Chapter 3: You're My Brother
Dutch could be an infuriating man sometimes. He had known the man close to ten years now and they worked well together for the most part. Sure, they argued, had their differences, some of which were minor. Other times Dutch could be an idiot, could do something so egregiously it left Hosea to wonder what the hell they were still doing together. But usually the man fixed things, made them right. How he was ever going to make this right was beyond him.
"I told you," he paused, taking another breath, "I warned you that this wasn't a good idea."
"Give it a rest Hosea. Arthur will be fine."
"You sure about that?" he wondered. "Cause I'm not."
"Arthur needs to learn that he can't get what he wants by throwing a fit," Dutch started to lecture him. Oh hell no, that wasn't going to happen. Not now.
"You have any idea how long that boy has been asking for a new horse?" Hosea demanded. "Because I do."
"Yes, and when the precious horse he wanted wasn't there he turned down all the other offers," Dutch pointed out. "I remember; he was angry, sullen, ready to blame everyone else, and he wouldn't accept the fact that sometimes things happen. He needs to grow up; I'm getting really tired of insolence."
God damn him. Dutch hadn't even bothered to ride out to see the horse then, hadn't even shown vague interest. Hosea could remember that day, could remember the excitement in Arthur's eyes. And how quickly it had fled when they found out that the horse was gone. How crestfallen the lad had been. Hosea had been ready to buy all the other horses in the stable, damn the cost, if it meant bringng that joy back. But Arthur wouldn't hear of it, dreams already seemingly dashed.
He had stopped asking for a new horse after that, but Hosea hadn't missed how Arthur watched the horses whenever they went to town. He never went into the stables, no...Hosea had prompted him once but the young man had brushed him off, had pretended to he hadn't heard. Couldn't face that disappointment again, he guessed.
Which brought them to today. Visiting the stables hadn't been in the original plans, but Dutch had insisted. They had money left over, and he was right, John did need a horse. Clover was old, but she knew the boy, and her temperament was perfect for a first horse. He could take her, and they bring a new horse back to Arthur. But Dutch had scoffed at the idea. What a disaster. Even Hosea had been unprepared for how poorly Arthur had taken it.
"We should have given Clover to John," he reminded the man.
"John needs a horse he can grow into," Dutch argued, "One he can bond with. Not one he'll use for a year, maybe two, and then have to replace."
"Oh, but that's perfectly fine for Arthur?"
"Arthur has had that horse since he's been with us, for the past-"
"Five years," Hosea agreed; almost six now, but that was besides the point. "She was my old horse before I got Scout. And she was already old then. We were talking about selling her, while she could still get a fair price. Then you went and gave her to Arthur."
"And he loved her."
"You can love someone and still realize when it's time for something new," Hosea responded softly. Oh Bessie...how he missed her.
"What do you want from me, Hosea?"
"I want you to pretend that you give a damn about the man you call your son," he spat angrily. How many times had Dutch said that Arthur was his son? More than a son? The pride he had felt in raising him. Was all that gone because of John? Hosea loved the little lad, no doubts about that. But he was no fool to think that Arthur could so easily be forgotten. Yet Dutch seemed to think so.
"Fine...I'll take him to town in the morning and get him a damn horse. Will that make you happy?"
"It's not about the damn horse," Hosea was ready to lose his mind. Why could Dutch not understand this one simple thing?
"I thought this was about the damn horse."
"It's about the fact you've completely ignored Arthur these past few months in favor of John."
There. He said it. Heaven help him he said it. He could only pray that John didn't hear. A quick glance over to the camp, seeing Grimshaw playing with the boy, keeping him busy. Thank god, they were far enough away...
"So, you'd rather I ignore John, a young boy, in favor of an adult with misguided anger?"
"It's not one or the other, Dutch," Hosea said softly. He was tired. So tired of this. And still he needed to find Arthur. How his heart ached for the lad. "You can give your time, your effort to the both of them. It was your idea to take Arthur in, a good idea, my old friend, but you can't toss him out in favor of something new."
"I have done no such thing," Dutch growled, facing him.
"Well it sure seems like you have," Hosea shook his head.
He watched as Dutch sighed, the man seeming as though he wanted to argue, had seemed to start, but then he fell silent, shaking his head.
"Maybe I have been too hard on him," Dutch admitted. The first sensible thing he had said in a while now. "It's been a long day, and...well...tomorrow will be better."
That was it? Hosea shook his head. Perhaps not as sensible as he thought. "Just spend some damn time with him," did he really need to spell this out? "Without yelling at him, if you can."
"Hosea," the man all but pleaded. Yet Hosea was shaking his head.
