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Stubborn Heart

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Of course the bachelor party went ahead just like Jim wanted.

Len shouldn't have been surprised; nearly everything went ahead like Jim wanted. Women who found him charming often invited themselves into his bed. Women who found him annoying eventually came around to proclaiming him endearing. People who thought he was a fuck-up ended up throwing away those bad first impressions and making him their personal hero. And innocent folks who just wanted to be left alone to head toward their impending arranged weddings with sour outlooks on the future were made to celebrate the stupid upcoming ceremonies with a wild night of partying.

Part of the problem lay with Spock; of that Len was sure. It usually did anyway. This time Spock's occasional, "Fascinating," in reply to Jim's excited murmurs of his plans for Len's shindig definitely did nothing to dampen Jim's annoying enthusiasm. In fact, Len was pretty sure Spock's keen interest made the festivities take on a larger life than they otherwise would have. Though Spock of course didn't drink himself, and no doubt wouldn't deign to give credits to some Orion dancer or chat up a cutie Betazoid hostess, he seemed to feel some degree of the anticipation Jim was displaying for some crazy reason.

It burned Len to see them both his friends so invested because, hell, it wasn't like this was something to be celebrated, his so-called marriage to Chekov, or marked in a way that emphasized his life was going to be utterly different afterwards. He was doing a favor for a friend -- after which they were all going to pretend that it had never happened, at least if Len had anything to say about it. Then Chekov could go on and do what he liked and Leonard could go back to his own miserable excuse for a life.

If Len had his way, he would have ignored the situation as much as possible until the actual event. He would be fine if he could just go through the ceremony with his shoulders squared and his head down, and then slip away as soon as he could be sure no one would notice his absence. After the dust settled, Chekov could turn his attention to his royal duties or get back to his work aboard the Enterprise, and above all find some guy he truly liked who would actually make him happy. And Leonard would only have to confront the weirdness of their situation twice a year, since he'd already promised Sulu and Uhura that he'd accompany Chekov to those damn future Regalian festivals to keep up appearances.

But it was hard to deny the encroaching approach of his, god help him, second marriage, when James T. Kirk was pushing Leonard unceremoniously into a Rec Room that was filled with crew members waiting to give him what they thought was his one last hurrah before the big wedding.

"So I figured we should just get a whole range," Jim explained as three different dancers made enticing moves in Leonard's general direction from the far corners of the rec room. Len figured Jim had shoved pictures of him in their faces beforehand so they would recognize him when they saw him. No way were a pretty looking bunch like that just going to give him come-hither looks at first sight otherwise.

At one corner, a stunning male Orion dancer flashed a dazzling grin at Len. A moment later he went back to charming a small group including Ensign T'or'kche and Nurse Edwards, both of whom were looking a little like they wanted to go, "aww, shucks," and toe the ground like plebes. At the opposite corner, a fairly menacing gorgeous Andorian woman leered at Len while she moved through a routine that seemed to suggest that anyone who tried to sneak a grope would get their arm fractured in three places. Unsurprisingly for this ship of masochists, the largest crowd was gathered around her. And in the corner between them, an exquisite androgynous Necolaritu sat, apparently on a break. After shooting Len a coy look, zie resumed entertaining an audience of admirers who were plying zir with food and drink and leaning in to catch some of the scintillating wit that species was so well-known for.

Despite their roles as a trio of stag night dancers, all three performers were dressed modestly, and none of them were striking overly salacious poses. Len figured that had to do with Starfleet regulations governing events held aboard ship. The brass probably wouldn't much like it if those aboard the Enterprise were to have a seriously anything-goes shindig, bachelor party or no. Besides, Yeoman Rand had probably kept Jim in line, citing specific regulations if he'd so much as contemplated something a shade more untoward. Leonard imagined the dancers had probably all signed PADD documents stating they were performing under the condition that no one expected anything of them other than some hands-off entertainment to keep it all on the up-and-up.

He wouldn't put it past Jim to have submitted expenses for the thing as a Xenocultural Diversity Celebration or some such nonsense. It wasn't like anyone on the crew was going to argue when they were all clearly here for a bit of harmless fun. Len supposed that what the admirals didn't find out about the specifics wouldn't hurt them.

"The whole range, huh? Great," Len replied heavily as Jim tried to steer him to what seemed like the table of honor based on the ridiculously garish decorations tied to the chairs. "Chekov already leave?" he asked casually, not letting Jim tug him along all the way just yet. He'd scanned the room as he entered and hadn't seen hide nor hair of him, but maybe he was planning on swinging by later.

