Author's Note: Short-ish little story capper, wherein one last loose end gets tied up, future plot points are tied in, and the ground is left open for sequels. Thank you so much to everybody who supported this story and me in writing it, and I'm really honored by the reaction I've gotten to it. I'm glad I could write something you enjoyed, and I hope you stick around for the further adventures of the boys, the Doctor, and his various Companions. This story continues in "What Power"!
Sam rose with the sun the next morning, feeling more rested than he had in what seemed like years. What probably had been years. Even though he'd slept on the couch, leaving the bedroom for the Doctor (despite the Doctor's protests), he felt good.
He swung his legs off the couch and stood, stretching, twisting out the couple of knots in his back. Coffee. He was rested, sure, but coffee was about more than caffeine. It was tradition.
He shrugged on an unbuttoned overshirt and walked into the kitchen, his eyes still bleary with sleep. It took him a minute to realize the Doctor was already there.
"Morning, Samuel," the Doctor said with a smile. He was sitting at the table, looking out the window across the salvage yard. A beautiful sunrise was fading on the horizon. "Lovely day, I think. I ought to visit South Dakota more often. It's apparently beautiful. Who knew?"
"Morning, Doctor," Sam replied, grinning in return. He walked over to the coffee maker and dumped the old grounds. "Do you drink coffee?"
"On occasion," the Doctor said. "But I think that a morning like this, in a place like this, requires some. Just not picturesque enough without it."
Sam laughed softly as he measured out the fresh coffee (fresh being a relative term at Bobby's house) and poured the water into the machine. He hit the button, and inhaled deeply as the hot water hit the grounds and filled the kitchen with the scent of coffee. It was the scent of morning. Every morning. His dad had loved his coffee in the morning, and so, of course, did Dean. It had been a hard-earned acquired taste for Sam, but to fit in he'd learned to like it.
Bobby's machine was reliable but not fast, so Sam settled down at the table across from the Doctor to wait for the coffee to brew. "You slept all right?" he asked.
The Doctor looked up, momentarily puzzled by the mundanity of the question, but nodded. "Yes. Just fine. Rose, too—she's still asleep up there. Lazy thing." He shook his head fondly. "Grew up and lived with a time machine and I'd never dream of wasting a day by sleeping past six."
"I guess us humans take it where we can get it," Sam replied. He looked at the Doctor, and added, "You know, she didn't leave your side. Not until you woke up."
The Doctor didn't respond for a moment, leaning back in his chair and gazing at the last vestiges of the sunrise. "She's remarkable," he said, finally. "She's..." He trailed off.
"You know," said Sam, "the way you look at her? It's what convinced me that you weren't a demon. Or at least what kept me questioning."
The Doctor tilted his head. "Really?"
Sam nodded. "Demons don't...care about humans. You care about Rose. It's beyond obvious."
The Doctor smiled softly, a sadness behind the expression. "Yes," he said. "I care about her. She's brilliant." He blinked, and the sadness faded. "Well, I'm certainly glad that you eventually believed I'm not a demon."
"I'm glad you're not," Sam said. "Means I'm not, either."
The Doctor arched an eyebrow. "You're not a Time Lord, either, Samuel," he said, admonishing. "It would take more than a little rewiring of your neural connections to make you...anything but human."
"I don't think I'm exactly human," Sam muttered. "Little on the freaky side of human."
The Doctor leaned on the table, studying him. "What do you think human is, Samuel?" he asked. "A genome? A pattern that your brains are cut out of? An unadulterated bloodstream?"
Sam didn't say anything.
"Is your brother human?" the Doctor pressed.
"Yeah," Sam replied without hesitation. "Yeah, Dean is definitely human."
"There are no more Time Lords," the Doctor said. "Only me. Do you know why? Not because no one shares my DNA. Because no one shares my childhood. My experiences. My upbringing, my culture, my life. If your brother is human, then you're human, Samuel. Because I have never seen two people so alike in my life."
Sam had to laugh, because he knew that it was true. Little as he sometimes wanted to admit it, you couldn't spend as much time with another person as he had with Dean and not have some things in common. He liked to think that there were certain differences—that he had, for example, better taste in women and music than his brother—but he knew that, particularly to outsiders, they were far more alike than they were different.
