A/N: Greetings friends. I am sorry I have been away so long. Death in the family, well, two actually, and some major technical and personal problems amount to major story delays. On the other hand, this chapter is nearly 10 000 words long, so I hope that makes up for it somewhat. I have messed around with the timlines in this chap a fair bit and I hope that they are clear, and I've also added linear breaks to denote a change in POV or scene, do tell me what you think. As always, thanks so much for hanging in there with me. More to follow asap.

luv ArtemiS

p.s. I'll respond to all of your wonderful reviews shortly, but probably not tonight. :p

Dean followed Sam into the doorway and stopped, watching as his brother continued his progress through the door and then across the room without slowing, backing Reggie resolutely toward the wall as she rapidly gave way before him

Dean followed Sam into the doorway and stopped, watching as his brother continued his progress through the door and then across the room without slowing, backing Reggie resolutely toward the wall as she rapidly gave way before him. Her eyes were red in a face that was too pale and the harsh rasp of her voice, forced from a throat still thick with tears, when she spoke, was barely recognizable.

"Sam. Just—Wait. Don't—".

Her actions matched her words as she shrank back from Sam's advance, one hand held out to ward him off. Dean could see how raw she was, how vulnerable still, and he could she how much she hated it, how much she wanted to deny it.

She wanted to be strong. To stand on her own. Dean knew it wasn't the answer for her. It wasn't how she was built. She needed to share. To hold and be held and damnit! He couldn't give that to her. Luckily, Sam saw past her defensive need for isolation as easily as his brother, and he was having none of it.

The rigid tension that had gripped Dean's body, hardening every muscle as though he were preparing for a battle with an unseen enemy at the dejected picture Reggie made, melted away as he watched Sam corner her and override her objections to his offer of comfort by simply scooping her right off her feet and plopping into the nearest chair.

Leaning forward Sam pressed his forehead to Reggie's and looked deeply into tawny eyes filmed with the crystal sheen of tears.

"You need to cry somemore? You go ahead. You need to scream? You go on and do that too. But you aren't doing it alone Reggie, we've all had too much of that. It won't help you, being alone, holding all that in, trying to spare us. Just like it didn't help me."

The last admission got Reggie's attention, pulled her rapidly flickering gaze to meet the lapis depths of his and holding.

"You know it's true. What I was doing, cutting myself off, hoarding the pain. It doesn't help you to get over it, get past it. To go on. It just creates a trap and it gets to be like quicksand. All the guilt and the agony of it sucking you in an pulling you down and just—suffocating you. Immobilizing you. And pretty soon, what started out as a way to protect yourself, to protect others, it swallows you up, stops you from fighting at all. Now, I don't know what you did the other night, and I don't know how, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like maybe I should start fighting again. Like maybe I can. Don't let yourself make the same mistake I did."

Reggie's voice was tremulous when she whispered,

"What do I do?"

It grew stronger, rose.

"What am I supposed to do!? How does anyone….How do you, do—this! " Her arm curved in a broad, wild arc, indicating the immense, debilitating scope of the tragedy and the pain and the nagging, inescapable knowledge that it would happen again. And again. And again.

Her uncertainty and desperation tore at Dean's heart.

So did Sam's answer.

"Just hold on. Hold onto me. That's the first step."

They were the very same words Dean had once spoken to a trembling, terrified, ten-year old Sam who'd knelt, shivering, beside the severed head of the gorgon, macabely festooned with still-thrashing vipers, whose venomous fangs he'd just stopped from sinking into Dean's unprotected back while he'd been busy torching the monster's nest after decapitating its mate.

Sammy had taken one look at the grotesque, vaguely humanoid face of his first kill, needle-toothed serpents writhing at the crown of its head, its death throes forever frozen in a mask of stone while the snake's jaws, in disconcerting contrast to the granite face, still snapped open and shut, and puked his pre-pubescent guts out.

By the time Dean had staggered over and fallen to his knees beside him, Sam had been quaking like a leaf, every fiber of his young body vibrating as guilt and grief and fear and disgust fought for supremacy inside him. Dean could still remember the reek of burning blood and the fine grey powder of stone and ash on the firelit air. Remembered the way Sammy's small fingers had dug into the fabric of his coat as Dean had wrapped it around him while they'd knelt on the damp, decomposing floor of the swamp where the creatures had made their home, both cold despite the fetid weight of the humid air. Remembered the way his little brother's voice had faltered when he'd asked, miserable, afraid, and so lost….

Wh--What do we do now?

And Dean hadn't known the answer. At fourteen killing gorgons had no longer been sufficient to rattle him though, turning just in time to see the bone white flash of viper fangs slashing through the air towards his neck just as their progress was interrupted by the metallic glint of Sam's too-big sword, had done a pretty good job. But what had really shaken him was looking into his brother's eyes, owlishly large in the dark, the tears there catching and refracting what little light there was, seeing the fear and the question in them, and not knowing how to banish the darkness, because it was real, anymore then he could shrug off cold splinter of fear still lurking in his own heart, threatening his unshakable, adolescent self-assurance. Fourteen was far too young to be facing the harsh reality of one's own mortality and a crushing sense of responsibility for your kid brother's loss of innocence, especially at midnight in a lonely bayou where evil had a heartbeat, claws, and fangs, and even the sun had difficultly shining through the heavy tapestry of creeper vines and moss, much less the moon. So he'd done the best he could.

Just hold on.

That's what Dean had told him.

And they both had.

That's how John had found them.

