking tense. And from the corridor right outside the Council Chambers where they had been given leave to have themselves a little consultation, Bones could just barely make out the murmurs of Uhura speaking calmly to a pack of advisors and politicos headed by Sebastinio, the Chief Advisor and the obsequious and officious little bastard who seemed completely to blame for all of this utter nonsense.
"I don't know what's to figure out," Bones said from his post slouched against the wall to Chekov's right. He was aware he sounded even more cranky than usual, but damn it if just this sort of planet visit where everything went FUBAR didn't bring out the worst in him. "Seems plain as day to me. The natives think the kid's their new Prince Charming. And now there's nothing for it but getting him on their fool throne if we want to avoid an interplanetary crisis."
And wouldn't you know the kid actually looked hurt at that? His big green eyes widened and his lips parted while he turned to stare at Len. Then he jerked his gaze away, mouth pressed in a thin line and chin tipped up stubbornly as though to mask some huge disappointment with put-upon resolve. Bones stifled a sigh and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"It is wery nice throne," Chekov said stiffly. He ought to know; he was the one perched on it like he was waiting anxiously for his coronation. To be perfectly fair, Len supposed, he pretty much was. It was a stiff-backed ornate affair, though outfitted with heaps of plush looking cushions presumably to make it comfortable. Still, Len could tell from the fact that the kid's thick accent kicked in so readily when he'd begun to speak that he was anything but relaxed about this boondoggle they'd found themselves tangled in.
"Look, just because some uncle of an uncle of yours passed through here once back in the day and had himself a little fun doesn't mean you automatically have to be their king," Bones said gruffly.
"In point of fact, Chekov's forefather sired two descendants with the soon-after reigning princess of the time, Marirena Anetina. She subsequently held the throne with her human spouse for one of the realm's more remarkable periods of prosperity," Spock corrected him blandly.
Len rolled his eyes; always pretending to be cool as a cucumber, that Vulcan. But Len could tell from the twitches in Spock's fingers and the way his eyes narrowed slightly that the hobgoblin was caught up in the history of the romantic royal rigmarole just like the rest of them. "Still, it's not like Chekov's folks were raised up here. These aliens have got to have some other guy waiting in the wings who could be their Supreme Exalted Leader in a pinch. Someone more --" He waved his hand around impatiently. "You know. Regalian."
"Because the Regalians recognize the relations of Chekov's forefather as valid claimants to the throne, whether or not they sprang from that original union with Marirena Anetina," Spock continued, "Ensign Chekov is in fact at this time considered the best candidate for Regalis Prime's succession, even given his apparent lack of Regalian blood."
Len waved a hand in the air in both acknowledgement and dismissal of Spock's fussy emendation. "Fine." He turned to Chekov, who had been following the exchange with a worried expression. "But no matter what our Commander says, Chekov, just because your ancestor had a couple of kids when he settled down and co-signed a couple of bylaws when his wife said pretty please? Well, that doesn't mean you're obliged to take on this ruling a planet baloney if you're not interested."
"Bones is right. You know you don't have to do anything you don't want to, right, Chekov?" Jim asked seriously. He'd been pretty grim as soon as the Regalians had begun to blather excitedly about Chekov's full name and started to throw out highly specific questions about the teenager's ancestry. Obviously the captain was worried about Chekov feeling pressured, but Bones privately figured Jim was just an eensy bit jealous that he wasn't the one getting all the attention. He said a silent prayer of thanks that it hadn't been Jim who was apparently destined to rule over Regalis Prime because of royal bloodlines. Len couldn't imagine the shenanigans that would inevitably ensue if Jim had an orb and scepter handed to him.
"Da," Chekov said with equal graveness. The stern expression looked silly on his stupidly gorgeous young face, but he'd obviously decided this was a damn serious situation and was bound and determined to rise to the occasion. "Yes, I mean, I understand," he corrected himself with some self-consciousness a moment later, obviously having caught his small slip back into Russian. "But -- Regalis, she is wery important to Federation interests, I think."
