"Great, so we're all here," Jim said as Sulu sprinted into the room and took the last remaining place at the table on Chekov's left.
"Sorry, there was a problem they needed my help with down in Botany," he apologized generally. "I don't know who thought it would be a good experiment to breed those enormous rapid movement cacti from The Tani Colony so they have moving arms that try to hug people who wander near them, but --"
"Shall we begin?" Spock interrupted tonelessly.
"Yeah, go crazy," Sulu said, rolling his eyes at Chekov. "Sir," he added quickly when Spock raised an eyebrow in his direction. He paused, though, and did an obvious double-take when he noticed Leonard sitting next to Chekov on his right.
Leonard frowned at Sulu when he saw the helmsman's eyes go wide in surprise at their positions. Well, what was he supposed to do, head to the meeting with the kid right at his side and then take a seat clear across the table? Of course they were sitting next to each other! It didn't mean anything. Leonard sat next to tons of other crewmen all the time in all sorts of interminable meetings, and obviously he wasn't sweet on any of them.
But Sulu didn't seem to think it was a random arrangement that could just as easily have occurred with most of the other seats being already taken. Okay, fine, so the chairs had all been free when they'd gotten there because he and Chekov were the first ones to arrive, but that was beside the point.
After a small nod for Len, Sulu leaned back a bit and gave Chekov what he obviously thought was a hidden but enthusiastic thumbs up. When Chekov sent him an exasperated and embarrassed look back, Sulu grinned before he turned back to pay attention to Jim.
Len hunched his shoulders and brooded over the display. Who knew what the hell that was about? Well, he didn't have time to work out whatever little private code the Enterprise's navigator and helmsman had made up during the long stretching of traversing boring patches of deep space just because they were bestest pals. He had another useless meeting to suffer through.
"Right, starting off, Bones has asked me to be his best man," Jim said to the table at large. He beamed when the people at the table nodded or made approving noises. "He pretty much had to, obviously, or I would never have let him forget it. But yeah, so I'm standing up for Bones. All the Regalians were pretty glad to hear they were getting a bonus Federation starship Captain taking part in the ceremony."
"Don't let it go to your head," Leonard advised. Jim generally vacillated between finding diplomatic maneuvering annoying and finding it gratifying that various aliens were so impressed by his status and charm. If he'd been close enough, Len would have poked Jim right in his puffed-up chest to drive his point home.
"You know you love me, Bones," Jim said blithely. "It's too late to deny it now."
It was completely not Leonard's imagination that Spock eyed him mistrustfully and moved several centimeters closer to Jim.
"And Hikaru Sulu, as my closest friend, has agreed to stand as my witness," Chekov put in, flashing a small smile at Sulu.
"I'm honored to do it, dude," Sulu said, grinning back. "Ensign," he added in exasperation when Spock gave him a pointed look.
"Hey now, I think we can be a little informal in a meeting like this, don't you, Spock?" Jim observed. He gave Spock a friendly little punch to the upper arm.
"Indeed, Captain," Spock answered, before almost imperceptibly positioning himself even closer to Jim (and not so incidentally in a subtle block between Jim and the rest of the people in the room).
And right there was the reason that Leonard thought anyone who didn't know those two idiots were in love ought to get their heads checked. At the start of their mission, Spock would have looked completely askance at such a casual touch from Jim. Now he looked like he was covetous of more contact, storing up the encounter for some lengthy and no doubt logical personal review of the moment in private. Leonard rolled his eyes, not caring who saw. Obviously he wanted the two of them to find their bliss or whatever, and if that meant being with one another romantically, great. Personally, he would be happy as a clam if they would just work through this dancing around each other thing they apparently still had going on. But that didn't stop it from being damn creepy to watch.
"So both Sulu and I, in addition to taking part in the group at the altar, will be expected to say a couple of things about each of you. Plus someone from Medical is going to say a few words about Bones before the first set of vows --"
"All of that's at the reception, you mean," Len interrupted. "Speeches and whatnot."
"Nope," Jim said absently as he located his place ticking off the various elements of the ceremony. "There's that too, speeches at the celebration afterward, but in accordance with Regalian tradition there are supposed to be speeches celebrating the couple at the wedding itself. In between the different sets of vows, of course."
"Seriously? More than one round of vows?" Sulu asked.
"The Regalians take the wedding ceremony wery seriously," Chekov said apologetically; he'd clearly been briefed on that sort of thing during his string of meetings on the planet.
"Yes, the separate vow sets are distinct and each emphasizes different core values. It's fascinating, really," Ensign Rusesk, their resident expert on Regalian culture put in.
"Well, that's just swell," Leonard snapped. This whole thing was building up to be never-ending.
