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Stubborn Heart

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"Teal blue, or sea green?" Sulu persisted, holding up little silk patches of samples.

"Hell if I know," Leonard grumbled. "Now leave me in peace to finish up this round of inoculations, would you?"

After the disaster of a meeting in which Len had offered to marry Chekov and Chekov had oh-so-resentfully accepted, Jim had alerted the crew to the extended stay at Regalis Prime for the wedding. After some quick conferrals with Chekov and the Regalian Ministers, Jim decided they could issue invitations to any crew members who wished to attend the ceremony and reception. The response had been swift and enthusiastic: of the 250 crewmembers eligible for off-duty time during the unanticipated shore leave, over 170 had accepted right away.

At the next Alpha shift bridge staff meeting -- in which Jim announced the approval and asked Uhura about protocols for the ceremony and reception to put in the memo for the attendees -- Len had grumbled about the lot of them probably only wanting free food and entertainment.

But Uhura had shaken her head at him, her ponytail swinging back and forth to communicate her disapproval of him running his mouth all the more emphatically. "Of course they all want to come, Doctor! Everyone really likes Pasha."

"What's with the Pasha thing, anyway?" he asked, rolling his eyes and resisting the urge to say maybe it was his own damn popularity that was bringing on the crowds. "I thought his name was Pavel." Since Chekov wasn't in attendance, having been corralled into yet another confab with the Regalians about the upcoming wedding, Len figured he might as well clear up the name business. He might as well know what the hell to call the man, seeing as how they were getting hitched in barely a week.

Jim, having finished the meeting's business, had already dismissed them all. Now he bent his head to confer with Spock, who was of course sitting way closer to Jim than anyone ever needed to. He didn't seem to hear Len, but those two were more and more in their own bubble these days.

"It's an affectionate diminutive of his name in Russian," Uhura answered loftily as she rose from the table. Alongside her, Sulu nodded along gravely like everyone else totally already got that automatically. "It's what his close friends would call him."

"Yet I'm still calling him Chekov, when I'm the one who's going to be putting the ring on his finger in four more days."

"And whose fault is that?" she asked. Her boots clacked as she turned around to depart for the bridge. Weird, but she actually seemed mad at him. Leonard shook his head as Sulu hurried after her.

And now Len and his medical team had to inoculate every single one of those attending 170 crewmembers in advance of the lot of them headed down to the planet for the wedding fiasco. For his wedding fiasco.

Not for the first time that day, he wondered when he might be able to fit in another migraine hydro. Or, you know, actually comm his kid if he ever managed some off duty hours that coincided with her being home from elementary school. He'd yet to let Joanna know she was about to get a sort-of step-dad who was barely over a decade older than she was. He really didn't want to hear Jocelyn screech about it when she heard her ex was getting re-married, or worse yet, laugh her damn head off about how Len had stepped forward. "Only you, Leonard," he could almost hear her say.

Though at least Joanna was due for a several-weeks long visit to her grandparents on Marina II in a few days' time, he remembered. He could wait a little while longer to pass on the news, get in touch with her while she was visiting. That way, Len give her the basic details about the marriage in as calm and factual a way as possible while she was staying with his folks, and without his former wife adding more drama than the situation already contained.

"But I need to let the Regalians know about the color choice by 1300 Standard hours," Sulu argued, shoving the samples in front of Len's face. "I promised Sebastinio I'd take care of it, and Yeoman Rand is waiting in the Transporter Room to take my answer down to him personally."

"Well, as you can see, I'm doing actual work here. So take your color-coordination questions out of my sickbay and over to Chekov," Len declared, trying to side-step Sulu.

"I can't," Sulu said now, shaking his samples to block Len when he tried to dodge him. Just Len's luck that Sulu was so good at evasion tactics, never mind all those hand-to-hand maneuvers he'd mastered. In fact, right now Sulu looked about ready to sweep him to the floor and pin him down until he picked the exact right shade for the stupid tablecloths. "Pasha's on planet dealing with the history of their laws and learning customs and working out when exactly he's returning to Regalis Prime for the Ripening Festival in six more months. He doesn't have time to work on the wedding planning! Besides, the Captain promised you'd help."

