No, Hosea wasn’t a big enough fool to think everything would be just fine and dandy from now on. Still, he had expected Kieran to look just a little less depressed when Hosea joined him for dinner that night. He had expected a reaction other than barely-concealed mortal terror as Hosea assured him that he would never be sent out to Rhodes again. He had expected Kieran to look just a little bit more hopeful. Look, Hosea wasn’t expecting to see Kieran whoop and dance for joy— the kid was traumatized, he knew that— but he had at least expected Kieran to stop... shaking! He hadn’t expected Kieran’s eyes to be glazed with fear. He hadn’t expected to see tight fists shoved into his duster pockets or for him to barely touch his soup, which wasn’t even that shitty today.
Hosea put a fatherly hand on Kieran’s shoulder and only started speaking when Kieran finally looked up at him. “Kieran,” Hosea spoke slowly and clearly, looking him right in the eyes, “you will never have to go to Rhodes to sell yourself again. Do. You. Understand. Me?”
Kieran swallowed. Nodded. Looked away. A tear escaped one of his flooded eyes.
Hosea tightened his grip but softened his voice. “What are you not telling me, son?” He whispered.
Kieran rubbed at his eyes. “N-nothin’. I’m grateful, Mr. Hosea. I am. For everything. I just.. I’m... It’s...”
For a breathless moment, the air around them was thick with anticipation. He was going to tell Hosea what he’d been holding back, Hosea could see it. He could see the words crawling desperately up his throat, making their way, hesitantly and slowly, but-
But then Kieran’s shoulders curled in, and he let out the air he’d been holding in a puff. The atmosphere evaporated. The moment was gone. Kieran continued, sounding defeated “I’m just tired, sir. I.. I think I just need sleep.”
Hosea nodded and rubbed his shoulder comfortingly before pulling his hand away. He didn’t want to force it out of him. The boy would tell him when he was ready. Hosea stood up, grunting at his aching knees, but lingered a moment. He didn’t like the idea of leaving without at least trying to put the kid at ease. “Kieran, you come to me for anything, understand? Day or night. Wake me up if you need to.” He turned to leave, but stopped again and turned back around. Kieran was staring into the pitiful fire, legs pulled up to his chest and chin resting on his knees. He looked so young. Hosea crouched next to him again. “It really is over.” Hosea tried to put as much resolve in the words as he could. Tried to make Kieran understand. “And if Dutch tries to take you back out there, you come to me. Immediately. Understand?” But, of course, he didn’t really need to add that last part. Because Dutch wouldn’t do that. He had promised Hosea. Dutch wouldn’t go behind his back.
Kieran nodded. More silent tears. His adam’s apple bobbed. Hosea’s heart broke a little.
Before He could stop himself, he had reached out and ruffled Kieran’s hair affectionately, like he often did with Jack. To his surprise, that earned him a quivering smile. He stood again and made his way to the rest of the gang. Maybe the boy just needed his privacy for a while. Maybe Hosea was being overbearing. He’d check in on him later tonight.
Arthur was shoveling cold soup into his mouth as Hosea passed by him on the way to Kieran’s place. Hosea stopped and stared at him for a moment, lip curling. Arthur snorted up the soup like a wild animal, nearly choking he was eating so fast. Hosea frowned, disgusted. “No one’s gonna take that away from you, Arthur. Have some manners.”
Arthur drained the last of the broth in his bowl then belched loudly. Hosea was surprised he didn’t start licking the bowl. “Been out all day. Hungry.”
“Boy, I did not teach you to read and write and use your manners for you to say to an old man,” Hosea lowered his head and grunted in a parody of Arthur’s raspy voice “‘me hungry. Me out all day. Me need soup. Me-‘“
“GODDAMNIT, HOSEA, I GET IT!” Arthur snapped suddenly. He stormed over to the washing barrel and slammed his bowl in, splashing soapy water back up to soak into his own shirt.
Hosea just watched, eyebrows raised, waiting out the tantrum.
Arthur growled and stumbled back, irritable. He looked down at his soaking clothes and seethed for a moment, trying to control his anger.
Hosea bit his lip to keep from laughing.
“goddamnit...” Arthur’s shoulders slumped, and he sighed, done with his little outburst. He turned to Hosea. “I’m sorry,” he grumbled, looking at the ground.
Hosea smiled fondly. He was used to Arthur’s brief temper tantrums. He wasn’t usually bothered by Hosea’s ribbing; he was upset about something else and misdirecting his energy. “What’s really bothering you, son?”
Arthur sighed and scrubbed a hand across his face. “It’s nothin’, Hosea... it’s just...”
