TO TRAVEL HOPEFULLY

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McCoy entered the deserted officer's lounge. Well, nearly deserted. In the dim light and at first glance, he had failed to notice the scruffy shock of grey hair visible above the back of the leather armchair near the observation window. He didn't even have to see the open bottle of Scotch and the glass beside it to know who was in the room.

"You know you shouldn't be drinking," the doctor chided. "Out cold, the report said. Captain Scott treated for mild concussion after impact with a bulkhead beam. How'd you manage that, by the way? I thought you knew your way around these ships. Getting careless in your old age?"

Without turning around, the figure in the chair held up his glass. "Never mind the diagnosis," he grumbled. "Join me."

McCoy grabbed a tumbler from the shelf and sat in the vacant chair beside Scott. The engineer poured a generous two fingers into the empty glass.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, just watching the stars go by. McCoy knew something was bothering Scott. He had seen the engineer slip away from the makeshift cocktail party, but getting him to open up—even with the assistance of whiskey, was not always easy. Like many of his fellow countrymen, Scotty was a brooder and a worrier. The doctor decided to start in the most likely place.

"The ship took quite a beating going through the barrier," he began. Crossing that barrier had been thought impossible, but the Enterprise had made it there and back mostly intact, though the engineer was still patching up pieces and systems, and likely would be until they got home. "She held up well, huh?"

"Aye," Scott slowly nodded his head, though he still did not make eye contact with McCoy. "She did indeed, though she's hardly a match for her namesake." He held up his glass in a salute to the original Enterprise vessel; a gesture matched by McCoy. They drank and quiet fell upon them once again.

"So?" asked McCoy.

"So, what?"

McCoy narrowed his eyes and peered over the glass at his friend. "So why are you here drinking alone?"

"I'm not." Scott took a long sip and leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes "You're here."

McCoy made a face. "Come on, give. The ship is fine; the former hostages are being delivered home safe and sound, the real God is apparently still in his heaven and not on Shakaree or where ever. All is well with the universe."

"Is it?" asked Scotty. "I mean, you're the doctor. Forget the trip through the barrier; that crazy Vulcan messing about with people's minds-" He shook his head. "It's not right. Who knows what damage he did?"

McCoy squirmed in his seat. He didn't really want to discuss this; with Scotty or anyone. His own experience with Sybok was still too fresh in his mind. He had been helped past it and had come out for the better, but reliving his experience was traumatic. He could see Scott was worried, which wasn't exactly rare; the man worried about the multitude of mechanical components and gauges on the ship as though he had given birth to each and every one of them. But, McCoy knew, the engineer was not usually one to obsess over the mental states of others—even his friends. Scotty believed that most every emotional or psychological crisis was best cured by a day of good hard work, or night with a good bottle of Scotch.

"Scotty, there's nothing to worry about. I assure you no harm was done to anyone."

"But," Scott protested, "He put thoughts into people's heads—"

McCoy interrupted him. "No. It's hard to explain, but Sybok didn't hurt anyone. He didn't create ideas, he simply made us face the ones that were already there and—"

"Us?" It was Scotty's turn to interrupt. "You, too?" He wondered if he could still trust anyone's sanity on this ship.

McCoy sighed and reluctantly nodded. "I'm fine. And you can stop fretting."

Scott wouldn't let it go. He couldn't. There was something out there he needed to deal with. "What do you mean face things? What sort of things? "

"Personal things, Scotty," McCoy answered quickly. "Things that were kept deep down that caused people pain. I guess it was different for everyone. I don't know how he did it; some Vulcan voo-doo, I guess." He waved his hand, dismissing it all. "But I have to give that crazy Vulcan credit. Damned hard as it was, facing those personal demons was freeing."

The doctor saw the doubtful frown darken Scotty's face. "I know you're a suspicious sort, but it wasn't brainwashing if that's what you are thinking. Besides, it's over; just forget it." He refilled both their glasses, hoping that was the end of it.

"But," persisted Scott, "it was true?"

McCoy snapped in frustration. "You're like a terrier with a bone! It's none of your damn business! What do you care anyway? You're an engineer, not a psychologist."

"Leonard, I need to know." Scott leaned forward in his chair so that he was eye to eye with the doctor. "I don't care to know what your secret was, but was it true? What he made you face, are you sure it was there before?"

