Summary: AU Western 'verse – John swallowed, glancing at the clock hanging from the rafters of the covered platform and belatedly wondering if this had been a bad idea – to send off for a mail-order bride.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: Amazingly, none...not even language!
A/N: A story born of the drabble challenge for "water".
Do you think that you could love me, Mary? Do you think we got a chance of a life? Do you think that you could love me, Mary? Now you are to be my wife. ~ Mark Knopfler
John Winchester sighed harshly as he stepped down from the wagon and swiped his arm across his forehead; his brown sleeve absorbing the sweat threatening to trickle into his squinted eyes.
"Sure is hot today," an older man commented, leaning against the hitching post and watching as John watered his horse at the nearby trough and then tied the animal to the post; reins wrapping around the horizontal log several times.
John nodded his agreement – the Kansas summer had indeed been brutal this year – and tipped his hat to the stranger as he stepped onto the platform leading up to the train station; his spurs clanging on the wooden boards as he approached the door.
"Afternoon, John," the man behind the counter greeted as John entered the station and approached. "Here to meet the 3:15 train?" he asked knowingly.
John nodded. "Is it on time?"
The man returned the nod. "It was the last time I checked."
"Good," John praised; because the sooner he got this over with, the better.
"You nervous?" the man asked, his mouth twitching in a smile.
John shrugged, even as he felt uncharacteristically restless. "What's to be nervous about?" he returned casually. "She's just a woman."
"Uh-huh," the man answered and arched an eyebrow at John.
John chuckled. "Shut up, Frank," he growled good-naturedly and turned away from the counter; exiting onto the platform that bordered the railroad tracks and hearing the piercing whistle and unmistakable chug of the approaching train.
John swallowed, glancing at the clock hanging from the rafters of the covered platform and belatedly wondering if this had been a bad idea – to send off for a mail-order bride.
He knew of several men in town who had done the same over the years – some still married, some not, and some having never even made it down the aisle in the first place.
But John was tired.
He was tired of being turned down by women in town who knew of what he did when he wasn't breeding and breaking horses or harvesting crops; tired of being alone; tired of pretending that not having a family didn't bother him.
So, he had done what any hunter would do – he had done his research and had tracked down what he was looking for.
John smiled to himself as he remembered looking through the various catalogs in the dusty backroom of the General Store.
It had taken a few weeks, but John had finally found "the one".
He had liked her photograph and her description in the catalog and had felt confident he would like her; that she – Mary Campbell – would somehow fit perfectly into his life; would give him sons and make him happy; would accept him for the rancher he was...and would maybe someday know about his side job as well.
John sighed at the thought; uncomfortable with already keeping secrets from his wife-to-be but having had enough experience to know women weren't interested in marrying bounty hunters...especially when said hunters hunted creatures, not outlaws.
The train's brakes squealed to a halt, and John blinked as a suffocating cloud of dust and steam billowed in the air, obscuring his view of the passenger car's opening door.
John sighed again and dug in his pocket for the page he had saved from the catalog; its surface crumpled and its edges bent from being handled so often over the past month; from being looked at every night and from being folded and carried around every day.
John stared at the creased photograph of Mary and then glanced up; his eyes scanning the faces of those stepping off the train; wondering – hoping – his wife-to-be would indeed look like the image he held in his hand.
Several people filed by, and John felt a brief wave of panic that maybe he had missed her in the crowd; that maybe she had walked by him already and he hadn't even noticed – or worse, that she hadn't come at all.
John shook his head, dispersing his own worry and digging back in his pocket for the last letter she had written to him; his eyes scanning the familiar words telling him how eager she was to come to Kansas and to meet him and to settle into their life together...and finally finding the part where she described what she would be wearing when she arrived, so he could find her.
I have a favorite dress, Mary had written in small, perfectly scripted letters. A dress I made with blue calico fabric that has white trim around the collar and across the bodice and at the hem.
John glanced up, frowning at the amount of blue calico dresses scattered in the crowd that had gathered on the train station's platform, and then realized one was heading straight for him.
John's attention flickered between the letter and the catalog page; confirming that the woman walking toward him was indeed her – his Mary.
In the next instant, she was standing mere inches from him and calling his name.
John looked at her; his heart hammering in his chest at the sight of her delicate features and blond hair and that calico dress fitting in all the right places.
"You're beautiful," he told her and didn't even care how stupid he sounded; that that was the first thing she would remember him saying to her.
But she didn't seem to mind.
"Thank you," Mary replied and smiled; thinking the tall, rugged cowboy standing in front of her – John Winchester – wasn't bad to look at, either, with his dark hair and dark eyes and that scruff of beard...and she could only imagine what those fitted chaps looked like from behind.
John watched as Mary tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and looked at him expectantly. "So, um..." he cleared his throat. "Did you have a good trip?"
"I did," Mary responded politely and then nodded at what John held in either hand. "Hope I didn't keep you waiting too long?"
