In a universe where instant travel was always at his fingertips, McCoy knew that sometimes it was the journey that mattered the most. The Enterprise was due for a refit and her crew was granted an extended shore leave. McCoy spent the first day at his family’s ranch in Georgia closing out all his old cases. There were miles of notes to catch up on and by the time he was done the first day of shore leave had turned to night. He padded around the empty house adjusting picture frames and dusting shelves, sipping on an Andorian ale until he was tired enough to fall asleep on the couch.
The next day he spent packing the shuttle car. It was an older model with a low hover height and a top speed of ninety kilometers an hour. The autopilot had been broken for years. He filled the trunk space with his suitcases and datapadds and then went back to the ranch to lock up. When he returned he was surprised to see Spock standing by the shuttle car with a bag over his shoulder.
McCoy blinked. “Spock. Fancy meeting you here.”
Spock had been looking out over the horizon, and he turned as McCoy spoke, his gaze half-lidded and contemplative. “Doctor,” he greeted, and said nothing more.
“What brings you to Georgia?”
“I am not certain.”
McCoy’s interest was piqued. “This is a rare day indeed, if the indomitably brilliant Mr. Spock is admitting he doesn’t know something.”
Spock inclined his head. “I admit I was…curious about the place you call home. I find it is less illogically ordered than I had assumed.”
“It’s a ranch, Spock. They have their own logic.”
“Indeed. It seems to have been quite some time since any animals were raised here. The garden also seems to be in a state of disrepair.”
McCoy followed his gaze to the old garden plot near the house. The only thing that distinguished it was the different kind of grass that had taken root there, and the dilapidated wood fencing that was falling in on itself. “Well, it’ll have to lie fallow a bit longer. I’m not here long enough to fix this place up.”
“You are preparing for a trip?”
“Yeah. One I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
“Where will you go?”
Spock blinked. He glanced back at the shuttle car, his brown eyes calculating. “I do not believe this vehicle will last the trip.”
“I spent most of my childhood fixing up this old girl. If I encounter problems I can handle them.”
“The Alcan Highway is notorious for its state of disrepair.”
McCoy shrugged. “Like I said, I’ll handle it. That’s part of the excitement of taking a trip like this, Spock.”
Spock’s gaze was fixed on the shuttle car. McCoy considered him standing there, looking a bit small with just his single bag over his shoulder.
“…What are you doing for shore leave?”
“I had not yet decided.”
“Just wanted to pay your old pal McCoy a visit, hm? Well, get in the damned car.”
Spock tilted his head. “Doctor?”
“You heard me. Get in. For pity’s sake, Spock. You’re like a sad puppy standing there. I can hardly look at you.”
Spock frowned very slightly. “I am not a ‘sad puppy,’ Doctor.”
“Prove it.” McCoy swept his arm towards the car. “Come with me. You can make sure I don’t crash into a tree or get sucked into a pothole. If you get sick of it we can call Starfleet and have them beam you somewhere else.”
Spock hesitated for just a moment, but McCoy knew he had Spock dead to rights. The Vulcan had never been good at taking vacation even at the best of times, and being stuck on Earth probably didn’t sit well with him. After a moment, Spock nodded. He placed his bag in the back seat and climbed into the shuttle car.
It took three tries for McCoy to get the engine to turn over, and he ignored Spock’s look of concern as they lifted unsteadily into the air. The car had always listed to one side. The way McCoy remembered it, it had listed to the left, but the old bird had a prominent limp towards the right today. Either way, he’d handle it.
They took off over the field towards the highway, skimming near the surface of the planet and kicking up dust as they went. McCoy glanced over and saw Spock gripping the handle above the window, and he grinned. A little company was just what he needed.
They made good time the first day, and wound up in a little Podunk town near the corner where Tennessee met Missouri. Spock had relaxed after the first hundred kilometers and was now studiously typing in a datapadd. McCoy glanced over at him occasionally, smiling to himself at the sight of Spock with his nose in a book—or some other data—while the world passed by just outside the window. But most McCoy entertained himself by watching the scenery and occasionally flipping through the radio stations. He knew Spock would talk when he was ready.