McCoy looked into Scott's desperate eyes. Scotty rarely called him by his first name. He didn't know why, but he knew his friend was intent on getting the answer to that question. Was it true? He nodded and took another sip, thinking it over. Scotty hadn't asked him to tell his personal story; he had simply asked whether the doctor's experience had been authentic. "All right. Yes, it was there before. Absolutely."

Scott exhaled and leaned back again. He ran his hands through his hair, a gesture that could have meant so many things. "You're quite sure?"

"Scotty!"

"I'm sorry."

They both stared straight ahead again.

"Now it's your turn," said McCoy. "Why are you so interested in Sybok? I thought you stayed clear of him?"

Scotty nodded his head. "I did." He wasn't ready to give away too much, so he stayed in the general. "There were others…Uhura, Sulu—"

McCoy nodded. "I know," he said. "I've seen them and checked them out. They're all fine."

"Well, that's good." Scotty tried to look satisfied.

The doctor knew that they still hadn't gotten to the root of Scott's problem. It wasn't the ship, wasn't the health and well-being of the crew, and he'd had no direct contact with the Vulcan deity-chaser. What was it?

"You know, I've never known you to leave a party early." McCoy said.

Scott held up his bottle and topped off their glasses. "Got my own party right here."

"Didn't you like the company?" McCoy chuckled. "I mean that Klingon general was no prize, but you should have seen Sulu and Chekov drooling over—"

"Uhura's thing, with Sybok… it was me." It was awkward, but it was out, and Scott closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable reply.

"You?" McCoy raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Aye," he nodded slowly, almost painfully. "She said she had…feelings for me."

McCoy attempted to match the Scotsman's serious demeanor, but his grin gave him away. "You?" he repeated.

"You don't have to look so surprised, doctor! And it's not funny."

"Okay, I'm sorry." He did his best to compose himself. "So she has feelings for you." He shrugged. "You've known each other a long time. These things happen."

"Well, they didn't happen. Not until that Sybok character got into her head."

"You had no idea?" McCoy found it hard to believe even Scotty could be that oblivious. Though it was odd to hear it out loud after so many years, the doctor himself was hardly shocked.

Scott shrugged, running it through his head for the hundredth time that night. "We spend time together. We all do. Livin' on top of one another for decades—"

McCoy held up his hand. "This isn't about the rest of us."

The engineer tried not to show his frustration at being kept on topic. His mind quickly ran through his enduring connection with Uhura, both professional and personal. She'd always had his professional respect; and he liked her perfect mix of tenderness and spunk, even if it meant setting him straight a time or two, or pulling him out of a funk of some kind. And when the Enterprise crew had at times scattered on reassignments or promotions, she had remained with the ship. Or was it with him? She had been beside him for refits and refurbishing, and most recently, they had spent nearly every waking moment together on the 1701-A. Always a stalwart military man, he still loved the informality of those times when he had only a hand-picked tech crew on hand and answered only to his own whims. He was relaxed and happy; and it was only now he realized just how many of those days were spent with Uhura.

As he was with most women, he was protective of her, Nomad had proven that; but unlike the others, he would accept her input or even questions when he was in the command chair. She was reasonable and intelligent, and somehow he also remembered each and every time she had casually laid her arm on him, or leaned against him, or given him even a chaste kiss. There were few invitations that could pull his head out of a bulkhead or tech journal even long enough to mumble an audible 'no,' but he usually gave in to her. She had a way of getting what she wanted, well, most of the time.

Scott looked at McCoy. "I admit we came close to somethin' happening a few times over the years; mostly after a few drinks or on leave, but one of us would always back off, or we'd be interrupted. I mean, we're close, but I swear nothing more ever happened between us."

"Do you want it to?"

"What?"

"Come on, be honest," urged the doctor. "Do you want to be with her? Are you in love with her?"

Scott gave a sarcastic chuckle. "Aren't you?"

It was a good point. Somehow Nyota Uhura had a way with the men in her life. While all the senior officers on the bridge crew were like so many brothers, it was unlikely that any of them would turn down a chance to be more.

McCoy decided to avoid the question. "Have you talked to her?"

Scott shook his head. "I couldn't. I didn't know what to say. I had no idea whether what she said or felt was even real."

He wasn't ready to admit aloud that he didn't think he'd trust himself. Their relationship had been at various times professional, playful, teasing, even flirtatious, but in sick bay she had been so openly desirous of him that it would have been so very easy to accept her invitation.

