Goddamnit, he was going to solve this here and now! If someone was hurting Kieran, Dutch would be able to make it stop with a word. “Dutch, someone’s been...” He turned to glance at Kieran, who seemed too terrified to move. No help there then. “... erm... harassing-” that wasn’t quite the right word, but he wanted to protect the man’s pride, “-Kieran, here.” He put a hand on the kid’s shoulder, trying to be comforting. This wouldn’t be easy, but maybe Dutch could get through to the kid? After all, he was DUTCH for crying-out-loud! If anyone could help, he could! “Kieran, All we need from you is a name, and we’ll make it stop, right Dutch?”
For a second, Dutch was pale and wide-eyed, glancing between Kieran and Hosea. Then in a flash he relaxed, and an easy smile spread like butter over his face. “Aw, just some camp teasing,” he waved a hand at Hosea. “I’ll tell the boys to lay off-“
“No, Dutch, it’s more than that, it’s...” He turned to Kieran again, but the boy had his head in his hands. “Dutch, it’s...” goddamnit just say it! There’s no other way! “More.. than.. that.” Or don’t say it, you old fool. His expression seemed to communicate something more, at least.
Dutch raised his eyebrows, “That so?” Dutch peered around Hosea at Kieran. “That true, boy?”
Kieran peeked out from under his bangs and stared pleadingly at Hosea. “It’s alright, son,” Hosea encouraged gently.
Kieran, still half behind his hands, looked then to Dutch, who watched him expectantly, eyes gleaming strangely.
Then, he swallowed audibly and started to stutter out, “N-no. I was just-I mean-It-I’m not- I mean...” he looked desperately from Hosea to Dutch and back again. “It wasn’t like- I mean-“ His eyes finally settled on Hosea, big and watery and begging for something Hosea didn’t understand. “I-I’m sorry. It-“
“Maybe he’s just embarrassed,” Dutch suggested casually, circling around so that he was equidistant from both men. Kieran, if it was possible, shrank further into himself. “Got himself into a situation he’s not too proud of, and now-“
“He’s not embarrassed, he’s scared!” Hosea snapped at him. Couldn’t Dutch see that? Was he goddamn blind? Something was terribly wrong in their camp, and Dutch was picking now to play the dullard?
Dutch held up his hands. “Easy, old friend.” He sighed and scratched the back of his neck. “Listen... It isn’t what it looks like.”
Hosea crossed his arms, “oh, and do you know something I don’t?” He asked incredulously.
“I usually do,” Dutch said dryly.
Hosea gave him a withering look. Dutch and Kieran both knew something he didn’t, and being the only one in the dark, not to mention the only one wanting to fix the situation, was getting damn old. “Then please, if you would be so kind, enlighten me.”
“The truth is...” Dutch looked from Hosea to Kieran for a moment too long. Hosea had the terrible suspicion that he was thinking up a lie. Kieran was still silent and shaking, seemingly content to let Hosea and Dutch talk about him like he wasn’t there. Dutch’s left eye began to pinch slightly. His tell. Then Dutch smiled sadly, and set a fatherly hand on Kieran’s shoulder. Kieran stiffened, eyes fixed on some far away point in the woods behind them. Like he was pretending to not be here. “I’ve been letting Kieran go into Rhodes to do some work,” Dutch said, then he lowered his voice, giving Hosea a meaningful look. “The same kind of work the girls do. You can see why Kieran here didn’t want anybody finding out about it.” He smiled proudly at Hosea and squeezed Kieran’s shoulder, “He’s a good boy: wants to help the camp any way he can. Who am I to say no?”
Bile rose in Hosea’s throat. Oh, god, no. Everything made sense now. Kieran was suffering the abuse from a different person every night. He wasn’t in the camp because he was in Rhodes ‘working.’ He was afraid of Dutch because Dutch was the one putting him up to it! Cold anger simmered in Hosea’s gut. He looked to Kieran then to Dutch. “This ends now,” he said, fighting to keep his voice down, to not scream at Dutch that this was wrong. That they would NEVER need money badly enough to do THAT.
Dutch scoffed, “What, just ‘cause he’s a man doesn’t make this any less right than when the girls do it!” He crossed his arms in front of him, adopting that smug intellectual look that fit him so well, “You think the girls like doing it any more than he does?”
Hosea faltered. Dutch had a point.
Dutch pressed on, “Do you think the girls like what they do for the camp? Should the fact that he’s a man exempt him from doing the hard, demanding work we expect of the ladies of the camp, hm? And besides,” Dutch’s eyes gleamed like he was about to lay down four aces, “he offered to do it. Didn’t you, Kieran?”
Dutch and Hosea looked at Kieran, who swallowed and closed his eyes. God, he looked like he was trying to pretend he was anywhere but there. “Yes,” he whispered.
