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Stubborn Heart

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After Leonard and Chekov were announced to the ballroom full of guests and walked down a long ceremonial carpet -- and damn if he wasn't going to have to get used to that, at least twice a year for those festivals that Uhura assured him he was expected to attend as the royal spouse -- they were ushered to the head table.

On one side, right next to where Len and Chekov were supposed to go at the center sat Jim and Spock. To their right were Ensign Rusesk and Federation Representative Sanders, taking the remaining seats at the far end. To the left on the other side of Leonard and Chekov were stationed Sebastinio and Orsini, both of their sets of purple eyes wide and unblinking as they gazed at the rambunctious crowd reveling at the round tables. The last two seats at the left end were taken up by Federation Representative Duka and some high-ranking female Regalian, probably one of those members of the Regalian Parliament that Len couldn't keep straight.

Both Representatives Sanders and Duka looked far too eager to attend this charade for Len's liking. Sanders alternated casting a proprietary eye over the sumptuous hall they were in and lecturing an irritated looking Ensign Rusesk with a haughty look on her face. Len didn't blame the Ensign's impatient eye rolling one bit; she was supposed to be their resident expert on Regalis Prime and the planet's culture, and he doubted Sanders had one new thing to tell her no matter how puffed up she was about her alleged knowledge.

As for Representative Duka, he was obviously pressing the Regalian to his left for gossip like an interfering fishwife, while the Regalian regarded him with very thinly concealed polite distaste. If Leonard didn't have his own problems for the night, he might have interrupted them to rescue the beleaguered Regalian; there was no love lost between him and the pushy Federation desk jockeys who made it their business to haggle for planetary resources. But he supposed sourly that someone from the Federation had to keep their greedy eyes peeled for the Topaline mines they were after amid all of this wedding planning commotion.

Besides, Len didn't have time to spare to wonder what the Federation representatives were up to. He had enough to do already, keeping a vigilant lookout for Orsini.

Based on the aliens he'd met when the Enterprise's crew had arrived on Regalis Prime, Leonard had thought the Regalians were an innocuous appearing alien race, with their sort of spindly long fingers and deep purple eyes and general obsequiousness. But it turned out he shouldn't have judged their looks solely on a few Parliamentarians and that toady Sebastinio. Because Orsini was nothing if not a good looking guy. He actually looked a bit muscular, contrasted with the lithe Regalians Leonard had encountered so far, and he bore himself with an easy arrogance that Leonard knew some idiots found sexy and appealing.

For all that the man was a Regalian, Leonard figured Orsini might as well be a poster boy for those rich and entitled assholes who attended med school with him and thought they didn't have to do a lick of work to get a good internship, or those slick cadets at the Academy who had attempted to flatter and smirk their way through the Starfleet training. Lucky for Len he'd found that his own native talent and hard-working attitude drilled into him by his father served him to leave jerks like that in the dust. Well, Orsini would be no different. Leonard gave him a pointed look and stretched his arm across the back of Chekov's chair.

Unfortunately it took way too long for Orsini to cotton on to the fact that Leonard was giving him the stink eye. Though the rival claimant to the throne had been seated next to Sebastinio, putting one occupied chair's distance between himself and Chekov, he obviously wasn't letting the separation stop him from regarding Chekov with keen interest. And Leonard couldn't figure out which was worse, that Orsini might be bent out of shape about losing the throne and resentful of Chekov's sudden appearance, or that Orsini could be peeved that he'd been blocked from marrying Chekov, and wishing himself in Leonard's shoes. Either way, it made Orsini a potentially dangerous adversary.

When Orsini noticed Len glaring at him, he tilted his head to the side before giving him what most Regalians -- hell, most beings from anywhere -- would think of as a charming smile. But he didn't fool Len one bit. When Leonard refused to smile back, Orsini gave a small shrug and looked amused about something as he turned his attention to the room of party goers.

After a beat, Len followed his rival's (Chekov's rival's) example and gazed around himself. At a round table a stone's throw away, Sulu and Uhura were next to one another, both speaking respectfully to the eager-seeming Regalians seated with them. There were a few other Enterprise crew members scattered here and there, folks that had some connection to the original mission that had brought them to Regalis Prime, or those whose particular skills and talents might be needed in this ridiculous wedding situation they'd all become mired in. And at the back corner of the room, Len spotted Cupcake and his second-in-command Lieutenant Ahmed, discreetly eyeing the crowd and periodically walking around surreptitiously to check the entry points to the room.