"Why are you doing all this, anyway?" Len grumbled. "Don't the Regalians have throngs of frou-frou-decorating-minded subjects who are just dying to put on a fancy party for their new prince?"

"Because Pavel asked me to help out," Sulu answered indignantly. "And I figure some of us ought to make sure he can enjoy this stupid wedding. Because even if he has to marry you, it's the only wedding he'll ever get to have."

"What was that?" Len asked, his voice low. He decided to ignore the whole "even if he has to marry you" business -- he knew he was no prize, already divorced, only a paltry amount of credits to his name now that he'd taken care of most of his outstanding debt, and with a kid dirtside complicating things -- and focus on the weird finality of what Sulu had just said.

"The Regalians don't believe in divorce," Sulu said, sounding defeated. "It's not exactly illegal, but it's really rare. So as their monarch he's supposed to follow along with their customs. I mean, this is kind of it for Pavel. So I just thought, even if I'm no good at this kind of stuff, I could try to make the wedding and ceremony as nice as possible for him since there's no way he can get out of doing it."

Len scowled. He didn't like to be reminded of how trapped Chekov was; it made it harder begrudge his own status in this mess.

"Fine. Sea green," he gritted out, feeling like the whole world had gone nuts if he was the one weighing in on the best ornamenting options for a wedding reception. The first time around Jocelyn and her mother had taken care of every last detail; they hadn't even asked his opinion on anything. He'd only had to get fitted for his monkey suit and show up on time.

"Fine," Sulu huffed back at him.

"Anyway, I thought that those Regalians believed marriage didn't require --" Len stopped, and when Sulu didn't look like he got it, waved a hand vaguely.

"What?" Sulu asked blankly. At least now he'd stopped shaking those damn samples.

"Fidelity," Len finished reluctantly. He'd understood as much from the cultural sensitivity documents Uhura had uploaded to his PADD as soon as everyone was on board with Leonard stepping up as the sacrificial ram.

Not that it hadn't hurt like hell to read (alone in his quarters with nothing but a tumbler of bourbon and soda for company) that Regalians didn't practice strict monogamy as a rule. Apparently, especially in the upper classes (which Chekov was officially a member of as their prince), it was considered gauche to expect that sort of thing, and completely understandable or even anticipated that partners would have affairs on occasion. Just thinking about it had woken him up an hour after he finally fell asleep and kept him up half the night, wondering how exactly that kind of arrangement was supposed to work.

Sure, he and Chekov didn't have any kind of romantic relationship to start with. Realistically he didn't want to demand faithfulness as a condition to this sham of a marriage, especially when the two of them were so different in so many ways. Hell, they barely knew one another; he couldn't expect Chekov to stay true to him in this sort of situation. But just thinking about the kind of hidden relationships the kid would have to have if he met someone he liked, well. It all brought back thoughts of how Jocelyn had stepped out on him.

It had been hell, the way he'd discovered her in bed with another man. Then there had been the late night fights and sleeping on the couch, the pitying looks he got from their friends and neighbors while the drama surrounding the divorce was unfolding. Just days ago, he would have said good on Chekov for hooking up with someone when they had shore leave or teased him if he was dating someone on ship. But now, with Chekov technically about to become his husband, it gave Len a sour feeling in his gut to think about Chekov sneaking around with someone else, whoever it was.

Not that he'd really have to sneak. They'd obviously be adults about it (never mind that Chekov barely qualified as one; Leonard was doing his level best to forget that part). But when Len imagined it, he could feel the ache in his chest already, about what a failure he was at marriage and keeping other people happy. Lately his own romantic involvements were pretty much limited to encounters he lined up during brief stays at space stations and other planets, and the occasional R&R back on Earth. He made sure to keep things casual, made certain whoever he got together with understood it couldn't amount to anything serious. He figured he was doing them all a favor, whether it was a pretty little Andorian woman from the USS Exeter he'd met up with twice, or that hilariously sarcastic Berkelian he'd spent a memorable week with back on Andrir Senti, a stupidly handsome guy who for some reason had been all over Len and a real wildcat in the sack to boot. Sure, he knew how to show a partner a good time. But no one deserved to be saddled with a long-term relationship with him; better for everyone that Len knew that already.