His two boys, one barely a teenager and the other still a child, kneeling together beside the smoldering corpses of gorgon spawn and griping onto each other as though their lives depended on it.

Maybe Dean hadn't really ever been able to let go.

Maybe Sammy had tried too hard.

Either way, the scene was an uneasy ghost from a past Dean didn't want to see repeated.

Reggie's actions, the way she submitted to Sam's embrace, curling up against his chest, her fingers locking tightly in the material of his tee-shirt, mimicked his memory as much as Sam's words had.

The parallel did not comfort him.

But there wasn't much he could do except smile reassuringly when, with her arms still about his brother's neck, Reggie hooked her chin over Sam's shoulder so her amber eyes could seek the jade depths of his own, reaching out and connecting, seeking and offering a solace more powerful for the absence of the need for touch to establish it.

There was pain there to be sure but still, her desire to be linked with him, the undeniable way in which she drew him into the embrace of her compassion and the resilience of her spirit, even against his will, did what's Sam's words, an eerie echo of a past that was all wrong but that couldn't be changed, could not.

It comforted him.

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Reggie sighed a little raggedly and let her body relax against the warm, solid length of Sam even as she allowed her battered psyche to draw comfort from his words, and more powerfully, from the core of renewed hope and light she felt glowing inside him. It was bright and steady and as big and strong as the body that housed it. She felt the choking pressure of the repressed tears clogging her throat ease. With her face tucked next to his neck she could hear his heart and count his breaths. The exercise steadied her and she raised her eyes to look at Dean standing in the doorway, needing to see him.

He didn't move to cross the threshold and enter the room. He held back, stayed removed, one shoulder propped against the doorframe, keeping watch over the healing embrace she and Sam shared, but he didn't participate.

He never did.

She didn't have to reach out, as exhausted as she was, Reggie couldn't stop herself, from feeling Dean.

It had been that way from the beginning.

He was the only person she'd ever known who seemed to have a connection to her gift independent of her will. It was as though he was a part of it, seamlessly and inextricably woven into the fabric of her power, and so he was always there, inside her. Their months together had been fraught with her increasingly desperate attempts to find a way to block him out, only to finally be forced to admit, she couldn't. At this moment it was Sam's heartbeat she could hear, but it was Dean's she felt.

Her failure to disengage from Dean had lead Reggie to do the next best thing she could think of to disentangle her gift from him. She'd loosened her grip on her extrasensory abilities overall, letting in a little more of the background babble of feelings and emotions that hummed around her everyday. It was like letting a faucet run at a trickle. It was easier to drown Dean among the myriad of other voices then shut him out entirely but, it was quiet here at the little backwater motel, and Reggie found herself without the motivation and energy required to smother the steady, persistent thrum that signified his constant presence within her. Instead she opened and let herself feel the unsettled, painful surge of worry and sorrow that tightened his jaw and drew the full curve of his mouth taut at the edges. And it wasn't all about what had happened last night, though she could tell that the dangerous puzzle posed by the Waga was weighing heavily on him. There was also something that had passed between he and Sam earlier this morning and…….a flicker of memory. Pain from long ago, the edges worn with use but not blunted.

"Do you want to talk about what happened?"

Reggie blinked, drawn from her reflection when Sam voiced the very words she'd silently been speaking to Dean, only he was talking to her.

Reggie looked at Dean for a moment longer and then sat back, reading his unwillingness to be prodded and poked in his darkened eyes and the internal shut-down she felt like an iron dead-bolt being slammed shut inside her own chest. And she knew that the only thing he wanted to do less then talk about his own feelings, was talk about hers. That her fear, her pain, were harder for him then his own. So, she shook her head and pulled her hair back out of her face before answering Sam.

"Nope. I'm getting the sense that there was already at least one chick flick moment this morning, and that anymore are going to drive poor Dean right over the edge." She predicted, trying both to spare Dean and lighten the mood.

She smiled genuinely at Sam,

"I guess we'll just have to have our girly, touchy-feely time later."

The teasing remark did the trick. Sam laughed and Dean's lip curled up at the corner as he pushed away from the door and finally entered the room, breaking the strange distance that had been keeping him separate from her and Sam.

He sighed.

"Now normally, that'd be something I'd pay good money to see, but seeing as Samantha here is only a girl on the inside, I think I'll take a pass on the floorshow."

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The shared moment of respite had been short-lived. Reggie spent the rest of the weekend in increasing stages of twisting.

It was the stress.

It had been so long now since she'd found herself in a prolonged state of agitation-- Well, short of the continual nagging worry about Sam, Dean, Cami and her family and the general debacle with the Yellow-eyed demon that had become so routine she no longer even really noticed the heightened tension-- That she had almost forgotten about the nervous tick that had always characterized any period of increased stress during her academic career. Nothing that found itself beneath her restless fingers was spared. Her hair, the comforter on the bed, the leather thong on which her pendant hung, all took a turn as the tourniquet with which she steamed the tide of nerves. On Saturday evening she'd been sitting on the bed, looking over Sam's shoulder as they discussed the probable ages of their alter-egos, only becoming aware that she'd been wrapping the edge of the collar of his plaid button-down around her index finger when he'd been forced to stop her, because she'd wound the fabric so tightly that it had begun to exert an uncomfortable pressure on his windpipe.

The incident was a mild indicator of the extent of her mental abstraction, the superlative example wouldn't manifest until late Sunday evening.

Most of Friday and all of Saturday were spent doing research, forging documents, and practicing, and the increasingly imminent reality of what they were about to undertake was certainly one of the greatest contributors to Reggie's anxiety.

