Summary: What if things had gone differently the night Adam had wooed Abigail Jones? What impact can a lost horse shoe, a squirrel and a spider have on a blossoming romance? And had faust gone completely bonkers?
Word Count: 4000
Adam was floating. Literally.
Buoyancy and slight movements with his arms carried him just beneath the smooth surface of Lake Tahoe; the cloudless summer sky reflected on the water coloured it a deep royal blue.
Adam felt the sun warming his naked body, even through the thin layer of water on it. He kept his eyes closed; he didn’t want to see anything, not even the sun, or the sky, or the lake. He listened to his heartbeat but shut his ears to anything else. He didn’t want to hear anything, not even the silent burble his movements evoked. He concentrated on the tiny motions of his arms and legs, and how it felt when the water slid through his fingers. He didn’t want to think, not even about his family.
Well, especially not about his family. Not about his scheming brothers, who had tricked him into helping an unfortunate ranch hand to woo the love of his life. Not about his father, who had been far more concerned about the structural conditions of the Ponderosa than the mental condition of his first born, his father, who had actually smirked (yes, smirked. Contrary to popular opinion Ben Cartwright was capable of smirking) and encouraged him to go and speak to that…woman.
That woman. Suddenly the water seemed to be chilly. Adam shivered. He didn’t want to think about that woman, either. Not about her screeching voice, her nauseatingly sweet smile, not about her tender touches on his arms, and most certainly not about the quavering way she spoke his name. Another shudder rippled through his body.
He remembered last night all too vividly, at least the beginning of it. Gallons of lemonade, a porch swing, he, she, too many words spectacularly misunderstood, and her eyes. Adam didn’t consider himself a coward, but he had been terrified by those eyes. They had been…hungry. Frighteningly hungry. The eyes of a predator. A very hungry predator, who had just found her prey. The prey had tried to escape, though, and Adam had almost succeeded in telling her something had come up at the Ponderosa, and that he had to go home.
And then Sport had lost a shoe, right on the woman’s front yard, and Adam had been trapped. The woman hadn’t wasted any time completing her capture, Adam had to concede her that. She had offered him another drink, while some hired help led Sport to the blacksmith. This last glass of lemonade had tasted differently, and from that moment on Adam’s memories were blurred. All he knew was that he had been woken up this morning by the voice of the ranch hand, bellowing at the top of his lungs, “I kill him!” and the ensuing ruckus when his father and brothers had wrestled the man out of the house.
But—he didn’t want to think of that now. He didn’t want to think at all. He just wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet, and to float. Nothing else. Just to be. And float. It was like a vacation. A short vacation from…everything. To keep him sane. To calm him. To give him his strength back. To give him his composure back. To give him a last few quiet hours before he had to go and marry Abigail Jones tomorrow morning.
But for today, he’d have this wonderful, calming vacation; and then he’d go home and beat the stuffing out off his brothers.
Pling, plong. Paling, palong. Plong, plong, plong. Plplplplplplplplong.
Crazy sounds on a piano were not for the weak-nerved. Not that anyone had ever suspected Abigail Jones of having weak nerves, but even she should be allowed to have trembling knees on her wedding morning. And surely she of all women needed a good night’s sleep before that fateful day. Eye circles from sleep deprivation wouldn’t do anything to improve her features.
And yet, at five o’clock in the morning, someone was tormenting the piano in the front room of her mother’s house; the house that she would finally leave forever only hours later, to live happily ever after with no one but Adam Cartwright at the Ponderosa, in the family circle with Little Joe and giant Hoss and father-in law Ben. Oh, oh, lovely! Well, not right now. Right now the Ponderosa was a male refuge, raw and uncivilised and unpolished. Just like the men living there. But she would take care of that. She had already announced that last night when they had had their engagement supper out there, and she had seen the excitement over her statement that she would take matters in her hands on the faces of all four men.
Oh, these four men. Adorable Adam, his hair still wet, he must have taken a bath earlier, just to please her and show how much more of a gentleman he was than the rest of his family. Abigail had shaken her head at Little Joe and Hoss, they both had looked disheveled and ruffled, and Joe had had traces of blood in his nostrils while Hoss had sported a vivid red bruise on his left jawbone. They must have been fighting shortly before she had arrived; and by the split open knuckles on Adam’s right hand, Abigail could easily tell that her strapping black knight must have acted as a peacemaker on his brothers. Just like Sir Walter Raleigh! Abigail had thought, and she had secretly sighed and vowed she would kiss Adam’s knuckles better until, well, they were better. Ben Cartwright had tried to play the perfect host, but Abigail had sensed that the man was deeply disturbed, and this had been proven by the dark looks Adam had sent his father time and again. Anyway she had made perfectly clear that she would not accept improper, immature or uneducated behaviour at the Ponderosa once she was the lady of the house. The men had ducked their heads at that, even perfect Adam, bless the poor lamb.
