"I said we hadn't finished checking out all their fine print," Jim grumbled an hour later back on board, as they continued their frustrating meeting in the senior officers' briefing room. "If Chekov had only waited like thirty seconds --"
"Two point three five standard minutes would have been the time necessary to discover the relevant material, based on the position of the pertinent details in the documents," Spock interrupted in that calmly patronizing way of his. Based on the way he'd drawn himself up, though, he was probably just as twitchy on the inside as the rest of them over this huge snafu.
"Yeah, okay, if he'd only waited two point three five standard minutes until we figured out the rulers on that planet need to be married pretty much as soon as they take the throne, we might have been able to get him out of this mess," Jim continued fuming.
All of them who had been on Regalis Prime had gathered at the table mere moments after beaming up, grim faces all around as they scrambled to try and figure out what the hell they were going to do. All of them that is, except Chekov, who had stumbled off the transporter pad looking shell-shocked. When Jim had asked him quietly if he wanted a few minutes to himself, Chekov shakily agreed he wanted to be excused to his quarters. He'd slunk away with a guilty look on his face, much like any teenager who knew he was in a world of trouble after doing something really stupid and wanted to escape as quickly as possible.
"The point is academic," Spock noted. "Ensign Chekov did not in fact wait for us to locate the germane facts, and so we must move forward in dealing with the situation at hand: namely, the need to find a suitable spouse and proceed with a royal wedding that will satisfy the Regalians as soon as possible."
Jim groaned and let his head fall into his hands at the head of the table. "An easy mission, they said," he muttered. "You'll be in and out of that summit with the signatures after a couple of hours, they said."
Spock raised an eyebrow and turned his attention back to the documents that Uhura was helping him rifle through. Before they had beamed back aboard, Sebastinio had reluctantly lent the team a sheaf of official papers so they might find more details about how all Regalian monarchs had to be married before they could take their place as rulers of the planet. Watching how quickly they worked, Leonard half-expected the two of them to tear clean through the papers in their haste.
He couldn't say as he blamed them. After all, it was bad enough that the kid was expected to tie the knot, but just before they had left the planet's surface, Sebastinio had dropped yet another bombshell. It turned out that the politicians insisted that the kid had to get hitched in less than a week, before the Regalian parliament re-convened.
The other attendees in the room waited anxiously, some surreptitiously checking their PADDs or glancing at the chrono on the wall while the delay stretched onward. For a few moments, the only sound that could be heard was the shuffling of papers.
"So what happens if we just take off, get out of Regalian space entirely?" Len finally asked bluntly.
The others looked up, obviously startled.
"Come on, I bet Scotty could get us out of here at warp six at least. Hell, the kid can even head on back to visit for those damn Regalian festivals and wear that weird crown then if he wants once the dust settles! But as far as I can tell there's nothing to stop us from keeping him away from this shotgun wedding. After all, what's the worst that can happen?"
When Jim frowned and the rest of them exchanged glances, Bones sighed. Apparently he'd missed something.
"It turns out that's what the Minister of Planetary Pride was starting to tell me and Ensign Rusesk while the rest of you were going over the royal investiture papers," said Uhura. "His language was so formal and archaic though, that at first it wasn't really clear what he was getting at. Those Regalians have way too many flowery metaphors in their native tongue." She rubbed two fingers on her forehead as though her head was aching.
Len didn't doubt she had a killer headache by now. He would have one himself if he hadn't stopped by sickbay for a hypo to take care of the migraine he'd felt coming on ever since hearing the poor kid would be forced to marry.
"Lieutenant Uhura, Ensign Rusesk, can you fill in Bones and bring the rest of us up to date on anything else you've figured out so far?" Jim asked.
Uhura glanced at Rusesk, the ensign with expertise on the planet's culture who had beamed down with the team to Regalis earlier, and began. "It seems the royalty of Regalis Prime must be married when they enact rulings on Regalis Prime's laws," she explained. "It's only because Chekov just learned of his place in the succession, and the advisors established that he wasn't yet married that the Parliament called an emergency delay before their next session. They wanted to give him a little time to get the wedding part over with." Rusesk nodded along as Uhura explained.
"Well, how about we tell them Chekov will be the first single prince they've had?" Leonard cut in. "The dawn of a new bachelor ruler era, and all that."