"She is. It is, I mean." Jim ran a hand through his hair in agitation. Len raised his eyes heavenward so he wouldn't have to notice the way Spock's dark eyes followed the movement of Jim's fingers possessively. "But you're not some bargaining chip or a kind of item up for trade in this treaty we're hoping to broker here, Chekov," the captain went on. "If the Federation has vested interests in making their alliance with Regalis Prime, they'll find another way to make that happen besides forcing you to take up a title you had no idea you were supposed to inherit."
Chekov frowned. "They say I need only wisit twice a year, to fulfill my duties as ruler of Regalis Prime."
"For their culture's two key festivals and political assemblages," Spock confirmed. "Though they have suggested they would gratefully welcome your presence at any time, should you choose to spend any of your extended leaves planet-side."
"But regardless of such arrangements, I would get to keep my job," Chekov clarified in a hesitant voice that betrayed how unsure he was of these sudden proposed measures. "My friends." For some reason his eyes flickered to Len, though Len imagined he was thinking of that helmsman he was practically joined at the hip with, Sulu.
"Yeah, that seems to be the deal. At least if you said yes, aside from a few ceremonies, the rest of your time you could spend however you want," Jim confirmed. He exchanged a look with Spock and tried a smile. "For finding out you're the guy meant to head up a millennia-old monarchy, it's not exactly the worst deal in the universe." His grin slipped away as he leaned forward on the palms of his hands. "But Chekov, just remember there's absolutely no way you have to do a single part of this if you don't want."
"But the Federation," Chekov began.
"Hey, I'll answer to the brass if it comes to that," Jim interrupted him.
"Still," Chekov said. He frowned and reached up to adjust his gaudy ornamented circlet, which had started to slip on the crown of his head. "They seemed wery excited to find I --" He paused, trying to find a word to fit the crazy situation they'd all found themselves in. "Existed," he finished uncertainly.
"And there's the problem with every single kind of monarchy right there," Len couldn't resist saying. "It's not because of anything you've done, not because of your accomplishments or talents. It's just because of this rambling man uncle and that sprout-having cousin, and all the way down the line until you pinged their DNA tests saying you're their fella."
Chekov thrust his chin in the air, once again managing to look damn stubborn. Jim shot a glare at Bones, one of those, "Did you have to knock his ice cream scoop right off his cone?" kinds of glowers. Even Spock looked disapproving at Len's words, though to be entirely accurate, he looked that way whenever Len said anything.
"There are reasons for monarchy," Chekov argued. "Is symbol of hope for a society sometimes. A way to bring common cause to people torn apart by strife." He scowled at Len, for all the world as though Len was the one responsible for who was dragging him into this mess. "You think I am not capable, that I could not fulfill such a wery important role?"
"Of course you could," Jim said quickly. "And that's exactly why they were wery excited -- very excited," he stumbled to correct himself quickly before Chekov could frown again. "It means a lot to them, obviously, to find someone who fits their definition of royalty after going a whole year without a ruler since their last prince passed away. So you're that Andrei Chekov guy's descendant, sure, but you're also an accomplished member of Starfleet and a promising navigator on the Command track. But no matter what, Chekov, taking this on isn't part of your job description. Absolutely no one in the galaxy is going to hold it against you if you decide you'd rather keep on being a normal guy."
"Sure, a normal guy on an interstellar spacecraft that gets taken hostage by wacky aliens on a regular basis," Len muttered.
The door to the Council Chambers opened, and Uhura entered, accompanied by their Regalian cultural expert, Ensign Rusesk. For some reason both of them looked a little wary and apologetic. A moment later Len could tell why, because right on their tail was that little so-and-so who had exclaimed in excitement over Chekov's mention of his full name and started running the family trees and genetic codes that had gotten them all in this brouhaha.
