The doctor shifted nervously in his seat. Normally, coffee with Kathryn Janeway was something he anticipated with a great deal of pleasure.
But not today. He knew why they were meeting.
The sudden buzz in the room announced her arrival before he saw her. He wondered if she realized that she still created a stir, or if she’d just learned to ignore it over the years.
She had aged well; of course, he knew that would happen – that other admiral’s appearance, now so many years ago -- had foretold that. But his friend had gone one better – a happy life had made her softer, more content than her counterpart. It showed.
Well most of the time, anyway. Today, though, her warm smile couldn’t mask the tension and worry reflected in her face. No wonder though, her husband’s illness had been sudden, unexpected. What he had to say wasn't going to make it any better.
“Thank you for this,” she said softly as she slid into her seat.
“I really shouldn’t be talking to you first. This is Dr. Barton’s case,” he began.
She placed her hand on his arm to shush him. “We’ve been over this,” she said before pausing as the waitress took their order.
When she continued, her voice was softer. “If I’m going to lose Michael, there are ….loose ends to tie up.” She sighed. “It is Balzan’s Syndrome, isn’t it?”
He nodded, and watched helplessly as the pain washed over his friend’s face. He grabbed her hand. “Kathryn, please, there is some good news here.”
She looked at him, confused. “From what I understand, the prognosis is less than a year.”
“Usually,” he agreed. “But we’ve caught this very early, so we have a chance to hold off the deterioration. Research has a new treatment that’s nearly ready for release; I think it will help.”
“But you can’t cure him?” It was more a statement than a question.
“Not yet. But we can give him several more good years. Perhaps a cure can be found in that time.”
She tilted her head. “How long?”
“Three … more likely five years, depending on how well he responds to treatment.”
She sat back, exhaling sharply, her eyes closed to hold back the tears. He understood now why she wanted the news first. She needed to be strong for Michael and the children, but she also needed time to deal with her own grief.
She opened her eyes and smiled at him a bit shakily. “Five? In some ways that’s a lifetime, I suppose.” He just nodded.
“Seven years was a lifetime, once,” she whispered, half to herself.
He smiled. “It was a lifetime. Seems like it was a lifetime ago, too.”
She half-smiled. “Thirty years? I’d say so.”
“It’s been quite a journey hasn’t it? Our careers, having children … and grandchildren.”
“It’s been a remarkable journey,” she said, then her eyes misted again. “I’m just sad to think that we’re nearing the end.” She patted his arm. “But you’ll get to see the journey continue, that’s some comfort.”
“I suppose,” he said uncertainly enough to make Kathryn quirk an eyebrow.
“How’s that?” The question hung in the air uncomfortably as the waitress returned with their drinks.
After she left, the doctor looked down at the table, and back up at her. “Let’s just say, I’m not looking forward to the day when I’m the only one left.”
“But you won’t be alone,” she said quietly. “You have your children … and the rest of our families.”
“But you, B’Elanna, Reg … you’re all my family, too. You’re the ones who’ve seen me grow. When you all are gone, there will be no one left to remember.”
She laid her hand on his arm. “You’ll be left,” she said softly, then looked down. When she looked back up at him, the admiral had returned. “You know I don’t believe in an afterlife, no matter how often Chakotay mentioned my spirit guide.” She paused and smiled, almost mischievously. “What I do believe is that as long as someone remembers, no one ever really dies. … So, my friend,” she said, squeezing his arm for emphasis, “ it’s up to you to keep us – and Voyager – alive for our grandchildren, and their children. We’ll be there. I promise.”
“Thank you,” he replied softly, laying his hand over hers. Then a thought hit him, and he felt ashamed. “I should be comforting you right now.”
She smiled again. “It’s all right. What I just told you, I need to remember myself. More than ever now.”
She squeezed his arm again as she stood up. “Thank you for talking to me, old friend,” she whispered. “I think I need to get back to Michael, now. I certainly don’t want him to face Dr. Barton alone.” She paused. “I assume they’ll let him out of the hospital now?”
“Most likely,” he replied. “I can look in on him at home, if you’d like.”
She nodded. “Good,” she said, and smiled again. “I think being home will help … and besides, we have more memories to make.”
He watched her leave, heard the accompanying buzz follow her out the door.. As he finished his coffee, he looked at the cup the admiral had just left, and stared in amazement.
In nearly 40 years of friendship, this was the first time he’d ever see Kathryn Janeway leave a coffee untouched.