"Okay," Sam said. "I'll accept that. But I meant to ask you, before, but we were. You know."
"Busy," the Doctor supplied.
"Yeah," Sam said. "But when we were at the Shadow Proclamation, I, ah, when you'd given me that knowledge, I got...confused."
The Doctor stilled in that way that meant that Sam had surprised him. "What do you mean?" he asked.
Sam bit his lip, and glanced over to the coffee maker. It was done brewing, so he stood up and went to fix his coffee. He didn't look back at the Doctor as he asked, "How do you like yours?"
"Samuel," the Doctor said, his voice low, "what do you mean, confused?"
Sam opened the cabinet and pulled two mugs down, pouring the coffee carefully into both. "There's milk in the fridge if you want some," he said.
Sam took his hands off of the mugs. "At the Shadow Proclamation. I was looking at Rose and Dean. And I thought—" He broke off, passing a hand over his face.
The Doctor was quiet for a moment, then, gently: "You thought what?"
Sam took a breath, turned and faced the Doctor. "I thought of them as my Companions," he said. "Like you have. I think...I think I thought I was...you." He looked away, swallowing. "It's...that's never happened to me before."
"No," the Doctor said. "I don't imagine it has."
"You said that what happened to me didn't make me not human," Sam said, finding his voice hoarse. "Could it have made me...crazy?"
The Doctor stood quickly, walking to him. His hands were in his pockets but he got right up in Sam's face, looking up at him. "You are not crazy, Samuel. That's not what's happening. You did have part of my mind in your mind."
"I was thinking like I was you," Sam said.
The Doctor shook his head, then looked down, frustrated. "My blood altered your basic neurobiology," he explained. "Made you quicker to create connections, more flexible. More malleable. It's why I told you to give what I gave you back to me. Well. One of the reasons why. But regardless, what I did was dangerous, and it's one of the things I'm sorry for. Your brain was trying to compensate for the fact that you suddenly had knowledge you hadn't gained through experience. It picked up on traces of my personality and memories and tried to form some logical explanation for your knowledge."
It took Sam a second for his brain (his stupid, malleable brain) to notice that he had gripped the scalding coffee cup and was burning his palm. Instead of setting it down he anchored himself onto the sensation, and raised the cup to his lips. Hot cup, hot, bitter coffee, pain in his hand. That all made sense. Even if nothing else did, even if the freaking alien he was talking to who was telling him his brain had tried to make sense of a situation by deciding that he was a Time Lord didn't make any sense, at least coffee made sense. He swallowed past the arsenic bitterness. "Is that...dangerous?" he asked. The Doctor frowned. "My brain being...whatever. Flexible."
"You realize nothing's changed, just because you know it now," the Doctor said slowly. "This has been your condition since you were six months old."
"There's lots of uglies out there that have psychic powers," Sam insisted. "Could my condition put my brother in danger?"
The Doctor paused, and picked up his own mug of coffee. He seemed to mull Sam's question over as he sipped, made a face, and swallowed hard. "The mind's sense of self-preservation is extremely strong, and yours is no exception to that," he said. "But I understand what you're asking, and the answer is, I'm sorry, but maybe. But," he continued, cutting off Sam's impending cry of what?, "it would take an extremely powerful psychic to take advantage of your state. I'm talking about a being of the kind of psychic ability that you'd be hard-pressed to deal with in any case, with or without your past. That, or the introduction, again, of a foreign, meaning extraterrestrial, substance into your system. My blood. Azazel's blood. The remnants of my psychic connection to you. It can't just happen, unprovoked, and it would take something big to provoke it."
Sam held the hot mug between his hands, and went to the table. He sat heavily.
The Doctor didn't move from the counter. "Nothing is different, Samuel."
"Everything is different, Doctor," Sam said quietly.
"Well." The Doctor shrugged. "Suppose everything's always different, isn't it? One moment to the next."
The Doctor took another long sip of his coffee. "This is terrible," he remarked.
Sam laughed dryly. "You don't have to drink it."
"Didn't say I wouldn't drink it," the Doctor replied. "Just said it was terrible. Terrible isn't always bad."
Sam looked up at him, his eyebrow raised. "Uh, yeah, Doctor, that's kind of the definition of terrible."