Her brain felt heavy, weighted down with all of the new details she had to remember. No. Not just remember. Live. And what's more, make other people believe, that this complex, carefully constructed lie, was her life. She shook her head at the absurdity.

It was early Sunday afternoon and Reggie's nerves were starting to get the better of her. In a little less than twenty-four hours, she would be going back to high school. Sam's philosophy on prolonged under-cover work was Be Prepared. His approach to the situation was a combination of boy scout and scholar characterized by a studious intensity that included careful study and endless repetition.

As a result, the bare bones of Reggie Throne and her brothers', whom Sam had unwittingly created that fateful Thursday, had become fully-realized, well-rounded characters. Reggie knew every particular of the personas she and Sam had created. One Regina Thorne was as real inside her head as anyone she knew. She could recite the more basic information, her new birth date, the names and birthdates of her two new siblings, the same for her parents, as well as the date and circumstances of their deaths, with ease. She knew the complicated family history they had worked out backward and forward, and all of the fabricated characters were as real on paper as Reggie herself. Thanks to a mysterious character named Ash, for whom circumventing and/or high jacking federal databases and forging legal documents was even less of a big deal than it was for Sam, Reggie Thorne and her brothers had birth certificates and passports, school records and, in the case of their unfortunate and lately deceased parents, coroner's reports and death certificates. Her fictional father had even filed his taxes and paid his credit card bills for the last decade for crying out loud!

On top of that, she and Sam had discussed every possibility, every plausible scenario she might have to deal with. Debated and deliberated over the minutia, the nuances, of her character. Filled in all the little personal details that made someone who they were. Reggie Thorne didn't just have a social insurance number and a driver's license. She had quirks, she had habits, she had a specific psychology. In short, she had a personality and still, Reggie was nervous because Miss Thorne was still, quite simply, not real. It was a lie, and Reggie couldn't help but feel that everyone in the small community of Thermopolis was going to see right through her.

After all, no matter what Sam seemed to think, knowing the right answer and believing it, making other people, believe it, were two very different things. And that wasn't the only problem Reggie didn't know how to solve.

She knew she and Sam were driving Dean nuts. He spent most of his days hunkered in the back corner, booted feet resting on a drawn-up chair, heavy tomes laid out across his lap and his father's journal open before him on the table, or restlessly pacing the confines of the hotel room like a cougar in a cage. He'd glanced at the complicated outline of information Sam had given him, shook his head, rolled his eyes, and promised he'd be ready when the time came and, much to Reggie's chagrin, she had to admit that last night, when Sam had quizzed him closely on the details of his character, Dean had calmly rattled off the information point perfect.

It was very irritating.

Sensing her displeasure, Dean had glanced up and grinned cockily.

"Experience." He'd told her.

This was hardly the first undercover job he'd ever done though, it was admittedly one of the riskiest.

Aside from the length, the longer you were under the greater the chance of discovery, there was also the fact that they didn't know who the Waga was. Now, short of casting major suspicion on himself, it would be unlikely the that Waga would be able to blatantly out them, but who knew what interesting little nothings he or the rest of the pack might whisper into important ears? Which was why their characters had to have such air-tight, official support. There was a lot of opportunity for error and absolutely no margin for mistakes.

There we so many thing things that could go wrong.

But all that aside, Reggie was worried about Dean.

When the sun went down, Dean went hunting.

Alone.

For the last two nights he had returned to the field where they'd had their first confrontation with the Weres and kept vigil over the body of Megan Prescott, the young woman the Waga had killed. Sam and Dean's police scanner had picked up the missing persons' bulletin last night after Megan's husband had reported her disappearance. At first Reggie had been appalled and insisted that they should call in an anonymous tip about the corpse, but Dean had maintained that it was likely the Weres would eventually return to retrieve the body since they hadn't left any of the others to be found, and that he might be able to learn something useful by tracking them.

It was, to Reggie's way of thinking, a bad plan. A very bad plan. What if Dean were discovered by the Weres? Three to one odds were a little steep, even for someone with Dean's ego. Especially when they were talking not only multiple Werewolves, but multiple Werewolves with an intelligent and ruthless leader. Reggie could tell from the tight expression around Sam's eyes and the way he watched Dean leave each night, staring at the door long after his brother had disappeared through it, that he wasn't much happier about his stubbornness then she was but, a lifetime of experience gave him the same insight as her empathic ability, that there was no point in arguing with Dean about it. He was taking the incident with Megan and the Waga very personally, and Reggie's involvement had only hardened his determination. Reggie would still have tried to talk to him but, they weren't really speaking at the moment.

The trouble had begun after what Dean had taken to calling their "Kiss and Cry Episode" on Friday morning when Reggie and the Winchesters had begun the business of preparing for their latest case. It should have been simple, it had certainly seemed so at the time. In fact, at first, Reggie had been surprised at how good it had felt, how cathartic, to simply get on with things. To focus on and execute a series of tasks and know that your efforts were moving you steadily towards stopping your enemy, was distracting for the brain and the promise of vengeance soothing for the heart, and so, she simply hadn't anticipated that she was standing on the brink of what would turn into yet another of the unmitigated disasters that plagued her relationship with Dean. The continual subtext and undiffused pressure that layered everything they did and said with deeper, and often unintentional, meaning had, and would continue, to obliterate any hope of normal interaction between them, and as it was, for her part, Reggie was more confused and conflicted than ever. After Bayard and then the priests' closet, and then the damn werewolves and the bar, what she and Dean knew about themselves and each other was in constant opposition to what they acknowledged they knew and felt, creating an almost intolerable dichotomy between appearance and reality that was becoming almost unbearable to maintain.

