We all tend to forget that Tiny’s five years older than us, just like we forget that Keyop is younger.
It’s only at times like this that it really does hit you.
I’ll make one thing clear – it’s only because it’s Tiny that I’m doing this. For nobody else would I be rigged up in this monkey-suit.
It feels strange to be standing here dressed like this. Even though I have my Team around me, it’s just plain unnatural the way we all look. Nobody would believe us if we told them that barely three hours before, we had been covered with goop after Princess and Jason made a small miscalculation with their explosion to take out the fuel lines on a mecha we were going after.
I thought that Tiny would kill them, especially when all Princess could say was “Oops”. But then, Tiny was not at all happy with a Spectran attack coming barely ten hours before his wedding, and he was pushing harder than any of us to just blow the hell out of it and get back.
Ann’s a very forbearing lady on the whole, but I wouldn’t have envied the Chief if he had to tell her that her wedding to Tiny was postponed until we wiped out the latest mecha from Spectra.
Two hours ago, when we got in, Ann met us and her look boded ill for all of us if we didn’t start cleaning ourselves up – right now! She must have gotten to the Chief, because he even delayed our usual de-brief until after the wedding goes off safely.
We made it – barely. I know that Keyop still has more than a few traces of oil on his hands and the back of his neck – and we’re all still exuding a slightly fuel-ey fragrance. I don’t envy our dance partners. My hands feel gritty with that special oil-grit feel. I’m only hoping I don’t leave huge oily handprints everywhere.
But the important thing is that we’re here, and I’m standing at the head of a church as best man to Tiny Harper, as the Bride is just about to make her appearance.
What I’m not prepared for is when the Maid of Honour comes down the aisle. Yeah – I know it’s Princess, but I’m not prepared for what she looks like.
“Stunning” is a word that I could use. Elegant, graceful, but I think that I’ll just stick with plain beautiful.
Like the other guys, I’ve ignored the discussions between Ann and Prin about clothing – only being drawn into it when it actually concerned me, so I had no idea what they would be wearing. I was, however, hoping that it wouldn’t be the usual sickeningly fluffy things that you normally see at a wedding.
My hopes have been answered, and the most beautiful girl in the galaxy walks down the aisle towards me in green. Don’t ask me for details – all I know is that she looks more gorgeous than I have ever seen her. I smile when I realise that she’s wearing her communicator over the long gloves she’s got on. Probably force of habit on her part.
Vaguely, I can feel Jason poking me in the side. “Close your mouth, Mark. You’re drooling over your shoes.” I glare at him, and he just looks at me with that half smile, half smirk that he gets when he thinks he’s being clever and knows more than you.
Problem is, he usually is. It’s why I hate that particular expression. Now, his eyes are flicking between Prin and I as his smirk becomes more pronounced.
“You’d better be taking notes, Skipper,” he says softly. I nearly hit him – he knows that I absolutely hate him calling me Skipper. It’s why he does it.
Before I can retaliate, we’re both distracted by Tiny’s muttering.
“Nothing to worry about. No problems. Just any other day. Oh God, Ann’s gorgeous.”
He doesn’t realise that he’s speaking aloud, and Jason, Keyop and I exchange grins. He’s right though, Ann does look gorgeous, and I take the opportunity to surreptitiously elbow Tiny into silence.
Elegant – that’s it. I’ve known when a plane is elegant, but never really a woman. Now I, as I see them coming up the aisle, I know exactly what an elegant woman looks like. In fact, I know what several elegant women look like, as Ann is trailed by her sister, the second Bridesmaid (and Jason’s partner for the evening. That should be fun – it was antagonism at first sight between the two of them).
Prin’s flashing us a grin as she approaches. My heart’s pounding. Anybody would think it was me getting married! But then, whenever I see her, my heart triples its rate and it’s hard to breathe. It’s hard to reconcile her now with the bedraggled figure she was scant hours ago.
But then, as we’ve all learned over the years, our Russian Princess delights in presenting the world with a series of contrasts. We also know she does it deliberately, and she’s plainly enjoying herself now.
“Wow,” said Jason softly. “Look at how Our Girl scrubs up.” His tone is proud, fond even (and I’m not sure if I really like that fondness). He’s even more protective of her than I am, because his protection of her extends to protecting her against me. I know exactly how he’ll carve me up if I ever hurt her. He’s told me in painful detail. I’d probably let him, too.
“Beautiful Princess,” whispers Keyop. “Ann, too. Pretty.”
Tiny’s eyes are riveted on Ann’s as she approaches on her father’s arm. She gives the rest of us a quick glance (no doubt checking to see that we are clean and all present in the clothing she’s ordered us to wear) before she locks gazes with Tiny.