The Doctor shrugged again. "Terrible can be bracing. Terrible can shake things up enough for you to change something. Terrible can make you take a new look at things. Like, for example, why do I keep drinking coffee? I always hate it. This coffee is terrible enough to remind me that taking coffee, no matter how picturesque, is a bad idea." He held the mug out like it was exhibit A. "See? Terrible coffee, valuable realization."
"This is the most obvious metaphor I've ever heard," Sam said.
The Doctor poured the coffee down the sink, and said over his shoulder, "He's a fool who accuses me of beating around the bush."
"So this is, what, pain is just weakness leaving the body?" Sam asked, perhaps with a touch more sarcasm than was strictly necessary. "Because if that was true, Dean and I—"
"Would be granite pillars of strength without the smallest hint of weakness," the Doctor said. "Yes. But pain is just pain. What you do once the pain begins to fade...that's what's important." The Doctor finally turned and met Sam's eyes. "And the two of you are brilliant at moving on past the pain, Samuel. It's what you told me, just last night."
Sam was contemplating a reply when he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around to see Rose's bright smile, and couldn't help but smile back at her. Her blonde hair was tousled, her shirt wrinkled, and there were bruise-like rings around her eyes from all the sleep she'd missed over the past forty-eight hours, but she looked so happy. And he knew why. Her Doctor was awake, alive, okay. He'd had those mornings, where all was well because there was one person in the world who was okay. He wondered if he looked that happy, on those mornings. "Morning!" she said cheerfully. "Oh, coffee, thank god."
Sam looked at the Doctor, releasing the breath he'd taken in to argue in a slow exhalation. The Doctor looked back at him, his expression even and slightly sad. Which seemed like kind of his default. "Coffee's terrible," the Time Lord mentioned to his Companion.
"Oi, what do you know about it," Rose retorted automatically, not looking up as she poured herself a mug full. She raised it to her lips and closed her eyes as she sipped it. "Ah," she said, content. "Can't find coffee like Earth coffee!"
The Doctor leaned on the counter, listening with a quiet smile as Sam and Rose exchanged small talk over their coffee. Dean and Bobby woke up shortly after, filing into the kitchen in their turn. Once everyone had some coffee and breakfast in them, a comfortable silence fell over the room.
Sam broke it. "I guess you guys are going to head off now, aren't you." Not a question. Not quite an accusation.
The Doctor looked contemplative for a moment. "I suppose we are," he said. "It's more or less what we do."
Rose grinned around the lip of her mug. "Gotta say, this was an exciting way to spend a few months," she said. "Never thought America would be so...ah..."
"Full of demons?" Dean suggested.
Rose raised her mug to him. "Definitely didn't think it would be that," she said.
The Doctor waited until Rose was taking a sip of her coffee, and said, without looking at anyone in particular, "You know, if you wanted, my usual offer when someone helps me save the world is one trip in the TARDIS, anywhere, anywhen you want."
"Yeah?" Sam said noncommittally.
He felt the Doctor's eyes on him. "That's...not the reaction I usually get to that offer," he said, sounding perhaps hurt.
Sam looked up and saw that, sure enough, the Doctor's expression was one of hurt. He shook his head and said, "Doctor, it's...I'd love it. Dean, maybe not so much, because of the whole. You know. Flying thing. But seeing the Cygnus Loop with the two of you was incredible. It's just that we have a lot on our plate right now, and it seems like just up and going on a vacation is a little...irresponsible."
The Doctor nodded, smiling grimly. "I understand," he said. "Wish it were different. But I do understand."
He stood, and everyone else followed suit. He extended his hand to Bobby, who took it, and then grunted in surprise as the Doctor pulled him into a tight hug. "Thank you for everything," the Doctor said. Bobby made a choked, startled noise in response, and the Doctor released him. "I mean it," he said. "Thank you."
"Y're welcome," Bobby muttered. His expression softened as Rose embraced him, and he patted her on the back. "Take care, sweetheart."
"You too," Rose said.
She stepped away from Bobby, and walked over to Dean, rising up on her tiptoes to throw her arms around his neck. He held her, and Sam saw the conflicted emotions crossing his brother's face. "Take care of yourself, Dean," she said softly.