"No," John assured, refolding the letter and catalog page and stuffing them back in his pocket. "Just wanted to make sure I wouldn't miss you."
Mary laughed lightly. "I wouldn't let that happen," she replied and glanced over her shoulder. "Help me with my trunk?"
John nodded and felt his heart flutter when Mary took his arm as they crossed to the portion of the platform where trunks and luggage were being stacked.
As they waited, Mary glanced at her cowboy and smiled.
"I'm so happy to finally be here," she told him and meant every word; relieved that John seemed to be the man she had fallen in love with through his letters and hoping – needing – this move to be a fresh start; to leave her old life behind.
John returned the smile, liking the feel of Mary's small hand grasping his arm; thankful there didn't seem to be any awkwardness between them having just officially met; her standing beside him like this feeling natural, feeling right.
"I am, too," he agreed and wondered how badly he would shock the surrounding townsfolk if he kissed her.
Mary arched an eyebrow, seeming to sense John's intentions. "There will be plenty of time for that later," she advised playfully and hugged closer to her cowboy's muscular arm.
John chuckled; his anxiety from earlier being completely gone and replaced with something indescribably good – a feeling of love, contentment, completion.
"Bet your ass there will be," he agreed and then paused when he realized his choice of words in front of a lady.
But Mary didn't seem fazed; only smiled and winked.
There was a beat of silence before Mary pointed to one of the trunks being lowered from the train.
"That's it," she told John and released her hold on his arm as he moved forward; finding it sweet that he had been concerned about swearing in her presence...and wondering what he would think if he knew she had heard – and had said – worse in her old life.
"This thing is heavy," John grunted as he balanced her trunk on his shoulder. "What's in here? A body?"
Mary laughed, even as she remembered all the times there had been a body of some creature or other stashed in one of her trunks for easy, inconspicuous transport back to wherever she had to take it to collect her reward before salting and burning its bones.
But those days were done.
Mary's life was no longer with her family but was with John now.
From this day forward, she would be a rancher's wife – maybe even becoming a mother in a year or so – but she was not a hunter. Not anymore. And it felt indescribably good to be free from that life...even if she had to keep it a secret from her husband-to-be.
"Are you ready?" John asked her, bracing her trunk on his shoulder with both hands.
Mary blinked and nodded. "Yes," she replied, smiling. "I can't wait to see the house I've read about in your letters."
John chuckled, leading the way through the train station to his wagon out front. "It's nothing fancy," he reminded her.
"It'll be fine," Mary assured, standing by the horse still hitched to the post and rubbing his long neck as she watched John load her trunk in the wagon. "Just needs a woman's touch, I'm sure."
John smiled, swiping the sweat from his brow with his sleeve as he had done when he had first arrived at the station, and crossed to his wife-to-be.
Mary shielded her eyes from the afternoon sun with her arm and looked up at him.
"Shall we?" John asked formally, unhitching the reins from the post and then extending his hand to her.
Mary smiled and nodded, feeling his calloused skin rough against hers as she took his hand and stepped closer to the wagon.
In the next instant, John lifted her into the seat as though she weighed nothing and then climbed up as well, settling beside her and lightly slapping the reins across the horse's rump.
The horse responded, turning away from the hitching post and walking in a half-circle to return in the way it had come; walking up the dusty, fairly crowded street and heading for home.
"Nice town," Mary commented as she glanced at the passing storefronts – the General Store, the post office, Harvelle's Saloon, Singer's Blacksmithing and Horseshoeing.
"It's not bad," John replied, noticing the stares and whispers as they rode by; the town already abuzz about Mary's arrival.
Mary sighed, sounding tired but content, and edged closer to her cowboy on the wagon's seat before looping her arm with his.
John glanced at her expectantly, but Mary just smiled and continued to take in her new surroundings.
A comfortable silence settled between them as they rode out of town, and Mary sighed once more.
John frowned, his grip loose on the reins as he glanced again at his wife-to-be. "What's wrong?"
Mary shook her head. "Nothing," she responded and couldn't believe that for once in her life that was true – nothing was wrong.
She was happy and safe, with no hunts in sight...and no one to remind her of what they thought she should be; to guilt her into continuing her family's business; to tell her that her legacy was to be a hunter...when all she really wanted was to be a wife and mother.
John nodded in agreement with Mary's words; because for once in his life, nothing felt wrong either. He was no longer alone; no longer the town outcast but had a woman who loved him; who would soon be his wife and the mother of his children; who he felt would support him no matter what...even when he finally told her about his other job as a bounty hunter.
Mary rubbed her hand back and forth over John's arm and leaned her head against his shoulder as the wagon continued to travel forward down the dusty, bumpy path leading toward her new home.
"We're going to have a wonderful life together," she predicted and squeezed her cowboy's arm for emphasis. "I just know it."
John smiled and nodded, hoping that was true; that they could both have a fresh start together...even as they lived among old secrets.