"I'm afraid that is out of the question," Spock said in that somber way of his. "According to the precedents I have found in their historical records, and in light of the specific nuances of their society's mores that Ensign Rusesk has apparently determined through her careful study, an unmarried monarch will signal extreme instability, to the point where chaos will reign."
"They're so set on having their prince married off that if Chekov refuses to go ahead with the wedding, they'll apparently lose all semblance of social control. We're talking riots, mob rule, eventual warfare," Jim said grimly; apparently he'd been briefed on that part of the nonsense earlier.
"That peaceful little planet?" Len objected. "Why, they don't seem like they could spiral down into social unrest even if you gave them a good hard shove down a steep hill!"
"It's true, Doctor McCoy," insisted Rusesk. She consulted a PADD that presumably held her notes as she spoke. "If you look at their history, over two hundred and fifty years ago they had a Princess who remained unmarried for ten days after taking the throne. Their capital was almost completely overcome by bedlam until she finally wed. And several generations later, the entire infrastructure was threatened with bombings after a single prince gained the crown unexpectedly due to his father's sudden passing. Then just ten years after that, when one princess declared she planned to take her time choosing a husband, a group of rebels rose up to seize --"
"Okay, okay, I get it, you don't need to recite your entire senior thesis," Leonard said, his voice surly. "Those Regalians aren't too keen on their rulers staying unattached. And no doubt all that calamity and mayhem would pose a little problem for their very attractive Topaline reserves the Federation can't wait to get their hands on."
A few of the people at the table glanced at one another uncomfortably.
"Okay, yeah, so obviously the Federation wants those mining rights to the planet's Topaline reserved and amicably delivered under the standard agreements," Jim began. "But even without that issue, I can't just let some currently peaceful planet devolve into chaos if there's some way to take care of it." He sighed and let his palms slide along the table, and Leonard rolled his eyes and pretended to examine the vent on the side wall while Spock regarded Jim's fingers with barely disguised hunger. "Whether we like it or not, Chekov agreed to this. Now he has to get married pronto, and we can't let him get fobbed off on some stranger. So." He took a deep breath. "I'll do it."
"You'll do what?" Bones burst out.
"I'm saying I'll be the one to marry Chekov," Jim said fiercely.
Uhura almost imperceptibly shook her head, and Spock stiffened where he sat. Len hadn't realized their rigid First Officer could get stiffer than he had been a moment ago, but well, there he went.
"He's gotten into this mess partly because of us and the Federation's Topaline shortage, after all," Jim went on. "Hell, he wasn't even scheduled for that away mission originally. If he'd stayed on board, none of this genetic relation royal obligation stuff would have ever come up. The least I can do is try and help him out, instead of abandoning him to -- to -- what was that jerk's name?"
"Oh, yes, I have it here somewhere," Rusesk muttered, switching to a second PADD and skimming its contents.
"What jerk?" Leonard butted in. "Hey, you can't mean they've already got someone in mind! Did they actually say Chekov has to marry a specific person at some point? I thought he just had to tie the knot."
"Unfortunately they do have someone in mind. His name is Orsini," said Uhura. "Apparently he's from a family with a fairly tenuous right to the throne."
"But before they knew about Chekov, Orsini was the one with the best claim to rule," put in Rusesk excitedly (she'd obviously found her more detailed notes). "He's gained some popular support recently, mostly because Regalis Prime has gone about a year without a new ruler in sight. While they were scouring around trying to find someone to put on the throne there have been some problems -- nothing yet on the order of the riots and mayhem from Regalis Prime's past during the periods associated with unmarried rulers, but indications of trouble all the same."
"So plenty of Regalians would rather have had Orsini on the throne if the alternative was nobody," Jim noted.
"Or at least they would have up until a few hours ago when they found out about Chekov," said Uhura.
