January 25, 1971
Mary Campbell wasn't too excited about the research project she'd just been assigned for the spring semester of her American History class. She and her parents had salted and burned enough vengeful gunfighters that the topic had grown boring, and aside from that, gunfighters were a little too much like hunters for comfort. But Mr. Williams had shot her a look when he gave her the assignment that told her not to argue.
On the plus side, she mused, it shouldn't be too hard. She could look through her father's old case files and write up something fairly tame.
Yet Mr. Williams asked her to stay after class that day. "Mary," he said when she got to his desk, "I assigned you this topic because I know you're a good researcher and because I recently came across a subject that I think could challenge you appropriately."
"Really? What's that?"
"The Winchester brothers." Mr. Williams handed her a book from 1903 entitled The Shootists: The Lives and Bloody Times of Dean and Sam Winchester, written by Dan Dobkins. "Now, Dobkins died in 1955, and historians have been re-examining his writings since then, but they haven't done much with this one yet. A few of his published works have turned out to be almost complete fabrications, though no one questioned them at the time. One of the curious things about this book is that the woman who owned the house where the Winchesters spent their last days sued to have the publication stopped. The suit was dismissed for lack of standing, even though the Winchesters had named her as their executor."
Mary frowned. "Why would the court not accept her standing?"
"The only time before their deaths that the Winchesters had been to Carson City was in 1886. Lisa Braeden and her son didn't arrive in Carson City until 1895. The judge assumed they'd named her at the last minute for lack of another contact."
"Maybe they'd known her before, somewhere else."
"That's what I thought, so I tried a little more research over the summer at the National Archives. Mary, there is no sign of a Lisa Braeden existing prior to 1895. No census records, no marriage records, nothing. So then I tried to trace official records on the Winchesters, and although their trail goes back further and their birthdates are known, there's nothing on them prior to 1861."
"Is there any way their records might have been destroyed?"
Mr. Williams shook his head. "I doubt it. Apparently Dean was already in his early thirties when the brothers first showed up in Wyoming. But pay attention to some of the aliases Dobkins records. For example, there's at least one case where Dean is known to have used the alias Clint Eastwood."
That pinged Mary's radar. "Clint Eastwood?"
"Yep. And there's no sign that the present-day Eastwood's grandparents had ever read Dobkins' book to name Clinton Eastwood, Sr., after that alias. That's not the only oddly familiar name you'll find in there, either: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham..."
"They were Zeppelin fans," Mary murmured, frowning down at the book.
Mr. Williams froze. "Mary, Led Zeppelin—"
"Only formed in '68, I know." Yet somehow the combination of names didn't make sense otherwise. Unlike John Paul Jones, who took his stage name from the captain of the Bonhomme Richard, Page, Plant, and Bonham used their given names, and their very English parents weren't likely to have been interested in gunslingers from the American West.
So how the heck did said gunfighters know Led Zeppelin a hundred years before its formation? Were they psychic... or something stranger still?
Mr. Williams cleared his throat. "Look, Mary, I... know a little about what your dad does. I don't know if this is his kind of thing or not. But I'm curious, and it's evident that you're curious now, too. Do some digging on this, would you? Your family seems to have resources that aren't necessarily available to a high school history teacher. You can write up the brothers' cover story for the presentation if you think you need to, but... I'd like to know more. And I'd like it to be the truth."
Mary nodded. "Yes, sir. I'll do that."
Samuel blinked when Mary mentioned the Winchesters to him. "The Winchester brothers?" he repeated. "They're the ones who sent Great-uncle Jedediah those bottles of phoenix ash in the 1860s. Nobody knows where they got it or why they sent it to him. All we've got is one obscure text stating that 'the ashes of the phoenix will burn the Mother' and one mention of killing a phoenix in Samuel Colt's journal."
"'Burn the Mother'?" Mary asked. "What does that mean?"
"If I remember right, it's a reference to the Mother of All Monsters. And all that the label on the box with the ash says is, 'Use only in case of Purgatory emergency.'"
"So... were the Winchesters hunters?"
"Seems so. Don't know much else about them, though."