If she was lovely before, she’s breathtaking now. All the love those two have is showing plainly on their faces. I’m not ashamed to feel my own eyes start to water, and I pass my handkerchief to Tiny who is rather badly in need of it. I can always nick Jason’s.
I can’t help myself. During the ceremony I’m sneaking glances at Princess whenever I think she’s not looking. The surprise was her reaction when we did lock gazes. Her eyes went all wide, and she gave this sort of half smile and blushed before she looked away. I can still see a tiny smile playing round her mouth now, and she’s glancing over at me from under her eyelashes (how come I never realised how long they are?). She’s adorable. Ok – that’s not usually a word one uses about Princess – at least not if one wants to keep breathing and retain use of all of their limbs – but it’s true. She doesn’t even realise half of the things she does, or just how much control she has over us all.
Or perhaps she does.
I’ve missed my cue, and Jason’s poking me again. I’m going to have bruises from that, and Jason’s definitely going to pay. He’s enjoying my distraction far too much – those pokes hurt! Thankfully, I’d put the rings in my pocket as soon as Tiny gave them to me yesterday. I’d heard too many horror stories of lost rings, and Tiny only looks like he’s an easy target.
I fumble them out and hand them to the Minister, and then it’s done. Tiny’s married and he and Ann both look radiant.
Everybody’s looking at me expectantly now – and I have no idea why until the Minister speaks.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bride and Groom will now be signing the register.” Oh yeah. I have to be a witness. With Princess. Oh ye gods – I hope that the oil I can smell is the combined from the four of us, and not just me. She’s at my side now and I retain enough presence of mind to offer her my arm.
She’s so graceful. So beautiful. “Didn’t you have a shower?” she asks. “I can still smell fuel on you.”
Naturally, she smells wonderful. “I took three showers trying to get clean,” I whisper back. “I spent most of my time trying to convince Keyop to get cleaner.”
“It didn’t work much.”
“Tell me about it,” I reply. She smiles up at me, a very wicked look in her eye.
“Would you like me to help scrub you clean later?” I wish she wouldn’t do that in public. She knows exactly what effect it has on me.
I just grit my teeth and prepare to get through the next few hours without dragging her off.
I blink as I look at the certificate I’m witnessing. It’s so rarely that we use our full names, that it’s always a shock to see them – especially Prin. When we’re, well, alone - together, I always call her by her real name, but usually we forget that she does have a name.
Her scrawled signature is next to mine and she gives me a dirty look. I know I’ve disappointed her.
Disappointed everybody, really. Jason’s enjoying poking me because he was fully expecting that before now he’d have been my best man.
But I can’t bring myself to do it.
I love her so much, so dearly, that I can’t bring myself to put her in the position of possibly becoming my widow.
Or is it because I don’t want to go through the grief of loosing her as a wife?
Hug and kisses all around now for Tiny and Ann, and we move back into the church, Princess on my arm and I know that I’ve got a silly grin on my face – and that her eyes are showing her hurt that it’s not her wedding day.
Jason’s glaring at me because he’s seen her eyes. And I know that tomorrow morning, I’ll let him kick the crap out of me at training, because I know that I’ve hurt her, and that I deserve every bit of what I get.
I wish it was our wedding day. I’d give anything for it to be us. But I can’t do it. Can’t stretch the rules, stretch what my duty as her Commander is, that far.
Picture time. Happy people. Love and laughter. Even Jason’s being civil to Ann’s sister. I’m surprised when Ann grabs my arm and hauls me to one side.
“When, Mark?” I know exactly what she means. She’s been cornering me like this ever since she and Tiny became engaged.
“I can’t Ann. I can’t risk it.”
“Why not? The risks are the same for both of you. And you’ve got it wrong. She wants to marry you, but most of all she wants to be open. Everybody suspects, and the gossip and speculation hurts her. Some of it’s pretty nasty, by the way.”
Now I’m mad. “What’s she done to hurt them?”
“You mean apart from the obvious? We live in a small world, Mark. Everybody hears. Everybody sees. Nothing is really a secret. You all have so many secrets you have to keep, why not let go of one – especially one that will make you both happy.”
I shake my head. “I can’t,” I whisper miserably.
“You’ve gotten into a habit with this, Mark. Break it. Or you may find yourself wishing that she had died.”
It took a minute for what Ann said to spiral through my brain and I looked at her in horror. “But, she loves me,” was all I could say.
“Yes – more than you deserve. She’s a very moral person, Mark, and she’s put a lot of her scruples aside for you. For her own sake, don’t make her choose between you and her beliefs about sex and marriage.”
