Can't Help Falling in Love With You

From the Story Arc: The Death of CCCP

Previous Story in the Arc: I'm With a Crowd But So Alone by Red Saviour (Monday, May 16, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: There's No Place Like Home by Red Saviour (Thursday, May 26, 2005)

(posted Thursday, May 19, 2005)

Mosca, grinning ear to ear, opened his mouth to speak, but Natalya beat him to it. “Tovarishii, we are having announcement.”

“Oh?” Romanov smirked at them knowingly. “Whatever might that be?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Pfft. Is very special announcement, Comrade Smart In Pants. Are you…” – she fought back a burp – “ready?”

“We’re ready,” Bella said. Butterflies danced in her stomach.

Natalya and Mosca held hands and smiled coyly at their friends. The gesture was so natural they hardly needed to say what came next.

“Santiago and I have decided…we have decided is time for being married.” Despite years of training and her ruthless wielding of power, Red Saviour could not prevent her voice from cracking at the end.

Bella clasped her hands together. “Oh my god, that is so wonderful!” Natalya bowed her head in thanks, but Bella embraced her as if she were a sister.

“Spasibo, spasibo. If nyet for your timely intervention at hotel, we wouldn’t be in perfect bar ever to tell you news.”

Cestimir shook Mosca’s hand, clapping him on the shoulder in a manner that could not be mistaken for anything but masculine triumph. “Pozdravlyayu! Congratulations!”

Bella hugged Mosca (trying not to notice how good a muscular man felt in her arms), and Cestimir embraced Natalya. She gave him a comradely peck on the cheek. They parted and stood grinning at each other, as onlookers speculated what could possibly be the source of their joy.

Natalya produced the Elvis chapel pamphlet. “We go here for wedding. I have promised darlink.”

“I have made promises, too,” Mosca said. “But a gentleman does not share these.”

“Tab is paid,” Natalya observed. “We give coats back and leave now. Sevodnya. Today. Darlink and I are in hurry.” The hands found each other again.

Bella braced herself for a show of temper, just in case.

"You'll have to sober up," she said flatly, accelerating her own metabolism to get her systems up and running again. "It's the law in Vegas now; you may be able to get a marriage license in one hour, 24/7, but you have to be sober to do so."

Mosca blinked at her. Red Saviour looked for a moment as if she was going to display that temper, then let out her breath in a long sigh. "Bah," she said. "Is waste of good feelings. But I can see wisdom in such a law."

Bella nodded, and mouthed a name at Romanov that might have rhymed with "Litany Clears." He shrugged, but grinned. "The vodka will still be here, after wedding," he pointed out. "So, little blue girl, making us sober, da?"

"Da." As her own mind cleared, the more she was certain that this was anything but a drunken impulse, this was merely, as Romanov had said, the opening of hearts to accept what was already a fait accompli. That made her feel very good---and also---

She checked her watch and was amazed to discover it was only one AM. Bobby would still be up. Heh. She suppressed a grin and kicked in the ability to accelerate the metabolisms of those around her as well as her own. Some people stared as a green glow filled the area.

Boy, if I could just find a way to bottle this I would make a fortune in the diet and hangover business...

Meanwhile, she fumbled her cell out of her handbag and hunted for Bobby's secret burn-before-reading private number. "We need a limo," she said aloud.

"Shto?" Red Saviour said, and frowned. "We are not---"

"Commissar, limos are to Las Vegas what Black Cabs are to London," Bella replied, cutting off Natalya's objections. "If you want to get to several places quickly, you get a limo rather than waiting for a cab. The limo drivers know all the short cuts. And everybody and his dog takes limos; they're nothing special."

Bella waited for the first burn of the metabolism kick to wear off, closed her eyes, and set off a second. "Wait here."

As she had suspected, the concierge had several limos and drivers waiting for just such occasions. And when he learned just who the limo was for, he practically fell all over himself to get just the right driver, since word of the celebrity in Red Square had doubled the usual attendance for a weeknight, and most of the gawkers had ponied up for the same "good stuff" that the celebrated Russian heroine was drinking.

The driver was very cool about things; not rattled by superhero celebrity ("Well, I did drive Nimble Minx around when she was here") but genuinely enthusiastic and touched by the romance. ("Oh man! We have GOT to make this great for them!") That call to Bobby Delacorte verified that he was awake, and he did not have a booking in the next three hours, and he himself had some strings he could and would pull.

"Pity we can't do the ‘Jailhouse Rock’ special; I think your Spaniard would be out of his mind before it was over," he said wistfully, when he and Bella had decided on a theme. "But that's a big chunk of time -- better go straight for the short-and-sweet romance."

