The doctor paused at the screen door, taking in the Indiana morning. The oak trees were tinged with red now; fall was taking hold. During his visits over the years, he'd never taken the time to appreciate the view. Now, he knew that when the time came, he'd surely miss it.
"My coffee ready?" Kathryn called. He put on his best smile and walked outside to deliver the steaming mug to her.
Her hands shook a bit as she took the mug. "Are you warm enough?" he fretted as he tugged at her blanket, covering the braid of white hair that rested on her shoulder.
"I'm fine," she said, waiving him off with her free hand. Then she smiled and patted the cushion next to her. "Here, sit."
He sat, sliding his arm across the back of the swing. She sighed and settled closer as they rocked in tandem, enjoying the companionable silence.
"It was nice to see Tom and B'Elanna yesterday," she said.
"It was. But remind me to keep my golf clubs away from that grandson of theirs," he quipped. "I dread seeing him with a bat'leth."
Her laugh was cut short by a fit of coughing, and he deftly slipped the mug from her hand. It seemed an eternity until she straightened.
"It's all right," she said. "The medicine hasn't kicked in yet."
"It takes time," he agreed, mentally making a note to increase the dosage. "Would you like some breakfast?"
"Not right now," she said quietly. "I'm a bit tired."
He raised an eyebrow. This was significant, considering she preferred to ignore her condition.
The diagnosis was devastating to those who loved her; the idea that she would be felled, not by the Borg or the Hirogen, but by old age and disease.
She, however, only insisted that she would spend the time left to her in Indiana, in the home she and Chakotay had shared.
But her insistence ignored a sad truth: There was no one left in Indiana to care for her, and she resisted any suggestion of a nurse. When he offered to stay, he expected to be rebuffed. To his surprise, she accepted.
Sometimes, he suspected that she considered him a long-term houseguest, rather than a caregiver. Their life was quiet, but rich in conversation. They would talk until she grew tired; of their days on Voyager and their days after. Some days she would work; most nights he would read to her.
On good days, she would sit in the garden. On the bad days, he’d bring a few cuttings in for her to enjoy. “Well, perhaps I could make something special for brunch, then,” he told her. “Eggs benedict, perhaps?”
“That’s a bit much,” she teased. “I’d prefer a fried egg.”
“Ungrateful,” he teased back. It was a running joke; he could cook elaborate meals, but couldn’t eat them. She could eat, but preferred simpler fare. “It’s not fair,” she told him. “We should turn the kitchen into a holodeck.”
But he enjoyed watching her eat, noting with satisfaction that she had put on a bit of weight.
“Would you read to me?” she asked, breaking into his thoughts.
“Of course,” he said, surprised. “What will it be? The Sheridan mystery?”
“Dante,” she said. ‘La Vita Nuova.’”
The poetry she read during his illness. The irony gave him an unexpected chill.
“What chapter would you like?” he asked when he returned with the book. “Just pick something at random,” she said lightly.
So, he began …
Joyful to me seemed Love, and he was keeping
My heart within his hands, while on his arm
He held my lady, covered o’er, and sleeping.
A sudden change interrupted him: Kathryn's breathing had become shallow. Her body was loosening, falling into his.
Alarmed, he dropped the book and shook her shoulder. "Kathryn!"
He lifted her head: her lips were blue, her face white. He pressed her neck, checking for a pulse.
No time to waste. He scooped her up and pushed his way into the house, half dropping her on the couch as he ran for the med kit.
To his surprise, his hands shook as he filled the hypospray. He fumbled as he grabbed an oxygen canister and ran back to her.
She hadn't moved. He pressed the hypospray into her neck and the hissing oxygen mask against her face, cursing himself for not bringing a cortical stimulator, too.
Before he could move again, she gasped, her eyes flying open.
"It's all right," he soothed, holding her frightened gaze. "Just breathe. Keep breathing."
Eventually, her respiration steadied, and he pulled off the mask.
"Wha..." she began. "Shh," he hushed. "Just stay quiet. You'll be all right."
Her eyes fluttered shut then, and he feared she’d slip away again. Instead, she fell into a natural sleep.
Only then did he slump to the floor in relief.
He'd just finished the soup when she called. He put on his best smile as he brought out the steaming mug.
"Easy," he murmured as he helped her to sit up. "I brought soup. I imagine you could use some nourishment."
Her hands seemed steady as she took the mug. After a couple of sips, she handed it back to him.
"What the hell happened?" she demanded.
"You lost consciousness. And no, I don’t know why. I need to run some tests."
She sat back and considered. "Was I dying?" she asked, daring him to lie.
He couldn't. "Had I not intervened, it’s possible,” he admitted.
"I told you, no heroic measures."
"There was nothing heroic about it. Actually, I suppose it was quite selfish on my part."
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Not ready to send me off, yet?”
“You’re hardly been in critical condition,” he retorted, ‘In fact, you seemed to have turned your illness into something quite manageable.”
“I think I have you to thank for that,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Don’t underestimate your own will power,” he shot back, then deliberately shifted his gaze to the window. “And no, I suppose I’m not ready. You … you’re part of my family … and that family gets smaller every year ….” He stopped, unable to find the words.
"That's the trouble with organics," she said, squeezing his hand. "We tend to degrade."
They sat quietly for a few moments, each lost in their own thoughts.
"I suppose," she finally whispered, "I'm the one being selfish here ... keeping you away from your work to tend to an old woman."
He harrumphed. "I can work from here. Besides," he added, his voice growing softer. "I have all the time in the world ... at least until my matrix degrades. There's no one I'd rather spend it with than you."
She quickly looked down at her lap, blinking rapidly. When she finally lifted her face to look at him, the tears were still glistening in her eyes. But her smile was bright.
"Thank you, old friend," she whispered as she kissed his cheek. "It's good to be here with you, too."