"Not now...I think...I think the best thing for now is if you two didn't speak for a while. I'm going to go find him, see how he's doing."
"If you insist," Dutch grumbled. So that was that. Hosea watched him return to camp, before taking off on his own. He had seen the direction Arthur had gone in, and even when the the young man had disappeared from sight, following the trail he left behind was easy. He hadn't gone far...maybe a walk of ten minutes. Less if one was running, which he suspected was the case. He had seen Copper first, the dog running up to greet him, before leading him back to the youth.
Arthur was on the ground, leaning against a tree, simply staring straight out. His eyes were puffy, his face red. Of course he had been crying...Hosea felt his heart break all the more. He should have stopped Dutch. Should have done more to reason with him, to make him understand how badly this would have hurt...Well, it was done with. He couldn't change the past.
"Mind if I have a sit?"
Arthur shrugged, still hadn't met his gaze. Hosea eased himself down, pushing Copper away as the dog tried to climb in his lap. Arthur put an arm around the animal, guiding him back over, fingers running through his fur. Hosea let out a sigh.
"How are doing, son?"
The response was almost monotonous. As if it was practiced. Damn, knowing him it probably was. Probably had been preparing himself to return to camp, to put on a brave face, to pretend he didn't care. He had seen more than one side to Arthur in the past years, had learned that the boy was reserved, that he hid a lot. There was still a lot about his past they didn't know. A lot he refused to talk about, but the scars showed, the way he buried his emotions so deeply down inside of him, allowing only the anger to show. It was nothing more than a facade. Why couldn't Dutch understand that?
"I'm sorry that happened."
"It's okay." Another monotonous answer. Damn, Dutch really had done it this time.
"No, it's not okay," he countered. He needed Arthur to understand that, needed for him to know that his feelings could not be so easily disregarded. "Dutch doesn't always think-"
"Dutch is right. John needs a horse. I already have one. What's not to understand?"
He wanted to slap him, to shake him, to pull him out of this stupor he had fallen in. But he couldn't. Wouldn't. The poor lad already had so much to deal with, he didn't need more trauma.
"Now listen here, Dutch isn't always right. I've been with him long enough to know that now. He's a good man, but he can be a downright fool at times. And absolute idiot, even. He doesn't always think things through."
He paused, glancing over at Arthur, watching for some spark, some acknowledgment that he was getting through to him. But the same placid expression was there. He looked uninterested, uncaring...exhausted. He looked exhausted. Dutch had been right about one thing. It had been a long day.
"Now, I know Clover is getting old. But she still has some life in her. Springdale, this new place we're heading out to starting tomorrow, it's a pretty decent town. We'll ride in, see how much we can get off her, see what our options are. We'll get you a horse, a decent horse. It'll be your choice. How does that sound?"
"Clover is fine," Arthur shook his head. "Don't waste the money; it's not worth it."
Oh Arthur; Hosea felt his heart break all the more. Did he really think that? "Arthur...look at me," he waited until the other complied. Damn there was so much hurt in those eyes. "I don't ever want to hear you say that. You hear me?"
He waited a moment, almost too long of a moment, but Arthur finally nodded. Whether he believed it, or was simply complying to make him happy, Hosea couldn't tell. "You are a son to us, to both Dutch and myself. We're family...and family takes care of one another. We might not always agree..."
"I know," Arthur nodded. "I'm just...I'm tired...I think..."
"That tomorrow will be a better day?" he echoed the words from Dutch earlier. To his surprise he heard Arthur laugh.
"It better damn well be. I don't think I can handle anything worse."
"Truer words never spoken," Hosea smiled at him. It was good to hear him laugh, it relaxed him, if only a little. "You ready to head back to camp?"
"Not really," Arthur shook his head. "I'm not in the mood for another lecture."
"What if I promise you that any and all future lectures will be postponed until tomorrow?"
Hosea laughed, "After breakfast. Sound like a deal?"
"Sure," Arthur nodded. "Right now...right now I just want my bed. Some whiskey wouldn't hurt either."
"You're too young to be drinking," he chided him, prompting another laugh.
"And you shouldn't have introduced such a sin to a youngster if that was your concern."
Hosea was laughing, pushing himself to his feet. "Well, I never said I was without sin," he reached down, helping Arthur up. He seemed better, seemed a little more like himself. It was a good sign, but Hosea would keep an eye on him the next few days, would have another talk with Dutch, try and make the man see reason. It would definitely be a task, but a task that Hosea would gladly face head on.
Going back to camp had been tough. He thought he had been ready, thought he had been over it, but going back, seeing the horse still there did nothing but stir the contempt all the more. Arthur had avoided saying anything, had kept his head down, eaten his dinner in silence and had excused himself shortly after.