There would be a few other Starfleet security personnel stationed here and there, Leonard knew from the briefings he'd seen about visits to the planet throughout their stay in orbit. Though Sebastinio had been aghast that the Enterprise crew had wanted their own security at any of the meetings with Regalians, Jim had quietly insisted. He had smiled charmingly with that edge of menace Leonard loved about him and evenly explained that it would make them all feel better about Chekov's welfare and the Federation's future alliance with Regalis Prime if they could keep their security personnel in place while the various details were hammered out.

"Those Regalians aren't always going to like our interfering, no matter how cute you look when you ask for stuff," Len had scowled when Jim got that smug look on his face after that successful negotiation. Sure enough, Sebastinio hadn't seemed at all pleased as he left the meeting room after the security issues talk, wringing those long fingers of his to show his discontent.

"Wait, Bones, you think I look cute?" Jim had shot back with a huge grin. "Spock, Bones thinks I'm adorable," he'd confided to his unamused First Officer who had by now risen from the table and hovered close by Jim's side.

Len had huffed and stalked off instead of giving Jim a piece of his mind about those stupid fluttering eyelashes of his. He didn't have the energy to spare for Jim's nonsense, and he definitely didn't much care for the possessive glare Spock had sent his way over Jim's ridiculous display.

At least tonight Spock looked as blank as ever, probably internally serene and gloating at the fact that Jim was planted right next to him during the festivities.

"At least that's over," Leonard muttered to Chekov as they were finally allowed to take their seats after a thunderous clapping that lasted more than five minutes. Len had actually begun to time it on his communicator when he saw Ensign Rusesk wince and shake out her hands after trying to keep up with the applause.

Of course, those awkward five plus minutes weren't half as bad as the event itself, which stretched on and on and on. There were three separate children's choirs that lisped out planetary anthems about peace, harmony, and the joys of being part of a monarchy; a ridiculously complicated and lengthy procession of Parliamentary members led around the room twice by the Minister of Planetary Pride; and too many impassioned speeches to count. All of it seemed calculated to show how damn excited everyone was that their recently discovered monarch was about to get hitched.

At least the alcohol was flowing freely. After trying a few too-sweet concoctions that had made Len sputter and Sebastinio to go faintly blue in the face in evident horror at Leonard's lack of manners, a back-and-forth with the guy who seemed to be Chekov's personal servant had resulted in the Regalians digging around in their stores to find some other kind of alcohol for Len. While nowhere near as good as genuine bourbon or whiskey, it was actually not half bad by the eighth or ninth sip.

Len tried to savor it, particularly as he had no idea what the comparable proof would be, short of actually leaning over Jim and poking Spock to see if he had a tricorder stashed on him to test it. But he didn't feel like causing a fuss. Besides, it really was damn hot in the room, the way everyone was crowded in to join in the festivities. It didn't help any that Chekov's smiles grew more and more assured as the night went on, his long lashes brushing his cheeks when he averted his gaze after laughing at something Len had muttered.

So Leonard probably had a few more drinks of whatever it was than he should have, all told, by the time Orsini had risen to his feet, recited a patronizing toast Len paid absolutely no attention to, and then started the crowd off in chanting an entreaty for the royal couple to kiss.

"Kiss, kiss," the crowd echoed enthusiastically.

"What the hell is this? They want us to make out here in front of everyone?" Len hissed to Jim.

"I...might have told them it was a tradition for Terran wedding ceremonies, to get the just-married couple to kiss at the reception," Jim said genially, not looking nearly as abashed as he should have. Leonard supposed it was because Jim was on his third or fourth too-sweet concoction, which he'd taken enthusiastically from the servers even as Spock gazed on with a mildly disapproving air -- in other words, judgmental of Jim's overindulgent imbibing as all get out.

"They loved the idea!" Jim went on. "Merging Regalian and Terran traditions and all that --" Jim waved his hand around vaguely and gave Leonard a beatific smile.

"Well, this isn't the actual wedding reception, so it shouldn't have to count," Leonard protested as the demand for kissing continued. He could feel a panic rise up in his gut as more and more occupants of the large ballroom picked up the call.

