Summary: AU and a WHI for The Search. This is an alternate ending for the episode perhaps better entitled He Rode Back To Her. The first part of the story is directly from the episode and then it continues with new material.
Word Count: 2404
Waiting at the bar, Adam nursed his drink. It was a long wait. Ann had said that she would see him before he left and he had promised to wait for a farewell drink, but it was getting ridiculous. He wouldn’t get very far from town at this rate. The sheriff stopped by surprised to see him still there, but soon Ann made her appearance. The sheriff took one look and told Adam it was worth the wait before he left. Adam ordered a drink for Ann. They talked briefly and the topic again involved Tom and that he wouldn’t know that they had found justice for him because Ann had believed in him. Later as Adam rode down the road, he replayed that conversation and thought about what he had said and what she had said.
“Someday, you’ll find another man to believe in.”
“Sure.” Her answer had lacked conviction as she looked at him so sadly. What had that meant? He didn’t know. Why had she delayed so long in coming down to see him? He didn’t know the answer to that either and hadn’t asked.
Now though he wanted to know. He wondered if she had wanted him to stay, but if she did, then why didn’t she ask him to do that? He had far more questions than he had answers, and that was not a situation that he liked. He liked having answers.
In the saloon, Ann couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. She replayed that brief conversation with Adam over and over again as well. She remembered what she had said and mentally kicked herself repeatedly. Why did she have to keep bringing up Tom whenever she talked with Adam? She didn’t know why because it was Adam to whom she was attracted. She had felt sorry for Tom and wanted to help him. She had felt a duty to help him especially when she believed that something terrible had happened to him, but Adam made her feel like she was important. He listened to her ideas, treated her with respect, and showed an obvious interest in her as a woman. She had hoped that the way she kissed him and the way that she looked at him might communicate some of how she felt so that he might open up a little to her, but then her mouth had made that unlikely with what she said next. She had rushed out to stop him from leaving and then said that thing that made him ride away.
“I’ll never forget you, either of you.” When she had a chance to make her feelings known, she had gone and added that stupid qualifier which had led him to give her that neutral response that she deserved for that.
“Thank you. Goodbye.”
Turning to ride away then without a backwards glance, Adam kept his back straight and his eyes looking at the road ahead even if his mind was centered on the woman behind him. Ann couldn’t know how much that had hurt him. He wanted her to declare some kind of feeling for him, but she had thrown that up at him instead. To be fair, Adam hadn’t told her anything either though so she was in as much pain as he was. Raising her arm slightly in anticipation, she stood there wanting to at least wave goodbye, but he never looked back. She knew then that it was hopeless.
As Adam rode, he knew that at home, his family was probably already digging the Christmas decorations out of storage. There would be the usual lopsided Christmas angel on the top of the tree with her silly pink wings. There would be those red Santas that Hoss had made for the tree. The pretty candles with their tiny elegant tin trays would stand in stark contrast to those homey touches. He would enjoy the nostalgia, but once more each of them would be looking at another year alone. Of course they had each other, but none of them had anyone with whom to share their life. He had to wonder if his pride was reason enough to turn his back on someone who might be willing to be by his side and fill that void. He thought that he had learned how to be alone without being lonely, but each year that was becoming more and more difficult to do.
Later in town, with everyone in the saloon watching Ann but trying not to be too obvious about it, she sat at a table in the back dabbing her eyes occasionally knowing she should be doing something more and unable to summon the energy to appear cheerful and do her job. The men there liked her so much they kept their distance, and the bartender didn’t have the heart to remind her that she was the reason for half the drinks they sold on most nights. All of the men were willing to let her have this time to mourn her loss. Most of them had too much respect for women in general and for Ann in particular to intrude at that moment. If they could have done something to fix the situation, they would have, but other than dragging Adam back to the saloon in ropes and chains, there was nothing they could do. There were any number of them willing to go after him and do more than that seeing how much Ann was hurting but knew she wouldn’t approve of them hurting him.
However that changed and their anger nearly boiled over when Adam walked into the saloon. He saw the reaction and put his hands up in surrender temporarily mollifying them. He took off his hat looking for Ann. There were some who would have stopped him from going to her, but Sheriff Connors was back in the bar and he signaled to the men to step back and open a path for Adam to walk to the back where Ann sat. As Adam walked to where she sat, he could see that she was oblivious to his entry and anything else. He startled her with a question. She literally jumped at his voice.
“Why did you take so long and make me wait?”
Turning to him and standing, Ann had her own questions. “What are you doing back here? I thought you would be long gone by now. Why are you here?” Realizing how she must look, she turned away to wipe at her eyes again.
Putting his hand on her shoulder, Adam turned her gently back to face him. “You didn’t answer my question. I really do want to know. I rode all the way back here because I need to know that answer.”
“Are you sure you don’t already know?”
“You’re still answering with a question and that’s not an answer.”
The two stood silently toe-to-toe for a minute until Ann yielded. “I didn’t want to come down because if I did, that meant you were leaving. I didn’t want you to leave.”
“Why didn’t you say that to me? Why did you have to bring up Tom again? You always bring up Tom when we should be talking about us.”
