The Winchester Brothers grew up hard as nails and wild as the land, bound to it as much as their parents.

Mary Winchester was a tough woman. Strong, determined. All the women who survive in the West had to be. This land that people love so much, have bled and died upon, is beautiful and wild and unforgiving. It demands and takes and gives back nothing. She'd been able to shoot a man through the heart at seventy paces by the time she was twelve, the youngest child of a Hunting family from the Old World. Her bearing was neither submissive nor flirtatious; she was possessed of poise and surety that left men confused with want and women scandalized with jealousy.

She took what she wanted, because her first lesson in life had been its fragility.

She set her eyes upon John Winchester, army private, in 1866 and married him the first day of 1867. She'd had to toughen him up. He was a cityslicker by training and her family was less than impressed, but Mary Campbell knew her mind and she won over her family and her beau. Taught him the lay of the land, how to kill that which hid in the darkness, of the Old Ways and a few New. Took him to the Heart of the World and introduced him to the shamen of the Assiniboine and spirit walkers of the Navajo. Told him of Wakan Tanka, also called Gitchi Manitou, who existed in all things and reminded John very much of a Christian God.

John Winchester was one of the rare men who flourished in the harsh Western lands. He took to Hunting with a ferocious skill and a burning passion. The creatures of the night offended his sensibilities; he didn't think highly of bullies, supernatural or otherwise.

His early life had been a haze of listless subsistence. He'd joined the Army for adventure because the stone cities of the New World were stifling and dirty. He'd been searching for something, though he hadn't known it. Not until he set eyes upon a light-haired woman who walked the streets of Fort Lincoln with a long stride and head held high. She ignored the whispers and rumors, claimed no man for protection, and handled a rifle with familiarity. John tipped his hat to her and smiled when her steps stuttered, puffs of dust flying up and coating her skirt.

He asked her to dance under the light of a harvest moon and never regretted it. She opened his eyes and opened his world and gave him everything he'd been searching for.

They had two sons. A Kickapoo midwife said they'd have a loyal child with emerald eyes and a heart as great as the land itself. She'd given them a blanket of white fox fur to wrap him in. A Sioux medicine woman, her eyes milk-pale and sightless, had foreseen two brothers, pillars of the land, protectors of life and harbingers of death. She painted glyphs on Mary's stomach with age-gnarled hands, her skin like the softest leather, and whispered secret words to the child in Mary's belly.

Her pregnancy had been easy, but Mary had struggled to birth Dean. She had a half-breed midwife who rubbed herbs into her skin and walked her from one end of the settlement to the other, John hovering nervously in the periphery. The birth had been long and traumatic, and for a moment she felt the touch of Death.

Sam was difficult from the start, and Mary knew early on it would take everything she had to bring him into the world. John, pale and worried, checked them into a ritzy hotel on the Mississippi river, close to trained doctors. Mary didn't have the heart to tell him she'd prefer the shaman and soothsayers. They were far more pragmatic about life and death.

She named her son after his grandfather, breath straining in her chest. In her final moments she elicited a promise from her husband to raise their boys in the land she'd love so much.

This story is complete and part of an ongoing series called West. Check profile for reading/posting order.