The first step towards catastrophe and the primary order of business for the morning, had been to change hotels. The conscientious Thorne brothers would never take their sister to a hole-in-the-wall like the Silver Springs, so the Winchesters were forced to upgrade.

The Mountain Pines Inn was tucked, much as its name implied, amidst a majestic stand of towering Northern Pines, on the West bank of the rushing Bighorn with the cerulean waters drawn up almost to its doorstep, somewhere in the wooded no-man's-land between the city and the State park. The Pines itself consisted of two buildings both made from honey-toned logs taken from the plentiful coniferous forest that surrounded it. The first, the "Big House", did look very much like a large and gracious house with its face to the river and wide, wraparound poaches with their homey, welcoming scatter of wooden chairs that invited you to come on in, put your feet up, and enjoy the breathtaking vistas of tawny plain, rolling green woods and towering mountains, bordered by the twin azure belts of river and sky. Indeed, the Big House was the home of owners Marta and Bartley Rogan and in addition, housed the Inn's restaurant, "The Cone", as well as other, heretofore unbeknownst, amenities like a pool and fitness room.

A path, lined with silvery sage and made from gravel that glittered with the varied, blue, green, red and black minerals that laced the local rock strata and gave the hot springs their many and mysterious facets, led away from the Big House and its neatly paved, tree-lined parking lot, following the river toward a second, larger structure. Each floor of this long, two-story building had eight parallel rooms with separate entrances. It was called, "The Doors", because each room had its own cheerful, cherry-red door. They marched across the front of the golden building in two even lines like sixteen smartly turned-out soldiers, opening either onto the wide terrace that swept in a dramatic curve along the entire length of the second floor, or onto the quaint path that continued from the Big House along the front of The Doors.

And that was only the beginning.

Reggie and the Winchesters had booked two adjoining rooms, one with two queens and the other a single king, and prepared to make themselves at home.

Their ground-floor room was much more spacious then Reggie had become accustomed to traveling with the Winchesters, and was not decorated in eye-smarting, migraine/vomit-inducing shades of neon or magenta, nor saddled with kitchy themes. Much to Dean's grumbling dismay, the colour scheme evoked the natural setting of the hotel with floors of warm, tawny wood and walls painted a soothing, muted green. Deep, inviting looking armchairs and the large table, as well as the rest of the furniture, were also done in earth tones or made of natural materials, completing the cozily rustic atmosphere. The small kitchenette was clean, modern and well equipped, and Reggie had actually smiled when she saw the large clawfoot bathtubs which graced the bathrooms. But, Sam and Dean hadn't really taken the time to appreciate the creature comforts their new accommodations afforded. In fact, if anything, the moderate luxury seemed to make them uneasy. All business, they immediately began to asses the new space.

Dumping his bags on the bed, Dean had strode over to the door which lead to the second room, flipped the lock and then disappeared outside. A moment later Reggie heard the matching lock on the other side of the door click and it swung open to reveal Dean.

"This is good." He'd said, nodding in approval.

"We can live in here" He indicated the room they were presently in,

"And use next door as a sort of staging area. That way we don't have to worry about people noticing salt lines or wards and stuff, if the neighbors come a'callin', and we can take some extra precautions."

The reminder of why they were here, in this lovely, graceful setting, to dupe and manipulate a grieving community and track down a pack of slavering monsters, quickly depressed Reggie's flagging spirits, which had risen an infinitesimal degree at the sight of the bathtub.

The afternoon had pretty much proceeded downhill from there.

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Sam wouldn't have said it had gone downhill, he'd have felt the metaphor was far to passive to accurately describe what had happened shortly after their arrival at The Pines. A more astute parallel would have been a freight elevator plunging from the fortieth floor of a high-rise straight to the basement. It was two days later and he could practically feel the icy weight of the stare Reggie had unerringly pinned on Dean where he sat at the table. It was a miracle that his brother's eyebrows hadn't started to collect frost. He didn't know how Dean managed to ignore it.

Of course, Sam thought with a flare of annoyance, the blame for the sorry state of affairs they currently found themselves in, rested squarely on Dean's shoulders.

It had begun almost immediately after they had completely their initial investigation of their new rooms.

Dean had taken what he had mistakenly decided was an opening provided by the discussion of using the room with the king-sized bed as a front to present to the outside world and the provision of "precautions", to broach the subject of the "new rules", he and Sam had discussed, with Reggie.

It hadn't gone well.

It had started out innocently enough, with Dean shuffling his feet before deliberately setting his jaw and looking up at Reggie where she stood in the bathroom door, her face still wreathed in smiles after the discovery of the giant bathtub.

"So, it's a good thing you like the place…" He'd begun with a lame, in Sam's opinion, attempt at humour.

"Oh?" Reggie had replied, crossing her arms over her chest, her grin fading as she sensed that she wasn't going to like what came next.

"Dean" Sam had tried to interject, putting as much warning into his tone as possible. Reggie was still exhausted and drained from the night before and this morning hadn't been much easier, Sam felt it would be prudent to wait to inform Reggie that they were effectively planning to put her under house arrest, until after they were all fed and a little better rested. Dean kind of ruined that plan though. He stopped when Sam interrupted him, but it was too late.

Reggie's eyes narrowed.

"What's going on? Dean? Sam?" Her head swiveled from one suddenly uncomfortable Winchester to the other.

"Sam" Dean said simply, throwing the ball into his brother's court but letting his tone clearly imply that he thought it was best to just get it over with.