The shuttle car had fold-down back seats suitable for sleeping on, but McCoy didn’t feel like being that cramped this early in the trip. He booked a room at a motel with a hot tub and spent most of the night making soup of himself and turning wrinkly and pruned while Spock sat nearby, still writing. McCoy flicked a few droplets of water Spock’s way and laughed as Spock scowled like a wet cat. They ate sandwiches in the motel room and McCoy collapsed into bed before nine o’clock.
He awoke once, that first night, just as Spock was turning down the covers of the bed across from him. He watched Spock, dimly lit by the light seeping through the partially curtained window, as he moved about in his Starfleet-issued pajamas. They were black silk, and the pants were just a bit too short for Spock, exposing his ankles and making him look like a lanky teenager who was growing too fast. McCoy snorted to himself and rolled over, falling instantly back to sleep.
The next day they stopped at the St. Louis gateway arch. McCoy wasn’t too impressed, but he perked up when they found an expansive botanical garden. The air was thick and humid, and he made Spock stop to pose for pictures. He captured Spock’s long-suffering frown near a dozen different flowers from all over the world.
They fell into a rhythm. With plenty of time to sight-see, the fact that the shuttle car was less than half as fast as current models didn’t bother McCoy. Spock hardly seemed to notice whether they were stopped or moving; he kept his nose tucked into the datapadd he was working on regardless. They ate at the greasiest spoon dives that McCoy could find for one meal, and then at an upscale restaurant that served single bites on porcelain plates the next. Occasionally, McCoy commented on the scenery during their drive, and Spock always replied dutifully. They picked up an old argument about the logic (or lack thereof) of different systems of classifying living creatures, and then they put the argument down again. Neither was in any hurry to win. McCoy was just arguing because he liked to hear Spock’s voice.
In the evening they would stop wherever was convenient. They stayed at a five-star hotel one night where room service delivered fresh pasta and bread that was still warm to the touch. The next night they spent at a bread and breakfast that woke them precisely at 6:00 a.m. for waffles and strawberries. McCoy growled his annoyance at the early hour and Spock placated him by fetching mug after mug of fresh coffee. They sat at the small table with their elbows touching, listening to their host tell them about all the people that had come through and stayed with her. She’d had folks from Starfleet before, of course, but never anyone from such a prestigious starship.
“Tell me, what’s it like? The only time I’ve ever been off-world was to visit my cousin on Mars for her wedding. I’ve never travelled outside the solar system.”
“At a certain point you forget you're travelling anywhere,” McCoy said. “It’s just you and the crew, and the ship is almost like its own small planet. You forget you’re moving, forget there’s anything else besides those walls and the view.”
He found himself looking at Spock, who was still contemplating their host’s question. After a moment, Spock said, “It is quite mentally stimulating.”
She smiled. “I’ll just bet it is. Is that how you two met?”
“Yeah, we both serve on the Enterprise. ”
“It must be hard,” she said, glancing up towards the ceiling as if she could see through it to where the Enterprise orbited above them. “Being away from home.” She smiled. “Well, at least you have each other.”
McCoy didn’t have an answer to that. He busied himself with his waffles, and when Spock’s elbow bumped him he didn’t pull away.
They went north far enough to stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial. They stood on the viewing platform side-by-side. McCoy traced Crazy Horse’s bold profile with his eyes, admiring the craftsmanship of his outstretched arm and the braying face of the horse he rode. After, he turned the shuttle car west.
The landscape shifted and changed beneath them. Black hills transitioned suddenly into dry desert. Mountains sprung up occasionally, and then more frequently, and McCoy maneuvered the car slowly around the switchbacks. Spock had put down his datapadd and was gripping tightly to the handle above the window again.