Spock weighed in looking right at Jim, as if he only had eyes for their captain, though Jim was looking anywhere but at Spock. "It is evident Chekov's claim supersedes that of Orsini's. The Ministers have, I believe, confided to Lieutenant Uhura and Ensign Rusesk that Chekov is certain to gain planet-wide support rapidly once the news of his birthright becomes known. But even so we are still faced with the fact that for many Regalians the expectation of late has been that Orsini would soon become their next ruler." He sent an enigmatic look Jim's way before he lowered his eyes to the table. "It is logical for the strength of the succession and the planet's political stability that Chekov consider Orsini as a candidate for a husband. He may prove an adequate spouse for the ensign, and a noble-born native of the planet would assure some help in dealing with anticipated royal protocol. Chekov may find such a match sufficient for his needs."
"Except if I step forward to help out Chekov, he won't have to rely on that Orsini creeper, and Chekov can marry someone he already knows," Jim interrupted. He finally met Spock's gaze, and the two of them glared at each other.
Leonard had to wonder what the hell the other attendees of the meeting thought of the weird tension in the room. Besides him, Jim, Uhura, Spock, and Ensign Rusesk (who probably hadn't figured her expertise on Regalian customs would mean she'd have to deal with the weird vibes between her Captain and First Officer), they were joined at the meeting by some or other lieutenant that Len couldn't for the life of him recall having encountered before they had met up in the Transport room to visit the planet. He was probably a Topaline expert, or the guy acting on the administrative parts of the deal for the Federation, Len thought dismissively.
Also there for the awkward-fest was one of the security team who had accompanied them dirtside, Hendorff. Leonard probably wouldn't have recognized him as anyone more than another burly earnest red-shirted crewman but for his recently discouraged painfully obvious crush on Christine Chapel. The poor sap had hung around sickbay all too often in hopes of a chance to chat her up, while Christine deftly handed him off to other personnel like Doctor M'Benga. Personally Len had been all too happy to use the man as a pincushion for various vitamin-boosting hypos. He figured that as much as anything else had helped put a sharp point on the message Hendorff didn't have a chance in hell with Len's Head Nurse.
Of course, if the others in the room didn't pick up on any unspoken strain between their First Officer and Captain, Leonard guessed he could also credit it to the fact that Jim Kirk, a guy known for his wandering eye and love of playing the field, had just volunteered to stick his neck out and marry one of the ship's ensigns.
"I do not recommend that course of action," Spock said flatly.
"Can you give me one good reason why I shouldn't be the one to volunteer?" Jim asked Spock in a low voice.
Lieutenant So-and-so helpfully opened his mouth as though he was about to speak and then winced. Leonard imagined someone's well-aimed kick had tipped him off that the question wasn't meant as a general one. Having had his own experience with that version of a silencer, Len could sympathize; Uhura wore some sharp-toed boots these days.
There was the faintest tint of green fanning across Spock's cheekbones as he looked away and murmured, "At the present moment, I cannot." The muscles in Jim's jaw tightened.
Well, even if a couple of the people in the room had no clue about the complicated undercurrents of the conversation Len took heart in the fact that at least Uhura seemed wise to the nuances at work. The way she glanced between the captain and commander with a concerned expression tipped Leonard off that he wasn't the only one who had noticed them dancing around each other so intricately they were practically doing the minuet.
Still, even in the midst of a charged moment between Jim and Spock -- and never mind the complete foolishness of Jim offering himself up as the sacrificial marital lamb -- Len couldn't help but get stuck on figuring out which Regalian was Orsini. He frowned in thought as Spock said something that was supposedly neutral toned but probably subtly tinged with possessiveness and Jim responded with indignation.
Had Orsini been the dull looking officious guy who had handed Chekov a beverage when they were waiting to be led into a large chamber, before Chekov's upcoming succession problems came to light? Leonard hadn't like the looks of that sycophantic one, not even a little bit. Or was it the snivelly little toad who had scuttled up to watch with a keen and covetous eye before they all transported back up to the ship? He'd had an unpleasant hungry look about him, Leonard decided; whoever he was, Len was willing to do plenty to keep a guy like that from getting his greedy claws anywhere near poor Chekov.
"Don't know how I missed half of the stuff that went on down there when I was around the entire time," Leonard grumbled half to himself while Jim and Spock kept up with their thinly-veiled barbed exchanges that had nothing to do with Chekov's situation and everything to do with the two of them. He wracked his brain, trying to remember. Wouldn't you know but it was probably some other Regalian he hadn't even spotted, some milquetoast who had shifty eyes and an oily way of smiling and actually thought he was better than their resident kid genius about to take his planet's throne, the spoiled creep? Fat chance a jerk on that order would get to mess anything up for Chekov if Leonard McCoy had anything to say about it.