"Dean!" Sam had replied in exasperation. Reggie was now directing her unnerving stare in his direction and he knew that there was no way she was going to let this go and, quite frankly, he wasn't really used to being on the receiving end of her displeasure and he couldn't say he cared much for the experience. It was throwing him off his stride.

Reggie's eyes became amber slits that glittered with a foreboding kind of speculation. Dean was looking resigned and tight-lipped again and Sam had his "reasonable", face on and his eyes were wide and limpid. He looked like he was about to launch into a pre-prepared speech. She waited tensely.

"Sam." Dean prompted.

"Dean." Sam gritted in protest.

"Stop that!" Reggie's voice rang out sharply.

"I hate it when you do that."

"Do what?" Said Sam, his brow wrinkling as he broke eye contact with Dean. .

"Pack an entire conversation into the repetition of each others names. It's like trying to decipher a wonky form of Morris Code. Something's going on and I want to know what. Now."

Sam winced at her tone and shot a beseeching look at Dean. In response, Dean crossed his arms and leaned back casually against the wall. Truth be told, he was tired of always having to play the bad guy with Reggie and was really rather enjoying watching Sam's face filter through guilt, discomfort and finally, panic, as he received the sharp edge of her tongue. He knew his pleasure in the role reversal was more than a little perverse, and that it couldn't last for long, but he wasn't quite ready to haul Sam out of the hole he was digging for himself just yet, it only meant he would have to jump in. Besides, if he didn't let Sam have a go at doing it his way, he'd only have to spend the rest of the night listening to his brother bitch about he could have done it better. How there were, alternatives. Well, the truth was, no one liked being put in a cage. Especially not proud, courageous tigresses with sad golden eyes and wounded spirits. The fact that Dean perceived that he had no choice, abruptly quenched any amusement he had found in the situation and replaced it with fury. Fury and guilt. Reggie should be free, not tied down and hobbled by a risk that should never have been hers to take in the first place. But, like he'd said, no other choice.

"Look" Sam began, trying to placate Reggie,

"It's not some huge thing to get upset over….". He scooped hair out of his eyes agitatedly, belying his own statement.

"Who's upset?" Reggie demanded in a low, controlled voice, feeling irritation skidding along her abused nerves, fraying her temper far more quickly than usual.

"I'm not upset. Should I be?"

Sam swallowed, Reggie's anger was swift and unexpected and he….didn't really know what to do.

"Uh….no?" It sounded like a question because it had suddenly become one. Sam fumbled and tried to remember all of the really sound, logical reasons he and Dean had come up with for confining Reggie to the room. They didn't seem like very good armor in the face of her ire.

"Just--Stay calm. I haven't even said anything yet." Sam's hands were out in a universal gesture of neutrality.

"I. Am. Calm." Each word was punctuated by a pause that was the verbal equivalent of a falling sledgehammer.

Oh Hell. Sam thought resignedly. It should have been so simple, but the withering weight of Reggie's suspicious gaze made all his reasonable arguments go right out the window, and besides, now that she was expecting the worst, having come to that conclusion with Dean's not inconsiderable help, anything he said would sound, like the worst. He gave it his best effort though.

"It's just that we were thinking…..I mean, we were going to suggest…" He faltered.

Dean pushed away from the wall. The glitter of emerald amusement in his green eyes, with which he'd observed the back and forth between Reggie and Sam, was ruthlessly extinguished as they hardened and his face settled into a grim and obstinate expression. The same one their father had always worn, Sam thought, when he was going to make you do something because he thought it was for your own good, and to hell with how you felt about it.

That was how he'd known it wasn't going to go well. From experience.

That look meant that the Winchester in question, be it his father, Dean, or yes, even Sam himself, had resigned himself to a fight. The problem was, when a Winchester prepared for a fight, he usually found it, because he didn't stop to consider other alternatives. Dean's opening statement pretty much confirmed that it was going to be one of those conversations. The proprietary tone, the unyielding stance, feet braced shoulder-width apart, arms folded, and finally, the eyes, hard and direct, all screamed, It's going to be my way and, if you don't like it, too bad.

"We decided, that since we don't know who the Werewolves are, it's too dangerous for you to go anywhere by yourself, so you aren't allowed to leave the room unless you're with one of us and we say it's alright."

Sam groaned silently. Subtlety he'd said. Diplomacy. So much for finesse.

"You decided." Reggie had repeated carefully, her voice now soft but infinitely more dangerous.

"I'm not allowed….."

Dean had refused to back down. There was no point in pussy-footing around it. It was their job to keep her safe and they were going to do it. Period. Dean accepted that, just as he accepted that there was nothing he could say that would make Reggie any less angry about it, nor himself any less impotently furious at the whole goddamn world for putting them in this situation. At himself for letting it come this far, letting her come this far into his nightmare world. And there was some part of him that wanted to punish himself for that. That felt he deserved her venom and the pain a breech with her would bring him. There was even a part of him that welcomed it as a respite from the unending torment of unfulfilled desire made all the more excruciating by their camaraderie, their unbearably platonic closeness. It would be easier to resist yanking her into his arms and kissing away the frown that marred the full pink perfection of her mouth, if she were too angry to spend her days smiling at him and her nights wrapped in his arms.

"That's right."

Dean heard his own voice, hard, cold, and unyielding, as if from a great distance, and told himself that the spark of betrayal that flared briefly in Reggie's tawny eyes, before being consumed by flames of rage, didn't cut so deeply that he bled silent tears. He knew that he was the only person she'd ever really let see how much she hated to be controlled, how much she yearned to be free.

