1. the place where one lives, especially as a member of a family or close friendship
1. a feeling of stunned surprise resulting from a sudden event or experience
He can't quite bring himself to look away from the painting.
It doesn't make sense, at least, it wouldn't. Not to someone else. It's a horrific sight, that painting, an oil painting capturing one of the single most horrific points in history in all its detailed, gruesome glory, flying saucers everywhere and flames and last-ditch defenses attempting a hopeless, futile, vain endeavor to defend the citizens, all the while hearing the screams rise up around them...
Shakes his head.
Like he'd be able to stop smiling.
There's a certain weight that guilt carries. Everyone knows it, everyone's felt it at least once. A sort of weight, a hard ball inside a person's chest weighing them down with its iron grip and utterly refusing to let go no matter how far you run, no matter how many people say that there's no reason to be blaming yourself. It grabs onto his hearts with tearing claws, refusing to let him go, shredding him into ribbons of nothing over and over and over again. He's felt that weight for... for centuries. It is still centuries, right? He hasn't moved on into a new millennium yet, has he?
Maybe he ought to start keeping track again.
Now he feels so light. There's nothing but air underneath his feet, and the stars are just a little bit brighter and his world seems just a little bit clearer. He's been running from something his entire life, he knows he's been running but he never knew what from... because there was never anything to run from to begin with. It's time to start running to something, it's time to turn around and look at the path he's carved through time and space.
There are footsteps from somewhere behind him. Clara and Kate. His impossible girl and that brilliant, brilliant scientist, daughter of such a dear friend...
Clara keeps walking after Kate stops, and she's standing next to him staring at the painting and he can't help but wonder if she remembers being on Gallifrey, all those thousands of years ago.
“It's beautiful,” she says softly, voicing the two words chasing themselves around and around in his head.
“It was,” he agrees softly, and he has to sit down suddenly as the words force their way past his lips out of sheer habit, and suddenly there are tears pouring down his cheeks and he's still smiling. Kate walks to his other side in what he has to assume is concern, but really, there's no need. Why would she need to be concerned? This is wonderful!
A watery laugh bubbles up from somewhere inside him. “No, no, no,” he chuckles weakly. “Oh, no, no... no, it is. It is beautiful, Clara. It is!” He laughs again, vision so blurry he can hardly make out the flames anymore. “It is beautiful.”
Clara lays a featherlight touch on his shoulder before backing off respectfully, but he speaks through his tears before they can go too far.
“Two billion,” he whispers, voice quavering. “Two billion, four hundred and seventy million children, and they're alive. Even in the last days of the war, they'd- in the shelters, they- they would be playing games!” He shakes his head. “I had a wife. I had children, and they had children, and their children had children. Is it have now, Clara? Do...”
He swallows, because he's saved them all but he isn't sure if he remembers how to hope anymore. Can something so broken heal?
“...do you think it might be have? Do I... do I have a wife? Do I have children, do my children have children, do their children have children? Do you think... it might be have now?”
Can he hope?
“I think...” Clara doesn't seem to know what to say. “I think there's only one way to find out.”
And he runs a hand over his face. The tears are gone, though his eyes are still watery, and the smile is still there and he knows he won't stop smiling for a long time. He shakes Kate's hand, waves off her salute, promises that yes, he'll come back, and please don't take his TARDIS by crane again, and would she do something about that nuclear warhead underneath London, please?
She smiles, says she'll do her best, and he believes her.
Clara looks at him. He holds out his hand, and she takes it. The TARDIS doors open.
He hasn't been home in a long time. He ran away, he's been running ever since, but just maybe, it's time to go back.
It's almost a foreign concept now.
Isn't there an Earth saying, something about... always finding your way back home again? Or maybe that was a different planet. Or a different time period. Maybe it's both. Anyway.
In a way, he guesses he's always been coming here. Here, now, at this very point, this is where he's going to, this is what he's been running to for all of his lives. He's always been running back home, he just... took the long way around.
The TARDIS vanishes with her familiar wheezing groan and they're off, they're searching, and they aren't going to stop. They've got things to do, places to see, people to save, and they've got a planet to find. These engines bring hope, and he's relatively sure that he hasn't felt this hopeful in a very long time.
Maybe somewhere, someday, in the midst of smoggy flames and burnt orange skies, there will be children playing. Maybe, one day, there will be a shining world in the seven systems once more. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a woman, and a young dark haired girl with wide eyes so curious to learn, and little children chasing each other around a big blue box underneath the shade of silver leaves.
Maybe one day.
Gallifrey falls no more.