So Mary dug into the Dobkins book, taking careful notes and highlighting what was probably true and what probably wasn't. She also studied the few photos of the brothers that had been included and couldn't shake the feeling that they reminded her both of the Campbells and of John Winchester, her former schoolmate and maybe-kinda crush who was currently in the Marines, serving in Vietnam. Yet their parentage was unknown, and they never married and left no illegitimate children that Dobkins could find. She moved on to the school library, the public library, and the family library, all to no real avail. But she did manage to find out that Ben Braeden, who also had never married, still lived in the same house in Carson City. So when Samuel located a hunt near Carson City shortly before Spring Break, she wrote to request an interview, and he wrote back agreeing.
Mr. Braeden was sweeping the front steps when Mary arrived. He was tall, maybe 6'1", and had steel grey hair, kind dark eyes, and pale, freckled skin, and Mary wondered briefly if he might not be Dean Winchester's son or grandson.
"Hello," she called. "Is this the Braeden house?"
Mr. Braeden laughed. "That's exactly what Dean said when they rode up that first day. Welcome, Miss Campbell." He took her hand to shake, then looked at her more closely, and his smile faded in what seemed like shock. "Mary Campbell. Mary Frances Campbell?"
"Yes, sir... but how did you know?"
He didn't seem to hear her question as he cursed quietly. "He looked just like you."
"Dean. And Sam, too, a little, but... Dean looked so much like you."
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Mr. Braeden."
"Please, Mary, call me Ben. There, um... there are some things I've been saving for you. And there's someone you need to meet."
Thoroughly bewildered, Mary let him lead her inside. He gave her tea and cookies in the parlor and answered the standard questions about the Winchesters before she even had the chance to ask them. But she got the distinct sense that this version was the story she needed to give in her class presentation.
Afterward, Ben led her out to a spot in the back yard where stood the Winchesters' marker. "They died on Dean's birthday," he told her as she knelt to read the inscription.
"Dean Eric and Samuel Francis," she read aloud, and a sudden chill swept over her. She looked up at Ben. "I... I know a John Eric Winchester."
"Yes," Ben replied quietly, not really looking at her as she stood. "So did they."
"They're not there, y'know," said another male voice behind her.
Mary gasped and jumped, spinning to see a young man with slicked-back light brown hair and laughing hazel eyes smiling at her.
Ben put an arm around her shoulders. "Mary... this is Loki. He, um... he knew Sam and Dean."
"This is just the marker," Loki clarified. "Their ashes are on Beta Antares IV. I stopped by just in time for the funeral, and Ben and his mom agreed that it'd be best to get them as far out of anyone else's reach as possible."
"Why?" Mary asked.
"Well, the easiest way to explain that is to give you the bequests they left for you."
"... For me?"
"It's complicated," Ben replied. "But by now I'm sure you've figured out that the answers you've gotten from me so far are only the official story Loki and Mom and I agreed on, based on what the brothers themselves had said. Now it's time you learned the truth."
Mary bit her lip. "When were they born? I mean, for real?"
"It's all inside. Come on."
Feeling near the edge of a real freakout, Mary let Ben and Loki escort her inside to the room where the Winchester brothers had spent their last days. It was clean and didn't look like a lot of the rooms she'd seen sealed off by grieving families, but it had clearly not been changed much at all in the last seventy years.
"This was Sam's favorite chair," Ben said quietly as he guided her into a leather chair next to a writing desk, a chair that seemed to envelop her in love. Then he gathered some leather-bound volumes off the top of the dresser and sat down across from her while Loki lounged in the doorway. "These journals are for you, Mary. And I think they're in the order Sam and Dean would want you to look at them." He slid the stack across to her.
Swallowing hard, she opened the top volume and picked up the letter that sat loose just inside the cover:
We can't really trust anyone else with these journals, and they concern you anyway. We can't be sure how much we've changed, but sometimes it's not so easy to make sure an alternate timeline stays alternate. So please, read carefully and consider the fates of all involved. You can prevent the curse we've lived with all our lives. Just be careful.