Well, she would not allow her beauty sleep to be disturbed by whoever thought it was amusing to plunk the piano in the wee hours of morning. She was out of her bed and down the stairs in less than thirty seconds. In the pale light of the early summer morning the parlor lay empty. Void of any humans. But on the piano….
“Iiiiiiirk!” Abigail’s scream must have been heard at Sacramento, the Cartwright brothers agreed on that whenever this event was discussed later. None of them could fathom, though, why a tiny, sweet squirrel had made Abigail so…furious. If they had known that Abigail loathed nothing more than tiny, uncontrollable animals (a fact that Joe must have forgotten about his former teacher) they would never had made the way into Virginia City at night, they would never had released the squirrel in the front room, and they would never had stayed hidden next to the big window, eagerly waiting for Abigail to come down and discover her little surprise. Never. No. Never in a million years. Cross their hearts and hope to die.
The squirrel didn’t seem to understand Abigail’s agitation, either. And since it was only a stupid and maybe a little bit crazy squirrel, it did what only a stupid and maybe a little bit crazy squirrel would do and jumped right onto Abigail’s head trying to hide in the nest of dirty blonde hair under the fair maiden’s nightcap.
Abigail, screeching and shrieking, performed what could only be called a St. Vitus dance. Pulling at her nightcap, kicking and shaking, all the while wailing and screaming on the top of her lungs, she jumped through the room trying to get rid of the little rodent on her head. Eventually the animal made an escape from the unholy squealing, leaving Abigail trembling and out of breath.
She sensed more than she saw movement at the window, and, dashing to it, she recognized the backs of Joe and Hoss Cartwright, hastily making an escape from her front porch. And suddenly everything became clear. They had unleashed the beast in her house, they, her future in-laws. And this would be her future: immature, rampant, uncouth, ill-mannered men. No matter what she tried, she wouldn’t be able to change them. She shuddered. Just the thought of spending one single day under one roof with these two ruffians…. A sob escaped her throat. And Adam had made it perfectly clear that he had no intention to move from the Ponderosa.
There was only one thing she could do. She sat down at her desk and took up her pencil. “My dearly beloved Adam, I know this will leave you devastated, but I have no other choice than to inform you that I regretfully have to cancel our wedding….”
Adam never came to know what his brothers had done. He was sure they had done something. They must have. But it didn’t matter what. Not really. And, to be honest, he rather preferred not to know. The important thing was that due to their actions, he now, instead of standing in front of the altar mumbling “yes, I do,” was floating just beneath the smooth surface of Lake Tahoe, with the sun warming his naked body, even through the thin layer of water on it.
And life was wonderful.
She was beautiful. Long blonde hair cascading down her back like a golden waterfall, the bluest eyes the world had ever seen, a waist a man could span with his hands, small delicate hands with long slender fingers, shaped as finely as if the most skilled sculptor had created them: Adam had never seen a prettier woman climbing out of a stage coach or one that had more grace. For a split second he even got a glimpse of her narrow ankle, and it rattled him to the core. He practically ran from the opposite side of the street to the coach, reached his hand out and uttered in a hoarse whisper, “May I help you, ma’am?”
She looked into his face, blushed adorably, and spoke with a voice so soft and velvety that it made the hairs on Adam’s arms stand on end, “Oh, thank you, sir. I’d never expected anyone to help a simple girl like me…”
He saw the tragic depths in her looks, and he understood. This was a hurt soul, someone who had endured more than a person should, more than anyone should, but most certainly more than a woman of such pure and pristine beauty should.
“Simple?” Adam looked deep into her sky-blue eyes. He felt he could lose himself forever in those eyes, and with a pang he suddenly knew—this was she. She, the woman he had been looking for all his life. She, the one. He wouldn’t let her go. “If you are simple, Miss, I’m nothing.”
“Why, thank you, Mr. …? But you are too friendly. I know I’m not much to look at, my legs are too long and slim and I always hated my eyes. They are so uncannily blue—it scares people to look at me.”
“No one is scared by your eyes, Miss. People look the other way so they won’t stare at you, since this is all they can do in the face of your beauty.”
She blushed again, but let him lead her across the street to the hotel, whispering, “You never told me your name, Mr. …?”