"Then Junior Lieutenant Bassili is going to talk briefly about Chekov," Jim went on. He looked up for a moment, a grin crinkling his eyes. "You knew him from back in the Academy days, right?"
"Yes, sir; he was my roommate," Chekov answered.
"Awesome." Jim checked off another item. "Okay, and I think Orsini will be contributing a quick-ish speech about how much this marriage and Chekov's ascension to the throne mean to the Regalian people." He bit his lip as he ran a finger down his PADD to keep track of his list. "Let's see -- she couldn't attend this rehearsal meeting, but I should note that Yeoman Rand has agreed to sing as part of the ceremony. That's after vow set numero dos."
"Oh, that's wonderful news," Rusesk gushed. She actually looked like she might clap her hands together in delight. "The Regalians put a high premium on heartfelt songs; having someone from the Enterprise sing will be a show of friendship and good faith." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Is she the only crewmember of the Enterprise who will sing?"
"Let's hope so," Len said. "This thing is starting to sound like a three-ring circus."
"Only more speech-y," Sulu contributed under his breath.
"Well, Rand will probably be enough as far as a show of friendship and good faith," Jim said, sounding distracted. "She's got a voice like an angel, even if she's really bossy and mean about ship's business sometimes." Jim made a face, like he was remembering the last time Rand had him complete some required report that he'd tried to skip.
"Big baby," Len muttered. Rand was the best of that bunch of doe-eyed yeomen as far as he was concerned.
"Let's see, what's next -- oh, I'm pretty sure the Regalians have lined up that same little kid chorus that sang at the engagement party to do another national anthem or three," Jim added, ignoring Len and jotting down another item on the PADD.
"Doctor McCoy's right. Sounds like it's getting kinda complicated," Hendorff observed from the far end of the table where he sat with his meaty arms crossed over his chest. He would be in charge of security for the event, Jim had mentioned to Leonard earlier, especially since the Regalians were more or less used to seeing him with the Enterprise entourage now. Len figured having Hendorff in tow couldn't hurt. That way, even if everyone else in attendance was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the romantic prospects of what was in reality an arranged match, at least he'd have one dour guy to glare at from time to time during the ceremony.
"Well, Sebastinio said he'll make sure everything goes off without a hitch, keep everything lined up and cue people as to when they're supposed to do what," Jim answered. "Shouldn't be longer than that engagement party, I figure." He paused, glancing again at his PADD and its itemized list of components. "Well, not much longer," he added doubtfully.
"Oh joy," Len observed sourly. "Singing, wedding speeches, more items on the program than you can shake a stick at, all sorts of hullaballoo. Why don't we just add to the commotion: have Spock be the Flower Girl and go tripping down the aisle strewing petals to start things off."
Sulu snorted. "What you see in this guy I have no idea," he muttered under his breath to Chekov.
Before Leonard could object that obviously Chekov saw nothing in particular in him, except as a way to satisfy some pressing marital obligations, calm down a planet of fanatical royalty boosters, and ensure the Federation got their mitts on some plentiful stores of rare Topaline, Spock tilted his head to the side and spoke.
"Though of course the gendered portion of that appellation does not apply to me, I did not realize from my studies of Terran and Regalian marriage rites that there was a role in the ceremony for a participant who boasted horticultural expertise. Surely Mister Sulu, with his admirable background in Botany, would be better suited to such a position."
"Bones is just giving you a hard time, Spock," Jim murmured. "A flower girl is a little kid in an Earther wedding party that you have trot out before the bride and groom -- or groom and groom, or whatever -- to make everyone waiting for the couple's big entrance coo and smile."
At that, Spock sent Len a look of dignified aggravation (which meant he was well and truly bent out of shape about a harmless offhand joke). Jim winked at Len's scowl and tried to lighten the mood by saying, "Besides, the flower girl totally has to be Cupcake."
Hendorff snorted at that. "At least then you'd know you have the prettiest possible flower girl in the galaxy," he said in his tough-guy grunt.
"Right on. Good for you, Hendorff," Sulu said with a grin, while Jim looked vaguely disgruntled at not getting the last laugh.
"Permission to move on?" Uhura asked briskly. She barely waited for Jim's nod before she continued, "Just as Chekov has asked, I'll be doing the first cultural reading." She sent a small smile Chekov's way.
Leonard gave her a grateful look even if she hadn't meant the smile for him. Despite his wisecracking to alleviate the tension, he definitely wanted to get this whole catalogue of wedding tasks over with, though maybe for reasons he hadn't expected. Sure, before he'd gotten on that lift, he would have liked nothing better than to hightail it out of the meeting and hole himself up in his office in sickbay where nobody could hassle him. But now he was impatient for the meeting to wrap up in part so that he and Chekov could continue on to have lunch together and discuss whatever it was Chekov wanted to talk about. He turned slightly to Chekov to flash him a little reassuring expression and saw Chekov's eyes widen.