One more call, this time to Gramma and Grampa, who were nightowls of the first water, double-checking with the limo-driver to make sure that all the ducks were in a row, and the last of the arrangements were in place. Bella ran back to the trio waiting---now sober enough to pass muster at the courthouse -- with just the faintest beginnings of impatience.

"All set, let's rock and roll!" she exclaimed cheerfully. "Next stop, the county courthouse, the only place in the world where you fill out your marriage license application with a golf-pencil!"

It being a weeknight, the courthouse was not crowded; they were in and out, license in hand, in fifteen minutes. Far from looking as if they were having second thoughts, Bella thought the two of them were looking more excited by the minute.

That is, until they pulled up to one of the many Elvis themed chapels---the one in Mosca's brochure, in fact---and got a good look at it. Natalya bit her lip; Mosca deflated just a little. Bella didn't blame either of them, the fact was it was so past kitsch it was well into tired and tawdry. Fortunately, she was not about to let her friends get married in a fifteen-minute, hurry-up ceremony presided over by an overweight goon with a karaoke machine.

"We aren't stopping," she said, before Natalya could say anything. "I just wanted you to see what you might have gotten stuck with. You don't really think that I would let my friend and my Commissar get married in there, do you?"

"Tropicana?" asked the driver, with a grin. "Right you are. Back entrance to the Secret Garden."

"Shto?" Now Natalya was truly puzzled.

"You'll see."

Bobby Delacorte was the Elvis impersonator that Bella had gone to High School with. Even though he was two years ahead of her, he'd been on the track team, which was how she had met him: healing all the sprains, abrasions, and occasional broken bones you got in track and field. His resemblance to Elvis had been remarkable then, and with time and practice, it was uncanny now.

He had decided after high school that there was a steady source of income in "tasteful" Elvis-themed weddings, and had arrangements with several chapels, parks, and other venues. His specialty was the "Jailhouse Rock" wedding, a themed role-play extravaganza that would start with bride and groom donning 50s era clothing from his collection. The bride would "elope" from Bobby's house, climbing out the window with her suitcase; the groom would be waiting with "his best friend Elvis" driving a vintage pink Caddy convertible, and a second witness, often one of the bride or groom's friends. Bobby had arrangements with the local police to "pursue" the fleeing couple as far as the city limits, where Elvis would take them to one of the nicer little chapels, one that was a good imitation of a country church, and the minister there would marry the two with Elvis as the best man.

Mosca would have loved such a thing, but there really wasn't time to arrange it. So instead--

The pulled up to the Tropicana, where Bobby was waiting, already dressed as the Hawaiian Elvis. Mosca's eyes widened, but before he could say anything, Bobby had grabbed his elbow.

"Come on, buddy," he said, in a voice so like the young King's that even Bella did a double-take. "You an' I hev got some fixin' up t' do." He winked at Bella. "You get along, ladies, we'll see you in five."

That was the signal for Bella to take Natalya off to the dressing room.

"I vill not ask why I am trying these dresses on," Natalya said, after the third sarong. "But---"

"Trust me, Mosca will know. This is one of the Elvis movies. Try this---" Bella had finally found a little number in deep crimson and black that she thought would do justice to Natalya's raven hair and flawless skin. She herself was kind of stuck; blue, black, and the occasional green were the only things that looked good on her. It was just as well that she liked blue, she supposed.

She wriggled into her own sarong, and turned in time to see Natalya stepping out of the changing stall.

"Holy frijoles!" It was the right color, the right length, the right---everything. It fit her like a glove. She looked far less devushka and far more wahini than Bella would ever have imagined, and she could easily have played the star in any island picture from the fifties. "Oh my lord god, if Mosca leaves that on you for more than five seconds after the ceremony, you had better have his temperature checked."

"Is good?" The confident Commissar had momentarily vanished, as the anxious bride took her place.

"Is red-hot good. Trust me." Bella plucked a hibiscus from the bouquet and tucked it behind Natalya's right ear. "Now, is perfect." She checked her watch. "And now is time to go."

Strings had been pulled, and the "garden" part of the Secret Gardens---safely away from slumbering white tigers and lions---had been opened just for them. Romanov and Mosca were waiting -- with Bobby -- clad as Bobby was in Hawaiian shirts and loose white cotton pants. The thing about Bobby was that he was also an ordained minister, so in every wedding other than "Jailhouse Rock," he also did the officiating. And he played guitar, so no chintzy karaoke machine --

As Natalya, followed by Bella, appeared at the end of the path, Bobby began playing. He had a good pickup mic and amp, so the sound was natural. Exactly like a movie soundtrack.