Sam and Dean Winchester
"Sons," Mary breathed. "No, it can't—what—" She looked up at Ben wildly.
Ben nodded. "It's true. Turn the page."
Mary turned the page to reveal a photograph, severely aged, but—sweet merciful—that was John Winchester, looking about 30, and... and herself. And a little boy in John's arms, maybe four years old, and a baby in hers. Then she turned it over and almost choked when she read the faded inscription: June 1983, John, Mary, Dean (4), Sammy (1 mo.).
"Hey," said Loki, and suddenly he was beside her, rubbing her back gently. "Take it easy. Breathe."
"I don't understand!" she cried. "How can this be?"
Loki snorted. "I'm not handlin' this annunciation," he told Ben, who rolled his eyes.
Then Ben reached across the desk and took Mary's hand again. "It's a long, very complicated story. You can read the whole thing in the journals. But as to how they ended up in 1861... well, after the Apocalypse didn't happen, one of the chief surviving demons was after Purgatory, and it seems that the monsters started acting weird and turning as many humans as they could to get back at him. At least, that's what one angel I talked to figured."
Mary frowned. "Angels don't exist."
"Yeah, we do," said Loki.
Mary turned and stared at him, but Ben kept going. "Anyway, the dragons managed to gather the proper sacrifice and ritual to break the Mother of All Monsters out of Purgatory, and Sam and Dean and their friend Bobby Singer figured out that phoenix ash could kill her. Only problem was, the only phoenix they knew for sure they could find was in Sunrise, Wyoming, in March of 1861. So they had an angel friend send them back... only to find out that he wasn't so friendly anymore."
Mary shook her head. "How do you know all this?"
"Because Bobby told me before their other angel friend, who really was a friend, sent us back to 1895 to be safe and to have a chance to say goodbye to Sam and Dean."
"Sent... sent who?"
"Mom and me. I was born in 1999, and... I'm still not sure Dean wasn't my dad."
Mary slumped back in the chair, dazed and numb, unable to resist when Loki pulled her into a comforting side hug and Ben rubbed her hand gently. She just couldn't process what she'd been told. It fit the facts, but... it didn't make sense.
Ben brought her some more tea. She drank it, but it didn't help. And she was still in a daze when Samuel returned to pick her up. Ben boxed up the journals for her and carried them out to the car while Loki settled her in the passenger seat.
"I'm afraid she's had rather a shock, sir," Ben told Samuel when he asked what was wrong. "But I'll be available as long as you're here, and she's welcome to call or come back at any time."
Samuel thanked him and waited until he'd driven away to look over at Mary. "A shock?"
Mary nodded. "They were hunters... their mother was a Campbell. And... I-I just can't make sense of it all yet."
His eyes softened. "Try, sweetheart. They were family. Family is everything."
Mary nodded and tried to pull herself together. But it wasn't until after supper that she was able to summon the courage to examine the first journal, which was in John's handwriting. And though the first entries left her sobbing hysterically, she forced herself to read all of it. Then she read the brothers', two volumes which alternated between two hands and told the story of how the Campbells and Winchesters had been manipulated into starting the Apocalypse, how Sam and Dean stopped it, and what happened after—and before, once they found themselves trapped in 1861. The final volume in the stack was the journal of Bobby Singer, which contained quite a lot of information not pertinent to the Winchesters but also quite a lot that corroborated their story.
She laughed. She cried. She yelled in frustration. She gasped in disbelief. And she knew no one, maybe not even her own father, would ever believe her.
Mary ended up going back to the Braeden house almost every day that the Campbells were in Carson City, talking through everything with Ben and Loki (the name he insisted she use, even though Sam and Dean had revealed his true name and nature). Ben showed her the enchanted car that had been Dean's horse for many years and still ran like new, the caches of weapons and information that the Winchesters had left to Ben in their will, the place where their last hunt had finally claimed their lives for good. Loki told stories that even Ben hadn't heard before. And they debated what Mary should do with the information in the journals—not only in terms of sharing with others, but also in terms of her own future choices. Azazel was dead, and Sam and Dean couldn't be brought back again, but there was still the chance that either another demon or a rogue angel like Zachariah would try to force the pattern to repeat.
