“Morning,” said Bill as she entered the kitchen. “I'm going to make some toast, do you want some?”
When she didn't get an answer she looked over to where the Doctor sat at the kitchen table. He was staring at his cup of tea, utterly immobile. She wasn't even sure if he was breathing.
She frowned to herself and opened the fridge. “Have we got any milk?” she asked, mostly to see if he'd respond.
“Should we go out and get some?” she asked, closing the fridge and turning to face him.
He shook his head. “It's not important. It's just milk.”
“But you like milk in your tea,” she pointed out. “You can't have more tea if there's no milk.”
Bill took a cautious step towards him. “Are you okay?”
Finally he looked at her. “Are you always this nosy?” he snapped.
“Sorry,” she said, taken aback. “I just... I mean, you look a bit... sad.”
He stood. “I'll be in my room if you need me. Life-threatening emergencies only,” he added as he left the kitchen.
Bill stared after him, torn between following him and staying well away. She decided on the latter course of action, if only because she didn't feel up to getting yelled at. She made put some bread in the toaster, switched it on, and sighed.
Left on her own, she embarked on a long-overdue solo exploration of the TARDIS. She walked along corridors, climbed staircases, found a room full of nothing but odd socks, and somehow ended up back at the console-room about an hour later despite that making no topographical sense.
There was something oddly comforting about this room. The omnipresent hum of the ship was louder here, and the lighting was always perfect. She stepped up to the controls and wondered how long it taken the Doctor to learn what all these levers and switches actually did.
“The Doctor's in a bit of a mood,” she said aloud. She wasn't expecting an answer, but a light on the console went green. She frowned at it, wondering if it meant anything. It was probably just a coincidence, but she took a step closer, dropped her voice quieter, and asked, “Have I done something to upset him?”
The light went red. Bill looked around the room, but she was still the only person there. Weird. The TARDIS wasn't supposed to talk to people, was it? But... “Do you know why he's feeling like that?”
Okay. “Can you give me a clue?”
Something went bleep. Bill followed the sound to a screen a bit to her left. There was a picture on it, of a middle-aged white woman with huge hair and a wicked smile.
“I've seen her before somewhere,” said Bill, trying to place the woman in her mind. “Is that the woman from the photograph? The one on his desk?”
“I'm guessing that she's dead?” she ventured.
“It's not her birthday, is it?”
“Blue? What does blue mean?” The TARDIS didn't answer so Bill thought it over for a moment or two. Almost but not quite?
“Is it an anniversary?”
“Shit, no wonder he's upset.” She shook her head. “Maybe we should just leave him alone for a bit? I don't want to intrude.”
Bill sighed. “Yeah, you're right, I'm just not sure how I can help.” She drummed her fingers on the edge of the console. “What do you want me to do?”
The light went out.
“Oh, come on, you can't expect me to just know!”
“Okay,” she said, turning towards the stairs, “but if I mess this up it's your fault.”
Bill made her way to the Doctor's room, trying to decide on the best approach. Should she say something directly? Should she pretend there was a problem she needed help with? She was still trying to figure it out when she reached his door.
She knocked and waited.
She was about to risk another knock when the door swung open and the Doctor appeared in the narrow gap between door and wall.
His eyes were slightly red and he looked old, so old, like he really had been alive for two thousand years. “Is something wrong?” he asked, and his voice sounded tired.
“The TARDIS sent me,” said Bill, quickly enough to get the words out before she could decide against saying anything.
The Doctor frowned. “The TARDIS?” He opened the door wider and took a step closer.
“Yeah,” said Bill. “Because she can't do this.” She threw her arms around him and drew him into a tight hug. After a moment he hugged her back.
“Thanks, Bill.” He let go of her and touched the wall beside him. “You too, old girl.” He looked at Bill. “I'm sorry if I upset at you earlier,” he said, “I get a bit tetchy at this time of year.”
“Do you want to watch a film?” she asked, not quite saying that it might help distract him.
He took a moment to answer. “Which one?”
She shrugged. “An old favourite? Maybe something you haven't seen? Does the TARDIS have torrenting software?”
He nodded. “Where do you think I got most of my music collection from? Everything's in the public domain if you go far enough into the future.” His expression changed to something more like enthusiasm. “Can we watch the one about the alien?”
“You're going to have to narrow it down a bit,” said Bill. “There's a lot of films about aliens.”
“I think that's what it's called. Alien. I was really offended when I first heard about it, but now I sort of want to see how xenophobic it actually is.”
Bill didn't bother hiding her surprise. “You're never seen Alien?”
The Doctor shrugged. “Would you watch a film called Time-Travelling Human Lesbian?
She laughed and nodded. “Yeah, I would, actually, that sounds like a really good film.”
“You're right, there should be more films about those.” Something occurred to him. “Oh, should we make popcorn? Is Alien a popcorn sort of film?”
“It's quite scary in places but don't worry I'll let you know when those bits are about to happen.”
“I'm not scared of anything, Bill,” he protested.
“Right, but there's this bit where -”
“Hey, no spoilers!” He smiled, but the look in his eyes suggested that this was a private joke that Bill wouldn't understand. That was fine, she could let him have his secrets, just as long as they weren't making him miserable.
“I think we've still got some of that microwaveable popcorn Nardole bought,” said Bill.
“I told him we didn't need three hundred boxes, but would he listen? He used a voucher he found in a magazine, but I'm not sure if he actually saved any money after buying three hundred copies of Heat just for that.” He stepped out of the doorway into the corridor, closing the door behind him. “If I do get frightened at any point during the film — which I won't — you're not allowed to tell anyone.”
“Promise,” said Bill.
“Good, because I'd never live it down.” He nodded in the direction of the library. “You get the popcorn on and I'll download the film. Shouldn't take long,” he added, “the TARDIS has a megabyte modem.”
“Sounds good,” said Bill, as they started walking down the corridor together.
“I had to put her on dial-up once. She hated that. She'd make the connection noise when I was trying to sleep to let me know how much it annoyed her. I suppose from her perspective it was like swimming in treacle, or trying to think with a human brain.”
Bill hit his arm lightly. “Oi!”
“Sorry,” said the Doctor, looking like he meant it, “I didn't mean to be offensive. It was just a figure of speech.”
“You're forgiven - this time - but don't do it again.”
“Never argue with the person who offered to make the popcorn,” he said, nodding.
They had reached the kitchen. “If there's sweet and salty, which do you want?”
“Make both. Mix them up together in a bowl, it'll add a bit of excitement to an otherwise mundane experience.”
“Weird, but interesting. Like you.” She stepped into the kitchen and started opening cupboards in search of the popcorn.
She looked around and saw the Doctor in the doorway.
“Did you forget something?”
“I just wanted to say thanks again. For. Well, for everything, really.”
Bill smiled. “You're very welcome.”
The Doctor smiled too, then disappeared back into the corridor.