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Sam texts her even before they’re back to the bunker.

He hesitates over his words as Dean drives, typing and deleting until finally he sends Thanks again for today. A second later he hurriedly sends a second text: This is Sam. He sighs at his own incompetence and shoves his phone back in his pocket.

He doesn’t hear anything back until the following afternoon when he’s sitting and half-reading with his phone on the table alongside his book.

Glad I could help.

He could play it cool. Let her message sit there for a few hours or days. He could, but instead he responds the moment the text comes through, before he loses his nerve.

We have a huge Men of Letters archive if you want to come see if you can find anything about your parents.

There’s a long pause. He sees the little chat bubble by her name fill with dots then stop and start again. It stops a second time and he’s sure he’s pushed her too hard, opened too many wounds, when a new message appears.

I’d like that.

 *** 

He’s waiting outside when she pulls up in a white, nondescript sedan. A dog is sitting calmly in the front seat. It’s medium-sized with shaggy tan fur. Black fur all around its muzzle makes it look like it’s been eating dirt. The dog eyes Sam but makes no move to get out of the car when Eileen does.

It’s unexpected enough to jolt him out of his nervousness.

“You have a dog?” he blurts as soon as she rounds the car to face him.

Eileen looks up at him as she explains. “She’s a service dog.”

Sam frowns. “Are you going to leave her in the car?”

“She’s fine there.”

Sam looks at the dog again. Her ears perk up. “You can bring her inside. I mean, if you want.”

Eileen looks at Bonnie who has her front paws on the window as her tail wags enthusiastically. She looks again at Sam who is working hard to give the appearance that whatever she wants to do is fine, even though he can’t keep his eyes off the dog. “Okay.”

The dog sits until Eileen clips on the leash and gives her a command. She leaps from the car to get to Sam, who immediately bends down to pet her. Now Sam can see her pronounced underbite, a row of white teeth starkly visible against the black fur.

“Her name is Bonnie. It’s short for Bronwen.”

Sam solemnly shakes one small paw. “My name is Sam. It’s short for Samuel.”

Inside, Bonnie sniffs daintily from the end of the leash as Sam shows Eileen around a little, stopping at the kitchen to offer her something to drink. “We don’t have a ton but,” he turns to survey the fridge. “Beer, water, or I could make coffee or tea.” He closes the door and looks at her expectantly.

She’s leaning in the doorway while Bonnie explores for crumbs under the table. She shrugs exaggeratedly and Sam feels his face redden at his mistake. 

I’m sorry, he signs, moving to stand across from her and carefully repeat his offer.

“Coffee,” she decides and he nods and points to the coffeemaker, holding up a finger to indicate it’ll just take a minute for him to make it.

While it’s brewing, he folds his long limbs up to sit on the kitchen floor and Bonnie approaches him readily. “How long have you had her?”

“Three years,” Eileen says.

Bonnie sniffs Sam’s outstretched hand then lets him scritch under her chin. “What kinds of things does she do?” Sam looks up at her, hair in his eyes, dimples showing, and Eileen sees the little boy he must have been, open and trusting and vulnerable.

“She alerts me to people at the door or the fire alarm. Things like that.” She shrugs but Sam doesn’t miss the fond look in her eye as Bonnie relaxes enough to lean heavily against his thigh.

Sam is still sitting with Bonnie when the coffee finishes brewing and Eileen picks up the pot, looking questioningly at Sam. He starts to get up, but she waves him off and he points to the proper cabinet for the mugs. By the time she’s stood on her tiptoes to reach down two of them, he’s stopped petting the dog long enough to pull out milk and sugar.

Sam makes a mental note as Eileen stirs in one heaping spoonful of sugar and then he leads her to the library, Bonnie off leash now and trotting along with them. He’s pulled some boxes from one of the archive rooms and they sit across the table from each other to go through them.

It’s comfortable work, easy to point things out they find in the files and only occasionally does Sam have to write something down to help her understand. They’re midway through the second box when Bonnie, who had been sleeping contentedly on Sam’s feet, runs to the library doorway then back to paw at Eileen’s shins.

“Does she need to go out?” Sam asks, but Eileen shakes her head.

“Somebody’s here.”

Only then does Sam hear the front door open and close. He fingerspells the letter “D” and holds it up. “Dean.”

Eileen nods and gives a command to the dog, who stops alerting her and goes to sit in the doorway instead.

“In here!” Sam yells in response to Dean calling his name.  The dog greets him first, standing in the hallway, wagging her tail.

Dean stands with his hands on his hips. “I always knew this would happen one day. I’d come home and just….dogs everywhere.” He winks at Eileen.

Sam is on his feet in an instant, crossing to the doorway to formally introduce them. “This is Bonnie. She’s a service dog.”

Dean takes in her wiry fur and jutting underbite. He angles himself away from Eileen and mutters to his brother. “Good thing she’s useful because that’s one ugly mutt.”

Sam bends down to pet her, bitchfacing hard. “What’s the matter with you,” he hisses at his brother. “She’s cute.”

“Whatever,” Dean says, giving the dog a cursory pat. He nods toward Eileen. “Is she staying for dinner?”

“Ask her, Dean,” Sam says self-righteously, like he hadn’t just turned his back on Eileen mid-conversation a few minutes ago.

Dean clears his throat and moves closer to Eileen, speaking slowly. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Eileen squints a little and shakes her head in confusion, making her ponytail sway.

Dean tries again, slowing his words down even more and exaggerating his speech.

Sam can see Dean is one step away from miming eating when Eileen flashes him a coy look, eyes sparkling. He grins back at her.

“She’s fucking with you.”