Or maybe Chekov was avoiding Len altogether, finally feeling embarrassed at the way the two of them had locked lips in front of a group of Regalians he was kind of in charge of now. Or maybe the way Len had told him he hadn't even thought to invite his daughter into this confusing situation had been the last straw for the kid. Damn it, he'd meant to make it easier on Chekov, so that he didn't feel obliged to take on any responsibilities as a step-parent, for Christ's sake. But the way Chekov had left the day before, and the way Jim and the rest had reacted, well. Maybe it was yet another example of Leonard screwing up. Great, he thought bitterly. Not even day one into this second marriage of his, and he was already a failure at being even an okay husband.

Some combination of the last two snags seemed the most plausible, Len thought grimly. After what had occurred two nights ago, no doubt Chekov was hoping Leonard wouldn't have any expectations for how physical they were actually going to get post-ceremony. And he'd also probably decided that Len was as rude as hell for the way he'd handled Chekov's courteous questions about whether Len wanted to invite his kid. Len just sent up a prayer to whoever might be listening that Chekov decided avoidance would be the way to handle both situations. Because god almighty, it would be awkward for both of them if Chekov tried to let Len down easy, or let on that he thought Len was an enormous oaf with no regard for anyone's feelings who probably should see his daughter even less than he already did.

"Chekov? Uh. No?" Jim looked confused. "This is your night, Bones! Plus I'm pretty sure he's having his own thing with Sulu and Uhura, a couple of the Regalians he asked for courtesy's sake, and more people from our crew over in Rec Room 3."

"Now, how the hell did I not notice a big crowd in Rec Room 3?" Len asked skeptically. He'd passed the other area on his way to Jim's brouhaha, and hadn't heard a peep from it.

"He's having it later. Or possibly he's having it somewhere else. Uh. I don't remember all the details because Sulu was in charge." Jim scratched his head and looked slightly abashed. "I can try to get someone to find out what's up if you need to talk to him or --"

"No," Len snapped at him. "No," he repeated a moment later, trying for casual. "Just curious." There was no point in getting bent out of shape over missing an opportunity to talk things through with Chekov. Probably the fewer chances he and Chekov had to hash through the uncomfortable details of all this, the better.

Jim looked worried for a moment before he pasted on a cheerful expression. "Okay then. So back to making this night one you'll always remember! What can I get you to drink?" He rubbed his hands together in a show of enthusiasm.

Len nearly bit out that obviously it would have to be something way inferior to the quality stuff he kept stashed in his office. But then he took another look at Jim's hopeful expression and sighed. The kid really did look like he was making an effort for Len's sake, not just trying to use the situation as an excuse to throw a wild party for himself.

"Bourbon with a drop of water," Len said shortly.

"Awesome! Don't go anywhere; I'll be right back with that for you." Jim began to hustle his way over to the bar, slapping partygoers on the back on the way and smiling at everyone who complimented him on the spread and the festivities.

Len soon found himself sitting alone. No surprise there. As the time of the wedding drew closer and closer and he got more and more cranky, his own staff down in sickbay had been avoiding him and stepping gingerly. Now, with all the dancers with their crowds of guests positioned at the corners of the room and the rest of invitees hovering near the tables with food piled on them, Len felt like he had the whole raucous party in wary orbit around his surly little deserted island of a table.

It wasn't the worst thing ever, he supposed, even if it did feel a little isolated. He'd barely had a moment to himself since volunteering to get hitched to Chekov. So by all rights he ought to welcome some time on his own. But somehow it felt pathetic, sitting there slumped, no drink in hand yet because Jim had gotten caught up with the crowd, by himself in a sulk while everyone else dove into the spirit of revelry.

So it was with a weird kind of relief that Leonard greeted Spock when the Vulcan slipped into the seat next to his a short while later. In addition to saving Leonard from looking like a fool sitting all by himself, Spock was already making himself useful in other ways: he seemed to have appropriated Leonard's drink from Jim, who had once again been waylaid to chat with a group of partygoers. Len took it gratefully, slinging back a fortifying gulp while Spock carefully arranged his own drink (water, of course, because Spock was just that fun), on one of the table's stupid festive party coasters.

"Doctor," Spock said gravely, as if a group of Lieutenants behind him weren't laughing uproariously at a filthy joke they'd probably heard from Len in the first place.

"Commander Hobgoblin," Len said morosely.

Spock sipped at his water, eyes trained intently on Len. "I believe the purpose of such a gathering is for the guest of honor to enjoy himself greatly," Spock observed after a few moments had passed.

"That'd be the goal, sure."

"And yet you do not look as though you are appreciating the function Jim has so painstakingly arranged for you," Spock continued.

"Look, I showed up, all right?" Len rubbed at his face with his hand. "This isn't exactly a normal wedding, obviously, so you're not going to come across the same kind of stag night celebration you'd see otherwise."