“I know. I don’t know why I do that.”
“Is it because you’re afraid to talk about us and afraid that I might say no if you asked me to stay or if you told me how you felt, I might not feel the same?”
“Maybe. Why do you ask that?”
“Because that’s why I didn’t tell you how I felt. I was afraid you would tell me it was Tom you loved and not me that you cared for, not me that you believed in.”
“Oh, Adam, I do believe in you. You are the best man I have ever known. I have never known a man I trust like I can trust you.”
“I don’t like you working in a saloon.”
“I thought you said you liked this dress?”
“I do, but I would prefer that I would be the only one to see you in a dress or any clothing like that.”
“Well, I need to support myself.”
“You wouldn’t need to do that if we were together.”
“Together as in forever. You could come back to the Ponderosa with me.”
“As my wife if you’ll have me.”
“You haven’t said you love me.”
“I love you, and I want to marry you. Now, I need your answer. Will you?”
The two of them had not noticed that the saloon was eerily quiet as every man there strained to hear every word that was spoken and several had edged closer trying better to hear what was being said. They never heard Ann’s answer though because she never said it. She looked into Adam’s eyes as he gazed intently into hers and then the two came together spontaneously and kissed sealing the proposal in the way that both knew the answer.
“You can stay with me tonight.”
“Only if we’re married. I want to start this relationship out on the right footing. We’ll stay together as husband and wife.”
“But who can marry us now? It’s late.”
“A sheriff can legally perform a wedding. We can have a big wedding with all the trimmings when we get home. In fact, I have to warn you that my family especially my father will insist on it.”
“Oh, Adam, I’m going to need some time to sell my place here and pack.”
“You can have a few days, but then we need to travel. I want to be home for Christmas Eve and that’s less than a week away.”
“I have a lot of things to pack.”
“You don’t need to pack your saloon dresses. I don’t like a woman in pants either. I bought you one dress. I can buy you a lot more dresses.”
“What if I want to ride?”
“There are split skirts and dresses made for riding.”
“Are you always going to be like this?”
“Yes. You’re a lady, and I intend to treat you like one.”
With a coy look and whispering because of the men there that she had finally noticed were listening intently, Ann had a question for him. “Can I take a couple of the dresses and wear them just for you?”
Grinning, Adam nodded, pulled her close, and whispered in her ear. “I’d like that. This one and the one you were wearing the first day I saw you. I may never forget that kiss.”
Releasing Ann from the embrace but keeping one arm around her waist, Adam turned to the crowd to announce that he and Ann were getting married. With the official announcement, the men there were free to cheer and offer congratulations. Adam asked the Sheriff if he would marry them and within a short time, he and Ann were married. Adam bought a round and then with some rather earthy suggestions from the boisterous but rowdy crowd, he and Ann were sent off to spend their first night together as husband and wife.
The next day, Adam sent a cryptic telegram home to his father telling him that the minister should be invited to the Christmas Eve party. Hoss and Joe joked that maybe Adam planned to be married then. Ben scoffed but inwardly he wondered because he couldn’t think of any other reason for Adam insisting that their minister be there for the party. Crates of belongings with a decidedly feminine look to them arrived the day before Christmas Eve and suddenly the joke didn’t seem like a joke any more. On the morning of Christmas Eve, Adam arrived home with Ann and his family stood in shock when they walked outside to welcome him home and found him helping Ann down from her horse. She was dressed warmly and demurely in a riding skirt and thick leather jacket.
“Pa, Hoss, Joe, I would like to introduce you to my wife, Ann Cartwright. It wouldn’t have been right to travel together and such unless we were married so we did that, but I wanted the religious ceremony and the party to take place here.”
At first, there was only silence and that made Ann a bit apprehensive until there was an eruption of congratulations and a welcome to the family. With eyes glistening, Ben hugged her and called her his daughter. Then she got an enthusiastic hug from Joe and a warm embrace from Hoss who smiled and said he had always wanted a blond sister.
That night, the guests at the Christmas Eve party got quite a surprise when they discovered that they were also guests for the first Cartwright wedding to take place on the Ponderosa. With the Christmas tree as the backdrop, Adam and Ann said their vows to each other with the surprised but pleased minister officiating. After the ceremony and the wonderful buffet dinner prepared by Hop Sing, Ann found out too that Adam had a beautiful singing voice and could play guitar as he sang some carols to entertain her and the guests. He was surprised when she sang with him in a beautiful sultry voice. The pair had the crowd mesmerized. Ann had been equally surprised when she learned that she wasn’t expected to cook because Hop Sing had that job, but she pleaded with him to let her help praising his food so much, he couldn’t say no to her. Ann was charming, intelligent, and delightfully engaging. By the end of the night, everyone there gave thanks for the Christmas present Adam had received for Ann was the greatest gift he could have gotten. She told him the same later as they snuggled in bed saying she could never imagine a better Christmas because she finally had gotten the gift she had always dreamed of receiving. They thought they had it all, but the One up above might have had a little more in store for them. After all, Christmas is the celebration of birth and new beginnings.