“Adam. Adam Cartwright. Adam. Just call me Adam.” He knew he was babbling, but what could he do?
“Adam.” It sounded as if an angel had said his name. “That reminds me…” And then she started to sing, and her voice rang through Virginia City, and she was an angel, only an angel could sing with a voice like that, and Adam was mesmerized and stunned and completely in heaven. “In the garden of Eden, a long time ago, yeah, there was a story I’m sure you will know. I’m sure you remember, I know you believe the story of Adam and Eve.”
“You have a beautiful voice, miss. The most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard,” Adam couldn’t help but say. He knew he was repeating himself, but everything about this woman was…beautiful.
“Oh, no, my voice is not pretty, Adam. My neighbours always complained that I cover too many octaves—and the many glasses I cracked with my high f…. And it’s so untrained. I always wanted to take singing lessons, but alongside my studies of medicine, law, math, engineering, history and literature I never found the time. In all the two years that it took me to complete my education and write my doctorial dissertations, I was too lazy to squeeze in singing lessons, I’m afraid.” She smiled at him, sadly, and even sad she looked…beautiful. And then something mischievous came into her eyes. “But you never asked me about my name, Adam. Aren’t you interested?”
Adam chuckled. How could it be that she was so humourous? Weren’t beautiful women supposed to be boring? Well, this one wasn’t. She was beautiful, and beautifully funny, too.
“Of course, I want to know. I have to know the name of my future wife, don’t I?”
“You—Are you saying you are…proposing to me, Adam?”
“Oh, yes, I am. But only under one condition…”
“Which condition?” she breathed, her lips slightly open, invitingly beautiful.
“Well,” he couldn’t help but chuckle again about her eager anticipation. “You have to give me your name first.”
The woman, no, the angel, laughed. “Oh, you are so funny, Adam. I guess I have to tell you my name now, since I won’t let you go. Because,” and now her face became serious, she caught his eyes with her pools of sky, and she was so…beautiful, “I love, love, love you so much. My heart beats so loud I’m sure you must hear it, and I love you so much that it hurts. I never knew there were feelings like this, never. I’m sure no woman had ever loved a man as much as I love you, Adam!”
“And I love you, oh, my angel. I never thought I’d ever meet a woman like you. To be honest, I had given up already.”
“But Adam, don’t you know what Mark Twain said? ‘Preserve your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but not live.’ No, you haven’t given up, or I wouldn’t be here!”
She was right, he knew it. She was even more than he had ever hoped for: beautiful, and wise beyond her years, and so…beautiful. And he had to tell her, he simply had to tell her what he felt, how his very being was only hers now.
“You are so beautiful, so smart and so…I bet you can ride better than I can, and rope better than I can, and, dear God, I heard it, you even sing better than I can. Now tell me, oh, tell me your name…”
“My name is… Faith Delyhlia Eve Stardreamer, but my friends call me Starlight.”
“Starlight…” Adam savoured her name on his lips, on his tongue, in his mind. “Starlight, how very beautiful.” He’d never expected a name like that…somehow he’d thought her name would be Mary or Sue or even…Nicole, yeah, Nicole—he didn’t know where this came from, but it would have been so very fitting. Anyway, Starlight was just perfect, a perfect name for a perfect, beautiful girl.
And then a rain shower washed down on him, knocked him down and a heavy weight landed on his chest and he couldn’t breathe; someone was pummeling into him, screaming, “Adam, Adam!” and he felt like choking and he coughed and spluttered and flailed his arms until someone held them down, and then suddenly breathing became easier and he opened his eyes and the fog lifted and there was Hoss with his fist still on Adam’s chest and Joe’s face looking anxiously over his big brother’s shoulder.
Adam coughed again, and Hoss smiled and helped him up and said, “Boy, ya sure know how to give us a scare, Adam. Yer jest lucky we came to look after you and saw ya drowning in the lake.”
“Adam,” Joe spoke up. “Weren’t you the one who always said how dangerous it is to go swimming in the midday sun? Well, I never got a sunstroke and drowned…”
“And jest after we rescued ya from Miss Abigail, Adam.” Hoss shook his head. “And, big brother, next time ya drown, can ya do it with some clothes on?”
Adam woke up late in the morning, pleased to find the fever had gone.
