It felt like he'd reopened an old wound. Sliced open an old scar. And let it bleed. The Doctor relished the bleeding. Because he was bleeding himself of the poison he'd held inside himself ever since the time war. There were points, such as when he mentioned the mighty hall where he'd been put on trial or the hills he'd walked before even setting off on his journeys or his family and his home, that he felt like he'd suffocate on sorrow. But he didn't. And he kept talking.
Martha listened. She listened intently, almost rapturously, to his description of his home. And above them, the city sang.
Finally, after what could have been ten minutes or three hours, even he ran out of words. Realizing that his eyes were a little wet, the Doctor swiped a hand over them. He tried to make the move look nonchalant, but knew he'd failed by the way Martha was looking at him.
He stood up, sticking his hands in his pockets, and Martha followed suit.
"Enough info for you?" he asked, as she fell into step with him.
"Plenty," said Martha, and she sounded peaceful. "Ah…thank you."
He smiled. "Nah, you were right. Keeping stuff bottled up like that's no good for me. Leads to wrinkles."
He pushed open the TARDIS doors and together they entered it. The Doctor crossed straight to the controls. Martha frowned.
The Doctor was acting…odd. More odd than usual.
He had his hands braced on the control panel, but didn't turn anything on. Instead, he looked at her. His expression was distant, his eyes sad.
Their eyes met for a few seconds, then the Doctor started the long, drawn-out process of flipping switches, twirling dials, and pressing buttons. At several points, he stopped for a moment. Whenever he stopped, his expression would darken, and his lips would move very slightly. It was odd to watch, and it worried her.
"You all right?" she asked, after this had happened for the fourth time.
"She doesn't want to go," the Doctor murmured.
"The TARDIS." He ran a hand along the massive central column, making soothing noises. "Ssh, it's all right, girl. We won't stay long. I won't do anything. I promise."
Finally, after almost ten minutes working the controls and arguing with the TARDIS, the time machine rumbled to life. Martha managed to keep her balance, and the Doctor barely seemed to notice the rumbling.
"Where are we going?" Martha asked.
The Doctor did not reply. Martha looked hard at him. Ever since talking to her about his home…about Gallifrey…he'd seemed to age by a couple of centuries. Suddenly, he looked as old and tired as he probably was inside.
Finally, the rumbling stopped. The Doctor crossed to the TARDIS doors, and placed a hand on the knob before looking back at her.
"Do you still want to see it?" he asked.
Martha frowned. "See what? Doctor…where are we?"
"We can't stay long," he said. "We really can't."
"Can't stay long where?" asked Martha.
"Do you still want to see it?" he repeated.
Martha opened her mouth…and then it hit her. "We're…?"
She felt her own face brake into a smile, huge and happy. "Yeah, I'd love to!" she said excitedly.
He nodded. "Good."
He smiled back, and pushed open the door.
They were on a cliff top, looking out over a distant city. Red grass rustled and waved in the breeze. The city below them was a towering mass of spires and pillars, humming with the bustle of life even at a distance. A deep orange sky stretched above their heads, with the sun setting on the horizon.
"Are we…?" she whispered.
"We are," said the Doctor, standing beside her and staring out over his home. "Gallifrey. Fifty years before the Time War."
Martha raised a foot, preparing to step out…then she hesitated, and glanced back at the Doctor. "Can I?"
He blinked, roused from some distant place of memory. "Oh. Yeah, go ahead. Stay nearby, though."
Practically vibrating with excitement, Martha set her foot down on the grass. It crunched beneath her feet, and she set her other foot down beside it. She bounced up and down on the balls of her feet, beaming. Then, she took a few steps forward to the edge of the cliff and sat down, letting her legs dangle over the drop. "It's gorgeous…" she murmured.
Then, she realized that she was alone. Glancing back, she saw the Doctor still hovering in the doorway of the TARDIS. "What's wrong?"
He took a deep breath. "Nothing. It's just…a bit hard."
But he stepped out, onto the red grass, and crossed over to sit beside her. "But it's good to see those suns again."
And she saw, looking to the side, that another sun was setting in the distance. "It's gorgeous," she said.
He smiled ruefully. "Yeah. And I spent most of my life away from it. At first I wouldn't leave, then I never wanted to come back."
"Couldn't you…do what you just did?"
He shook his head. "No. The Time War created…complications. And…it's just hard. I just know that if I come back, I'll try to change things. And I can't. I just can't."
She nodded. "I…think I understand. But…can we just watch? Watch the sunset?"
He nodded. "Yeah. That sounds nice."
Martha felt almost dizzy, sitting here on a planet that had already died in her time. It was an odd sensation, but not nearly as odd as how the Doctor was acting.
She wondered if, for once, he was acting how he felt. She wondered if this was the Doctor without the laughing or the jokes or the dashing about like a lunatic. She wondered if he did all that just so he wouldn't act how he felt.
And then she realized just how hard it must have been for him to come back here. He was trying to make amends for lying to her.
She shifted a little closer to him, and he slipped an arm around her shoulders.
They sat together, saying nothing and watching the sun sink below the horizon. Slowly, the orange sky darkened and the stars came out. Then they sat together, saying nothing and watching the stars.
Finally, the Doctor noticed that Martha was nodding off. "We'd better go," he said, getting to his feet.
She smiled tiredly. "Do we have to?"
She'd meant it as a joke, but his expression was pained. Martha hurriedly got to her feet. "Okay, okay. Let's go." She looked up at him. "This was…nice. Thanks."
He said nothing, but she could see that her words made him feel a bit better.
She took his hand, and he gripped it back. Together, they walked back to the TARDIS. The doors closed behind them.
After a moment, the TARDIS hummed to life. Soon, it vanished, leaving the peaceful hillside of red grass undisturbed.