The coffee tasted like shit, as usual, but Pearson had managed to scrounge up a half-decent porridge for breakfast. At least, Hosea was pretty sure it was porridge. What ever it was, Hosea had to eat it cold after waking up late. Still, Hosea wasn’t going to complain: he figured he was lucky there was anything left for him at all. Hosea sipped his coffee and ate his food mechanically, exhausted and heavy-eyed after last night’s adventures. He was a little embarrassed. Not only had he interrupted Dutch and Molly’s lovemaking, which in and of itself made Hosea cringe, but he had done it for no other reason than that he was a paranoid old man. Of Course the kid hadn’t deserted! Of course Dutch would know where all the members of his gang was! He just had to have some faith! He had made a real fool of himself last night, and he was thankful to Dutch that he didn’t mention it this morning or comment on Hosea’s late start of the day.
Still, Hosea was vigilant and cautious by nature, always thinking, always observing. It was what had kept his head out of a goddamn rope all these years, and he couldn’t just turn of his critical thinking. Something just didn’t sit right. Hosea tried to shoo the doubts away, but the questions buzzed around in his head like the damn mosquitoes, unwelcome and in seemingly infinite numbers. Every time he swatted one away, another would take its place, buzzing away. The kid was afraid of Dutch— hell, the mere sight of him had chased Kieran away the previous morning, despite all of Hosea’s best efforts— so, how would he have the courage to approach him about a fishing plan just hours later? Had Dutch talked to Kieran? That didn’t sound like him: Dutch had too much on his mind to worry about what was going on in some boot boy’s head. And, his horse, Branwen? So, putting aside the idea that Kieran had just magically grown both a spine and a brain AND had used those new tools to come up with some unneeded fishing trip, why would he walk instead of ride? Especially if he thought he’d be lugging fish back with him? And why leave at night of all times? Hosea rubbed his eyes. It. Just. Didn’t. Make. Any. Damn. Sense.
But, if Dutch vouched for the kid, then Hosea did too. He just had to trust Dutch. Have some faith. He was making something out of nothing. It was just a badly-planned fishing trip. There wasn’t anything wrong. God, just stop thinking about it!
Hosea looked up to see Arthur leading his white Arabian mare towards Pearson’s wagon. On the back and sides were several large fish, a fine-looking turkey, and two not-so-fine wolf pelts. Arthur had his hand on the horse’s neck, patting, while he looked at Hosea, concern lining his face.
“Arthur,” Hosea smiled, pride swelling his chest to see his son pulling his weight in the camp and then some, “Been out hunting?”
Arthur grinned proudly, shifting the rifle on his shoulder, “Yeah. God a new rifle in Rhodes, a varmint rifle, and some new fishing gear.” He gestured to the mare, “Eric and I’ve been testing ‘em out. Got a pristine turkey!”
“Good work, son. Pearson’ll be-“
Mrs. Grimshaw swatted Arthur on the back of the head with a newspaper, somehow sneaking up on both of them despite her incessant stomping. “Arthur Morgan, you get that damn horse of yours out of the camp THIS INSTANT! You know the rules!”
Arthur dodged another smack and grumbled, chastised, “Eric ain’t gonna do nothin’...” still, he turned the horse around and started walking out of camp, throwing an indignant look over his shoulder at the already retreated form of Mrs. Grimshaw as she stormed off, confident her command would be obeyed.
“Hey, Arthur,” Hosea called, standing from the table and jogging up to keep pace with him. He didn’t know why he was asking, but... “You didn’t see Kieran, did you?”
Arthur nodded as they strolled toward the hitching posts. Relief flooded through Hosea like a mountain spring. “well, sure. I gave him some Burdock root when I was leavin’ this morning-“
The relief spring dried up. “No, I meant when you were out of camp. Maybe when you were fishing?”
Arthur hitched the horse leaned on the post, eyebrows raised at Hosea questioningly, “As far as I know, that little feller ain’t been outside of camp since we got here. Why?”
“No reason,” Hosea forced an easy-going smile, “Dutch said he’d be out at the lake fishing, so I was just...” Just what? Verifying? Snooping? Going behind backs? Making sure Kieran was where he was supposed to be? Or making sure Dutch wasn’t lying about where Kieran was supposed to be? God, why couldn’t Hosea just mind his own business! “...I don’t know what I was doing, son.” He sighed and patted Arthur’s shoulder then walked back toward the table. “Good job on the hunt, Arthur.”
“Alright, catch ya later, then,” Arthur said absently. He stared after Hosea for a moment, his heavy brow furrowed, then he shook his head dismissively and got to work removing his spoils from Eric’s saddle.
