The Wrong Side of Eternity
They find her in the forest.
The sky is just starting to lighten when they reach the spot, Dean carrying a shovel over his shoulder and Sam wrapped up in Dean's jacket, damp salt clinging to his hair, weaving unsteadily. He'd refused to go back to the motel to change and rest like Dean had tried to insist. It was close; Dean was ready to drag Sam back and tie him to the bed again if that's what it took to keep him there, but Sam had looked at him with haunted, exhausted eyes and murmured, 'Dean, please... I just want this finished,' and Dean had caved.
Not that Dean let Sam do any digging. By the time Sam stops and announces that this is the place, he's swaying where he stands, skin frighteningly close to gray, and he doesn't even protest when Dean gently pushes him down. The ground's damp but Dean doesn't think Sam could get any wetter at this point, and if he stands Dean can tell that he's just going to fall down anyway.
The bones are years old, the flesh gone, rotted or gnawed off by scavengers, lying forgotten and abandoned under layers of dirt and mouldering leaves. She's not buried deep and Dean can only assume that she wasn't found before now because no one was looking for her, until she came looking for Sam.
Sam's leaning against a tree, his hair falling over his face in damp rat-tails as he looks down at the remains.
"She was so scared," he says, his voice dull with fatigue.
At least it's Sam's voice now, Dean thinks, and then, I know, because he can't quite manage to stop hearing that other voice, pleading and crying.
"Do you know who did it?" Dean asks. He has a name; Jeremy, but that's not a lot to go on.
Sam shakes his head wearily. "I don't think she wanted me to find him. I think she just wanted me to find her."
It doesn't seem like enough. Dean knows revenge, the sorting of clues and the putting down of monsters, but a glance at Sam lets him know that that isn't going to be the case this time. Sam's shattered. He barely managed the walk out here, only Winchester determination pushing him forward, and Dean knows that he just wants this to be over.
There should be justice. For the girl these bones belong to, and for Sam, who was forced to live it too, but Dean's learned by now that sometimes things just need to be put to rest.
"So... salt'n'burn?" he asks, cautiously because he's not sure how Sam wants to go about this. It's not their usual sort of haunting. The ghost's not hurting people, apart from Sam but it would be just like Sam to overlook that part. Hell, it's not even technically a ghost because they haven't actually seen an apparition. It's just, like... what? An energy that's still hanging around? A memory that can't let go? Dean doesn't know, the whole thing's giving him a headache, but he is sure as hell that he'd feel a lot better if he was certain that this chick wasn't going to be dragging Sam into dark alleyways ever again.
But, Sam might be wanting to go the whole anonymous phone call to the cops, get the hell out of dodge before the body's found route. Which, though it's not Dean's preferred option in this case, might be all that's needed.
He's relieved when Sam just nods and makes a 'go ahead' motion with his hand.
They don't know her name, or where she came from or what her life was like. They only know how it ended and Dean can't help but feel that him and Sam make up a pretty sorry funeral party. It strikes him as odd because he never feels much for the people he's put to rest. Maybe it's because he saw her terror in Sam's eyes.
The sun has risen in the sky by the time the bones have been reduced to ash, scattering light in smoke amongst the sparse trees. It's probably the calmest salt and burn they've ever been on. Dean's been keeping the shotgun ready but no angry spirit appeared to try and fight them off. Maybe she hadn't been angry. If Sam is right, and on things like this he usually is, she was just scared.
Dean nudges Sam's shoulder lightly with his knee before helping him up from the ground. "Come on, I'll pick you up some hair dye on the way back to the motel."
Sam blinks, swaying slightly from the change of altitude, and runs a hand over his hair like he'd forgotten about the state of it.
"What colour this time?" he asks, still sounding drained but he manages a small half-smile of amusement and Dean knows he's been forgiven.
Dean slings an arm around Sam's back, all casual brotherly affection (and if he's doing a better job of keeping Sam on his feet than Sam is neither of them are going to mention it). "I'll find one that matches your natural colour, I promise. There's gotta be one called Auburn Princess, right?"
Sam shoves at his chest lightly, managing to throw them both off balance for a precarious moment.
"You sure you don't want to try something more exotic?" Dean asks once he's steadied them both. "Sultry redhead, maybe?"
"Shut up, Dean."