Title: Dance With The One That Brung You
Character: Bass Reeves
Bass rubbed a fond hand over his horse’s whither before settling a blanket on its back. The dark head turned back towards him, nickering softly. “Cold night but you’re in here with a nice warm blanket and your feed,” he said. He reached out towards the soft muzzle and smiled when he was rewarded with a snort into his hand. Bass rubbed the horse’s cheek then stepped back to feed it a small bit of carrot.
“You rest easy now and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Backing out of the stall, he closed the door, then looked out towards the open barn door. The snow was falling heavier than it had been when he’d rode in, thick flakes falling into mounding drifts. Snow was something Bass had learned to appreciate for its own sake. Night time rides served two purposes: a final patrol of the immediate area and a time to clear his head of the day.
He drew on his gloves, settled his hat on his head and buttoned his coat so he could walk into the falling snow. The path that had been previously cut through was on it’s way to filling back in but Bass strode through easily. A sudden rush of wind whipped some of the snow past his face and Bass clutched the open collar of his jacket tight up against his throat. Ahead, the cheerful lights of the house drew him in further and he was looking forward to a warm drink and some food in his belly. He’d fed on some blood before his ride but there were still some holiday dishes he enjoyed.
There were more clan members in attendance for the winter holiday. The big news was that Zoe had brought her new mate, Joss, with her and it had caused a bit of a stir.
“It’s been quiet. A little excitement like Zoe’s mate is a perfect accompaniment for the holidays,” Benoit had said. “The Frasers have been nose deep in some of our older cookbooks. It’s going to be a treat.”
“Uh huh, and if you benefit from the deliciousness that’s coming out of that kitchen, all the better for you, ” Bass remarked dryly. He didn’t say anything about the betting pool that was winding down
“But of course.”
Bass slapped his hat against his thigh to dislodge the last of snow before shuffling his feet to dry the soles. The caretakers would have his head if he didn’t and he had no desire to court their ire.
As he walked into the foyer, he turned and saw a small gathering near the fire. Bass counted himself among the select group that laid bets about Zoe ever finding her mate. Needless to say, he became a hundred dollars richer when Zoe showed up with Joss Carter.
Speaking of which…
“Mr. Reeves, c’mon over and sit with us,” Joss called out. A true New Yorker, Joss had deployed fuzzy socks, sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and a fuzzy blanket for warmth in front of the fire. Zoe sat on the other end of the couch, also cozily bundled and content, hands curled around a steaming hot cup. She wiggled her fingers in what he called the ‘city girl wave’; something that Zoe knew made him a little crazy. Bass shook his head then made his way into the living room. Turned out that they were there along with Penelope Garcia and Derek Morgan. Miss Garcia had tapped out but luckily her mate Derek had her resting on his chest and both of them covered in a blanket.
Their third, Aaron Hotchner wouldn’t reach them until the next morning. They were careful to conceal their relationship in the FBI so that the higher ups wouldn’t catch on.
“You all are up late,” Bass said, slipping off his coat and hanging it on a nearby coat stand.
“It’s been a long time since any of us have actually had time to relax and it seems that we’re having some trouble in that respect,” Derek said.
“And I seem to be missing my boy just a bit,” Joss added. “I told you could bring him, love,”Zoe said.
“Oh, I didn’t tell you what he said when I made that offer.” Joss cleared her throat and declaimed, “Ma, you need to go off with Zoe and be all lovey dovey or whatever it is that you do. I can stay with grandma. See you when you get back.”
Joss’ dry humor made Bass chuckle. “Ah, the way of all young men when they reach a certain age. Is there a girl anywhere in this equation?”
“Her name is Shantelle,” Joss said. “I’ve met her parents and my son knows his limits. It’s not for nothing that I used to be an interrogator.”
Even though he’d seen the world change over these decades, sometimes there was a little jolt when he saw how things had changed for women, particularly those of his own persuasion. He’d never had the chance to meet Cathay Williams in the flesh but he had no doubt that she’d served her country like Joss had with one crucial difference: Joss hadn’t had to hide her sex to do it. The world was indeed a marvelous place.
“Well, seeing as how you’re all having a little trouble finding your beds, maybe a story might help.”
That made the small group look at each other then back to him. “Bedtime stories, Bass?” this from Zoe.
