Once his temper had cooled, Hosea relaxed against the log in front of the fire and watched the flames. There really wasn’t much else he could do without moving from this spot. He briefly considered leaving and grabbing a book to bring back and pass the time, but decided against it. He didn’t want Kieran to wake up and find him gone, even if just for a moment. He didn’t want to risk breaking the delicate trust he’d managed to foster in Kieran. Hosea had promised the boy he’d stay until he woke up, so he was going to stay until Kieran woke up.
So, Hosea sat and thought. He gathered up the tangled threads of what he’d learned and started the arduous task of unraveling them and laying them each out carefully. He had to see each fact individually first, then maybe he’d be able to connect them into a cohesive narrative. Something that made a lick of damn sense.
One, most obviously: Kieran had suffered abuse, and that abuse had most likely been— Hosea felt his nose wrinkle in disdain and that same righteous fury spark in his chest— sexual. He pushed the anger back down. It wouldn’t help him right now. Wouldn’t help Kieran. He had to think. He had to know where to aim that rage before he made use of it. Hosea took a slow breath and let it out. Focus. He laid down the next thread.
Two: It had either happened more than once. The kid had come to Hosea yesterday for help because he knew it would happen again. And Hosea hadn’t helped. He hadn’t realized. Guilt rose up, forming a lump in Hosea’s throat, before he smashed it down to that same deep place in his belly the anger now simmered, dormant. Beating himself up wouldn’t help Kieran.
Three, as much as Hosea hated to admit it: It had been Dutch’s appearance that had spooked Kieran back into silence. Granted, it could have been that ANYONE interrupted their conversation, not particularly Dutch, but Hosea had to consider all of the possibilities. So, from this thread he knew either Kieran was too embarrassed to tell anyone but Hosea— still a likely possibility, and the one Hosea hoped was true— or Kieran was particularly afraid to say anything in front of Dutch.
Four: Kieran had been out of the camp last night, and Dutch had covered for him. Hosea didn’t know where Kieran had been, but he could only assume the worst. More than likely, Kieran had gotten that awful mark on his neck while he was out of camp. It sickened Hosea to think that Dutch would let Kieran go off somewhere in the middle of the night to be... No. Dutch would never do that. Dutch knew Kieran wasn’t in camp, but he couldn’t have known that something like THIS was happening. If he had, he’d have put a stop to it immediately. Kieran wouldn’t have needed to come to Hosea.
But somewhere, in the back of Hosea’s mind, a traitorous voice whispered that Dutch HAD been acting rather odd lately. He was distant. Not willing to speak to Hosea as candidly as he used to. He walked around camp like a prize cock in a henhouse, but Hosea could see past the false bravado. Dutch had lost that quiet, scheming confidence that Hosea knew so well and, worse still, could sense Dutch’s rising anxiety. He could hear it in the desperate, irritable way he fought with Molly and in the accusations and suspicions he tossed around camp almost at a whim. Dutch wanted the gang to have faith in him, but, as foolish as it sounds, Hosea didn’t think Dutch had faith in himself anymore. For the first time since they’d met, Hosea didn’t believe Dutch had a plan. He had never met the Dutch who wasn’t in full control, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that that man was very different than the Dutch he’d known for so many years.
Hosea pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. His head hurt. He couldn’t put together a puzzle when he didn’t have all the damn pieces! What he needed was more information. He needed Kieran to tell him everything. But the kid was scared shitless of.. what? Dutch? Someone else? The only person the kid didn’t seem to be afraid of at the moment was Hosea, and that was just barely. Who knew if the kid would even be willing to talk about something so personal.
The only other person in the equation was Dutch. Despite all the confusion, Hosea was sure Dutch only had the best intentions at heart. This had to just all be a huge misunderstanding.
He needed to talk to Dutch. Get this whole thing settled once and for all.