Kate Elder stands over a grave.
It's not, really- it's a four-poster with a thin, lumpy mattress, stained sheets and jostled blankets, her dressing gown hung on one faded post with the laquer worn off, hosiery and petticoats draped over the footboard. But it might as well be. The man sleeping on the left side (her side) seems a corpse, or less than that, for how wasted and gray he is, perhaps just a spot of shadow or stain in the bedclothes. Kate sits to unbutton her boots and he shifts, as though pained, and she knows he is looking at her.
She doesn't like to look back, not at first, not until she knows she'll be looking at Doc and not whatever else surfaces during the delerium. She doesn't even like to call him Doc when he's not- for a while she tried John, it made it worse, made it harder for him to come back to himself. So when she gets her boots off she reaches behind her to touch at him, to see what he does, what his eyes will look like when she turns round.
He breathes audibly, shallowly. "My, aren't we forward today," he murmurs, a bare edge of humor in his hoarse voice. She answers by turning and kissing him, really kissing him, something she hasn't done in a while. He tastes like blood and opium and whiskey, and underneath that something sweetish, like grapes.
That's what starvation tastes like.
The thought makes her desperate, but she lets her lips linger for a moment. They don't make love anymore- she works now, really working rather than the casual hooking she did while he was well- and that was more to prove her independence, to fill her hours, than for rent and medicine. And something in his back hurts him. When she presses her palm there, below the washboard-ridges of his ribs, she can feel something that shouldn't be there. At first she thought it must have been an old bit of shrapnal, though Doc was (had been) so fast on the draw that he'd only been hit once or twice. When she said so, what seems like ages ago, Doc only laughed. Now she knows that tuberculosis can spread from the lungs, and wreak its havoc in other systems- but privately, she prefers to think of it like an old battle-wound, something demonstrative of what he used to do. What he used to be.
When she stops his hand is tangled in her hair, and she lets it stay there, laying by his side with her hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat against her own. The doctor (Doc swears at him when he's himself and what he's not) had looked shocked- sickbeds were not to be shared. But she's been sharing his sickbed for years, now, and figures it's only fair to lie in his deathbed with him.