Then his thoughts ground to a halt as his gaze snapped up to glare at the rest of them. "Wait, if they all want to marry Chekov off to this Orsini guy -- how do we know if the kid even likes guys? Maybe we can get him out of this forced wedlock silliness on that alone." Sure, most people in the last few centuries and nowadays were more or less flexible in their preferences; Leonard himself was. But that didn't mean there weren't still a good fifteen or twenty percent of human beings who tended to prefer one gender over the other almost all the time. If Chekov was one of that group, it could be their ticket out of this mess.
For a moment Spock and Jim looked peevish about the interruption. Then Uhura laughed aloud.
"Seriously, Doctor, you didn't know that Pavel likes men almost exclusively? Did you miss what happened between him and that merchant ship's first mate when we took the shore leave on Tau Eridani V last month? Or did you completely tune out when that Lieutenant from Engineering was dating Chekov and kept sending him cheap chocolates that he fobbed off on the rest of us until they broke up?"
"Okay, whatever, so Chekov does like guys," Len said, disgruntled that he had no idea about the flings Uhura mentioned. Obviously he didn't care who the kid crushed on or hooked up with. He'd just assumed their navigator was barely past adolescence, to the extent that he probably hadn't yet graduated from plastering posters of boy band or girl group singers on his quarter's walls. "But even if Chekov is on board with marrying this Orsini character--"
"See, I'm pretty sure he's not, though," said Uhura. "Didn't any of you catch when Orsini kept trying to talk to Chekov all afternoon after that luncheon? Chekov couldn't edge away fast enough."
"Oh yeah?" Strangely this sent a rush of warm feelings through Len's chest. Maybe he was a little proud of the kid for not being such a fool as all that. Or maybe he just hadn't liked the way Orsini was probably all slick and smug, even if Leonard hadn't technically met the man to the point where he could pick him out of a crowd. Yet.
When no one else seemed inclined to add anything, Len sat back in his chair and got back down to brass tacks. After all, besides presiding over all things medical on the Enterprise, his main duties sure as hell included keeping Jim from throwing himself into the besieged hero role for yet another crazy situation. "Well, even if we know that Chekov isn't interested in this Orsini fella," he said, darting his eyes to everyone around the table, "there's no reason for Jim to stick his neck out and volunteer to tie the knot. Especially when anyone with eyes knows damn well that Jim is --"
"Knows I'm what, Bones?" Jim cut in, already sounding slightly panicked and potentially on his way to being a lot angry.
Len very nearly raised his hands upward to ask for god to send him some damn patience. When everyone with half a brain could tell that Jim was head over heels stupidly in love with his Vulcan First Officer, he wanted to say. But apparently they were all still tip-toeing around that blatantly obvious fact.
"That you're not the right man for the job," Len said curtly to defer any more Captain-ly freaking out.
Spock frowned slightly and leaned forward.
Jim looked simultaneously relieved and upset. "Are you saying I'm not marriage material?" His gaze snapped to Spock and away so quickly that Leonard was probably the only one who caught it. Nope, there was Uhura rolling her eyes; she was a sharp one, Len granted.
"Christ almighty," Len muttered.
"Because I'll have you know I'm a catch -- a catch! -- and it's not like I'm unable to commit to something long-term, because I so am! It's just that I'm waiting for the right one to finally...um, finally..." He pulled up short, biting his bottom lip.
Spock had his lips pressed together and his hands were gripping the table hard. He had his standard inscrutable gaze trained on Jim, but Leonard reckoned most of the people in the room with two brain cells to rub together might just cotton on that this was somehow different from most any other moment when Spock had Jim anywhere in his sights.
"Look, we can't let Chekov marry some stranger," Jim went on quietly. "And part of being the Captain means standing up to take responsibility in situations like this one." Probably without realizing it, he turned to address Spock, a plea for understanding threading through his words. "Besides, I still feel guilty that I'm the one that got him into this mess. Hell, if I hadn't chosen him for the away team --"
This time Len really did raise his eyes to the ceiling. He'd been the one to lean in and say, "Ah, hell, Jim, why don't you let him come along?" when Chekov had watched them eagerly, his wide eyes all, "pick me for your team, Captain!" when Jim was determining the away group. "If anyone's responsible for the kid coming along -- " he started reluctantly, because facts were facts.
