A/N: Happy Sammy's Birthday to everyone! To celebrate, here's a story that's more Sam-oriented than Dean, although big brother still has plenty to say! Season 1 story, post-Hell House.
Wilds of Wyoming
Sam Winchester followed Dean through their motel room door, pausing to shut it as Dean dumped his mud-encrusted jacket on the closest bed and stomped into the bathroom. Sam winced as the bathroom door banged shut, then picked up Dean's lightweight jacket. Fortunately, Dean hadn't been wearing his leather jacket on this hunt; it'd been too warm. Sam had grumbled when Dean insisted that they at least wear jackets. Now, he was glad he'd listened to his older brother. Tupelo's swamp creature hadn't been a particularly dangerous hunt, but it had certainly been messy. Sam hung up Dean's jacket, then slipped his own off, noting it had about half as much Mississippi mud on it as Dean's. He probably should get a towel and clean up their coats while the mud was relatively fresh. He glanced at the bathroom door, and it opened suddenly, emitting Dean.
His older brother walked out, clad only in a towel. Dean stalked over to his duffel, unzipped it and pulled out a pair of pajama bottoms and his shaving kit. "Find us a hunt that's north of here, way north. I don't care if it's in Alaska." Then he slammed back into the bathroom.
Sam grimaced, admitting Dean might have a point. They'd been doing a southern swing of the supernatural since tackling the tulpa in Richardson, Texas. Over a month of sultry, brain-baking southern heat had taken its toll on both of them. Dean had barely noticed the themed décor in their Tupelo, Mississippi room, despite the town's moniker as the "birthplace of Elvis." The room boasted baby blue walls, and faux blue suede bedspreads. The bed, table, dressers and chairs were all painted white, and a stylized eagle design was painted on top of the dining table. Sam guessed that it was supposed to represent one of the singer's well-known white leather capes with a lavish rhinestone eagle stitched across the back. Capping off the theme, a truly tasteless Elvis portrait on black velvet hung over each queen bed.
Hauling out his laptop and placing it on the table, Sam retrieved a Coke from the room's fridge while waiting for the computer to boot up. He settled at the table and started surfing for supernatural creatures wreaking havoc in the northern half of the country.
Busy reading his latest result, Sam only vaguely noted that the bathroom door had opened and shut again.
"Find anything?" Dean, clad in his pajama bottoms, stood in front of him.
"Yeah, I think so. Ghost in Wyoming—or maybe a poltergeist. Hasn't killed anyone yet, but it's been active for the past month or so, and its destruction is accelerating. Threw a man down a stairwell and he broke an arm and a leg. No telling what'll happen next time."
"A ghost? Well, that's something. Whereabouts in Wyoming is it?"
Dean snorted. "A casper in Casper? Isn't that like a double negative, or something?"
"Hey, you wanna find something else? Be my guest." Sam gestured towards the laptop. "You said you wanted something north of here; well, Wyoming's north of here."
"All right, Sammy. Don't get your panties in a wad. Wyoming it is, then. We'll leave tomorrow morning."
Dean sat easily behind the wheel, smoothly driving the Impala west on I-80. It was mid-morning and they'd left Lincoln, Nebraska well over an hour ago. Lincoln had been a necessary overnight stay, a little more than halfway to Casper. As they drove, Sam had provided more information about their casper in Casper and it really sounded run-of-the mill. Dean allowed his thoughts to wander as they sped down the highway, windows rolled down to take advantage of the cooler Nebraska air—way better than Mississippi's sultry heat—with "Travelling Man" blaring even louder than usual to compensate for the open windows.
Maybe after they finished their business in Casper, they could detour to Blue Earth, pay Pastor Jim a visit. They could take a few days off; it was the middle of July, wasn't that what summer was all about, vacation? It had been almost a year since he'd seen Pastor Jim-much longer for Sam. Or at least that's what Dean assumed. He knew even after Sam and he had stopped speaking somewhere in the middle of Sam's sophomore year, that his younger brother had kept in touch with Jim. He was okay with that. Pastor Jim had been their Switzerland, neutral in his position on the silence between the Winchesters, but making it clear that that silence didn't extend to him. During the Stanford years, Jim had been ready and willing to provide Dean with information, a resting place, or just a friendly voice on the phone—whatever he needed. All he had to do was ask. Dean knew that the same hospitality would've been extended to Sam, too. He just didn't know if Sam had availed himself of those opportunities. . . Besides, there was another reason for contacting Jim. Maybe Jim has heard from Dad, recently? We haven't heard a peep out of him since we split up in Chicago.