“We can’t hear you, boy,” Dutch snapped. There was a hardness, a threat, something, in Dutch’s voice that Hosea had never heard before. He looked at Dutch in shock, but Dutch’s eyes were fixed on Kieran, baleful, expectant, cruel. He had never seen that expression on Dutch’s face, and it made his skin crawl.
Kieran looked at Dutch like a mouse pleading with a rattlesnake. His shoulders hunched even further and he wrapped his arms around himself. “I- I- It’s like Mr. Van der Linde said.” He wouldn’t look at Hosea.
Dutch tilted his head and raised his eyebrows expectantly at Kieran. He wanted him to say it.
Kieran, as always, followed the command, turning to Hosea and saying quickly, “I offered to do it, Mr. Mathews. It’s just like Mr. Van Der Linde said. I- I just want to help the gang...?” The last word was almost a question, Kieran’s eyes darting to Dutch for a fraction of a second. Looking for approval. Making sure he was saying what Dutch wanted him to say. Hosea felt like he would be sick.
Dutch turned a honey-sweet smile to Hosea. “See?”
“He was probably afraid you’d kick him out of camp if he refused!” Hosea yelled, throwing his arms up. They were on the shore a quarter mile or so from camp, away from curious ears and prying eyes. Away from Kieran’s hunched shoulders and terrified flinching. Hosea didn’t want to fight in front of the boy.
“I never said that!” Dutch raised his voice to match Hosea’s, offended, “I wouldn’t threaten-“
Hosea jabbed his finger at Dutch’s chest, “Now, don’t you DARE play me for a fool, Dutch Van der Linde!” He warned, “You know DAMN WELL how to get an idea across without sayin’ it!”
Dutch scoffed, “Are you implying that I’d-“
Hosea invaded Dutch’s space, shocking him into swallowing the rest of his sentence. “You may not have planted the seed in that boy’s head intentionally,” Hosea hissed, “but you knew what he was thinkin’, and you didn’t set him right.” He turned away, pacing like an angry cougar. “You just kept on letting him think it, which is just as horrible as threatening him outright!” Hosea spat at the ground in disgust. “I’ve seen you do a lot of bad things over the years, Dutch, but,” Hosea shook his head, disappointment and hurt lacing his words more than anger now, and looked sadly at Dutch “never to our own gang. Our family.”
“He’s an O’Driscoll...” Dutch grumbled, so quietly Hosea almost didn’t catch it.
For a moment, Hosea just stood and stared. “How could you say that?” He asked in genuine disbelief. Then, furious “How DARE you say that! He saved Arthur’s life, our SON’S life, at Six Point. He’s been working his ASS OFF for YOU, Dutch, every goddamn day since!” Hosea was yelling now, screaming almost. What Dutch said was inexcusable. “Kieran’s proved himself tenfold! He’s just as much a part of this gang as anybody else!”
Dutch looked down, chastised. Hosea should hope so.
“He’s one of our boys now, Dutch.” Hosea said, gentler this time, but still edged by an accusation. One of their boys had been hurt. And Dutch had let it happen. Dutch had MADE it happen.
Dutch had the good sense to look ashamed. His shoulders slumped in a rare gesture of defeat. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right, Hosea.” he said quietly, voice breaking. “I’m sorry.”
Sorry wasn’t enough, but Hosea didn’t know what else he wanted from Dutch. It wouldn’t help anything to just stand there and yell at him, even if that’s what Hosea felt like doing. Instead, he turned away and started marching back to camp, leaving Dutch alone on the beach. They both needed some time to think.
That evening, when everyone was settling down for the night and Hosea had cooled off a bit, He went to Dutch’s tent. Dutch smoked a cigar, reclining on his and Molly’s cot. Hosea sipped awful coffee at the small table.
“Some bastard bit him, Dutch. Did you know that?”
Dutch grunted and scratched his jaw with his thumb, not meeting Hosea’s eyes.
“He was afraid to come to me,” Hosea said, concern saturating his voice. He rubbed a hand across his face. “I don’t think he’s slept in weeks. He barely eats. Only ever really talks to the horses...”
Dutch remained silent.
Hosea sighed and stared into the grain of the table, thinking. They sat in familiar, companionable silence for a few minutes, both lost in their own thoughts, then Hosea said quietly “Remember when that asshole grabbed at Tilly, back when she first started riding with us? Remember what we did to ‘im?”
Dutch’s head snapped up, “THAT was different. Tilly was still a child, Kieran’s a full-grown man.”
Hosea didn’t know why Dutch suddenly looked so offended, like Hosea had insulted him somehow or accused him of something. And honestly, he just didn’t care. He was damn exhausted, and this conversation was over as far as he was concerned. “Different or not,” Hosea stood up with a quiet groan and walked toward the door. He stopped in the doorway. “You’re not sending him out there again, Dutch.”
Dutch held his hands up in surrender as Hosea walked out. Good. Problem solved... Right?