“Sorry,” McCoy muttered.
“It is no matter,” Spock said, but his voice was a bit wavery and he was quite pale.
“If you’re car sick I’ve got a hypo in the back.”
Spock shook his head, but it took only a few more curving switchbacks for him to rise in his seat and turn to reach back for the medkit. His shoulder brushed McCoy’s as he searched, and then he withdrew with hypo in hand. He spun the dial and held it up to McCoy, who nodded at the dosage. Spock injected himself and placed the hypospray in the cup holder, already relaxing in increments.
“Didn’t expect you to be the type to get car sick,” McCoy said, keeping his eyes glued to the road. “I’ve never seen you get space sick, even when we’re being rocked to next Tuesday by some anomaly or another.”
“Normally, we are not close enough to the ground for me to see the horizon,” Spock said. He had leaned back in his seat but hadn’t picked up the datapadd again. “I have gotten sea sick once before while boating on a lake on Andoria. It is not a pleasant experience.”
“Not very logical either?”
“Indeed, no.” Spock’s voice carried a faint hint of exasperation. “It is not logical for my brain to misinterpret my balance.”
“Well, that nausea hypo should help. And not reading for a while. That always used to make me car sick as a kid.”
Spock hummed. “I suppose I shall have to finish my work later.”
“What are you working on anyway? You haven’t looked away from that padd this whole trip.”
Spock was silent. McCoy risked a glance over and found Spock gazing out the window with a faint hint of wistfulness.
“You don’t have to answer,” McCoy said, turning back to the road. “If it’s private.”
“It is not. Not…precisely.” Spock considered for a moment longer. “I would like to tell you. However, I would prefer to wait for our arrival in Fairbanks. Is this acceptable?”
McCoy laughed. “Sure, Spock. Whatever makes you happy.”
“Happiness plays no part—”
“I know, I know.” He reached out blindly and managed to pat Spock’s arm. “I was just teasing you.”
“Very well,” Spock said, sounding miffed.
McCoy managed not to laugh at him too loudly, and drove on.
They stopped at the Pacific ocean, because when you drive that far West you might as well go further. McCoy found a sandy beach and hopped out of the car, leaving his boots on the ground. After a moment’s hesitation Spock copied him, slipping off his boots and leaving them propped up straight near McCoy’s haphazard pile. They walked barefoot down the sandy path and stood at the edge of the wave line waiting for the cold water to come to them. When it did, it came faster and further than McCoy had expected, and they had to run to avoid getting drenched, McCoy cackling and Spock with wide, bright eyes. McCoy’s jeans still wound up soaked up to the hip, and Spock’s was wet up to the knee.
Together, they walked along the beach picking up shells. There was a spawning of jellyfish in the sand and Spock regaled him with every known fact about the species as they tiptoed around them and watched the waves roll up and carry their gelatinous bodies away again. When they were done McCoy had a pocket full of smooth shells and there was sand on every inch of his body.
They found a cottage along the coast where they could stay the night and shower off. When McCoy emerged from the shower with a towel around his hips, feeling clean and warm, he found Spock arranging their shells. Spock looked up at him and his gaze was unexpectedly heavy, warming McCoy even further until he felt hot and flushed.
“Shower’s yours,” he said gruffly, moving to pull his pajamas from his suitcase.
Spock rose silently and made his way into the bathroom. When the door closed McCoy ambled over to look at the shells. They were arranged by type, or so it appeared, lined up in neat little rows. But one stood out from the rest. It was shaped differently, very particularly, and McCoy had to scold himself for thinking it was shaped like a heart.
They followed the coastline North to Dawson Creek. They spent a few days there taking short day trips to various locations to hike and admire the scenery. It was strange to be able to hike without worrying about catching an alien disease or falling prey to some alien animal. It had been years since McCoy had been able to hike outside of the context of an away mission. Spock seemed to find it harder to break the habit, and he brought a tricorder on each trip to scan the plants and wildlife, and to map the ground on water where they went.