"I find the designation normal to be both imprecise and misleading," Spock noted.

"You would," Len snorted.

"For instance, on Vulcan, it is considered 'normal' for children to be betrothed when they are between the ages of seven and ten," Spock said serenely, apparently not noticing when Leonard choked on his bourbon. "That practice would be regarded as most strange on Earth."

"Seven and -- good god, man, are you trying to tell me you've been engaged since before you so much as hit double digits?"

Spock tilted his head as if Len was a curious specimen of fungus. "Indeed. Though in point of fact, I am no longer so betrothed. My intended perished during the destruction of Vulcan, as of course did many others."

"Right," Len said slowly. "I'm real sorry about that, Spock," he said a moment later, when he could force the words out past the overwhelming sense that he was a no-good heel not to have seen that one coming.

"Our union would not have been a happy one had we been able to proceed with our final bonding, though the match would have fulfilled needs in the most critical of ways, necessary for the well-being of all Vulcans."

"You would have had a kid or two together, helped keep up the little pointy eared toddler population," Len guessed.

"Among other things," Spock allowed, and the response was so uncharacteristically imprecise that Leonard narrowed his eyes. "Yet my purpose in mentioning this tradition was not to inform you of an element in order to illustrate a broader theme from the history of my relationships --"

"Thank god for that."

"-- but instead to provide a point of contrast to the dynamic existing between you and Ensign Chekov."

Len scoffed. "Yeah, I think I noticed we haven't been waiting to get hitched since we were seven. Wait, how old was I when Chekov was seven?" He manfully resisted the urge to cover his face with his hands as his brain did that bit of awkward math far too quickly and instead calmly folded his arms before him on the table. "But okay, I know you don't like saying the obvious without one of us inviting. So I'll bite. How's that, Spock?"

"Though bonding young Vulcan children provides insurance against other sorts of problems, to encounter circumstances requiring an individual to bond at a later age may have its advantages."

"We didn't have to become bonded for some kind of survival of the species duty," Len protested. They were no Vulcans, enacting bonds dictated by their culture's needs!

But a moment later, Len stopped himself and heaved a sigh. Could be the one drink was already affecting his judgment. Maybe the two of them couldn't have kids, but they were sort of saving the planet's wellbeing by going through with the marriage. Chekov had needed a spouse pronto to keep Regalian society from self-imploding; Len had bounded into the fray in part for the same reason. Yeah, okay, so in their own way they pretty much had behaved like obedient little Vulcanoids. "Go on."

Spock leaned forward slightly, which for him indicated a degree of interest similar to when Jim would leap up onto Len's bed when they had been roommates back at the Academy, shouting, "Wait, wait, hold the fucking phone, Bones, because what the hell did you just say?" Stupid Jim's stupid fondness of incorporating twentieth-century Terran slang into his speech while he was press-ganging Len into revealing whatever he had stalwartly been trying to keep private for at least five minutes.

"My point, Doctor," Spock continued, "Is that though you and Chekov may not have considered yourselves close friends prior to this circumstance, you knew one another before confronting the necessity of your bond. You harbored a mutual respect for one another's training and admiration for the capable execution of your duties. You have even socialized to some extent on shore leaves, or provided support for one another in the process of various missions. Additionally, from what I witnessed during the engagement dinner the Regalians hosted, there is a strong component of mutual attraction between the two of you. In fact, I have even noted as recently as yesterday afternoon, before the unfortunate misunderstanding which I believe precipitated what Jim would categorize as your current 'bad mood', that your esteem for one another and solicitousness of each other's positions has only increased since the necessity for declaring you would form this bond."

Leonard frowned at his now nearly-empty glass and gave it a swirl in his hand before he drained the last drops of his drink. "So?" he asked hoarsely.

Spock raised an eyebrow at Leonard. "Because of these points of reciprocal regard, I believe you and Ensign Chekov will make not only what Vulcans would consider a logical match but indeed, have already formed the start of what humans consider necessary for an appropriate and successful pairing: affection, respect, and other convivial elements increasing the likelihood for future happiness."

Len stared. If he'd had any drink left to sip, he would have sputtered. "Are you saying you think Chekov and I have the basis for a good marriage?"

"That is the essence of what I intended to communicate to you, yes."

Leonard tried not to let on that he was reeling. Okay, so Spock seemed to have been observing him and Chekov and had declared they should pretty much receive the cutest couple award in the yearbook.