But Chekov was just a kid, and probably had never had his heart broken. Hell, he probably still looked forward to finding his one true love or whatever. Obviously Leonard knew better than anyone that such a thing didn't exist in the real world, never mind those dumb little romantic hopes and dreams that still tried to worm their way into his own husk of a heart on occasion. But he didn't want to have to be the jerk to break that to Chekov.

Plus, Chekov was a good looking guy. Not that Len spent a lot of time noticing details like that about his shipmates generally; he was too busy to get wrapped up in that kind of thing most of the time. But he'd seen a couple of the younger crewmembers giggling or smiling encouragingly when Chekov was nearby, obviously hoping he'd look their way. Clearly he could see how popular the kid was at social gatherings and on shore leaves. He'd already been an attractive kid when they'd all first gotten aboard the Enterprise, and it seemed like he just got more and more handsome as the days went by. Hell, if Len had been half as pretty as Chekov at his age, he'd probably have dated around much more (and maybe not gotten tangled up with Jocelyn at all, since he might have had a chance to try out more things with people who weren't, you know, crazy in the head).

Let's face it, Len thought grimly -- the kid had stunning eyes, a smile that could light up the room, and a way about him that made you want to punch the lights out of anyone who dared think they could give him any guff. He was young and promising and charming and altogether way too good for the likes of Leonard Horatio McCoy.

So who was Len to stand in his way if Chekov met someone, just because of some meaningless ceremony and some fool tradition of monarchy on a planet they would only have to visit every twice a year?

Sulu frowned at him, his whole face and posture radiating so strong a disapproval that it brought Len's attention back to their irritating little chat. "Okay, so I grant you the Regalians don't expect monogamy. But that's not really who Chekov is. For a young guy, he's pretty serious and loyal, and he'd sooner hurt himself than let someone else down. I guess you don't know him well enough to understand that, though. I keep forgetting how much --" He glanced at the wrinkled samples in his hand that he'd begun to crumple at some point during their conversation, a worried look on his expressive face.

Leonard crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes. "Say, Sulu, this isn't your way of trying to tell me that you and Chekov --"

"What? No. No!" Sulu actually looked horrified, which Len frankly thought was a bit much, especially considering how appealing Chekov was. "He's like a brother or something," Sulu explained quickly.

Len rubbed his chin with his forefinger and thumb, digesting this. "Because the two of you are awfully close, and if there was anything between you, I'll tell you right now that I'd stand aside in a heartbeat."

Sulu actually rolled his eyes. "Trust me, that's definitely not what Chekov wants. Not that he'd tell you that or anything. Which is why I'm trying to explain the kind of person he is, so you don't go and trample all over his feelings."

Len threw his hands up in the air. Far be it for him to understand why Chekov would rather get married to someone he barely knew instead of the guy who was his bestest buddy. And Christ, if everyone was so worried about Leonard mucking up the kid's heart, he was going to have to pull Chekov aside and tell him that Len had absolutely no expectations about this, just to assure him it was okay if Chekov got a big crush on someone down in Sciences or had his first puppy love with an beguiling alien on one of the next planets they were due to visit. "I'm just saying, if his subjects don't expect faithfulness, then it's no big deal in the end, right? Even after we've got those rings on our fingers, he can go do whatever he likes, and I can, you know, whatever. And no one can say boo to either of us about it --"

If there was a kind of higher awareness pervading the universe and influencing all of their lives, it sure as hell hated Leonard McCoy. Because just then Len saw a flash of gold shirt as -- damn it all -- Pavel Chekov stopped dead in the entrance to the sickbay. He gave Leonard a shocked look before he turned to leave as quickly as he'd come.