“You don’t have to do that, you know,” McCoy said mildly. He was sitting on a boulder at the edge of a river, watching with amusement as Spock knelt to scan a small cluster of flowers. “I’m fairly certain we’ve discovered every animal on Earth by now.”
Spock paused to consider his words. “One never knows what is left to discover.”
McCoy chuckled. He slid off the boulder and ambled over to Spock, eying the flowers Spock was still scanning. “You really don’t know how to relax, do you?”
“This is relaxing.”
“No, this is work during vacation.” He knelt beside Spock and placed his hand on top of the tricorder, slowly closing it. “You don’t have to scan everything you see, Spock. Sometimes it’s okay to just look and experience it. If you want to look closer…” He reached down and plucked one of the flowers. It was yellow, with a brown seed head and firm, smooth stem. “You can simply pick it up and touch it.”
He held out the flower to Spock. Spock was watching him intently, eyes trained on McCoy’s hands as though he were carrying a fragile bird, or the cure to some disease, and not just a flower. After a moment his gaze flickered upwards and their eyes met, and McCoy was struck by the enormity of the emotion on display in Spock’s eyes. There was turmoil there, a kind of sadness that fluttered under the surface. But, more boldly, there was warmth, and happiness. Spock looked at him like he held the universe in his hands.
Spock accepted the flower. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“Of course.” McCoy’s voice was thick.
Had he imagined that look? No, not possible. Not when there were still hints of it in Spock’s sly glances, in the way he cradled the flower like it was the greatest gift he had ever received.
McCoy’s skin itched. “Well,” he said, standing. “That’s enough rest. We should get back to our hike.”
Spock nodded and rose as well. They went into the woods together, and Spock kept the tricorder closed.
It became harder to find places to sleep at night. The first day on the Alcan Highway they drove until well after dark to find a town with an open room. The town was hardly more than a few buildings scattered about, and McCoy slept the sleep of the dead, exhausted from such a long drive.
On their second night they couldn’t find a town to rest at no matter how far they drove. McCoy pulled over to the side of the road and flicked on the overhead light, consulting his map. Spock leaned over to look as well, and they came to the same decision together.
“It’s too far,” McCoy said, folding the map and tucking it away. “At least another two hours.”
“It will be well after midnight before we arrive.”
McCoy looked at him. “The back seats fold down,” he suggested mildly. “It’d be cramped, but I don’t think I’m fit to drive much longer.”
Spock inclined his head in silent agreement.
They cleared out the back seat. It was fall; the night air was crisp and a bit cold. Spock folded down the seats while McCoy pulled out his blanket and pillow, seeing now the real problem with this plan.
“I only brought one of each,” he said. “Unless you’ve got one tucked away in your satchel, we’ll have to share.”
“I do not.”
McCoy nodded. “Here, you can have the pillow. The blanket’s pretty big. If I steal it in the night, just…elbow me or something.”
Spock seemed amused, but it was difficult to tell with only stars providing light.
They each turned around while the other slipped into pajamas, giving what privacy they could. With the seats down the space was just big enough for them to line down side-by-side. If McCoy stretched out fully his toes brushed the wall of the trunk. He folded his arm under his head and tried to get comfortable. Spock shuffled around getting comfortable. McCoy could feel the heat radiating off Spock’s body, nice and warm in the cold night. Half-consciously, he shifted a little closer.
“…Doctor,” Spock whispered after a moment.
“As you are the primary driver, perhaps you would like the pillow.”
His voice was so low and soothing, McCoy thought. He closed his eyes to better bask in the sound. “No, it’s alright. Wouldn’t want you to get a headache from sleeping wrong. I’ve seen how you act when your head hurts.”
“And I have seen you with a headache.”
He chuckled. “I suppose you’ve got me there.”