Before Dean could voice his thoughts, a cell phone started ringing. It was a straightforward bell tone, not Dean's Smoke on the Water, so it had to be Sam's phone. Dean watched, amused, as Sam squirmed in his seat, digging his cell phone out of his back pocket, hurriedly answering it before the ringing quit. "Hello?"
Sam really needed to get a better ringtone, Dean mused, maybe He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother? He smirked, but his grin faded at Sam's surprised, "Becca?"
After a few seconds, Sam said, "Yeah, we're on the road, heading for Wyoming, actually—"
More chatter from his phone, and then Sam said, forcefully, "Of course we'll help. What do you want us to do?" He listened some more, trapping the cell phone between his head and shoulder as he reached for a notepad and pen. Dean saw Sam start scribbling directions down, nodding, "Uh huh, okay. . . got it. Meet tonight at nine? Don't worry, we'll make it—Dean's driving. Tell your cousin we might be a few minutes late, just in case. . . Yeah, I'll keep you in the loop. Bye, Becca."
Dean waited until Sam put his cell phone away. "So, we're not going to Wyoming?"
"We're not going to Casper," Sam corrected. "We're going to Jackson, instead."
"Uh huh." Dean reached over and turned off the radio, taking his eyes off the road to glare at Sam. "Mind telling me who else is on your list? Your friends from Stanford, your friends' relatives—who else do you abandon hunts for?"
"What d'ya mean, abandon the hunt? We haven't even started. And you said it yourself, that casper's not a huge threat, anyway." He took a breath. "Dean, we're not abandoning the hunt—just detouring to Jackson, first."
Eyes and attention back on the road, Dean muttered under his breath. He thought he knew his brother inside-out: Sam the hunter, Sam the pain-in-the-ass younger brother, Sammy the reason for his existence. Dean had almost forgotten about Sam the person; he'd been determined to bury that painful conversation in Chicago deep, never mention it again. "Man, I'd sleep for a month. Go back to school—be a person again."
Dean felt his brother's eyes on him. "So, you gonna keep me in the loop? I'm only driving, here."
"Becca's worried about her cousin, Zephyr Warren. She's a senior at the University of Michigan, currently at the U's geology field school in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Zephyr's boyfriend disappeared on the Fourth of July, and she doesn't think the local cops are doing enough to find him. She told Becca about it and asked if she could get in touch with us." Sam shifted in his seat. "Apparently, Becca told Zephyr how vital we were in getting Zach cleared of that murder charge, back in St. Louis."
"That's freakin' terrific," Dean groaned, disliking the thought that people were talking about their hunting exploits.
"Look, Dean, the guy disappeared without rhyme or reason, just vanished without a trace. That could be something right up our alley. I told Becca we'd talk to her cousin and we're going to. Besides, we owe her."
"What? I thought you said friends don't keep score." Sam had always been loyal to his friends, though—a trait he shared with their father, although Dean sure wasn't going to mention that. "Besides, if anything, Becca owes us. We kept her brother from being falsely charged with murder." Unlike your brother, Dean couldn't help thinking, remembering the dead shape shifter with his name and face, now buried in St. Louis.
"And how'd we do that?" Sam rounded on him. "By exposing her to our world. Now Becca knows that the world isn't as safe as she thought it was, that evil can be hiding in the night, coiled to strike at any time. She'll never feel totally safe or carefree again. Believe me, Dean, we owe her, big time. And we're going to Jackson, to see if we can help her cousin. It's the least we can do."
"Okay, Sam." Dean caved, as they both knew he would. "Where're we supposed to meet this Zephyr chick?" After Sam rattled off the directions from his notes, Dean nodded, turned the music back up, and continued down the highway toward Wyoming.
"Just like I thought." Dean grumbled, eying the Silver Dollar Bar and Restaurant sign hung over the A-framed double door entrance.
Hand on the door handle, Sam glanced through the windshield at their designated meeting place. The bar was in the middle of an imposing two-story building with a red brick street level exterior topped by a creamy half-timbered second floor with faux dormer windows. The Wort Hotel seemed to be a cross between a Swiss chalet and an upscale bed and breakfast hotel on steroids. Sam knew what Dean was thinking: not our kind of place, at all.
Dean grimaced. "There's no way we're staying here, it's way out of our price range."
"Relax, there's a Super 8 about two miles from here—it'll only cost us an arm to stay there."