What had ensued was one of the most vicious rows Sam had ever seen, and he and Jess had had a few knock-down, drag-out fights in their time, to say nothing of the arguments he'd had with his father, but this…Reggie hadn't spoken to Dean since, with his face like a mask of stone, had told her that if she didn't listen, he'd tie her up. It wasn't the first time he'd made that threat and, like last time, Reggie had believed him, and had been stiffly obeying his edict in the kind of cold silence that had a physical bite to it, ever since, making her fury as inescapable as it was tangible.

Thinking back over the whole train wreck of a conversation, Sam was pretty sure it had had more to do with exhaustion and stress and Dean's inability to express concern like a normal human being, then the rules themselves. Caring made Dean feel vulnerable, that was a no-brainer for anyone who knew him, much less Sam, who knew him better than any living soul, and unfortunately, Dean tended to respond to that feeling of exposure and helplessness with belligerence and shows of strength, which went over like a ton of bricks with Reggie, and when his coping mechanism failed it just made Dean feel more vulnerable, which made him more overbearing and stubborn…..and the whole thing just kind of-snowballed.

Unfortunately, understanding how what should have been a simple explanation of the reasonable motivations behind their concerns and the solutions they had come up with to keep everyone safe, had exploded into a firefight, didn't exactly help Sam to diffuse the aftermath. He'd figured Reggie would be better at it but, she didn't seem anymore inclined to attempt to patch the rift between her and Dean then Dean himself did. In fact, the two had continued to snipe at one another for most of the weekend.

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Sam's assessment of Dean's actions and motivations were, as was to be expected, pretty accurate, with the exception of the fact that Dean's reasoning had also included the basic fact that Reggie was likely to be angry about the new restrictions regardless of the mode of delivery, and that a good fight and a few days of fuming might be just the thing to help get her mind off the horror of the last forty-eight hours and, if she were feeling anything like Dean was, it would certainly give her an excellent outlet for the prowling aggression and pent-up, helpless frustration that was eating at his gut like acid and, he was willing to bet, hers. Under the circumstances, and since it was his fault she was here in the first place, offering himself as a target on which to vent her feelings seemed the least he could do.

For the most part Dean had been right. Being angry at him had helped Reggie to focus her energy and keep her thoughts from straying to the recent past. From hearing screams in the silent corners of her mind and seeing eyes like burning coals behind her closed eyes. From remembering what it was like to feel the tug of teeth embedded in her skin. All of which, she would try to remind herself, counted as dwelling and was counter-productive. And then Dean would do or say something that made her see a whole different shade of red and she'd get well and truly distracted thinking up new and inventive ways to tell him to go to hell.

The whole system had worked pretty well until Sunday morning, when concern for Dean had finally begun to intrude on Reggie's ability to maintain her steadfast, comforting, and somewhat deliberately oblivious, cocoon of righteous fury. But all of her more subtle overtures of peace had been rebuffed and that, had gotten her ire up again. When they'd awakened that morning she'd actually offered a 'Good morning', which would count as the first civil words exchanged between them in two days, and what had he done? Had he responded in kind? Had he smiled? Had he even nodded in acknowledgement of her olive branch? Oh No! He'd yawned and stolen her pillow!

"What year were you born?"

Sam's question yanked Reggie from her seething.

"January 17,1990." She replied automatically, the number now burned into her brain.

"And when was I born?"

"April 2, 1987."

"And when wa-"

"August 5, 1983" Reggie answered before he could finish.

Sam paused to give her a quelling look over the top of his computer before continuing with the quiz that had become a bi-hourly routine.

"What were your parents names?

"Ethel and Claude Thorne." Reggie made a face.

"What did your father do?"

"He was corporate lawyer, traveled a lot. He was my mother's second husband. My mother was a socialite from Virginia and she became a sort of "Dear Abbey" for our local newspaper. Real social butterfly. They weren't bad parents but they weren't around much."

"Where did you grow up?"

"Cumberland, in West Mayrland."

"In what neighborhood?"

"Decatur Heights in the West End, near Constitution Park and Fort Hill. We had money." She stated matter-of-factly.

Sam nodded approval.

"Where did you go to school?"

"Fort Hills High School at 500 Greenway Ave., est. 1936. Go Sentinels." Reggie gave a lackluster arm-pump and abruptly broke the pattern of question and answer as her nerves made themselves felt, the bottom of her stomach seeming to suddenly drop and spiral away.

"Oh God. Fort Hills High. I have to convince people that I'm in high school again! I wasn't even any good at high school when I really was a teenager." She cried.

"I mean, they're not going to buy it. Can you even do this? Just, drop in at a school out of the middle of nowhere and say 'Hi there, my family's just been struck by tragedy and I'd like to enroll?!"

Sam nodded.

"Our Dad did it with us all the time."

There was a dry undercurrent in his voice that had Dean glancing up from his books to give his brother a hard look before turning to Reggie.

"Relax." He suggested in a tone of patronizing indifference.

"All you have to do sit around, giggle about Billy the Jock, listen to crappy pop music, bemoan your fate as a privileged child of upper-middle class suburbia, and indulge in the occasional over-dramatic display of emotion. Piece of cake."

Reggie's response was to groan, cover her face with her hands, and allow herself to fall face-first onto the bed.

"I can't do this!" She moaned.

"See" said Dean with grating cheerfulness,

"You're getting the hang of it already."