The only conclusion they reached before Mary had to head back to Lawrence was that she needed protection. So Ben gave her the demon-killing knife with the admonition to keep it on her at all times, and Loki promised to keep an eye on her as much as he could without attracting undue attention. She thanked them both and promised Ben that she'd stay in touch.
She was surprised, however, when Mr. Williams walked up while she was helping her parents unload the car once they'd gotten home. "Hi, Mary!" he called pleasantly. "Have a good break?"
"Hi, Mr. Williams!" she replied. "Spent most of it researching, actually."
"Oh, really? Find anything?"
Mary suddenly had reservations about telling Mr. Williams the whole crazy truth, and she was glad the journals were safely upstairs. So she repeated the cover story she'd learned from Ben, that the Winchesters' parents had lived too far out on the frontier to be covered by census records and so on.
Mr. Williams shook his head. "Mary, Mary, Mary. I asked you to find the truth." And the garage light flickered.
Mary steeled herself. "That's what I found out, Mr. Williams. Good night."
"No, Mary." His eyes turned black from corner to corner as he grabbed her and shoved her backward against the car. "You're gonna tell me the whole truth about those brothers, or I'm going to kill your parents. Very. Slowly."
Reacting on pure instinct, Mary grabbed the knife she'd concealed in her jacket and plunged it into his heart. Then she screamed when he lit up with hellfire as he fell.
Her bruises and such eyewitness testimony as the police were able to gather made the incident a clear-cut case of self-defense, but the remaining year of high school was extremely awkward. She did tell her parents the whole truth, however, and they agreed—somewhat reluctantly—to let her quit hunting and go back to Carson City to work as Ben's housekeeper as long as she finished school first. Ben was nearing 90, Deanna noted, and he was sure to need help around the house sooner or later.
Ben was overjoyed to help Mary in this way. "When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be a hunter," he confessed. "And I still think it's important; I help out with research when I can. But that day at the Metropole... I finally understood why Dean had been so anxious not to let me start hunting and so afraid that he was some horrible, hardened killer who wasn't fit to sit at Mom's table. So that was that. I'll defend myself, but I won't hunt. And you shouldn't have to, either."
A year or so later, Mary got a more pleasant surprise: John had returned from Vietnam and heard all about what had happened, and he turned up on Ben's front porch with a ring and a dozen roses. Ben hustled him into the parlor, well within the house's strong wards, and tested him with holy water before letting Mary come in and hear his proposal.
"John," she replied, "there's a lot you don't know about me. Stuff that could put you in danger."
"Will you tell me the truth? The whole truth?"
"Will you believe me if I do? Even if it's crazy? Even if it's monsters and demons and time travel?"
"I promise," he said sincerely.
She nodded slowly. "Okay. I'll tell you."
"Then I still want to marry you."
She bit her lip. "Unless you change your mind afterward... then yes."
John kissed her and slipped the ring on her finger. And over supper she told him everything. He was understandably confused and disturbed at first, but he came around after going for a walk and having to be rescued from a hellhound by Loki.
And so it was that Mary Campbell married John Winchester in the parlor of the Braeden House in Carson City, Nevada, under the watchful eyes of their grandfatherly (possible) grandson and a rebel archangel. John took a crash course in basic supernatural self-defense and got a job at a garage in Carson City, and he and Mary stayed with Ben, who gave them the Impala as a wedding gift. There were attempts on John's life; there were attempts on Mary's life. None succeeded. Both Dean and Sam were eventually born on schedule without incident, and November 2, 1983, consisted largely of a tense watchfulness on the part of the adults inside the house and a few reports by neighbors of prowlers around the house. No demons got in, and the window in which Sam's blood could be corrupted was closed forever.
Two nights later, Ben chose to spend the night in the downstairs bedroom for the first time since 1901... and died in his sleep at the age of 100, a peaceful smile on his lips and his journal on the desk, open to the final entry: 11/2/83: Mission accomplished.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed! If you enjoyed the story, please go check out the original; it's out on DVD.