"Captain, wait," Uhura said hesitantly. "You might not need to offer to do this. As I understand it, this would be something of a symbolic union. It's not as though the Regalians requires proof of, I don't know --"
"Consummation?" Jim asked, and then cringed when Spock raised an eyebrow.
"So really, it could be any of us, male or female. I'd like to volunteer," Uhura said, her voice gaining strength as she went on. "Pasha and I are friends, and I'd like to help."
Now Spock turned his frown her way. Though the two of them hadn't been dating for months, Leonard imagined the Commander didn't like seeing his former girlfriend have to weigh herself down with an unwanted marriage, whether it was only supposed to be a symbolic union or not. But of course Jim, with his schoolboy nervousness about the torch he was carrying for Spock ("Do you think they'll just get back together after all?" he'd asked plaintively during more than one night of drinking more of Leonard's whiskey than he deserved), probably took that as some kind of secret Spock and Uhura yearning coming to the surface.
So while Uhura looked soberly at the table, and Spock looked vaguely distressed as he regarded Uhura, and Jim grimaced as he looked anywhere but at Spock, Len heaved a great big sigh and decided he might as well ante up.
"Shut up, all of you. I'll do it," he said firmly.
Everyone turned to him in evident shock.
"What, I can't be a good friend?" he grumbled. "I can't be the one to help out in an interplanetary crisis by getting hitched to a curly-haired teenager who's being thrust into ruling a heap of aliens he's never met before in his life?"
"Bones, you definitely don't have to," Jim began.
"Indeed, Doctor, given your irascibility and temper, it seems to me that you are perhaps one of the least desirable choices for a royal spouse," Spock cut in. "One would hope instead for a certain amount of restraint, tact, and diplomacy. Your past behavior would not indicate a propensity to display such a set of traits, and thus makes you likely unsuitable for the position."
"Oh, and I suppose you'd be the better man?" Bones shot back. He regretted it as soon as he saw Jim's lips part slightly in surprise and those puppy dog eyes widen as they flickered over to the Vulcan.
"Negative," Spock said coolly. "Though I would have no objection to a future spouse of the male gender, there are particular issues related to my status as a Vulcan that make me an inapt candidate for this marriage."
"Can't lower yourself to marrying a full-on human, huh?" Len grumbled. "Not even when he comes already complete with an ancient throne and royal coffers?" He repented saying it as soon as he saw the wounded look in Jim's eyes.
"Your statement is both inaccurate and insensitive," said Spock. The slight twitch of his nose might as well have indicated high dudgeon for any normal folks. "The ideal contender in this case would be entirely unattached and prepared to embark upon such a committed relationship. Though I cannot claim to have an overt understanding with a particular individual, still it remains that my affections are in no small part otherwise engaged, something that would stand in the way of my forming a marital bond with another. Thus, I am technically unavailable for this precise situation."
"Did Spock just straight out say that he like likes someone?" Lieutenant So-and-so murmured to Ensign Rusesk. Rusesk ignored him, turning back to her notes on her PADD.
Spock sat ramrod straight even though he'd obviously heard the whisper with his stupid keen pointy ears. Uhura gave Spock a sideways look of exasperation. And of course Jim's expression went wide-eyed and hopeful before he appeared disappointed -- Len could practically map out his train of thought to where he assumed it couldn't possibly be him Spock had gotten attached to.
"The point is, I'm unattached," Leonard pointed out, speaking slowly so that everyone would catch the gist. The attention in the room swung back his way. "I have been since Jocelyn filed those papers a while back. And unlike some of you," he pointedly did not look at Spock or Jim, "I don't even have anyone possibly waiting in the wings. So, technically I am prepared 'to embark upon such a committed relationship'. I think we can all agree it should be one of us," he argued when Jim still looked conflicted. "That Orsini sounds like a slimeball. No way are we leaving Chekov to his tender mercies."