Giving Dean a look that would have peeled paint, Reggie bounced off the bed and stomped into the bathroom, pretty much the only place she could get any privacy under the dictates of the new Fascist Regime, and not caring in the least that her petulant actions only drove home Dean's barb, as she shut the door with a hearty slam.

God, she hated this. The constant bickering and the worrying, it was chewing on her last nerve.

Well, no.

Actually, that was Dean doing his best impression of a terrier attached to a pant leg and Sam with his obsessing and the endless drilling of information into her skull. Yanking off her clothes Reggie took deep breaths and told herself that a nice warm bath would help to ease her pounding headache and the tightness in her back and neck. And more importantly, the sizzling tension of irritation building in her chest and the increasingly persistent sensation of suffocation that looking at the same four walls for the last two days and knowing, that she couldn't leave--not unless, of course, she asked Dean if she could and she be damned if she was going to do that!-- had bred.

Lifting her leg high to step over the edge of the enormous, free-standing tub, Reggie reached for the bronze knob marked H. Sighing deeply, she adjusted the temperature of the water and attempted to clear her mind of turbulence and discord by focusing on the river of clear liquid running from the slender, burnished spout that arched gracefully over the lip of the tub, to splash onto the white porcelain below and scatter crystal droplets.

It didn't work.

She tried counting to ten, and then twenty. Then thirty. Then a hundred. Then she shrugged and reached for the portable radio sitting on the nearby counter. Flipping it on, she twisted the dial until she found what she was looking for. A diabolical smile spread across her face as the sound of the Spice Girls' Two Become One, filled the room. Leaning back against the gently sloping rear wall of the bath, Reggie felt the ball of impotent frustration sitting heavily below her heart begin to ease as the unmistakable sensation of Dean's temper fraying became apparent as soon as the first notes of bubble-gum, girly pop assailed his ears. Still wearing her satanic grin and imagining the way the muscle in his jaw would be beginning to work as the Spice Girls gave way to Brittney Spears, Reggie sighed a reflected that, what meditation and calm rationale wouldn't cure, a little sweet revenge, would. Especially if one were feeling juvenile, about it.

Reggie soaked in the tub until her skin was saturated with water and her senses with the satisfying weight of Dean's increasing distress. When she felt that she could practically reach out and pluck the tension in him like a tightly tuned guitar string, she relented and, pulling on her yoga pants and t-shirt, tossed open the bathroom door, emerging from the small room in a billow of steam. She tried to smother a laugh as Dean shot past her, his hand crashing down on the small radio, silencing Cindy Lauper's cheerful bellowing about how girls just wanna have fun and ending his harmonic agony. Turning towards her, his face twisted by a dark glower, Reggie was delighted to see that a hour of "Girl music" had done what forty-eight hours of feuding with her could not. It had eroded Dean's iron-clad self-control, and with it, had gone the cool, superior sense of indifference..

"Goddamnit woman!" He snarled,

"That shit is enough to destroy my will to live!"

Reggie just grinned and flicked her fingers, and the few remaining droplets of water that clung to them, at him.

"Now who's being dramatic?" She asked archly with a mocking lift of her brows.

Dean's eyes narrowed.

"You're a real natural at this bratty, teeny-bopper stuff." He snapped, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Always so fucking superior." He growled low, turning his back on her.

And that had been it, the proverbial last straw. Reggie felt her suddenly tenuous hold on her self-control strain under this new condescension and insult and then—snap!

Snarling under her breath, pushed to the limit of her endurance by the unrelenting stress, Reggie succumbed to her instinctive impulse and before she'd even realized what she intended, dove for Dean's back.

Of course, she never even got close to him. Anger made her reckless and uncoordinated and, as surprised as he was by her attack, Dean dodged quickly to one side, catching Reggie's weight on his arm as he turned to face her, tumbling her back onto the bed and just as swiftly pinning her there, his right hand easily encircling both her wrists and securing them above her head while his left leg fell heavily over the lower half of her body, stilling any attempt at movement.

Neither her sudden and complete capture, nor her failure to inflict any of the bodily damage she was still describing in great detail, slowed her tirade in the least. Nose to nose with Dean on the bed, Reggie proceeded to blister his ears with an impressive array of curses in several languages, only a few of which he recognized and more than a few of which he was grateful he didn't, given the universally comprehensible tone of vicious contempt in which they were delivered.

And through it all, Dean tired not to show his exaltation.

He had Reggie completely at his mercy. Never in the entirety of their relationship had his physical superiority been more apparent. She was utterly immobilized beneath him, totally subject to his greater strength, her own weakness thrown into blatant relief by the obvious power of his body as he loomed over her, effortlessly imprisoning her limbs with his own and She. Didn't. Care.

As far as he could tell, she hadn't even noticed. She was still too busy giving him the set-down of his life, and damned if he wasn't enjoying every minute of it.

As angry as she was with him, as unbridled as their fight had been, she wasn't afraid of him. Dean could remember when the mere suggestion of the faintest physical contact between them had made her quail. He couldn't stifle the wave of triumph that washed through him at what he could only consider yet another proof of Reggie's growing trust in him. Proof that he hadn't damaged it beyond repair two days ago when he'd made himself her jailer, too afraid and too stubborn to ask for her understanding where he felt for the thousandth time that he didn't deserve it, and feared for the first time, that he might not get it. But it wasn't too late.

Lying beneath Dean, being slowly crushed into the mattress by his weight, her breath and her list of blasphemies running out, Reggie finally began to wind down, and notice that Dean was grinning like a fool.