A big part of him was tempted to shoot Spock's entire speech down, to tell him he had no idea what he was talking about. That this whole thing had never been about mutual regard or attraction or affection, and it didn't have a shot in hell of becoming the basis for a good marriage. That Chekov had essentially become roped into this by an accident of genetics and the kid's own eagerness to help out in a crisis, and Len had bitten off more than he could chew when he had opened his big fat mouth to volunteer himself as a last-minute bridegroom.

But he was just feeling so damn tired. Maybe it was tonight's bad quality bourbon on top of yesterday's headache-inducing faux pas during the meeting, combining and catching up with him to make him feel so weary. Or maybe it was the dreariness of reminding people that hey, he and Chekov weren't actually going steady, and had zero chance of trying for a success story as a couple no matter how many bells and whistles the Regalians had planned for their crazy huge wedding, or how many Vulcans pronounced them a suitable match.

So he didn't much feel like trying to argue the point with Spock, especially because he was afraid he'd admit that somewhere in the back of his mind, Spock's words had struck home with him. Mutual respect, that thrill of attraction when the chemistry between two people pinged just right, other sorts of affinity in the two of them both being the kind of idiots who thought traveling by starships to unknown planets sounded like a fine idea: it was far more than he had had with Jocelyn at the end of the day, and she had been someone he had convinced himself he was thrilled to marry.

On paper, all those points of commonality almost made him think that he and Chekov could work together. But then the sensible part of him, the part of him that knew what kind of man he was and what sort of future Chekov actually deserved, told that stupid little hopeful flame flickering in his foolish stubborn heart to go stuff it. He was just plain tired of it all, and he hadn't the energy to deal with the side of him that still wished that maybe there would be a happily-ever-after in store.

"Appropriate and successful pairing, you said? Well, it sounds to me like you're describing another couple I know," Len said shortly. He tried to ignore that he was hauling out to play what his mother had always said was his worst shortcoming: going on the offensive when someone made him feel as though they'd caught a glance of his soft white vulnerable underbelly.

"Is that so?" Spock asked blandly.

"Funny thing, but yeah. Two guys I know with a hell of a lot of mutual respect, great compatibility as a team, terrific at supporting each other when the going gets tough, and as for attraction and affection, I tell you, they just about beat anyone else in the running."

"Fascinating," Spock commented. "I assume you intend to tell me why you are informing me of this other highly well-suited couple?"

"Oh, I wouldn't have to tell you a thing about them, if you'd only look at what's right in front of your Vulcan nose."

Spock's lips twitched forward just the slightest bit in what Leonard thought could well be the keenest expression of interest he had ever witnessed the Enterprise's First Officer make. "I do not understand," he said slowly.

"Bones," Jim exclaimed, placing a fresh glass of bourbon in front of him while gesturing with the new glass of water he was clutching for Spock. "Sorry I got held up! Spock," he added, giving the Vulcan a soft smile while he let the hand gripping the water rest briefly on Spock's shoulder.

Under the guise of reaching across his chest to grab for the beverage, Spock's fingers brushed Jim's. He looked up at their captain with that ridiculously intense gaze of his. For a moment the two of them were caught in a moment all their own, their eyes meeting as though there was no one at all in the room aside from the two of them. Oh, never mind that severe understatement: they gazed at one another exactly as if there was no one else in the entire galaxy but Jim and Spock.

"Yup," Leonard said, taking a slug of the bourbon and setting the glass down with a clink audible even amid the murmurs and party sounds. "Right in front of your Vulcan nose," he said meaningfully to Spock.

Spock broke his stare with Jim. His eyes shot to Leonard. For a moment Len swore he could see the eensiest glimpse of that vulnerable side of Spock that probably only Jim and maybe Uhura had ever seen. It was all in those dark eyes: if a man looked closely, Spock looked startled, even hunted, all because he had been caught giving the tiniest indication of some kind of heavy emotion.

"Huh?" Jim asked. He'd let his hand relax and continue to rest on Spock's shoulder even after Spock had carefully moved the glass of water to the table. "What are you guys talking about?"

Spock took a breath. Those who had never seen his iron control of himself wouldn't have been able to catch that the indrawn air was just this side of shaky and obviously meant to fortify his nerves. He still seemed more than a little rattled, if the whitening of his knuckles as he held the glass was a good indicator, but there was something more as he turned deliberately from Len back to Jim. Somehow he also looked more alive than Len had seen him in some time.

"Well, you know what I always say," Leonard said as he rose to his feet, drink in hand, to leave them to it. "A little self-awareness is the best medicine."

"Bones, where are you off to? What was that all about?" he heard Jim ask as Len stepped away from them.

"It seems the doctor and I have found that we are in need of the same prescription," Spock said slowly.

It was the last of their conversation Leonard heard as he continued to move away, before the noise and hubbub of the party swallowed any other words between them.