“She’s not said anything. Besides, half the time she’s the one … Dammit Ann! She seduced me!”
“She won’t say anything. She’s too thankful that you have what you have. You say you love her, but you’ve never come out and said it to her. Never given her any sort of indication that this is a lifetime commitment for you.” Ann looked at me sharply. “It is, isn’t it, Mark?”
I nodded; numb with realisation of how much I’ve actually screwed this up. “She means everything to me.”
“Then tell her. Sooner rather than later,” and Ann is off again. I’ve been left to my own thoughts, which aren’t pretty.
I’ve taken her for granted, always. Always as a soft presence by my side, there when I need her, whether as a teammate, friend or lover. She’s always giving to me, and yet, I know, that I’ve never offered anything to her.
If she asked, I’d move mountains for her. But the important thing is that I’ve never volunteered.
I’m in a daze during photographs and the trip to the reception centre. However, I seem to be functioning OK, as even Jason’s stopped poking me for the moment. But that could be because he’s not getting any reaction from me – or he has other more painful plans for me.
And I’m watching her. My beautiful, darling Lexa. It’s only when we’re alone together that I call her that. Something that belongs only to us, when we try to pretend we’re just Mark and Lexa, with no other responsibilities.
She’s surrounded by men at the reception, all eager to secure a dance with her, to spend time with her. I’m jealous. She’s mine.
No. I’m hers. And it’s this realisation that has made me change my mind. I’m hers, body and soul.
She is asking me for something – and I didn’t see it. Well, that’s changed now. It took Ann and her brick bat for me to see it, but it’s time for me to give my love what she wants. - with no reservations.
This is for life.
And Jason was right that day when he told me that even if I deny what’s in my heart, it doesn’t change it. Everything in our lives is still the same, only there are two people hurting.
I hate it when Jason’s right about the big things in life.
But now I have to put my attention to my Lexa. The Bride and Groom have danced, and now it’s time for the wedding party to stumble across the floor. We’ve been practicing this for weeks. To my relief, Jason was a clumsy as I was at first. Irritating bastard. I’m glad that I did the extra practice and can now wipe the floor with him when it comes to dancing.
But then, I’ve got the best partner in the world. I smile at her as we slip onto the dance floor and she’s smiling back. I take a deep breath and start the ball rolling on what will be for the rest of my life.
“Will you promise me something?” I ask her. She nods, unhesitatingly. I don’t deserve her. “On our wedding day, will you look as beautiful as you do now?”
We stop dancing, and her eyes are wide. I’m loosing myself in them, and the love that’s shining out of them.
“Mark..” I stop her with a kiss. I don’t care that we’re in the middle of the dance floor where everybody can see us.
“I think we’d better make it soon, though. If we leave it too long Jason’ll find some way to weasel out of wearing a suit again.” I’m babbling now.
“Mark…” Her hand is against my face and I reach up with my own and grasp it as I turn my head to kiss the palm through her glove. I can faintly smell fuel coming through the glove.
“I love you, Lexa. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve just realised that we can’t afford to wait, because if we do, it may be too late.” This is it. I’m about to do the most foolish – or perhaps the bravest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I go down on one knee before her. She’s loving it. Under the technical wizard is a core of pure marshmallow.
“Princess Alexandra Nicholivna Romanova, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife? Even though I know that your relatives think I’m not good enough for you, and even though I’ve got nothing to offer except my heart. Will you marry me?”
She’s crying now, but even I can see she’s happy. She nods, and I gratefully get off my knees (that floor’s hard). As we kiss, I can hear applause in the background. We seem to have rather taken the spotlight off the Bride and Groom.
Any remorse over that is killed by Ann’s voice. “Pony up, Jason. I told you he’d propose to her before the end of the reception.”
Now Prin and I are both giggling helplessly, her body pliant against mine, almost like she feels after we’ve made love. I love the feel of her against me. I always have, and managed (I don’t know how) to find excuses all the time to put my arm around her, to hold her close.
It’s out now. Everybody knows. And it feels like a weight has been taken off my shoulders. No more having to watch other men cluster around her. I glance around for the team, and grin when I see Keyop dancing around Jason. Jason just smiles and nods. I think that I’ve managed to avoid tomorrow’s beating.
I remember her comment about scrubbing me clean, pull her tighter against me and we walk off the floor. I need another bath. So does she.
It’s time for us go to. I really can’t see anybody objecting if I want to go and spend some private time with my new fiancée.
And to be honest – I don’t care if they do.
From the way she’s looking at me; the way I can feel her hands on me; I don’t think she gives a damn either.
It’s nice, this feeling. To know that we’ll be together for the rest of our lives.
I wonder how we can live forever?