Dean whirls around in surprise to look at Sam and then back at Eileen. She turns her giggle into a cough. “I understood you the first time. And yes, I’d be happy to stay.”

 *** 

An hour later, Dean comes back to the library to let them know dinner is ready. Sam has moved to sit next to Eileen and she has his hands in hers, clearly trying to teach him some signs. They laugh quietly together before Sam tries again (unsuccessfully if the way Eileen covers her mouth with her hand in mock horror is any indication).

Dean watches for a moment, unobtrusive as he can, taking in the relaxed set of Sam’s shoulders and the even more relaxed form of Bonnie asleep on his lap. Sam catches sight of him first and sits back in his chair, putting some distance between them.

“Dinner’s ready,” Dean says and they follow him back to the kitchen. He serves the plates and then frowns and digs his phone out of his pocket to stare at the blank screen. Picking up his plate he explains, “I’ve gotta call Cas back, so I’ll just take this to my room and do that.”

Before Sam can question him, he sends an approving nod his way. Sam gives him a grateful smile and turns back to Eileen.

 ***

Over the next few days, Dean finds Sam smiling at his phone as it lights up with frequent notifications. One night nearly a week after Eileen’s visit he gets out of bed for a glass of water and sees signs of life in the library. Sam is hunched front of his laptop, brow furrowed as he attempts a series of signs.

Dean leans against the doorframe. “You good?”

Sam startles a little and reaches his long arms overhead to stretch. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Couldn’t sleep?” From what Dean can tell, Sam’s been sleeping better. Or if he’s not, he’s been hiding it well. This is the first time since the case at Oak Park that he’s found him up in the middle of the night.

“No, I’m just…working on something. I’m uh gonna drive to Iowa tomorrow. Eileen’s working a case in Plattville.”

“She need help?”

“Nope,” Sam says and his face is decidedly proud. “She’s got it covered.”

“And you’re driving up there because?” Dean knows damn well why Sam is taking a three-hour detour, but the Big Brother Code means never missing a chance to harass him.

“We’re having dinner.”

Dean considers this. “Iowa’s nice this time of year. I wouldn’t mind a little road trip.”

“Fuck off, Dean.” Sam doesn’t even have the decency to pretend to take him seriously.

“Get some sleep, Romeo.”

 ***

It’s an easy drive north into Nebraska and then east just over the border into Iowa.  Sam finds the motel with no problem and pulls into the wide gravel lot. He could text Eileen that he’s here or go knock on the door but instead he gets out and walks around the side of the building, wiping his damp palms on his jeans.

It’s foolish to be so nervous. They’ve been in constant communication the past week or so, conversation flowing at all times of day and night, covering nearly every topic under the sun. He’s texted her things he hasn’t told anyone, things about the way he thought his life would go, things about the way maybe it still could. She’s texted him about the loss of purpose she feels since taking out the banshee that killed her parents. She’s at a crossroads, trying to figure out where she goes from here. And that’s the problem. Sam doesn’t want to influence her one way or the other, not when she has decisions to make.

He wants her to do what’s best for herself. At the same time, he doesn’t want to lose the first friend he’s had in ages. It’s meant more to him than he thought, being able to talk to someone who understands his life, who’s suffered the same losses and hard choices. He knows it’s selfish but he doesn’t want to give that up.

He thinks of the way she looks at him, brown eyes focused on his face like there’s nothing else in the world. He shakes his head at his own foolishness. Probably she looks at everyone that way, making sure she doesn’t miss anything.

Sighing, he turns and walks back around the corner of the one-story building. Eileen is there, Bonnie pulling the leash taut as she moves in his direction. Bonnie jumps in excited circles and doesn’t settle until he’s scooped her up so she can lick his face while she wags her entire back half.

Eileen looks at them, her eyes shining. Her hair is held back behind her ears in clips, but it’s down today, falling past her shoulders on soft waves. “I knew you were here because Bonnie freaked out.”

Sam tries to contain the wriggling mass in his arms. “How did she know?”

Eileen shrugs. “She just knew.”

***

They decide to pick up food and eat it in her room. There’s not much to say while she’s driving them to the restaurant because (unlike his brother) she keeps her eyes on the road. Back at the motel, Sam carries the bags into the room and sets them on the table in the kitchenette. The room is neat and tidy and Sam pretends not to notice the mostly packed duffel sitting on the bed.

They busy themselves taking out the food and sitting down to eat but a few minutes into it, the conversation sputters out. It’s awkward seeing each other again in person after sharing so much in writing and Eileen knows Sam senses it too. She sees it in the way he drops eye contact and pushes his food around on his plate. He’s getting better at incorporating signs into the conversation, and a couple of times she seems him raise both hands to chest height, curling them into fists before opening his hands and using them instead to push his hair behind his ears.

She watches with keen eyes and a sinking feeling in her stomach.

Finally, Sam pushes his food away and draws in a steadying breath. He brings his fists up again, but this time he moves them both downward in an intentional sign. He points to himself then touches his fingers to the corner of his mouth and then higher up on his cheek before pointing at her.

Eileen grins at him, the tension gone. She nods. “Yes, you can kiss me.”

Sam starts to get up, but Eileen shakes her head and he stills, barely breathing as she settles herself on his lap, stroking his hair until he feels her strong fingers warm on the back of his neck and she pulls him toward her, bringing their mouths together.

It’s gentle and it’s tentative, but Sam feels a sense of belonging, a sense of right. He’s not hiding a piece of himself when he’s with her. She knows who he is and what he’s seen and she’s still here, still touching him with steady hands and soft lips. He gathers her closer, wrapping his arms around her small waist until she tucks her head against his shoulder and they can feel their hearts beating together.