"Gentlemen," the little humanoid exclaimed.
"Sebastinio," Jim mouthed at Spock as if to remind him of the man's name. Never mind that the most basic medical facts about Vulcans told Leonard that they had eidetic memories and so probably didn't need prompts from their captains. Oh well, if it made Jim feel helpful (and let Spock watch Jim's lips keenly like a perverted weirdo about to attack Jim's mouth), who the hell was Len to judge?
"Your Majesty," Sebastinio added reverently to Chekov his long spindly fingers fluttering and his purple eyes widening as he approached. Before he got the words all the way out, he had even bent and bowed very low. They must have had incredibly flexible joints, Len thought in distraction as he tilted his head to observe, because the guy had practically kow-towed from a standing position. "One would hate to put any sort of pressure on you to arrive at your answer to the happy proposal we have so recently presented to you --"
"One really would," Len said meaningfully.
"Nyet, I understand," Chekov said, eager as he always was whenever someone asked him to fix everything going wrong in a crazy situation. Len could practically see his fingertips twitching for a switch to try or a calculation to run. "You are eager for resolution to bring much needed optimism to your people."
The little alien nearly bounced in place where he stood (upright by now, thank goodness). "Yes, your highness; that is exactly our circumstance! It is no surprise that you, as the heir of our exalted line of rulers, comprehend our most precious hopes immediately. We know we are asking a great deal of you, requiring you to respond within forty-eight hours. It's only that," (and here he started to wring his very long-fingered hands) "our parliament has moved for a special session to address this very issue. Meanwhile, everyone on the planet, and even our people in distant colonies wait with anticipation, with excitement, with a yearning for the joy that once again finding a sovereign will allow them should you grant our hearts' fondest wish."
"We certainly appreciate the difficulties of your situation, Sebastinio," Jim said, trying for his most charming smile. But Mister Obsequious only had attention for Chekov, purple eyes wide as he awaited the word of someone he'd met only two hours ago but apparently now considered the be all and end all of his planet's well-being.
"So we will of course ask you to extend that courtesy you initially offered and give us the entire forty-eight hours for Mr. Chekov to make his decision," Spock added.
Sebastinio hesitated, his hands in mid exultant clasp. "Ah. Well. I shall mention this obviously completely unavoidable delay in answering this increasingly urgent and yea, burning question shared by every member of our people to one of our members of Parliament. It is only fair that I keep them abreast of his Excellency's prudent choice to keep us waiting even longer than this interminable year we have been most regrettably leader-less and entirely without hope, while you continue to review our sacred and ancient laws." With that he glided to the still-open door, where he conferred in hushed tones with one of the Regalians waiting in the corridor.
"Right, before we had two days, now we're delaying them," Jim murmured, probably pitching his voice low enough that he thought only Spock would hear. Too bad for him Leonard had better hearing than a barn owl. "Anyway, at least this way we can head back to the ship, figure out what all the options are." He glanced at the little clutch of Regalians that had gathered around Sebastinio, gesturing frantically to one another and not so incidentally obstructing the exit. "Wow, it kind of looks like they want us to stick around, doesn't it? Spock, they haven't blocked our transporters, have they?"
"That remains to be seen," Spock murmured back, staring at the brace of Regalians who had joined the crowd, and who appeared a bit more muscular than the rest. The two of them had on what seemed like official badges of some sort, and stood with their arms crossed over their chests. No doubt they were a version of Parliamentarian security; Len for one didn't like the looks of them one bit.
"At the moment our communicators remain functional," Spock added, "and they have given us no indication that we are considered captives. Still, gaining a new sovereign seems an emotionally volatile issue for the Regalians. They appear reluctant to wait for an answer despite their former agreement that Ensign Chekov might require more time to decide. Caution as we proceed is recommended."