Next to him, Chekov was trying to get his attention, but Len was completely distracted when Orsini exclaimed loudly, "Do you not wish to kiss your intended husband at this, our most glorious celebration of your upcoming marriage? Will you not allow all the Regalians to take part in observing the happiness surrounding your forthcoming union in this way, honorable Federation Doctor Leonard McCoy?"

At Orsini's words, there were some chuckles and a little burst of raucous cheering. "Kiss, kiss," a few continued to repeat with vigor while others raised their glasses in approving toasts. It left no doubt that the Regalians were pretty keen on seeing the custom Jim had blathered about to them in live action.

"Probably just, like, one little kiss," Jim murmured, making what were obviously meant to be encouraging smoochy sounds, but to Len's ears sounded like raunchy smacking. "Come on, Bones, just pucker up and go!"

"Damn if I'm going to humor that Regalian twit," Len had hissed back. "He probably just wants to make Chekov uncomfortable." And sure, he could ask Chekov what he thought of the situation himself, especially since Chekov was currently tugging at Len's sleeve urgently. But it was the principle of the thing, refusing to do what that entitled numbskull Orsini demanded.

"Doctor," Spock interrupted, his voice smooth and low (and doing things to Jim's insides, if the way Jim shivered and leaned toward his Vulcan First Officer was any indication). "As it is crucial to convince Orsini and the other Regalians that your relationship with Chekov is a genuine one rather than a marriage of convenience -- for indeed, they have been questioning its veracity since we announced that Chekov in fact had someone in mind for his spouse and so would not be marrying Orsini -- it would be best to humor the Regalians and perform a Terran mouth to mouth brush of your lips."

"And doesn't he make that sound appealing?" Leonard grumbled, though from Jim's dazedly flirty gaze at Spock, apparently it did sound appealing to some of them.

"All right, all right," he said, turning back to Chekov and giving him what he meant to be a reassuring smile. Chekov's conflicted look in return told Len his attempt had probably come off more like a grimace, though.

"We need not oblige them," Chekov said under his breath as he leaned in to Len, and damn, how the hell did the kid manage to smell that good? He had to really get in close to say the words in Len's ear, now that more of the Regalians had joined in with their encouraging chant. The feel of the warm air so near Leonard's skin made Len bite his cheek to keep from doing a smitten-looking little shiver all his own.

It was probably all the unidentified alcohol he'd had, not to mention the shot of bourbon he'd swallowed quickly on ship while Scotty hovered over him anxiously. But something about the overheated room and cheers of the Regalians and the way Chekov just looked at him, all wide-eyed, biting his plush lower lip anxiously, his cheeks stained red with embarrassment -- it was making Leonard's stomach feel like it was flip-flopping in a weirdly pleasant way. Blame the drink, blame the crowd, blame the pretty boy seated next to him, blame whatever the hell was wrong with his better judgment, but he actually heard himself blurt out in a put-upon voice, "Maybe I want to kiss you right now. You ever think about that?"

Chekov's lips parted in surprise as he stared at him, speechless.

"Kiss, kiss!" demanded the Regalians.

And Leonard McCoy, never exactly known for his moderation in life's pleasures, surged forward, cupping Chekov's heated soft cheeks in his hands as he joined their mouths together.

Christ almighty if the kid's lips weren't amazingly pliant, if he didn't know how to move them once he cottoned on to the fact that this crowd-ordered make out session was actually happening.

Despite the ensuing boom of cheering, accompanied by delighted titters from around the room, Len could somehow still hear the sharp intake of breath Chekov made, the quiet vulnerable moan that passed from his mouth to Leonard's when Len slipped his tongue into Chekov's hot mouth, the gorgeous little whimper Chekov made when Leonard tipped his face up to get a better angle and tangled his fingers in those lovely tight curls at the nape of his neck.

It was the increase in roaring applause that brought Leonard momentarily back to his senses. If he had thought the outburst when they had entered the room was crazy, this sounded like a veritable stampede. He pulled back in an awkward jerk. He didn't let go of Chekov, though, still threading through the soft hair gently, still cradling his jaw with one hand as he searched Chekov's eyes to see if Chekov was going to demand that Leonard go get bent for taking advantage of the situation like he just had.