"Terrific," Dean griped.
"What d'ya expect? It's tourist season. If we wanna stay anywhere in the area, we're gonna pay premium prices."
"Do we want to stay anywhere in the area?"
Sam growled. "Yes. Now we're going to meet Becca's cousin in the bar and listen to what she's got to say." He shouldered his door open and stepped outside, moving quickly from the angled parking slot to the establishment's impressive double doors. Swinging open the thick, wooden door, Sam made sure Dean was right behind him as he turned left, stepping into the bar area. The place was packed with people, sitting and standing, a blend of tourists in Wyoming t-shirts and newly purchased straw or felt cowboy hats. The natives were all in well-worn cowboy hats or gimme caps, blue jeans, short-sleeved shirts or plaid Western wear and scuffed, working cowboy boots. Sam's eyes were immediately drawn past the crowd perched on barstools to the ribbons of blue neon lighting the center ceiling. They were mounted on oak crown molding that hung over the enormous serpentine 360 degree bar in the middle of the room. He spotted a girl in her early twenties, seated on a stool with her back to the bar, following their progress across the room. Sam approached, taking in the girl's long blonde hair and welcoming blue eyes. Memories crammed his thoughts, and for a moment he saw Jess, waiting for him at the Cardinal Bar, on campus. He stopped at the girl's side, silent.
"Sam!" Dean hissed, and thwacked him on the back of his head. Sam shook his head, hearing Dean say, "You must be Becca's cousin? I'm Dean, and this is—"
"Sam Winchester. Becca emailed me your photo." The girl's voice had a slight Midwest twang to it, and Sam concentrated on the differences. Jess had never owned a sky blue t-shirt with "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may be in Utah" stamped on it in navy ink, and her eyes were more gray-blue than straightforward blue.
Sam found his tongue. "Zephyr Warren, right? Becca said you needed our help." He knew Dean had winced at hearing 'Winchester.' "Ah, could we go someplace more private to talk?" He gestured with his hands, indicating the raucous buzz of the other patrons of the bar. "It's kind of noisy here."
"Sure. I've got a table, but I didn't want to miss you in the crowds, so I've been waiting at the bar. This time of night, it's easier to get a drink at the bar, anyway. What'll you have?"
"Two draft beers, thanks." Dean answered before Sam could, then glanced at Sam. "What do you want?"
Sam huffed at Dean's always uneven sense of humor. "Very funny." He swiveled his attention back to the girl. "Beer's fine with me, too, but you don't need to pay—"
"Nonsense, Sam. It's the least I can do. Becca said you drove most of the day to get here, and I appreciate it." Zephyr beckoned the bartender, leaning over the counter to order the beers. The Winchesters noticed that the top of the bar was inlaid with rows and rows of neatly spaced silver dollar coins. Huh. The bar's name made a lot more sense now; they hadn't just co-opted the old TV-Western staple name by accident.
"C'mon, he'll bring the drinks to the table." Zephyr walked away from the bar, and Sam and Dean fell in behind, snaking their way through the tightly-packed crowd. Zephyr crossed to a round table towards the back wall, occupied by a single young brunette, dressed in jeans and a fuchsia t-shirt. "Hey, Allie, they're here—thanks so much for keeping the table for us."
"No problem, Zeph." Zephyr settled into the chair on Allie's side, and Sam and Dean took the other two.
"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?" Allie asked Zephyr, glancing from the Winchesters to her watch. "Otherwise, I'm taking the early van back to camp, gotta finish my homework."
"Allie, Sam and Dean are friends of my cousin Becca, from Stanford. I'll be fine."
"Okay," Allie stood up, glancing pointedly at the strangers. "The late van leaves at 10:30 and I'm telling Steve to make sure you're on it."
"I will be."
Sam caught the long-suffering patience in Zephyr's words, recognizing his own tone when Dean was being over-protective.
"Hey, can you bring my laundry back to the cabin? It's in the back of the early van."
Allie nodded, said good-bye and left the table, heading for the exit.
"Wednesday night is laundry night," Zephyr explained. "Camp Davis doesn't have laundry facilities, so we take the vans into town, do the laundry, and then hit the bars. There's not much else to do here in Jackson at night. We have Saturday nights and Sundays off, the rest of the time we're out in the field or working on homework assignments. We also have a nightly class session to go over our field experiences and get the next day's assignments." She broke off as a waitress came to the table, placing a frosted mug of beer in front of each occupant, and left a pitcher in the middle of the table.