"She had wanted to talk about it when I was in sick bay," said Scott. "But there was so much going on and I thought she'd been brainwashed or that my own brains were scrambled. Besides, I had work to do. Then we were together at the party tonight. She said she still wanted to talk to me, alone." He rubbed his eyes. "I made an excuse and got the hell out of there when she stepped away for a moment."

"Well, you can't avoid her forever," McCoy laughed, "Unless you want me to quarantine you?"

Scotty didn't see the doctor's humor. His shoulders sagged. "The last thing I want to do is take advantage of someone I care for."

McCoy sat up and looked his friend in the eye. "But it is real, Scotty. You were assuming it wasn't. If she said it, she meant it. What difference does it make if Sybok brought it to the surface now or it came out on it's own? If you both have feelings for each other, I don't see why this is a bad thing. Hell, I'm happy for you." He raised his glass and toasted them.

"I don't want to hurt her."

"So don't."

"My track record with women is—"

"Ancient history," McCoy finished. "Look, none of us has ever won Love Partner of the Year. It comes with the job. Broken hearts are practically issued with our uniforms. We live out here for years at a time, running around the galaxy; some of us ran away from relationships, some of us just chose our careers over storybook romances and a normal family life. A successful love life is a precious commodity in Starfleet, you know that."

"Exactly."

McCoy shook his head. "But this is different. Scotty, she's known you for over twenty years. She's seen you in every possible condition and mood, on duty and off. If she is still in love with you after living and working together all these years, I'd go for it."

"I've lost every woman I ever cared for out here. Even the Enterprise. I don't want to lose Uhura, too."

"You won't. Being friends will help. You can handle it. You're mature adults, not a couple of lovesick kids. Trust yourselves."

"Travel hopefully."

"What?"

"My mother used to quote an old Scottish writer called Robert Louis Stevenson. He said, 'To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.'" Scott took a deep breath. "Maybe it's better not to know how we'd be together. I mean, what if it goes bad?"

"Well," McCoy pursed his lips in deep thought. "The rest of us will have to beat the shit out of you for hurting her."

He smiled, and Scotty couldn't help but grin, too. He knew if this conversation had taken place in reverse, he'd have issued the same warning.

The engineer took a deep breath and stared at the ceiling. "I don't know what to do."

"All right," McCoy shrugged helplessly. He'd given his best pep talk. "Then do nothing. Travel any way you like. Hell, give it another twenty years and see what happens."

Scott gave his friend a pained look. He was about to counter sarcasm with sarcasm, but they both heard the door behind them open and turned to see Uhura enter.

In the look exchanged between the two men, McCoy saw Scott imploring him not to leave them alone. Of course, as every steadfast friend would do, McCoy immediately put down his glass and got to his feet.

"Well, I've got a book I'm dying to finish." The doctor ignored the slight whimper from beside him and didn't even try to hide his sly grin as he passed the communications officer. "It's a romance. I just love those, you know?" He took her hand in his and gallantly kissed it before departing. His words followed him out the door. "Goodnight, kids."

Uhura chuckled softly. '"What was that about?" She approached Scotty and sat in McCoy's vacated chair.

Scotty caught himself watching as she crossed her long legs and quickly averted his eyes. He tried to sound casual and forced a smile. "The man's getting older, can't hold his liquor anymore."

Again, two Enterprise officers sat in silence before the expanse of the galaxy. This silence, however, was deafening. Uhura reached over and grabbed McCoy's half-empty glass. She swirled the liquid around the glass for a few turns and then downed it. Replacing the glass on the table, she looked at her companion. "Captain Scott, you've been avoiding me."

"Have I?" the engineer tried his best to look innocent. He lasted only until he momentarily met her eyes. "Aye," he said quietly. "That I have, lass. Not very gallant, I'm afraid."

Uhura leaned into him, forcing him to look at her.

"Scotty, I just need for you to know how I feel—have felt, for a long time now. I stayed with the Enterprise all these years because I love her, and this crew. But I guess I just realized that it was you, not the ship that had the real hold on me. And lately, well, I guess I had hoped that maybe we could finally be more than friends. I wasn't trying to trap you, but I really wanted to spend our last leave together—"

"And I stood you up. I'm sorry, lassie."