"Kid moves around like a cat," Len grumbled as Sulu bolted after Chekov, shouting, "Pasha, hang on!"

"Fantastic," Leonard muttered to himself. Of course after he sighed and scrubbed his hands over his tired eyes and aching face, Nurse Chapel was there to give him the mother of all dirty looks when he looked up. His jaw tightened as he turned away to see to his next patient.

"How many times have you actually talked to Chekov since all of this was decided?" she demanded later when she cornered him in his office.

"Try zero," Len snapped. He kept his eyes on the screen as he updated the medical files he'd been letting pile up for months. He'd needed something to make his brain go blank instead of playing over and over in his head the stricken look on Chekov's face when he'd bolted out of Medical. And zero was about right. Chekov was always on Regalis Prime the past few days, just like Sulu had said, working out this cultural issue or learning that social situation in advance of his agreed-upon occasional royal duties and the upcoming wedding. After that one afternoon watching Chekov sit uneasily on the throne before he'd volunteered to marry the kid like an idiot, Len hadn't seen the ensign for more than five minutes at a time.

"Well, Doctor McCoy, you better find some time and have a serious talk with him!" She narrowed her eyes as she leaned in, her palms flat on his desk. He huffed indignantly at her to disguise how much he wanted to cower back in response to her fit of pique. Just his luck to have a Chief Nurse who pretended to be sweet as pie but in fact had a fiery temper. Sure, she made some of the crewmembers soup to comfort them or visited them in their quarters while they were recovering, and lent them a sympathetic ear when they needed to tell someone their troubles. But she had given Len more than one nightmare about the lingering disapproving looks she shot him when he was too harsh with various foolhardy patients.

"You can't talk about really private matters out in the open and just let him overhear you," she went on. "At least try not to blab about that kind of thing until you settle some matters between the two of you first. It's disrespectful and cruel! If you keep bumbling around like a gigantic oaf the way you have been, you'll break his poor little heart!"

"How come no one cares about my poor little heart?" Len hollered after her when she stormed out. Once he was alone, he glowered at the screen in front of him and tried to ignore the way his stupid chest ached.

*****

"Aren't you ready, Doctor?" Scotty asked, looking astonished as he regarded Leonard relaxing in his office the next evening, his especially reserved bottle of fine whiskey within easy reach, a tumbler with ice cradled in his hand.

"Ready for what?" Len scowled. This was the first moment he'd had in days to breathe, never mind put his feet up, and he was damn well going to enjoy it.

"The state dinner on Regalis Prime to celebrate your engagement!" When Leonard looked at him blankly, Scotty built up a head of steam and shouted, "The one with that condescending cadre of dignitaries and the pompous Federation representatives who came here special just for the event! I'm to make sure you transport down on time. And that won't do at all," Scotty went on, smacking Len's shoulders as soon as he had manhandled him out of his comfy chair and tugged at his blue science officer shirt without so much as a by-your leave. "Dress uniforms, I know that's what Lieutenant Uhura said."

"Now wait just a minute -- hey!" Len exclaimed as Scotty unceremoniously grabbed the glass from his hand, sloshing some of the brandy out as he yanked.

"Right, well, we haven't the time to discuss your whinging and complaining. So come along right this minute so you can show how likable you are as you chat up those stiff shirts and look distinguished, and --" Scotty paused, giving Len a dubious look. "On second thought…" He shoved the glass back at Len and gestured for him to drink up quickly. "You'll surely be needing that first."

"No one told me anything about any state dinner," Len protested a moment later as Scotty shoved him to the turbolift on the way to his quarters.

"Begging your pardon, but that's hardly my fault," Scotty snapped, looking harried. "I'm only to see to it --"

"That I transport on time, I gotcha," Len said with a roll of his eyes, submitting to Scotty hustling him and shoving him all the way down the corridor.

Ten minutes later, and Len was batting Scotty's hands away as he hopped up on the transporter. "How come I'm the only one headed down? No one else has to suffer through this awful shindig?" he asked with a scowl.