“Might make the night go a little easier.” Bass spread his hands open. “Unless you’d rather I didn’t.”
Joss smacked Zoe lightly on the top of her blanket. “Hush, girl. The man wants to tell us a story which means we need some snacks.”
“I’m pretty sure Carolyn left some snacks warming in the kitchen.” That came from Penelope, who blinked sleepily from her position against Derek’s chest. “I’m all for some story.”
“Well, alright then, let me get comfortable and I’ll be right back.”
It didn’t take long for Bass to return. In the meantime, everyone used the break to get snacks and warm drinks and reconfigure themselves in their seats. Someone pulled a large wing back chair from the corner and brought it close to the fire and Bass took that seat after grabbing himself some hot buttered rum.
Settling himself, he nodded at his audience then said, “Even though the clan spends a little more time in the city these days, this house is still part of our collective heart.
“I came here at Nico’s suggestion after I lived this life for a little while. Even back then, it could be a problem if you wanted to start anew. Out here, there’s still wild spaces places for a body to get lost.”
He sipped his drink and continued. “I spent a lot of years wearing a badge and bringing in the bad guys and habits are hard to break. I came here, joined the Hunters and do much of the same. Heling out to make sure there wasn’t a lot going down as the city grew.
On occasion, you’d get someone who’d done a deed and make their way towards us. Me or another Hunter would round them up escort them back to town.”
Bass nibbled on a piece of shortbread, reminding himself to thank the Frasers. “There was a year when one of the ranchers a little further out started to lose some livestock. One here, two there. Kind of spread out. Could have been any manner of things but most folks wanted to believe either the livestock made it out of the pens and into the woods or they’d been rustled.”
“Rustled. That was really a thing,” Joss remarked.
“Have to admit it has a nice ring to it,” Penelope said. “Rustle. R-r-r-r-r-ustle.”
“For the most part, it was nature taking it’s course. Heavy snow means that predators would make their way down here and grab what they could get. Snow’d come in and fill in a lot of the tracks so you couldn’t be sure who took what.”
“One year, the weather turned hard and we had more snow than you could imagine.” Bass leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on his thighs. “And again, livestock go missing. This time, we’re pretty sure on the rustling. There was a loosely affiliated gang of thieves working in the territory and word was they were coming our way. Now there was no way to know when they’d arrive but people became extra careful about their property.”
“Except for a new rancher near the outskirts of town who was convinced that he knew best.”
Bass looked up to see Jim Ellison standing near the back of the room. “You remember this one?”
Jim snorted and said, “Oh, yeah. Big snow, big trouble coming.” he shrugged. “Stafford. Eustace Stafford, that was his name. Came out from the east coast to become a rancher because he had a vision.” He came all the way in and straddled a chair near Zoe.
“The good Mr. Stafford had a herd that was cut to a third over the course of a few weeks,” Bass said. “Except this time, everyone thought it was a bear.”
The revelation had the desired effect: in-drawn breath, nervous laughter and a muttered, “Why am I out here in the woods, Zoe?!?” from Joss.
Bass wove the story like a net, adding detail after detail to draw his listeners in. He described the investigation and subsequent discovery of bear footprints and what looked like scat. Just for variety, two other ranches were hit, but not as bad as the Stafford Ranch.
“The town found themselves in a tizzy. Everyone wants to know what the city fathers were going to do about the bear.”
“Which no one had seen, mind you,” Jim added.
“We basically put together a posse and went looking. Wouldn’t you know it? We caught the bear right at Eustace Stafford’s place after. Only it wasn’t exactly a bear.”
The rest of the tale became a tangle of rustlers, bearskin and feet being used to perpetrate a crime: “Our Mr. Stafford was trying to con us all. He’d struck a deal with the gang: every piece of livestock they could spirit away and get to an associate who’d sell them and then they’d all split the money.”
“So, no bear.”
“No, ma’am. No bear.”
“I feel like I should be disappointed about there being no bear,” Joss said, turning towards Zoe. The other woman opened her arms and Joss slipped up and into her arms.
“Bass didn’t promise a bear, babe. Just shenanigans,” Zoe soothed.
After a few more stories, yawns began to overtake everyone and slowly people found their beds. Bass left as his seat and finished the last of his drink as he stared out the window into the deepening gloom.