"Don't worry, kid," Bones said in an undertone as he made sure to lean in close to Chekov so Mister Kiss Up Purple Eyes and the others by the door couldn't hear. "We'll make sure we get you out of here and back to the ship so that you have a little time for all of us to figure out how to get you out of this tangle."
"I do not consider it a 'tangle'," Chekov protested. "It is to be expected that such a people who seek a ruler for their planet make this request of me because of my family history. I am honored that they think me capable, and I will give it due consideration." Though he kept his voice soft, matching Len's volume, his eyes looked fierce, and tension vibrated from his slim frame.
"Come on," Len growled. "You can't honestly say you want to take on something huge like this. Ruling an entire world? It's a lot of responsibility! And you're just a teenager; you should be thinking about, I don't know, who you're taking to the spring fling dance and finishing up college." Len paused. "They have spring fling dances back in Russia?"
"I have already completed my education, as you should already know," Chekov said through gritted teeth. "Besides, I am almost no longer a teenager; I am fast approaching twenty years of age. And though I am still considered young by many, my skills are of a high level, and I am adept at taking on wery many responsibilities."
"Come on, let's be serious. You're not just considered young, kiddo; you're practically a baby," Len said in frustration. "Look, I know you want to prove yourself, but there's plenty of time for that later --"
"Ladies and gentlemen," Chekov said defiantly and loudly to the room at large. "There is no need to wait longer. I think, yes, I will do it."
At the door, the chattering Regalians became silent and trained their wide purple eyes on the throne, appearing absolutely riveted by Chekov's words. For a moment he looked self-conscious, but he cleared his throat and sat up straight, looking for all the world like he'd been born to take on just this sort of imperial role. "I will assume the throne of Regalis Prime as the Regalians have requested of me."
Spock went very still. Next to him, Jim gaped and tightened his hold on Spock's arm. Ensign Rusesk actually gasped aloud. From her quiet conversation in the corner with the advisors, Uhura fell silent and pressed her lips together, looking worried.
"Oh, joyful day," Sebastinio exulted, clasping his long fingers together in an exhilarated pose. While he swept back over to Chekov, the other Regalians in the room buzzed excitedly at the announcement.
"Now see here," Bones exploded, pushing off from the wall he'd been leaning against and feeling his face flush red with impatience and frustration. It was like Chekov hadn't heard him at all -- or worse, that he'd decided the exact opposite of what Len had recommended out of pure spite. He planted himself in front of Chekov, doing his level best to block out Chekov's view of Sebastinio and the Parliamentarians. "You don't know the ins and outs of this thing yet, kid. You can't just go ahead and say never mind the torpedoes without getting some good hard facts in front of you--"
"It is most unfortunate, Doctor, but actually, he can," Spock interrupted. "The Sovereign's word on Regalis is considered not just declaration but act and deed. If Chekov declares that he will do a thing such as make a law, it is as good as done in the minds of his subjects. And because the Regalians already consider him to be their rightful royal leader, all that is needed in this circumstance is just such a declaration from him. It is why the previous rulers of Regalis Prime were known to take great care with the import of their speaking in public." Here he gave Chekov a pointed look, while Chekov bit his lip and flushed. Leonard still figured him more for angry than embarrassed, though; it seemed like the kid really didn't like taking advice.
"But we haven't had time to finish going over this thing," Jim cut in, looking wary and shaking a stack of parchments at the room in general. He grimaced at the hovering Regalians and spread his arms out in appeal. "We know how you're hoping things will turn out, and it's great that Chekov wants to help. But I'd like for him to consider all sides of the situation first --"
But their sycophantic liaison friend didn't care two hoots for anything Jim or Spock said, instead turning with a rapturous expression to Chekov. "As one of the lucky few Regalian people here to witness this marvelous pronouncement, I humbly take upon the burden of expression for our worldwide thanks for your immutable and irrevocably royal vow to undertake the mantle of most magnificent rule, your most gracious majesty. You are as the sun to our growing fields, the balm to our tender aches, the succor to our soul-deep pain --"
"The cream to your ugly red rash," Bones said, rolling his eyes.