There was another pause, a bit longer this time. Just when McCoy thought Spock had dropped the issue, the Vulcan began to shift around again. There was the rustle of fabric against fabric and suddenly Spock’s warmth was a great deal closer. McCoy’s eyes flew open. Now adjusted to the light, he could see Spock’s outline in the starlight. He watched as Spock inched the pillow closer, so that his head was barely on one side, the other side an offering to McCoy.
McCoy gulped. “…You sure?”
He inched closer. “I snore sometimes, you know.”
Spock sighed, long-suffering. “I am aware. We have shared a room every night for the previous two-and-a-half weeks.”
His argument was cut short as Spock’s hand settled on his hip. McCoy snapped his mouth shut, utterly floored by that light touch. Spock wasn’t pulling at him, or really doing much of anything, but the point of contact sparked fire beneath McCoy’s skin. He swallowed thickly and let his body do what it wanted, which was to fall against Spock.
They curled together beneath the blanket, their heads bent towards each other like curved question marks. McCoy didn’t know where to put his hands so he let them fold between their bodies, trying to maintain a faint and pointless distance. Spock’s arm twined around him, his hand resting more firmly against McCoy’s lower back, and his other arm slipped easily under McCoy’s head.
They were cuddling, definitely. It should have felt awkward, but it just felt right . Spock was warm and soft and it was easy for McCoy to bury his face against Spock’s neck and let out a sigh that made Spock shiver. He could smell Spock’s odd Vulcan cologne, a slightly spicy scent. Spock’s hand began to rub against his back soothingly, almost a pet, and McCoy concentrated on that small touch.
Spock soothed him to sleep, and McCoy could think of no better dream than this reality.
There were hundreds of bridges along the highway, and they stopped at most of them. Some were small enough to jump over, while others bridged huge gullies that made McCoy experience vertigo. They looked at water, more water than was on the entire surface of Vulcan, mapping all its different forms. At night, even if there was a hotel available, they pulled into whatever parking lot was around instead and folded down the back seat, and McCoy crawled into Spock’s waiting embrace.
They stopped at Delta Junction towards the end of the last day and just stood there, soaking in the beauty of this small, blue planet. Before them were kilometers of rewilded forest. Behind them, mountains jutted up over the horizon. McCoy lifted his head to the sun and felt warm despite the cold breeze.
“Nearly there,” he murmured.
Spock came to stand beside him. Spock was often standing beside him, McCoy realized. He smiled at Spock, and Spock returned the look with a faint bend at the corner of his lips.
“Haven’t seen you writing in your datapadd in a while,” McCoy said quietly.
“I finished what I intended to write,” Spock said. “At a certain point further edits cease their usefulness.”
“Makes sense.” He turned back to the forest and spread his arms wide. It felt silly, but also perfectly right, to embrace the world in a tiny, human hug. “Oh, Spock,” he breathed. “Have you ever seen anything like it?”
“I have not. I believe the word you would use to describe it is ‘majestic.’”
“Too small a word.” McCoy turned and found Spock watching him, and he smiled. “Should we continue on? Fairbanks is just a couple hours away.”
Spock turned somber. “Indeed.”
The last few hours were quieter than the ones that had come before. Spock was in the passenger’s seat with his eyes closed, apparently meditating, and the datapadd on his lap but turned off. Every kilometer they passed something new and beautiful and McCoy felt his breath stolen from him again and again.
It was dark by the time they arrived in Fairbanks, and McCoy startled when Spock’s hand came to rest against his wrist.
McCoy pulled over and Spock climbed out of the shuttle car. McCoy followed him down a brick path to a small lookout over the river. Above them, the sky was bright and clear, inky black broken only by the white pinpricks of stars. Spock tipped his head toward the sky.
“This will do,” he declared, turning back to McCoy.
McCoy shifted his feet. “Do for what?”
In answer, Spock handed him the datapadd. Cautiously, McCoy accepted it, uncertain what he would find. He switched it on and read the first paragraph, then had to stop and go back to read it again, unable to process what he was seeing.