"Yeah," Dean murmured. "You too, Jackie." She pulled away, startled, but smiled when she saw the smile on Dean's face. She drew him back into a hug again, gripping him tight his expression turned impatient. "Jesus, I know you have a time machine but you are draggin' this out."
Rose made a face at him, but let him go, turning to Sam. He opened his arms, and she ran into them. He had to duck down to hug her, and he smiled.
"You're gonna be okay," she whispered into his ear. "You and your brother. Whatever happens. You're brilliant. The two of you remind me of the Doctor, even without all that nasty business."
Nasty business. Sam couldn't help but grin. "Thanks, Rose. You and the Doctor, you're gonna be okay, too."
He looked down at her, and she smiled weakly at him. "I know," she said. "And I hope, when you're all done sorting out everything, you can take the Doctor up on his offer. Because there's some brilliant things out there."
"Yeah," said Sam, "I bet there is. You enjoy it for me until then, okay?"
Rose nodded, and turned to look at the Doctor and Dean, who were saying their good-byes. The Doctor released Dean's hand, and looked at Sam.
Sam took the Doctor's hand in a firm grip, meeting the Time Lord's eyes. "Samuel," the Doctor began.
"Thanks," Sam said. The Doctor fell silent. "I mean it. For everything you did. For not giving up on us. Thank you."
The Doctor laughed softly. "I could say the same to you," he replied. "Thank you for your trust, and your forgiveness, despite everything."
They stood for a moment, still in their handshake, until the Doctor did to Sam as he'd done to Bobby and swept him into a hug. It had a slightly different effect, given that Sam had a good four inches on the Doctor, but Sam felt something shift in him. He held onto the Time Lord tight.
"If anybody can beat this, it's the two of you," the Doctor said, in a quiet voice meant for Sam only. "I can't promise you it'll be easy. I don't know what's ahead of you. But I've met some of humanity's best and brightest, throughout all the years of your species' existence, and they pale in comparison, Samuel, they do. Be strong. Be smart. Be brave." He took a deep breath, and Sam stepped back. The Doctor clapped him on the shoulder. "And I'm sure we'll be seeing more of each other."
Sam frowned, alarmed. "How sure?" he asked.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, and burst out laughing. "Not that sure," he replied. "Not I've been there already sure. Just...normal sure. You're the types that attract temporal anomalies."
"And that's like the Bat Signal for the Doctor," Rose added wryly.
They walked outside together, and Sam marveled again at how well the TARDIS blended in to its surroundings. He didn't know...maybe it was some kind of race memory, but there was something right about it sitting there, with the Doctor in front of it with his Companion, fresh off of saving someone. He and Rose waved, and Bobby and the Winchesters waved back. Rose slipped her hand into the Doctor's, and they ran into the TARDIS together.
The sound of gears and wind rose around them, and the TARDIS faded out of existence.
The three of them stood there for a moment. "They're gone," Dean said.
"Yeah," Sam replied.
Bobby shook his head. "You idjits have the best and worst luck in the world, at the same time," he sighed. "Never seen two boys get beat up like you, but you meet one of the world's most infamous non-humans and come out of it pals."
"Well, you know us, Bobby," Dean said with a winning smile. "We're just so personable."
Sam didn't pay much attention to Bobby and Dean bickering as they walked back to the house. His mind was still on the TARDIS, its inhabitants, and all the revelations that blue box had brought into their lives.
All that had changed, but all that hadn't, too. He glanced at his brother, who was making an exaggeratedly offended face at Bobby, and who was still going to Hell. That hadn't changed. They wouldn't stop fighting...fighting Dean's fate, fighting the demons, doing what they'd always done. That hadn't changed, either. They were headed back to Bobby's house, his whole family together, even if the number of times that was likely to happen was running out. Family hadn't changed. It wouldn't. Not ever, regardless of alien blood and alien demons and fixed points in time.
So maybe the Doctor was right. Maybe just knowing didn't change anything. Or maybe it changed it just enough to renew his spirit, and his determination to save his brother, under any circumstances.
"Hey gigantor," Dean called, and Sam looked up. "What are you thinkin' about over there?"
Sam took a deep breath, and squinted up into the sky, where the Doctor was, somewhere, saving some other planet. He grinned. "Just that maybe terrible's not always so bad," he said.