"Oh," Chekov murmured, pressing his lips together for a moment in a kind of bewildered pleasure. He grasped Len's wrists lightly, seemingly more to keep his hands in place than to protest any part of the liberties Leonard had just taken. The tip of his tongue darted out between the seam of his lips, as if he were trying to chase the taste of something he'd enjoyed but couldn't fully identify yet. He blinked a few times before his eyes darted back to Len's mouth.

"Again!" a female Regalian called out during a slight lull in the cheering.

Others picked up on her enthusiastic shout, some even beginning to clap rhythmically the way Leonard usually only heard groups do at major sporting events right before a big score.

"What do you say?" he asked Chekov, his voice hoarse and rough. "Okay if we do that again?"

"Is wery okay," Chekov said in a dreamy voice, leaning in close and curling one of his slender hands up so that he could caress Len's neck.

Probably the kid had had way too much to drink himself, Leonard thought somewhere in the back of his mind. At least, he was pretty sure that was the idea floating around in the part of his brain that wasn't getting caught up in the bursts of fireworks behind his eyelids that went with the feel of Chekov pressed up against him, very nearly sliding into his lap as they kissed once more. Only that could explain the obvious zeal the ensign had suddenly developed for making out with a worn-out country doctor, and in front of a crowd of crowing drunken Regalians at that.

Still, he couldn't blame Chekov for forgetting they had an audience. For Leonard, the room had definitely narrowed in scope until it was only the two of them, only the shy play of Chekov's fingertips as they stroked the nape of Len's neck, only the eager way Chekov opened his mouth to coax Leonard's tongue against his own, only the low pleased grunt Chekov made when Len stroked down his side along sleek muscle hidden by that crazy formal get-up to drop to his slim thigh straining against silken fabric, only --

"Hey, hey," Jim said loudly in Leonard's ear as he clapped Len on the shoulder. Under the cover of what probably seemed to others a congratulatory squeeze, Jim actually had to pull him right off Chekov.

Jim waved merrily at the Regalians when they chorused a range of disappointed reactions, and turned back to Leonard, his smile wide but strained. "That's great, you know, giving the Regalians what they want. But I think we better keep the show all-audiences for the history books, am I right?"

With a scowl, Leonard straightened, automatically yanking the top of his dress uniform back into place and darting his eyes around him.

Next to Jim, Spock had both eyebrows raised as high as they could go. The Federation representative on Spock's other side was actually flapping her hands as though beside herself, maybe torn between applauding along with the rest or physically hauling Leonard and Chekov apart in the name of Federation dignity.

"It would seem prudent to restrain yourself from further kissing at present, Doctor McCoy, lest your enthusiasm for the act lead to related inappropriate deeds at such a well-attended gathering," Spock intoned blandly.

In other words, Leonard had just embarrassed the hell out of them all, and should probably hightail it out of there.

"Yeah," Len said after a moment of blinking in the lights shining on them, the excited murmurs of the Regalians in the crowd, and the way the room had somehow gone from overheated to sauna-like temperatures in the minute or two that he had been kissing Chekov. "Yeah, okay."

He glanced over at Chekov to see if he was all right and almost groaned aloud when he did. The kid looked -- well, he looked goddamn delectable and half-wrecked. His lips were gorgeously puffy and pink, his eyes were glazed over as if he was watching a favorite fantasy from inside his head come to life, and his whole body was slumped in an inviting sprawl in his chair, just as if he wouldn't mind in the least if a fellow were to lean in close and --

Leonard tore his eyes away. He turned to reach for his glass and pulled it toward him to take a fortifying swig.

...only to find that Jim had somehow gotten whatever Len been gulping replaced with water. Which, considering the continued cries of the crowd, made up half of disappointed protests that the kissing had stopped and half of raucous encouragement to get right back to it, and the way Chekov's cheeks were now blazing red with his eyes cast down to the table as though he were thoroughly embarrassed by the way Leonard had lost control of himself a moment ago, was probably just as well.

*****

"Should probably head back to the ship," Leonard told Chekov an hour and a half later. Even though he'd decided that was the best plan of action about eighty-nine minutes back, he'd only just managed to get the words past his lips. Who could blame him, considering every time Leonard opened his mouth Chekov swayed perceptibly and enticingly towards him?