"Everyone else is already down there, aren't they?!" Scotty said frantically as he set up the switches and dials at the console. "You're already very nearly late, Sebastinio is going to be all huffy with the Captain, and you can be sure that Sulu and Uhura won't like that you came at the absolute last minute. And if your tardiness messes anything else up on such an important night, no doubt Commander Spock will have my guts for garters. So I don't want any more of your lip!"

"Great, just great," Len muttered the flare of lights of the beam-down began. "Should be a really fun night all around."

*****

"I was beginning to worry you would not come," Chekov said hesitantly when he met Len at the beam-down point. He was the only one there, and judging by the way he'd been pacing as Len materialized, he really had thought Len was going to leave him all alone on purpose to face the simpering hordes.

"Considering I just found out about it ten minutes ago," Len began.

"You did not get the many messages I left for you?" Chekov asked anxiously.

"I may have…turned off my comm after finishing the last of the inoculation rounds this afternoon," Len allowed with a scowl. He'd been dead on his feet from dealing with all the details, never mind fielding all the curious chatter from nosy lieutenants and yeomen and ensigns who wanted to know how long he and Chekov had been together, you know, that way.

He'd deflected all their baloney questions, of course -- Jim had emphasized how much he wanted to keep things hush-hush that anyone had had to volunteer to marry Chekov. Poor kid had enough problems without getting harangued by pitying well-wishers who made him feel even more self-conscious about all of this nonsense. But it had been tiring all the same, trying to ignore the unease that prickled his skin at lying about being in some kind of relationship with Chekov, even if it was lying by silence or omission. A nice kid like Chekov deserved better than that, deserved a man who treated him like a prince -- whether he was or wasn't one according to Regalis Prime's crazy genealogical charts -- of that much Leonard was damn sure.

"Vell. I understand this has not the same importance for you as it might for Regalians or for me, but I would hope that --"

Len groaned, cutting off whatever the kid had been about to say next. It wasn't enough that Jim kept shooting him worried looks, and Uhura seemed impatient with him lately whenever he dealt with her, and Chapel and Sulu were starting to yell at him in concert the last two days, and he saw the patterns of the ribbons that were supposed to go on the boutonnières on the back of his eyelids whenever he was able to grab a few winks of sleep. But now Chekov was going to start scolding him for being a bad fiancé and upsetting the in-laws?

"I'm sorry," Len said through gritted teeth. "It won't happen again."

Chekov regarded him rigidly for a moment before he sagged where he stood. "It is not your fault. I do not mean to force you into any of this. There is perhaps still time, if you wish to remove yourself from the proceedings." Even as he added the last bit, he looked strangely upset before he covered it up with a more neutral expression. And hell, though Len had barely been on the planet for ten minutes altogether since he'd gotten himself abruptly engaged, he knew for damn sure he wasn't going to abandon Chekov to marry some pompous Regalian none of them knew from Adam. No wonder Chekov was all kinds of nervous, thinking he might have to get hitched to that Orsini after all if Leonard skedaddled like a coward.

"Hey, now, none of that," Len said gruffly. "You don't have to worry whether or not I'm on board. Glad to help, and all that."

"Yes, well. Thank you," Chekov said softly. He cleared his throat and gestured. "We should go this way, if you please."

Len trudged after him, only now noticing the finely brocaded burgundy jacket Chekov had on over the silky looking grey tunic and trousers that were apparently what passed for formal wear down on Regalis. "You look really nice," he said abruptly as they together came to a halt just before the threshold of what looked to be a large ballroom.

Chekov started and gave him a shy smile. "You look wery nice yourself," he said, his gaze drifting down to the shiny boots that completed Len's dress uniform and back up. "Wery handsome," he added. And then of all things, he blushed like a Georgia debutante.

"Oh, well. Thanks." Len rubbed at the back of his neck and pretended it was just damn hot in the room, not that there was a flush rising to his cheeks as well.