There were several pages and he flipped through them slowly, stunned by the prose Spock had spilled onto the page. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been so surprised; Spock had always had a way with words, after all. But this was almost…poetic. There was a depth McCoy knew Spock was capable of feeling, but hadn’t known Spock was capable of expressing.
“Spock, this is…”
“When I first arrived in Georgia,” Spock said, turning back to the sky. “I already planned to tell you, but I could not find the words.”
“When I look at you, Leonard,” Spock said, visibly struggling to voice what he had already written on the page. “I feel…love.”
“I look at you and see the future. One where I might be with you, and have you be with me. I would like, very much, to become the person you could find yourself loving.”
“Goddammit.” McCoy swiped at his eyes. “You’re such an idiot.”
Spock looked miffed. “If my confession offends you—”
“No! Just—dammit, c’mere you.” He reached out and took Spock’s hand. “I already love you, you foolish, beautiful Vulcan.”
Spock seemed surprised, and then inordinately pleased. “Indeed?”
“I figured it was pretty obvious, what with the cuddling. But maybe I need to say it in a way you can’t misconstrue. I just spent over three weeks in a car with you and didn’t want to pull my hair out or bite your head off. We’ve battled great evil together. We fight and I…like it, okay? I like you, and I want to be with you in all the mushy romantic ways you wrote here.” He held up the padd. “Honestly, Spock, it’s like you were reading my damned mind about some of this stuff. You weren’t, were you?”
Spock shook his head. He seemed incapable of speech.
McCoy grinned. “Guess it’s just proof we’re good together.” He tightened his grip and tugged Spock closer. “Why wait until Fairbanks to say it?”
“I…was not brave.”
“Not very logical of you.”
“This feeling is not logical,” Spock said seriously. “And it is the only feeling I have ever had which I choose to embrace fully.”
McCoy’s breath caught. “Oh. It’s like that, is it?”
They were standing awfully close now, almost as close as Spock had held him last night, when their legs had tangled together and Spock had run his hand through McCoy’s hair.
“Yeah?” he breathed.
“May I kiss you?”
“Hell. Absolutely. Thought you’d never—”
Spock stole the rest of his sentence, and his breath, and McCoy’s knees went weak and he dropped the padd. He fell against Spock and Spock caught him, warm and firm and strong. They had traveled together across the galaxy, and then over a quarter of Earth, but suddenly the entire Universe had narrowed down to two small points of light. As they met beneath the sky all that mattered was each other.
He felt Spock’s hand come up to cup the side of his face, and he tilted to deepen the connection. Spock was sweet and soft, and McCoy felt like he was flying.
When they pulled apart McCoy was dazed, and he didn’t know how much time had passed. Spock traced the bone of his cheek with one calloused thumb, a faint smile on his lips that McCoy yearned to taste.
“Shall we retire for the evening, Leonard?” Spock said softly.
“R-right, absolutely.” He took a step away and then turned back, picking up the dropped datapadd. “Let’s get a real room, though. Cuddling in the backseat of a car is fine, but we aren’t teenagers.”
Spock’s eyes were bright with mirth. “I agree. I would very much like to hold you again tonight.”
“Dammit, Spock,” McCoy whispered. “You can’t just say things like that. Don’t you know what you’re doing to me?”
“I have some idea.” Spock sidled close as they walked back to the shuttle car together. “For it is the same thing which you do to me.”
McCoy bumped Spock’s shoulder, feeling giddy. It was almost physically painful to separate the few inches necessary to climb back into the shuttle car, but once there Spock reached out and took McCoy’s hand. McCoy held him back tightly, unwilling and unable to hide his expansive grin.
After going all that distance it was less than a kilometer to the final hotel, and only a single flight of stairs to the room. Spock pulled him inside and into a kiss, shutting the door firmly behind them. It may have been the journey that had gotten them here, but McCoy found he quite liked the destination as well.