She laughed. "No, Scotty. I get it, really. I don't want you to change for me. Don't you see? I know exactly who you are, and that's the engineer I am in love with."

Scotty couldn't believe she had said it. She was in love with him. "I make a lousy boyfriend. I'm possessive and overprotective and stubborn. And I'll stand you up for work all the time."

Another knowing smile from the beautiful lady before him, "I know."

He stood up and leaned on the window, looking out at the stars, struggling to take it all in and get his swirling thoughts straight. He wondered if he was drunk. He guessed McCoy was right; he shouldn't have mixed Scotch and a concussion.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"

The soft voice came from beside him. She was changing the subject; letting him off the hook. But when he turned to her things suddenly became sober and clear.

"Aye," he said with a small nod toward the window. "It's the second most beautiful sight I've seen tonight." How could he have questioned this? Now it was his turn, and he gently brushed the back of his hand against her dark cheek, and just as in sick bay, he felt the warm skin flush beneath it.

They were once again in that moment in a place they had been so many times before; close, curious and incredibly tempted. This time, however, there would be no interruption, and no retreat. He gently kissed her; alone in the room, yet exposed to the galaxy. Both were certainly experienced lovers in their own right, and neither would claim it to be the most passionate kiss either had ever had, yet somehow it was deeply satisfying to them both. It was long and sweet and well worth waiting for. They embraced as they caught their breath, and she stroked with both hands at the hair at the back of his collar.

"Come on." She suddenly pulled her arms from around his neck and grabbed his hand, pulling him away from the window.

The engineer was puzzled at the sudden break of mood. "Where are we going?"

She gave him a saucy look that spoke volumes. "You, Captain, are going to walk me to my cabin. And, if you're a good lad, I may even let you kiss me goodnight."

He pulled to a stop and narrowed his eyes playfully at her. "And if I am a bad lad?"

"I may let you do more than that." With a twinkle in her eye, she leaned close to his cheek, her long fingernails tracing a path that began at his ear and ended at the edge of his mustache and lip. She stopped just short of kissing him, though, and stepped back, pointing toward the door. "Now, left face and forward march."

He swallowed hard and tried to find his voice. "I outrank you, you know."

She raised one eyebrow. "I waited twenty years for you to make the first move, Mister, and you left us hanging in spacedock. I'm taking command of this ship now. Okay?" Again, she picked up his hand to lead them to the door.

"Aye, aye, commander." He gave a little salute and smiled at her, his mind racing with the possibilities that lay before them that night and for more nights to come. He stopped suddenly as they departed the lounge and checked the time. He pointed the opposite way down the corridor. "I just need to make one stop in engineering first!"

Her indignant teasing and his defensive explanation echoed down the empty corridor as they entered the turbo lift together, headed for her place—via engineering.

The bridge crew generally ate together before going on duty, but there were two vacant chairs at the senior staff table in the officer's mess as breakfast started. The usual banter and morning chatter between Kirk and Spock, and Chekov and Sulu seemed back to normal, though it was obvious that everyone save for Spock was nursing a hangover. Only McCoy seemed unusually quiet, though alcohol wasn't totally to blame. He sat, sipping at his coffee, lost in thought and smirking happily at the two empty chairs across the table.

Scott was the first to arrive, and it was all the doctor could do to keep from standing and applauding. He could tell by the look on the man's face that things had gone well with the lady last night. McCoy made a point of looking at the chronometer as Scotty approached the table.

"Nice of you to join us, Mister Scott."

Scott ignored him and got himself a cup of black coffee and sat down across from the doctor.

McCoy, still grinning, pushed on. "You look tired. Didn't you get enough sleep?"

"You know," said Scotty matter-of-factly, as he brought his mug to his lips. "I bet I can transport a sleeping man from his bunk and disperse him into deep space without ever waking him."

The doctor waved his hands in surrender. "I was just making conversation, but obviously you aren't a morning person." He raised his eyebrows suggestively at the empty chair. "Or are you?"

His giggle was cut short by the boot impact with his shin under the table. He rubbed it, but his expression warned Scott to prepare for a long day.

Uhura swept in moments later, looking wonderful and none the worse for wear. "Good morning, gentlemen," she cheerfully greeted the group and went to make her cup of herbal tea.

McCoy leaned over to Scotty and spoke in a stage whisper. "Would now be a bad time to mention that we saw her dance naked on Nimbus III?"