How long had she been running on empty for, now? How often had she stared in the mirror, and not truly recognised the person in the mirror looking back at her? Too long. Far too long. There were bags under her eyes, dark circles that looked like space itself. The lines in her face seemed deeper somehow, more pronounced against a sea of freckles and oil smudges. Unkempt hair pooled around her shoulders, half-browning in the dim light of her room, all frayed ends and fried spots from electrical outages she more than likely caused herself. Slim fingers tugged at a section of hair, felt some fall away in her hands, watched the strands drop to the floor as she quietly laughed to herself. She could hear her fam, in her head, skirting around the subject. Not so directly asking if she was okay, but still attempting to do something. A small part of her wanted the direct approach, someone to force her to rest or even to take care of her. Just for a moment. For a brief period of time. A little pause to rest, to breathe, to recover. To heal. That was what she wanted more than anything.
Wiping the oil spots from her cheek, she sniffled softly before pulling the comfort of her coat further up her neck. Hands in her pockets, she ventured from her solitary study, wandering the halls of the TARDIS with her eyes closed. She knew the way like the back of her hands, like the roads of her veins and nerves. There was nothing on her ship that could surprise her, not that the TARDIS would ever do anything out of malice. Especially now. There was a deep hum of concern in the air, swirling around her, tring to break through the strange barrier she had concocted against the outside world. There was a tug in her mind, a call to sleep, but it was one that she ignored. Again. Again. Again. Mindlessly she walked, twisting and turning her way through gold clad corridors, boots setting a timely rhythm against the metal grates. One. Two. One. Two. One-
The Doctor opened her eyes, looked at where she had ended up, found herself smiling ever so slightly. The pull of muscles, the twitch of her jaw, it was almost foreign these days. Of course the TARDIS would bring her to the lounge. Of course the TARDIS would drag her into the arms of the people who wanted nothing more than to see her okay. She wanted to walk away, go somewhere else, follow the strange calling in her body that was always telling her; ‘run’. How many years had she ran for now, though? How often had she hidden away behind a facade of merriment and wonder? Her hands twitched inside her coat pockets, one set of fingers brushing against her sonic. It was cold, but somehow still warm at the same time. Relatable. Dull eyes looked up to the ceiling as she let out a weary sigh.
“You want me to go in...don’t you?”
There was a series of beeps and whines from down the corridor, just loud enough for her to hear, and just enough to make the Doctor laugh again. The internal pull was still tugging at her chest, drawing her hearts closer to the door, and it was almost impossible to ignore the overwhelming blanket of warmth that suddenly surrounded her.
“Okay...for you. For them.”
‘For yourself, Doctor.’
Taking one hand out of her pocket, the Doctor lay her palm against the door, sucking in a sharp breath as she pushed against it. She could hear the static hum of a just turned on television, and felt three sets of eyes look up from the screen as she hung limp in the doorway. Graham was half way to putting a disc into the movie projector, wrapped up in a plush grey dressing down over check pyjamas and dark red slippers. Ryan was almost hugging a giant bowl of popcorn and skittles mixed together, baggy sweatpants and a jumper hanging loose around him, blanket over his shoulders as he perched on an armchair. Yaz was almost cocooned in a thick duvet, a plate of biscuits on her lap and the hint of striped trousers peeking under the floral print of the sheet. The Doctor smiled weakly and waved her other hand.
“Hiya Fam. Do you mind...mind if I join you? I’m not feeling too good.”
Two fingers tapped at her forehead, a vague signal she had worked on for the days when words were just too much. Graham quickly loaded the disc into the projector and made his way over, opening his arms out and gesturing.
“Come on, Doc. You don’t have to ask. Go get on the sofa with Yaz, I was just about to get the kettle on. Be back in a flash.”
Turning on his heels, he looks at Ryan with a stern gaze.
“Do not start the movie without me. I won’t be long.”
“I won’t geez. D’you want some of this popcorn, Doctor? Better have a handful before I demolish the lot in the time it takes Gramps to put the kettle on.”
The Doctor nodded slowly as she let Graham pass, pausing again before she entered the room fully. It felt weird to still be in her ‘regular’ clothes while her Fam were all casual and comfortable. But really, she felt the most at home in what she wore day to day. Anything else was a little bit...too vulnerable for her tastes. Still, she slid the coat from her arms and bundled it underneath one as she took a handful of the sweet mix from Ryan’s bowl with a tired smile.
“Thank you. Is there room under that duvet for me, too?”
Turning her attention to Yaz, and dropping a few of the skittles in her mouth, she gestured at the duvet with her elbow and watched as Yaz quickly unfurled herself and opened one of the sides up to her. Careful to not drop her popcorn onto the sofa, nor lose track of her coat, the Doctor squeezed herself into the offered space and sank into the cushions as Yaz draped the other side of the duvet over her. She shuffled around for a moment, pressing herself up against the radiating warmth of Yaz and smiled.
“Thanks. What’re you watching tonight?”
“Not sure, Graham just picked a disc at random, I don’t think it even had a label on. It’s from the easy watch section though. Maybe it’ll be another animated one.”
The Doctor nodded again, slowly placing single bits of popcorn into her mouth as she listened to Ryan and Yaz talk about something from their primary school days. Really, she wasn’t even fully aware of how the conversation came about, and swore blind Yaz had been talking to her only a second ago. It didn’t matter, not really, because she felt an arm wrap around her waist and fingers squeeze at her side gently. It was perfect. Just the kind of moment she wanted. She continued to space out until Graham came back and started to hand the mugs of tea around.
“Right then, shall we get this started? All nice and cozy over there, Doc?”
With her hands now holding her mug, coat tucked between her knees, the Doctor nodded, a contented smile on her face as Graham reached over for the remote and hit play. Having Yaz next to her, being surrounded by her Fam, safe and secure inside the duvet nest...the Doctor could allow herself a moment of calm. Some peace. To finally accept - just for a second - that she was loved. Cared for. It was simply perfect.