Hosea sat back down to his breakfast, but found he’d lost his appetite. His stomach was churning nervously, and those buzzing, inescapable thoughts were coming back two-fold. Kieran had been in the camp this morning, not out fishing like Dutch said. He tried to rationalize it. Maybe he came back early. Maybe the kid got scared of the dark or something and hightailed it. Maybe Arthur was misremembering the morning. The excuses were lame and half-baked, and he dismissed them from his thoughts as quickly as they lined up. He wracked his brain for a rational explanation, something that made a lick of sense. He only found one: Kieran had never gone fishing.
So either Dutch was lying, or Kieran was. And he knew one to be a skilled liar, a man that spun webs of half-truths and fallacies for his very livelihood, and one to be a nervy, cringing kid that and needed to tell Hosea something, but afraid of the liar.
No, no, NO! Hosea stood abruptly and snatched up his bowl and cup, marching to the washing station. That was bullshit. Whatever the problem was, it wasn’t Dutch’s doing. There had to be another explanation. There had to be a reason, a plan, that Hosea just couldn’t see right now.
Then what was it? Hosea was a smart man— stupid people didn’t last long in his line of work— and he still couldn’t made head nor tail of the situation. Maybe Hosea just needed some sleep. Maybe the stress of the move was getting to him more than he thought it would. This was all probably an honest misunderstanding, and here was Hosea getting himself all riled up, just like last night. Sighing, Hosea dropped his dishes into the soapy water and rolled up his sleeves, deigning to wash them himself rather than leaving them for the girls. He needed something to do other than think.
“... oh, come on, boy! Tell us! Who’s the lucky lady! Tilly? Mary Beth? Karen? Aaaabigaaaill?” Sean laughed heartily.
“I told you.. It- It ain’t that! Just- get away from me!”
Hosea looked up from the bowl he was scrubbing. Sean was following Kieran around, nudging him playfully, as Kieran strided across camp toward the horses. “Oh, or maybe its Mrs. Grimshaw, ay? Got a taste for the elder laddies do we?”
Sean giggled and pulled at Kieran’s duster coat, making him flinch and curl away so violently he stumbled a bit. “Quit it... Please.” The last word was desperate, begging, but Sean didn’t seem to notice.
Hosea dropped the dishes and made his way over to them. “Don’t you have work to do, Sean?” Hosea called angrily as he stomped closer, making the pair stop to look at him, Sean with a childish smile, Kieran with wide, pleading eyes.
“I don’t have guard duty for another hour,” Sean wined at Hosea, then turned back to Kieran, grabbing at the duster again. “And besides, I’ve got a mystery to solve!” He grinned, yanking Kieran closer by the lapels of his duster then putting his arm around him proudly, announcing to Hosea, “Our O’Driscoll here has got himself a girlfriend, and I need to find out who!”
“I ain’t an O’driscoll!” Kieran squirmed out of Shawn’s grasp and jerked away, pulling his coat back up, flipping the collar over his neck and holding it closed tight like he was cold.
The ever oblivious Sean wasn’t deterred and continued with a cheeky smile, pointing a mock-accusing finger at Kieran, “well, be that as it may, you do have a love bite! You can’t lie about that!”
“I don’t! It- It ain’t- I told you, it’s just..” Kieran was doing that spluttering thing again, gesticulating jerkily, not actually saying anything coherent, like he had forgotten how to speak complete sentences. His face was red and his voice was getting more and more strangled, like some invisible force had its fingers wrapped around his throat. He seemed to give up speaking, and instead started wringing hands so tightly it looked like it hurt, head down, eyes glazed slightly and glued to his feet. He took a step backwards, away from Sean, like he may bolt at any second. His eyes were brimming with tears.
Hosea glared at Sean, and he waved a harsh, sweeping hand toward the rest of the camp. “Go find something better to do!” He barked.
Shawn looked taken aback and a little hurt. He gaped at Hosea, then gestured to Kieran in way of explanation. “I was just-“
Hosea put his hands on his hips, fists clenched. “He’s got chores to do, and you’re keeping him from doing them. That’s just as bad as not doing your own work, now get lost!” If he heard another excuse from that boy, so help him god...
The anger must have shown on Hosea’s face, because Shawn deflated, cheeks reddening in shame. “I didn’t mean anything by it.” He grumbled, hanging his head as he turned, “It was all in good fun...” He trudged off, hands shoved in his pockets.
When Hosea turned back to look at Kieran, he wasn’t there.