He had given his family a scare yesterday evening when he had collapsed in front of the big fire place, heavily sweating and shivering at the same time. Of course, this had led to Hoss and Joe revealing his near drowning in the lake at midday, and as a consequence Pa had given him a lecture about swimming in the midday sun. But at least it had kept him from a mustard poultice, Pa’s standard cure-all whenever Adam, who was prone to bronchial infections, got ill. He had simply been sent to bed, as embarrassing as it had been, with a pitcher of water and some ice cubes from Hop Sing’s ice cellar to treat the sunstroke.
Secretly Adam had been afraid that although the sunstroke had been a minor one from which he had recovered hours before, the strange spider that had spun its web in his chest hair while he had been resting in the shade, monitored by Hoss and lectured by Joe (“How can someone forget where he put his clothes?”) might have been poisonous after all. He lifted his hand to scratch the itchy spot where the arachnid had bitten him when he had shooed it away. To his utter astonishment he didn’t feel any hair on his chest. What had Joe and Hoss done now? He groped around, panicked, but all he felt was silky skin, soft, cool, smooth and somehow…artificial. His eyes opened wide, and he looked down at his chest.
No hair. And no skin, which was even more surprising, since usually Adam slept in the nude. No, no skin at all, but a thin, blackish silvery layer, covering—he made a quick survey—yes, covering his whole body. Not that his body looked very covered in that slinky, clingy material. To be honest, Adam felt even more exposed as if he had been naked. He sat up, swung his legs out of his bed, and thought. This couldn’t be Hoss’ and Joe’s scheming. There was no way they had put him into this…this…thing while he had been sleeping. The darn suit didn’t even seem to have any openings….
And then he heard the scream. Loud, high pitched. A woman in distress. He stood and headed to the door. He took one stride to reach his bedroom door, two to get down into the front room, and three more to cover half the distance to Virginia City. And suddenly everything became clear to him. Adam covered his face with the mask he found at the neck of his second skin, put a bit more effort into his swinging stride, and stood in the middle of C-Street a split second later.
Seeing the beautiful bank manager’s wife in the arms of a dirty villain who held his gun to her temple, getting next to the outlaw in one smooth, snakelike movement, and wrangling the gun from the shocked man was one. The woman stared at Adam, stunned and mute. Wordlessly she pointed to the bank, and Adam understood. He jumped to the jail, delivered the outlaw and was back at the bank in two elastic strides. And while Joe, who must have risen very early this morning and been sent to get some money from the ranch’s account, still stood there with his hands up, unmoving and silently trying to stare the bank assistant into passivity, Adam jumped at the stupefied bank robber and tackled the unresisting man down. He bound the outlaw with silky, but iron-strong threads that somehow emerged from his wrists, and left the bundle to be taken to the sheriff by Joe or whoever wanted to earn the fame.
The bank manager’s wife waited for him outside the bank. “I—oh, my, I never saw something like that before. I never saw someone like that, like you before. Who are you, my hero?”
“Ah, no,” Adam warded her admiration off. “I’m no hero, I’m just plain…Spidam.” And somehow he knew he was…Spidam.
“Oh, Mr. Spidam….” And then she fainted. But before Adam could react and pick her up to bring her home, he heard something else: the wailing of a child.
At the other end of the town a little girl was desperately trying to get on her horse. Of course, it was an act of honour to help the girl; and Spidam did.
Over the next hours Spidam was very busy. He rescued a man from a lynch mob, he saved a helpless woman from a brutal assault, stopped a bullet from a gunslinger with his iron hard sixpack (which made more than one woman in Virginia City faint instantly), helped a single-mother looking after her two badly behaved children, turning them into well read, interested and lamb-like angels, supported a coach on his shoulders while Hoss fixed a new wheel on it, kept a mine from collapsing until all the miners got out; and even took it on himself to help a poor overworked housewife with her washing up.
After that Spidam was a bit worn out. He had hurt himself at that last task, when a vicious knife had leapt out of his soap-slippery hand and cut his chest; and even though the housewife had insisted on doctoring him, he had rather decided to go home and have a short rest before he continued his noble service.
He lay down on his bed relaxing, stretching his legs out, marveling about that surprisingly comfortable suit he was wearing. And then there was the itch again. Adam scratched at his chest, but his hand was held still.
“Adam,” said his father’s voice. “Stop that, son; you’re just making things worse. You have to leave that bite alone, or the infection will never heal.”
Adam looked up and saw Pa smiling down on him. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Adam. You sure gave us a scare, boy.”
Adam looked down on his chest. He saw some black hairs protruding from his nightshirt; and with a content sigh he lay back in his pillows, slowly drifting back to sleep.
Humor is merely tragedy standing on its head with its pants torn. ~Irvin S. Cobb –
With many thanks to Sklamb for the beta.