That had been hours ago. It was dark out now, the camp long quiet, and he was sure he was the only one who wasn't sleeping. Writing in his journal had helped, but only briefly. It wasn't fair...why did John get a new horse? The kid had only been with them for a few months, hadn't done anything to contribute; hell, he didn't even do any chores around the camp. Not to mention the fact he could barely ride, and they had all but gone out and bought the best horse they could find for him.
Meanwhile he had been with them for years, was expected to pull his fair share, to put in the effort. And what did he get? A tired old mare that no one wanted any longer. A horse they had almost sold when Hosea had purchased a new one. It had been given to him as almost an afterthought. He closed his eyes with a sigh.
It wasn't as though he didn't love Clover. He had fallen in love with her since he first joined Dutch and Hosea. But he had seen how the years were slowing her down, knew it was just a matter of time before things became too much. And then what? Another used up nag? A pitiful pony that no one else wanted? Surely nothing too grand; Dutch wouldn't want John's new addition to be shown up.
He let out a sigh. Speaking of John...
The shuffling of feet came closer, stopping just outside his bedroll. "Are you asleep?"
And they called him dumb. Arthur glanced over to him, the kid barely visible in the dark. "Do you think I'm asleep?" He waited, but there was no response. "What do you want?"
Hadn't the kid done enough? The thought crossed his mind briefly before fading away. It was a might unfair, blaming him. After all, it wasn't the kid's decision. No...that had been Dutch. Damn him...
"I can't sleep."
"Hard to do when you're standing in my tent," Arthur grumbled.
"You have your own bed." He really wasn't in the mood for this tonight. Why couldn't he just leave him be? Was that really too much to ask for? John didn't answer, but neither did he move. Rather he just stood there, fidgeting in the dark, shuffling where he stood. With a sigh, Arthur lifted the blanket, and the kid wasted no time in crawling in, curling up against him.
"You're too old for this," Arthur warned him. It wasn't the first time John had slept with him. No...they had found out shortly after picking him up that the kid didn't like sleeping by himself. He would plead, bargain, or just straight up sneak into bed with someone long after they had gone to sleep. And for some damn reason John seemed to prefer being with him. And the worst part was that it was so hard to say no...
"If you're going to stay, you need to go to sleep," he all but hushed him. Letting him stay was one thing, but no way in hell was he going to entertain him.
"You can have the horse if you want."
For a moment he couldn't breathe. He had expected a lot of things, but not this. It was a generous offer, sure, but there was no way in hell that would work. Dutch wouldn't hear of it. Besides, what was the kid thinking? Arthur glanced down at him with a frown. "Now why would you do that? She's your horse."
"I don't want you mad at me," he answered quietly. The words were so soft; it made him sound so young...
"I ain't mad at you, kid."
"You haven't talked to me all night."
He closed his eyes, the anger he felt morphing into guilt. He hadn't really talked to anyone that night, but of course John was the only one who would take it personally. Arthur thought back to the moment, remembering the excitement in his eyes, how quickly that had disappeared, could remember just how fast John had bolted from the area when he and Dutch started to argue. What the hell had he done?
"You should be happy for your brother."
What a god damn fool he had been. Was it really that hard to just be happy for him? To not make the kid feel guilty about getting something? He let out a sigh.
"Look, you don't be giving me nor anyone else anything. She's a damn fine horse, and she's yours; she ain't mine. A don't you be thinking I'm mad at you, cause I'm not. You understand?"
He wasn't good at this sort of thing, had never learned the grace of words like Dutch or Hosea had. Giving speeches? That wasn't who he was. But John needed to hear something, needed to understand that this wasn't his fault.
"I guess," the kid muttered, shrugging his shoulders. "I just don't want you to hate me."
"I don't hate you," Arthur reassured him. "You're as dumb as a box of rocks, and an annoying little shit...but against my better judgment, I kind of like you. Just...promise me you'll take good care of her."
"I will," John agreed, a hint of enthusiasm in his voice.
"Good," Arthur gave him a pat on the back. "Now go to sleep; we're getting up early."
He heard the boy yawn, felt him burrow further down into the blanket, still pressed against his side. A moment later he let out a sigh. "Arthur?"
"What?" he sighed heavily.
"I'm glad you're my brother."
He didn't answer. Not a first. Truthfully he shouldn't be shocked; Dutch and Hosea had all but called them brothers since that night they have saved him. But it was the first time the kid had called him that. And he wasn't sure what to think. Wasn't sure how to respond. But he needed to say something. So he said the first thing that came to mind.
"I know...I know."