"Yes, of course," Chekov said, sounding disappointed. It was probably the inebriation from all the drink still working its way through his system, Len told himself. There was no reason otherwise for Chekov to act like maybe he sort of wished Leonard might kiss him one more time.

"Shall I see you to the beam up point?" Chekov asked. His voice had dropped, his eyes had widened, and he was actually biting his lower lip. Was that sultry? How many drinks had Len actually bolted for him to be thinking he was witnessing Pavel Chekov do sultry for the likes of him?

"No, you probably have things you need to take care of here. Royal things," Leonard said lamely.

"Indeed, I had hoped to get his highness's attention to go over a few small matters while he is still on Regalis tonight, late though the hour is," Sebastinio said, sending a simpering smile at the two of them and already gesturing for Chekov to come along.

"I also have matters to discuss with Pavel Andreievich Chekov," Orsini announced, smiling toothily like the self-important bastard that he so obviously was. "Important Parliamentary matters of great significance for our monarch to comprehend."

Leonard bristled at Orsini's confident smirk and stupid broad shoulders and romantic holovid film star looks. He never trusted guys like that.

"You want me to hang around?" he asked Chekov pointedly. Most of the smattering of crewmembers who had attended their crazy engagement party had already beamed up, after all. The last Leonard had checked, only he, Chekov, Jim, and Spock remained. He didn't want to leave Chekov on his own. Wasn't that the whole point of his part in this marriage business? Even if this wasn't real, the two of them together (no matter how real it might have felt in those moments Chekov's lips were on his), he wouldn't stand for any guff from Orsini bossing Chekov around or maybe trying to imply that the Regalians had the wrong man on their throne.

Chekov actually looked conflicted. Probably because Len wasn't the only one who would need a hangover-relieving vitamin supplement hydro come ship's morning. The kid was probably a little stumbly and confused right about now. Hell, given the way Chekov had melted into those kisses like he'd really wanted them and the way he was watching Len wistfully right now, he was probably so blotto that he would soon be fixing to beg Len to make him pancakes like Jim used to do when they were still at the Academy (or crepes, or whatever the hell Russians ate to carbo-load when they'd had too much tipple).

"No, is fine, I will take care of things," Chekov said after a long pause of just looking into Leonard's eyes. "Is fine," he added a moment later with a laugh, giving Len a playful push where he had his arms crossed over his chest as he glared at Orsini.

"Well, I suppose I should organize the last round of sickbay visits," Len allowed. He slipped his comm out of his pocket to show to Chekov, tapped it once pointedly, and put it back where it had been. "Just give me a ring if something goes south, okay? I'm paying close attention to it now, in case you need anything, anything at all."

"Yes, okay," Chekov nodded, smiling, a faint flush on his cheeks once more.

Not knowing what else to add, Len pivoted and stalked his way back to the beam-up point.

"Should probably get Jim, drag him away from whatever Regalian has their spindly fingers clutching his tunic just because he fluttered his eyelashes at them," he muttered to himself as he neared the set-aside zone for transport. But just as he was approaching the area, before he could contact his captain via comm and give a holler to see where the hell he'd gotten off to, he spied a flash of gold, a streak of blue, and realized he'd found Jim already.

Or rather, Spock had found Jim first. He had found him right up against a wall in a dark alcove where they could hardly be seen, and was currently kissing him urgently, probably to show him how very found he was.

"Damn it all, what the hell was in those drinks?" Leonard said under his breath, half disgusted and half resigned to see the way the way Jim was clutching Spock like a lifeline and pressing his entire body against him. It wasn't like Len hadn't seen it coming for a long time, and damn it, Jim deserved to be happy, even if that meant Leonard probably wouldn't see much of his friend without Spock in the future.

Spock sure was handsy for a Vulcan who didn't like to be touched, Len thought to himself, turning away from the sight of Spock ardently grasping Jim's ass and yanking his body closer. And it looked like he more than knew what to do with a "Terran mouth to mouth brush," at least where Jim was concerned.

When Leonard heard Jim gasp, and Spock make a sound like a low growl, he rolled his eyes and silently signaled the Enterprise so he could leave them to it. He tried not to worry about what Chekov was up to as he hunched his shoulders and waited for the transporter to beam him up alone.