Zephyr reached for her mug, took a swig and set it back down on the tabletop. "Sorry, I'm babbling. I get nervous and I start talkin'—can't seem to stop."
Sam swallowed his beer and set the mug down. "We appreciate the background info. Now, can you tell us about your boyfriend, Greg Ferrin?"
Zephyr paused. "What did Becca tell you about Greg?"
"Not much, just that he's gone missing. Disappeared right around the Fourth of July and you haven't seen him since."
"Yeah, that's it in a nutshell." Zephyr's eyes dropped to the table, and she fiddled with her hands.
Dean was just silently drinking, apparently content to let Sam handle the interview. Sam noticed that his older brother tended to adopt a hands-off approach when anything with a collegiate angle landed in their laps. "Becca's worried about you—that's one reason she asked us to help. We've looked into a few missing person cases, and there's usually more to the story than meets the eye." Sam hoped he was being persuasive enough to put the girl at ease. "Why don't you start at the beginning? How long have you known Greg?"
"We had the same math class as sophomores, back at the U of M—University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, but we didn't start dating until last fall." Zephyr paused for a moment. "We almost broke up at the end of May—I told Greg I needed some space.
"But then I got here for field camp, and Greg was waiting for me."
"He followed you here from Michigan?" Dean jumped into the conversation.
"No." Zephyr shook her head. "He took the job as chief cook at Camp Davis."
"Greg's not a geology student, like you are?" Sam asked, surprised.
"Greg's an engineering student, studying to be an architect. He could've had a cushy summer intern job in Detroit, working for his uncle's firm—but he turned it down to be out here, closer to me. Man does something like that, it makes a girl sit up and take notice, y'know? I took a second look, and I liked what I saw." Zephyr fished into her purse, and passed a photo across the table. "That's Greg and me," she said.
Sam studied the close-up picture of a tall young man with longish brown hair and a smile on his face, his arm wrapped around Zephyr's back, the fingers of his hand visible at her waist close to the picture's edge. They certainly seemed a happy couple. The pose reminded him of similar candid couples shots he'd had of himself and Jess, before the fire had destroyed them. Abruptly, Sam returned the photo to Zephyr. "So, when did you last see Greg?"
"At breakfast on the Fourth of July, I talked to him for a minute when I went through the cafeteria line. Ah, the students all get a hot breakfast in the morning, in the cafeteria. There are a couple of tables set up with bread, sandwich makings, fruit and sometimes cookies or brownies for dessert. After breakfast, we make our own sack lunches, catch the vans and hit the road.
"The cooking staff—Greg has three helpers working under him—cleans up the cafeteria, takes a break, and then starts dinner preparations. Dinner is served promptly at six o'clock. Greg also plans the menus, keeps track of the camp's food needs, and makes a twice-weekly run into town for groceries and supplies. Since he has to go into town regularly, he's in charge of the staff's truck. It's one of the perks of the job. The other perk is, he has his own cabin—one of the professor's cabins, which means it's heated. The student cabins only have a Franklin stove."
"So, even when they're roughing it, the profs still get the perks," Sam commented. He grinned wistfully. "That's so ivory tower."
"The professors and teaching assistants get to bring more stuff out here, too. We students are limited to one suitcase and a sleeping bag. The students are usually assigned three to a cabin—but Allie and I have a double, one benefit of having a last name near the end of the alphabet." Sam nodded in complete understanding; his last name had earned him a few breaks at Stanford, too, being assigned Zach Warren as his freshman roommate possibly the biggest one.
"Sorry, I'm getting off-track, huh? The 440 class—that's the required senior course for students pursuing a professional concentration in geology—traditionally climbs Signal Mountain, in the Grand Tetons on the Fourth of July. We learn the Western strat section—ah, the local geological formations, on the way up. I spoke to Greg on my lunch break—personal cell phone use is discouraged in the field, but the professors don't say anything if you're texting or talking during the lunch break. Greg said he had the afternoon off and was going to do some exploring."
"Exploring?" Sam echoed.
"Greg's parents were divorced when he was seven. His father's from Jackson, so he spent a lot of summers here. He likes taking a sketch pad and hiking the trails. It relaxes him. Encountering nature, he calls it. That's the last I heard from him," Zephyr ended softly.
"Did anyone else see or hear from him after that?" Sam asked.