Hosea waited patiently for Arthur to gather his thoughts.
“It’s Dutch, Hosea. He’s... He’s just not himself. He..” Arthur leaned closer, lowering his voice. “Sometimes I don’t think... Hosea, sometimes it’s like he don’t have a plan. And the way he’s been treatin’... well...” Arthur trailed into silence.
“Go on, son.”
Arthur hesitated only for a moment. He trusted Hosea more than anyone, including Dutch. “I think he’s gettin’ too rough with Molly. I walked by their tent earlier, and, Hosea, you just don’t treat a lady like that. He was talkin’ all mean. I couldn’t hear what he was sayin’, but they way he was sayin’ it was...” he trailed off. “And she didn’t argue or nothin’. That’s the worst part, I think.” Arthur shook his head, looking lost. “He just ain’t himself, Hosea. I never seen him act like this.”
Hosea nodded. He remembered hearing Dutch being rough with Molly a few nights back, but all the shit that’s been going on with Kieran pushed it to the back of his mind. Damnit: Kieran. He should check up on him.
“You’re right, son. I’ve noticed it, too. I’ll talk to him about it in the morning.”
Arthur nodded absently, still unsettled.
Arthur’s problem was never thinking too little: it was thinking too much with a heart as big as his. He needed some work to do. Stop him from thinking himself into a frenzy. Hosea gave him the first job that came to mind. “Would you help me find Kieran?”
He had expected to just walk with Arhtur to Kieran’s camp, but a sinking feeling began to clench in Hosea’s stomach when he wasn’t there. Shit. Don’t panic, yet. He could be anywhere in camp. It doesn’t mean that Dutch would... No. Dutch wouldn’t. He had PROMISED Hosea.
But most everyone had already retired to bed by now. The camp was near empty, and they didn’t see him as they walked in circles. Hosea was getting more and more angry while Arthur grew more and more concerned, shooting darting looks to Hosea. “Somethin’ wrong?”
“No.. Yes.” Hosea stomped toward the girls’ tent where the muffled sound of giggles could be heard. Arthur followed behind in his wake.
“Ladies?” Hosea knocked on the side of the wagon, and the giggling was suddenly choked behind hurried hands over smiling mouths.
Karen was the one to answer. Breath stinking terribly of whiskey and still laughing. “Yes, boys?”
“Have any of you seen Kieran?” Hosea snapped.
“Kieran?” Karen laughed, “No, no boys allowed in here,” she said mock-sternly, “So you guys’d better go before-“
“Oi, let ‘em in here if they want!” Arhtur and Hosea both froze. Molly wasn’t supposed to be there. She was supposed to be in Dutch’s tent.
Karen stepped aside with a heavy sigh, rolling her eyes.
Molly stood, sort of. She was almost literally slobbering drunk and leaned heavily on a tipsy-but-concerned Abigail. “If they wanna gawk an’ laugh at how far‘ve fall’n,” she sneered and waved a half-empty gin bottle, dribbling on alcohol on tilly’s dress, “Let ‘em!” The movement threw off her precarious balance, and she stumbled into Karen’s arms. Tilly stood and supported one of her elbows, trying to keep her on her feet as well as holding her back from lunging at Hosea and Arthur. “You gonna go run t’Dutch ‘n tell ‘em everyth’n? Huh? You two g’na have a good old laugh-“ she cut herself off with a hiccup. Her face went pale. “‘M gonna hurl.” Tilly and Karen got her to the tree line in the nick of time.
Hosea stopped Abigail as she stood to hurry after the other girls. “How long has she been in here?” That terrible suspicion was growing in him again. He pushed it down down down. No, this was all some terrible misunderstanding.
“ You mean tonight? Or how long has she been sleeping here?” Abigail asked, always so innocent and confused.
Hosea put one hand on the wagon to steady himself. She hadn’t been sleeping in Dutch’s tent? No, oh, no. “How long has she been sleeping here?”
“Um, maybe a week? She and Dutch haven’t even spoken in-“
But Hosea was already turning away, stomping to Dutch’s tent. He vaguely heard Arthur’s confused reassurances to Abigail fade away, whether it was due to the distance between them or the rushing in his ears Hosea didn’t know.
Before, it had always been thousands of questions in the beginning. Lines and lines and groups of annoying, buzzing inconsistencies and suspicions, but now it was one resounding chorus screaming one question over and over and over in a terrible, synchronized cricendo: then who was in the tent- who was in the tent- whowasinthetent WHO WAS IN THE FUCKING TENT?!