"You okay?" Len asked in an undertone while the others kept up rattling on about the details.
"Flower Girl," Chekov exclaimed loudly. "Wait, no, we do have such a one."
"Okay, no matter what Jim says next, we are not letting Keenser do it just because he's the right height," Leonard interrupted.
"Not even if he'd look super hilarious in a puffy white dress?" Sulu asked plaintively.
"Nah, we can't have the Regalians think we're treating any moment of this wedding like a joke," Jim said reluctantly. Len could tell he'd pictured Keenser in a frou-frou get-up as soon as Len had made mention of it and was already mourning the loss of such a ridiculous opportunity. "Besides, he's no girl." He paused. "Is he?" he asked Spock in an undertone. Spock solemnly shook his head no.
"No, your girl must do it," Chekov said quickly to Leonard.
"What now?" Len asked, confused.
"I mean, your daughter," Chekov went on excitedly. "She must have role in the wedding! I did not even consider -- everything has happened so quickly, and I did not take into account that of course you would wish your daughter to take part if at all possible." He let out a string of Russian words that sounded a hell of a lot like self-recrimination and then shook his head. "Nyet, I apologize, I just mean to say, that I did not make arrangements before this."
"Hey, yeah," Jim cut in. "Gah, I suck, Bones, because I totally forgot about that too. But do you want to try and get Joanna out here for your wedding?" He frowned and leaned back in his chair. "Of course, she can't make it to Regalis Prime in only two days. At least it wouldn't be all the way from Earth, though, if she's still on that outpost of the colony on Marina II staying with your folks."
"From Marina II orbital station, in six point two three days Joanna McCoy could reach Regalis Prime," Chekov supplied, obviously doing the calculations in his head based on the location Jim had mentioned. He turned to Jim. "Captain, I know the Regalians are eager for the wedding to proceed, and gave us the week's extension to complete the ceremony as a courtesy at the outset. But after my dealings with them, I feel certain that were they to understand about Leonard's daughter, surely they would agree to wait another week so that she could arrive in time."
"They'd probably like it, actually," Jim said slowly. "Anyone else notice that they're kind of a bunch of romantics down on that planet?"
"The population does seem to enjoy sentimental displays," Spock noted.
"The Federation would probably like it too," Uhura put in, giving Leonard a small apologetic look. She knew all too well how much he liked to complain about Federation interference when prestige and wealth in resources were the obvious priorities instead of people's lives. "On the bright side of that, they might be able to expedite her trip on faster shuttles. That way she can reach ship's orbit even sooner, and have some time with her father before the wedding."
Chekov nodded enthusiastically. "If the Federation is able to do such a thing, I'm sure that would be wery nice for you. And maybe it would allow some time for me to meet your Joanna and for us to get to know one another." Chekov sent an apprehensive but strangely hopeful look Leonard's way.
Leonard frowned down at his hands, wondering exactly who had been putting ideas into the kid's head about having obligations to Len's daughter. Whoever it was, he wanted to give them a piece of his mind. Never mind the other ways this marriage was apparently going to limit Chekov from pursuing other relationships if Sulu's take on the whole fidelity thing was accurate. But apparently someone had convinced Chekov he would have to play stepfather too, just because Len had offered to help him out of a fix?
"I have many young cousins," Chekov kept on, growing more enthusiastic as he continued to speak. "I am wery used to entertaining them and speaking to them about all matter of things. I think it would be an adwantage in getting to know your daughter. My hope is that Joanna and I would get along wery well."
"Now, look, it's awfully nice of you to think of it," Leonard began slowly. "But there doesn't seem much point to it, does there?"
Next to him, Chekov stiffened. On Chekov's other side, Sulu gave Len an incredulous look.
At the head of the table, Jim cleared his throat. "Hey, Bones, maybe we could figure out all those details after --"
"How do you mean?" Chekov asked awkwardly.
"Well, it's not the same as if we were genuinely getting married because we wanted to, right?" Len cleared his throat when Jim looked uneasy. Hell, it wasn't just Jim: everyone else in the room either shifted uncomfortably in their seats or sent sharp looks Len's way. "Just, I know we're spinning the situation a different way for most of the other crewmembers and the folks down on Regalis Prime. But all of us in this room know Chekov and I are getting hitched for those political planetary-peace reasons we've been talking about."