"You're worse than the most unfortunate son of a pig and an ass…….And what the hell are you smiling about Winchester?!" She railed, glaring at him.

Dean couldn't stop himself from grinning even wider as he looked down at her.

"Nothing." And then,

"You're awfully pretty when you're angry."

Reggie huffed, startled out of her attempt to re-group her flagging indignance.

"Flattery will get you nowhere." She responded automatically but, because it had taken her by surprise, as had his blinding smile and sincerity, she hesitated to start screaming at him again. And besides, her throat hurt. To get some distance and give herself a little time to adjust to the sudden change of gears, as far as she could tell Dean had done nothing but deliberately provoke her for the last two days, she settled for a curt,

"You're crushing me."

The sinuous movement of her body under his as she tried to ease into a more comfortable position served to remind Dean vividly that as delicate as her form might seem in comparison to his, there was strength there too. He could feel the sleek shift and supple stretch of muscle beneath the warm curves of her body as she fidgeted beneath him, a core of surprising and purely feminine strength that called deeply to his senses on a primitive level. Taking a deep, hidden breath, his smile fading, Dean sharply counseled himself not to start down that road.

Instead, he obligingly rolled to one side, taking his weight from her, but he didn't go far. He stayed lying close along her side, his hand still braceleting her wrists, in case she tried to escape before he'd had the chance to say what he needed to, and tried to ignore the fact that in his current position, the swell of her breasts pressed lightly against his arm with her every breath. Better to just do what he needed to do and get it over with, no need to go looking for any additional complications.

"I'm sorry."

Reggie was appalled at how much those two simple words from his lips made her want to cry. And worse, to forgive everything. But she couldn't, not quite.

"How could you do that to me?" She whispered.

"I…..I had to." It was a sorry excuse, but the best one he had.

"I had to protect you."

The words were ragged and, even if Reggie hadn't gotten a glimpse of his guilt-ravaged expression, she would have felt the slice of it inside him.

"It's the only way. We aren't going to be able to be with you every second. You should be safe when you're at school but, every instant you're out of my sight……" Dean's eyes closed as if he could block out the horrifying spectre of what might be. He couldn't explain the agony the thought of Reggie becoming another casualty in the war he'd unwittingly and inescapably, inherited from his father, brought him. But she knew.

"It's all right" Reggie soothed, no longer caring about the angry words and the hurts that had been inflicted in the previous days, wanting only to ease the suffering inside him. Recognizing in a painful instant that it was all a manifestation of his concern, the way he could show he cared.

"I won't go out alone, without you. I promise. I'll be good. I'll follow all the rules."

The long fingers that held her wrists captive tightened convulsively for an instant and then gentled, transforming their restraining pressure into an almost-caress.

"It's not about controlling you." He was desperate to make her understand.

"It's that I can't control them! I don't know what they'll do, I can't predict….. " He trailed off in frustration.

"All I know is I can't have your blood on my hands. I just can't!"

Dean's anguish wrenched Reggie's heart and overrode the sharp lance of fear that his words, a blatant reminder of her own very real and very serious, peril, sent spiking through her. Instead she felt again inside Dean the maelstrom of conflicting needs, duty versus desire, that she had begun to characterize as the roaring of the caged lion, the chained bear, her beautiful, wild, trapped wolf. He was caught in a snare woven from the very fabric of who he was tangled with what he wanted to be. And what he didn't. And no matter how furious she had been, how frustrated she was, Reggie could not bring herself to make this battle harder for him. So she would lay down her arms. She smiled wryly at him.

"I hate it when you do that."

"What?" He asked tiredly, obviously expecting a criticism but too downtrodden and guilty to do more then accept whatever missile she aimed his way..

"Be reasonable…..And use my own feelings against me."

Dean's head came up and a tentative smile kicked up the corner of his mouth, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he felt her body relax, felt her acceptance of his presence and his apology.

"I learned from the best."

"Bite me" Reggie suggested, and stuck out her tongue at him.

Dean felt his teasing smile fade as Reggie's small, pink tongue slid provocatively between her lips. His eyes darkened and his heart rate doubled between one breath and the next. Lying so close next to him, Reggie felt the sudden tension in his body, saw passion tighten his jaw.

"Don't. Do. That." The low, gritty quality of his voice made her shudder with sudden awareness.

Taking a slow breath, Reggie nodded and pulled back her lips in an exaggerated grimace and snapped her jaws together, obediently keeping her tongue tucked carefully out of sight, showing him her small, even white teeth instead, wordlessly echoing her earlier sentiment.

To her intense relief Dean's face stretched back into a smile and the tension between them dissolved as he finally released her hands and flopped over onto his back next to her, the mattress trembling beneath her with the force of his laughter.

When Sam opened the door he was greeted by the unexpected sight of Reggie and Dean stretched out side by side on their bed, her husky laughter mixing with his deep chuckle.

"Uh, hey." He greeted them warily, stepping into the room and closing the door behind them.

"Truce?" He guessed. They nodded in tandem.

"Great. Does that mean we can finally go over our cover story as a group?"

Expecting his brother's response, Sam agilely ducked the pillow Dean lobbed at him but, Reggie's caught him square in the mouth as he straightened.

"Mmmpf." He raised surprised eyes to two faces that fought to stay straight.

"I take it that's a no?"

This time Sam's laughter joined theirs.

And there it was, Reggie thought quietly to herself, as easy as that. Balance restored, grievances aired, root issues safely bypassed or ignored and crisis averted, at least until tomorrow morning.

But then, she mused with a wry twist of her mouth, wasn't that what family was all about?