Wise men say only fools rush in,
But I can't help falling in love with you --

Bella couldn't help herself; she started to tear up. She felt better about it when she saw Romanov take out a handkerchief and wipe his eyes.

Bobby paused for a moment when the song was over. Then he took a deep breath. "Ah think ah'm gonna skip the usual speech t'day," he said. "Ah put together a little somethin' special jest fer you two when our little gal Bella gave me the call. So ah hope ya'll will bear with me."

He cleared his throat. "Friends, we are gathered here tonight to witness the exchange of solemn vows between Santiago Ferrer and Natalya Shostakovich. They've been through some hard times and some good times together, plenty of both, and enough to make it pretty clear they've both got that thing called love and any place is paradise as long as it has the both of them in it."

Bella vaguely recognized some of what Bobby was saying as the titles of Elvis songs, but it was so smoothly put together it wasn't obvious.

Bobby turned to Red Saviour. "Natalya Shostakovich, repeat after me: Santiago, any place is paradise as long as I have you. You're always on my mind, and a hundred years from now, I'll still be loving you."

Then it was Mosca's turn. "Santiago Ferrer, repeat after me: Natalya, all that I am is yours. Anyone could fall in love with you, but you made me the king of the whole wide world when you told me you belong to my heart. I will love you today, tomorrow, and forever."

Bella was holding her breath so she wouldn't mess things up by sniffling, but her eyes were blurry with tears. She didn't think it was her imagination that the two of them were glowing.

"Please take this moment to exchange your gifts of love," Bobby said, and there was a moment of panic in Mosca's eyes until Romanov handed him the rings that Bella had arranged for. Clever Bella, she was so proud of herself for thinking of this part; Serge at Icon had every possible measurement for every hero that ever stepped through his doors on file, and Serge never slept either... and Las Vegas was a town where you could get anything at any time. Including two plain gold rings of the proper size, each inlaid with one tiny red ruby star.

There was the usual moment of uncharacteristic fumbling caused by trembling hands, and the rings slipped over the appropriate fingers.

Bobby grinned. "Now, by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife, but remember, there is no return to sender. Now kiss that long legged girl quick, Santiago!"

#

Back in the limo they went -- Natalya still with the hibiscus flower tucked in her hair --and the limo turned up towards the mountains. Immersed in each other, at first the bridal couple didn't notice until --

"This is not going to hotel --" Mosca said.

"No. You're getting a right proper wedding, and we're meeting Bobby and a couple of my friends at Gramma and Grampa Parker's house for a --" Bella wrinkled her nose " --not exactly a wedding dinner, but you'll like it. Once we've got you properly full of calories, THEN you go back to the hotel!"

"Shto?" said Natalya, and at Bella's blush, laughed. "Ah, I see -- because we may not be coming out of room--"

"That's enough share time!" Bella blurted, her cheeks and ears burning.

It might not have been a "classical" wedding dinner, but it certainly suited the wedding theme, because what Gramma had cooked up was classical Americana---"Elvis" food. Hamburgers and hot dogs, barbeque, and even, just for Mosca, the infamous deep-fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches.

"I can hear your arteries hardening from here," Bella teased.

Bobby sang and played, casually, proving that he not only knew every Elvis song there was, but that he could also do a passable imitation of Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot ("a boy's gotta expand his repertoire") and the couple of friends that Bella had invited over were retired heroes, a Navaho superhero called Monster Slayer, and a woman named Maiden Steel, who had both fought in the Rikti invasion of Groom Lake. Grampa Parker broke out the "good" vodka he kept for Russian scientist friends, the two retired heroes took turns teasing the "young whippersnappers." Bella sat a little off to one side, listening to the old stories and new ones being swapped among experienced heroes, sipping her cola. It was amazing, all the more because Monster Slayer actually knew, peripherally at least, Natalya's father, since they had met fighting the Nazis in World War Two. Monster Slayer had been the Code Talker for the Freedom Phalanx, something Bella hadn't known until that moment, and as such, the liason with the Russian heroes on the Eastern Front.

Finally, when all of the vodka and most of the food was gone, and the sun was coming up, they bundled the newlyweds back into their limo, everyone else went home, and Bella opted to sleep off the party in the spare bedroom. By all rights, all the changes, the excitement, and the whirlwind of planning and execution she'd just been through in the past twenty-four hours should have kept her wide awake.

By all rights---except that she didn't get past sitting down on the side of the bed before she was asleep.