When even Hendorff gave Len an admonishing look and then shook his head, Len spread his hands and appealed directly to Jim. "I just wouldn't want you to go to any trouble, or have any Federation resources wasted on getting Joanna all the way out here when it's not even a real wedding she'd be coming to see."
"Bones, I don't think any resources would be wasted," Jim began quietly.
"Given the diplomatic factors at stake for a species of humanoid that seems keen on the topics of family and inheritance, one could deem it a logical use of Federation resources to expedite your daughter's journey so that she might attend the wedding's events," Spock added.
"Hey, none of you need to do me any special favors just because I got roped into this," Len objected.
When Uhura's lips parted in a look of indignation, Len realized the god-awful phrasing that had just come out of his mouth and hastened to add, "Right, I know, I volunteered to help out, I didn't mean anyone actually made me do this, okay?"
In some consternation he turned to Chekov and added, "And it's not like you should feel any obligation to, I don't know, get to know Joanna for future visits or play step-dad for a couple of days when you already have enough on your plate. It hasn't come up until now, obviously, but just so you know, I wouldn't expect anything of you where Joanna is concerned. So don't worry about that."
Sulu let out an almost imperceptible groan and let his head tip back so he was staring at the ceiling. "Un-believable," he said under his breath.
"Doctor McCoy, instead of striking the idea down outright, maybe you should think instead about how kind it was of Chekov to want to involve your daughter, and accept whatever help is likely to be offered in the Federation's intercession to facilitate the matter," Uhura said in the clipped way she got when she was well and truly pissed off. Len hadn't heard her sound that frosty since the last time she'd told Jim where he could shove it after he'd made yet another drunken pass at her during their first shore leave.
"Now, wait just a minute," Leonard snapped at her. "I'm not disrupting my kid's life to drag her out here so she can witness some kind of marriage of convenience. I don't know what the rest of you think I ought to do, but I can tell you right now that would only confuse her."
"Okay, so you hadn't thought about having her come to the wedding before now. But obviously, whatever the exact circumstances, you are getting married, right?" Sulu said sharply. "Why not look into having her come to the wedding if it's a possibility? Would you seriously rather send her a remote communication and have her find out about the wedding that way?"
"What were you planning to tell her, Bones?" Jim asked. He spoke familiarly, as though it was just the two of them figuring out a problem in the privacy of their academy dorm room, like the old days. When Spock leaned back in his chair, Jim glanced around the table uneasily, seeming surprised to remember they were in a meeting with other crew.
"I wasn't planning on telling her anything," Len burst out. "She's had enough tumult in her life with her mom and me splitting up and then me taking off for godforsaken deep space. I don't want to cause any more instability or confusion by getting her caught up in all this nonsense."
Spock steepled his fingers and appeared to examine Leonard as if he were a very intriguing mold sample. "One would think that because you are taking part in this ceremony and embarking on this venture, no matter how real it seemed to you at its inception, that you would at this point wish to include your daughter in such a major life event."
"Yeah? Well, she's my daughter, and I'm the one who decides what's best for her in this situation."
"You are of course right," Chekov broke in stiffly. "Forgive me. I did not mean to interfere in your family matters, as I have already done in your personal life due to this situation." He stood. "Captain, if you will excuse me, I believe the remainder of the planning meeting for the wedding can continue without me."
Jim gave Len a worried look but nodded after a pause. "Dismissed, Ensign."
"Wait, I thought we were going to have lunch or something," Leonard said dumbly. "Hey," he called out after Chekov as he watched him continue toward the exit. "You wanted to talk to me?"
Chekov paused as the door slid open upon his approach. "I -- find that I should instead consult with the Regalians further in case they have any additional questions. You will excuse me." He gave a curt nod to the room in general and slipped through the open doorway.
"Very diplomatically handled, Doctor," Uhura said flatly.
"Bones," Jim began, and Leonard couldn't tell if he meant it as the start of an admonishment or a sympathetic gesture. But he didn't much feel like finding out, so he stood, not meeting the eyes of anyone in the room. "Looks like you can carry on without me too," he grumbled before he left as well.
As he walked down the corridor alone, shoulders slumped and a scowl on his face, Leonard couldn't decide where to start finding fault first. With himself for handling everything so poorly? With Chekov, for bringing up such a personal issue in front of everyone when Leonard hadn't worked out for himself yet how his daughter might learn about this damn marriage? With everyone else for assuming that only Chekov's feelings could be hurt in this situation, and that there wasn't anything at stake in Leonard's life that might just be impacted by this crazy wedding?
He sighed as he rounded the curve in the hallway and came upon a nice empty turbolift he could have all to his lonesome. At least with everyone probably mad as hell at him, no one was likely to want to throw him some annoying bachelor party in two more days.