Spock parted his lips as if to form an objection, so Leonard pointed a finger at him and cut him off at the pass. "I don't care what you think of my temper or how suitable you reckon I am. Even if I'm not some mincing diplomat, I can look out for the kid, make sure none of those Regalians try to strong-arm him into promising he'll do something else crazy next time around he goes all helpful on everybody. And I can guarantee you I'll have his interests at heart. I don't care even a little bit whether the Federation comes out ahead on this one, and I couldn't give a damn about what the Regalians want if I tried."
For a moment they were all silent.
"It's not the worst idea in the universe," Jim said thoughtfully.
"Gee, Captain, thanks a lot," Len complained.
"I too find the proposal is not without logic," Spock allowed.
Leonard huffed. "Well, I'm sure glad to have your vote of approval, Commander."
Jim stared at him for a second before he nodded once. "Okay. If you're seriously sure --"
"Doctor McCoy, I just wonder," Uhura began.
Len scowled at her. He already had strange fluttery feelings in his gut now that it looked like Jim and Spock were on board with him volunteering. He didn't want to draw this out too long just in case he was tempted to change his mind. Already he could sense a thousand and one objections marshalling forces in the back of his mind about why offering to marry Chekov was a horrible idea. "Yeah, go ahead, Lieutenant; tell me why you object to me and my appropriateness. Just make it quick."
"It's not that I think you're the wrong person for the position," she said delicately. "Only, while it's very kind of you to step forward, I'm just not sure that Pasha would want you to volunteer under duress like this."
The door behind Leonard slid open. But when he saw at a glance over his shoulder that it was one of Jim's never-ending parade of pretty Yeomen (this one a wisp of a young man with a way too complicated gelled hairstyle), he turned back to face the room with a scowl. The Yeoman sailed by silently, a PADD in his hands as he approached Jim.
"Well, that's too damn bad, because I'm the man for the job," Len snapped at her and at anyone else thinking of coming up with a stupid reason why he shouldn't be the one. "None of the rest of you should have to do it, and that's final. I'll step up and marry Chekov if only to keep him from having to marry that jerk Orsini. Because god knows the kid would do just about anything anyone asks of him, especially if they're plunking a metal circle on his head."
"Bones," Jim coughed.
"I don't want to hear it! He needs someone to look out for him so he doesn't get himself into any more trouble, and you know it, Jim," Len continued. "Sure, he's a genius with equations and navigation stuff, but he's got no more common sense than a box of hair. Plus he's just too damn nice. The kid would sign away his life's blood if he thought he was helping someone."
"Bones," Jim said more urgently, his eyes flickering to the wall behind Leonard.
Len snapped, "What the hell do you want, Jim?" When he happened to catch Uhura's eye, he saw she looked completely appalled. Funny thing, but she was staring at the wall behind Leonard, too. Even the wispy Yeoman seemed uncomfortable, shifting where he stood.
"Doctor McCoy, if you would turn around," Spock advised quietly.
That was when Len finally realized that while he'd been railing about the situation, Pavel Chekov had sneaked inside right on Jim's Yeoman's heels.
"Thank you for wolunteering," Chekov said stiffly. He stood at a Spock-like stiff version of parade rest, his shoulders strained as he clasped his hands tightly behind his back. "Though I do not wish to press you into an onerous duty, and I am sorry to learn of your lack of esteem for me, given the quickly approaching time limit for me to deliver my decision to the Regalians I find I must accept your kind offer."
He turned on his heel and stalked out.
"Pasha, wait," Uhura called after him, gathering her things before following at a jog.
"Well, that's that," Jim said dubiously. "Bones, we'll work out all the details later." He glanced around to everyone still sitting at the table. "Dismissed."
Leonard frowned at his hands, gripped together so tightly on the table that his knuckles were starting to turn white.
Around him, the other meeting attendees quickly filed out until only Jim and Spock remained seated at the table with him.
"Don't you say one word," he growled when he glanced up to find Jim had just opened his mouth.
Jim's jaw tightened, but he dipped his head in acknowledgement and got to his feet to depart without speaking. When he left, Spock followed without so much as a nod for Len.
Alone in the room, Leonard slumped in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table. Figured he'd finally get the last word in one of those rare moments when there was absolutely no pleasure to be had from it.