Sebastinio glared at Bones before shifting his adoring look right back to Chekov. "The others and I shall alert the remaining Parliamentarians that you have agreed to take the throne. Of course they will humbly beseech you to undertake the sacred ceremony common to all our rulers as soon as we are able to make all appropriate preparations; it is, as I have already explained to your Communications officer, our way."
"Good," Chekov said, the very picture of stubborn determination and teenage insistence. Bones imagined he himself had looked more or less the same when he'd insisted he was going to marry Jocelyn when he had only just turned eighteen. His mother had finally thrown up her hands, sick of trying to convince him to wait even just a little longer. And look how well that bit of adolescent thick-headedness had turned out?
Then Chekov looked uncertain and added, "But I can keep my job even after the ceremony, yes?"
"Of course, sire! Your work and life may remain much as they were before, aside from the exception of your wondrous presence twice yearly at the two sacred festivals of our people, and of course any additional visits you find it in your most royal generosity to grant our humble planet."
"Wery good," Chekov said with no small amount of relief. "But -- I must ask because of the many duties my work on the ship requires -- what does this ceremony you mention involve?"
"Looks like we're in for it now," Jim said in an undertone. Spock inclined his head in reply, tilting closer to Jim in that freaky no-words-required thing the two of them had going. If the two of them weren't so wrapped up in each other, they might have spotted Uhura across the room delicately clearing her throat and subtly trying to get their attention, but nope.
"It's probably some grand poo-bah coronation with more bells and whistles you can shake a stick at," Len grumbled; maybe that was what Uhura wanted to complain about, too. "I bet we'll all have to wear our shiny scratchy dress uniforms, and they'll kit you out in damn heavy furs and rubies that could feed a whole belt of starving planets just to hand you some ugly gilt book and a fancy cape."
"Oh, no, we have no coronation," Sebastinio said, seeming scandalized. "As your First Officer said, our ruler's word is action to us. Thus Pavel Andreievich Chekov has already taken the throne in our eyes. A ceremony to affirm this when it has already happened would be a grave insult to our monarch's authority. We would of course welcome him briefly sitting upon the throne before Parliament as they open their next session in a week's time, as a sign of his approval of their support in his governance. But that would take only minutes and require no special preparation."
"Wow, seriously? That was fast," Jim said with a grin. He was probably keen to get back to the bridge to find somewhere way more dangerous to jet off to, or maybe he had a chess tournament date with the Vulcan he was all het up about. "But hey, if Chekov's already as good as kinged, and you don't need him for your harvest festivals just yet, what is the ceremony you mentioned just a few seconds ago?"
"Why, his highness's most royal wedding, of course," Sebastinio said grandly, lurching into another one of those crazy acrobatic bows. The other Regalians nodded eagerly and murmured approvingly amongst themselves.
Again they all fell silent. Ensign Rusesk appeared suddenly terrified, as though she were a Cadet 4th Class who had forgotten every last bit of the course material she was sure she had down cold moments before the start of her final exam. Next to her, Uhura looked like she was at the end of her tether as she sent a flustered look Leonard's way. Len felt his jaw tighten to the point that an searing ache flared through his head, and he glared at Spock with a clear do something! demand on his face.
When Spock openly regarded their captain, the question of how the hell they were supposed to proceed clear even in his Vulcan eyes, Jim opened his mouth and closed it again. He looked confused -- Len well remembered the expression from back in their Academy days, when that adorable little befuddled expression would get other cadets to slip him their comm digits, professors to excuse him from assignments, and bartenders to pour him free drinks. "Wait," he asked, clearing his throat. "Um. What?"
From the dais, around which they were all stood like supplicant satellites, the ornate ancient chair of the Regalian rulers creaked. As he shifted, Chekov looked pale. "Wedding?" he asked weakly.