"Marissa—she's one of the cooking staff—says she saw him leave about 1:30 that afternoon. He didn't take the truck, just walked up to the main road. I had to wait 72 hours to report him missing to the police."
"The police? What did they do?"
"The Sheriff's Department interviewed me, and Greg's staff, and a couple of professors, but they didn't get anywhere. I've been calling, asking for updates daily—I think they're sick of hearing my voice. The deputy told me Greg probably got fed up and quit. They didn't find any evidence of foul play, nothing to actively pursue in the way of leads. I told them, no, Greg's too responsible, he'd never just quit a job like that, but I don't think they believed me. They know Greg has relatives in the area. They think he's with them, lying low—and his family's covering for him. Last time I talked to Deputy Hanson, he sort of implied that maybe Greg wasn't running away from work so much as me. The deputy said Greg was last seen walking towards the road and he could've easily hitchhiked out of town."
"Deputy Dick." Dean snorted, pouring himself a fresh beer from the pitcher.
"So, did Greg seem—ah, different in any way before he disappeared? Worried, or nervous, or anything?" Sam asked.
"No. . . everything seemed ordinary. Y'gotta understand, Greg's a low-key, even-keeled kind of guy. The camp's been in session for almost a month now, so the kitchen practically runs itself."
"Is there anyone at the camp or in town who might've had a beef with Greg? Someone who didn't like him very much?" Dean chimed in on the questions.
"No! Greg gets along fine with the professors and the TAs," Zephyr explained. "All the students like him. Mr. Foster, the camp caretaker, has invited Greg up to the big house for dinner and satellite TV a few times, too. Greg's just—an all-around good guy, like the boy next door."
"So," Dean concluded sourly, "everything's all nice and normal, until your Mr. Nice Guy goes and vanishes, out of the blue."
Sam winced and glared a silent 'have some sympathy' look across the table at his brother.
"Not. . . everything," Zephyr said, uncertainly.
"You asked earlier if anything different happened, and there was one thing. Greg thought that he was being followed a few times. He first told me about it maybe two weeks before he disappeared." Zephyr raised her eyes to meet theirs. "I didn't think much of it, because, well, that only happens on TV and in mystery books, y'know? Or, at least, that's what I thought."
Sam glanced at Dean-this might be something they could work with.
"Where exactly is this Camp David of yours?" Dean asked.
"Camp Davis. It's on Bryan Flatts Road, about fifteen miles south of town, off US 189."
"And which cabin did you say is Greg's?" Sam asked.
"He has the professor's cabin closest to the kitchen. When you drive up, the professor's cabins are on the left, students' on the right. The one closest to the road and the kitchen is Greg's."
"You said the vans head out at eight o'clock in the morning, and no one's there but the cooking staff after that?"
"The 440 students go then, the intro to geology and ecology classes take off a little later, but they should be gone by 8:30. The caretaker's family is on the site all the time, but we rarely see them. Are you gonna search Greg's cabin? It's not locked—none of them are. No keys. These are the original tin shacks built when the University bought the land in 1929. There's talk of a major renovation in the next few of years, but very little's changed since the camp was originally a field school for surveyors."
"Okay, then. Thanks for the info. We'll do a little digging and get back to you." Sam paused. "What's the easiest way to get in touch with you?"
Zephyr grabbed a notepad from her purse and scribbled on it. "This is my email and my cell phone number. Sorry I'm so hard to get hold of during the daytime." She glanced at her watch. "I can be at the Astoria Hot Springs, after eleven Friday night." She added something to the bottom of the page then tore it out of the notepad and handed it to Sam. "That's the address—you can't miss it." She took out a five and a couple of ones and set the bills on the table. "For the beers. Please, stay as long as you like. I need to get back to the van before Steve comes and hunts me down." She stood up, leaning over the table. "Thank you both for looking into Greg's disappearance, I really do appreciate it. See you Friday. Bye." Zephyr walked towards the bar's exit, her blue t-shirt soon lost in the multi-colored crowd.
Dean finished off his beer. "Well?"
"Well what?" Sam asked, refilling his beer. No sense in letting it go to waste, after all.
"Do you think this is our kind of case?"
"No, probably not. But the guy's missing, we're here, and somebody should be making an effort to find him. People don't just disappear, Dean. Other people stop looking for them, remember?"
Dean scowled and finished his beer. "Let's go."
"To another bar—a real local hangout. If we're stayin' at a motel that's gonna charge premium prices, I need to replenish our funds. This place doesn't even have a pool table. Shame, really, tourists are such great marks."