Kieran’s morning had gone well so far. He had managed to finish most of his chores without getting into trouble or standing in somebody’s way. It was still humid and warm as hell in Clemens Point, but he was starting to get used to it, and in any case, he didn’t miss Horseshoe Overlook that much. He was glad that he didn’t have to see that tree he spent days tied up to anymore.
After he finished cleaning up after the horses, he decided to practice a braid on Branwen’s mane as a way to kill his free time before somebody asked him to do something else. He appreciated the little moments he got to spend with his horse, and she seemed just as happy to have Kieran’s attention. Usually she would snort at him whenever he walked by or even try to steal his hat if she was close enough, all just to get her favorite human to brush her for a bit or give her a treat. And more often than not Kieran gave in and went to her before someone yelled at him to get back to work.
He was trying to detangle a knot in her mane with his fingers when the peace and quiet was ruined by Micah’s voice calling his name from across camp. It didn’t sound particularly urgent, but then again, it was Micah, and Kieran had learned the hard way not to make him wait.
Kieran sighed. He could already feel his hands starting to sweat and his heart racing. It was inevitable to react like that whenever he had to be near him. It didn’t matter that Kieran did everything he wanted, Micah would always find something to complain about and punish him for it. Kieran was certain this time wouldn’t be any different.
He found Micah leaning on one of the trees behind the medicine cart. He was sharpening a hunting knife and that immediately put Kieran on edge. He wondered for a moment with what kind of things Micah could get away with if he decided to use that knife on him. Maybe it was starting to be time to tell someone about his abusive behavior but, would anyone even care? Kieran was so nervous about the knife he barely noticed Bill napping a few steps away from them.
“Yes, Mr Bell?” Kieran gulped, his arms crossing over his stomach as if expecting a punch any minute, or maybe a stab…
“You haven't been talking to your O'driscoll friends, have you?” Micah asked, pointing the sharp blade in Kieran’s direction as he spoke.
“What? No! Of course not!” Kieran’s panicked voice was loud enough to wake Bill up. He groaned, which made Kieran jump a little as he hadn’t seen him there, and turned to him with a frown.
“Do you have any idea what we will do to you if we find out you’re still in touch with them?”
“Did he talk to someone?” Bill asked, abruptly entering their conversation.
If Kieran was nervous before, he was practically in panic now that Bill was participating and thinking he had talked to the O’driscolls. Kieran was very aware of how much Bill hated them, he had listened many times the story of how a few gang members had ambushed one of their camps, and how Bill had taken one of the O’driscolls and stabbed him repeatedly in the… well, in a very uncomfortable place. Strangely enough, even with all that hate, Bill didn’t attack Kieran as much as Micah did. Just the occasional shove or glare, but maybe that was about to change.
Micah took one look at Kieran’s frightened face and he chuckled. “He might've, I think he has been acting very suspicious lately, he-”
“I didn't! I swear, I haven't even left the camp I-” Kieran didn’t get to finish his sentence. Micah’s heavy hand struck him across the face and It was such a hard slap that he almost fell back on his ass. He had become so familiar with that type of burning pain, but that didn’t make it any less awful.
“Don't fucking interrupt me.”
Kieran's eyes stung, he could only hold his cheek and stare at the ground in shame. He didn't say anything, just kept facing down as hot tears poured from his eyes.
“Get out of here.” Micah said at last and Kieran didn't wait to be told a second time, he was out of there quickly, ignoring the few stares he got from Lenny and Javier on his way back to the hitching posts.
His fingertips grazed his cheek and he frowned at the contact. If he could look at himself in a mirror he’s certain he’d see a bright red mark on his skin. He must’ve looked pathetic, maybe it was for the best he couldn’t see himself.
He fixed his hair in a way that it covered the left side of his face and he picked up one of the saddles that looked dirty. Sitting on his usual spot by the fire, he tried to forget everything with more work.
The pain was hard to ignore, but trying to ignore the shame was worse. The burning sensation on his cheek would disappear in a few minutes, but each time it got harder to look at Micah in the eye. Even just thinking of him made him want to cry again, so he had to take a few deep breaths to make sure his tears didn’t spill.
He wiped his eyes with his sleeve when he heard footsteps approaching, and felt immense relief when he saw a different pair of boots poking from under the brim of his hat.
“You almost done with that?” The raspy familiar voice asked him, and Kieran hesitantly looked up at John.
As usual, Kieran’s eyes involuntarily landed first on John’s scars, but immediately after he looked away. He didn’t mean to do it, and he was trying to train himself out of it so he wouldn’t be rude, but they were just so deep, and they stood out with the way they interrupted the cheek line of his beard. Kieran wondered for a moment if John had glanced at the mark the slap had left on his cheek the same way Kieran had noticed his scars, but even if he did, he didn’t seem like he cared enough to ask.
“Y-yes… do you need it now?”
“Yeah, I‘m goin’ out with Arthur in a bit.” John said as he sat down on one of the stools by the fire, right next to Kieran.
“Ok then, I won’t take long.”
Kieran tried his best to finish cleaning up the saddle despite John’s eyes being glued on him. He wasn’t particularly scared of John, despite the fact that he used to be mean to him back when he was still tied up to that tree. He would occasionally threaten to hurt him if he didn’t give them information about the O’Driscolls, but John never went through with any of those threats. Maybe he felt pity because of the way Kieran would start crying. But now, with how easily Kieran earned hits, slaps or punches from Micah for no reason, he was scared he would do something wrong, and John would punish him the same way.
He worked fast, but making sure he did it right. He couldn’t afford to make another mistake. He didn’t want more pain.
“Marston! C’mon, we’re leavin’!” Arthur yelled not too far from them, and John got up, putting out his cigarette on the ground and yanking the saddle away from Kieran, making him flinch.
“Hold on! Shit.” John didn’t even look at Kieran as he walked away. Maybe he should’ve felt upset or hurt that John didn’t even thank him, but Kieran was just glad to be alone again.
He looked at the two of them, Arthur snapping his fingers at John and John answering with a curse as he saddled up his horse. Arthur just laughed and continued teasing him, now with the help of Javier, who chuckled next to him.
Kieran couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous of Arthur. Of everyone else really, but mostly him. He seemed so carefree and confident. He could even tease others. Kieran wished he could be like that… part of the group, allowed to make jokes, respected… He just didn't want to be the ‘O’driscoll boy’ anymore. That nickname just seemed to give everyone an excuse to treat him like garbage. He never wanted to be a fucking O’driscoll in the first place.
He was still staring at Arthur when suddenly he turned to look at him. Kieran held his gaze for a few seconds, and it only took Arthur frowning a little for Kieran to look away and get up. Why was it so easy to piss everyone off? It was like he couldn't even breathe without one of the Van der Lindes finding it offensive.
The rest of the day went by without any more incidents. He helped around as much as he could to keep himself busy and to still try to get on the gang’s good side, but as usual, all his efforts were ignored, so he resigned himself and sat down against a tree with a bowl of whatever it is that Mr. Pearson had made that day, which honestly looked like what he had been cooking everyday for the past month. He couldn't complain, it was definitely better than what he used to have with his old gang.
He had just started eating when someone put their hand on his shoulder making him jump a little. He immediately knew who it was. No one else invaded his personal space like that, or purposefully tried to frighten him any chance he got. Micah smiled and gently tucked Kieran’s hair behind his ear, then he made Kieran’s skin crawl with the way he softly touched his damaged cheek.
“Ah… see? It’s all good, I barely left a mark.”
He doubted that was true but he didn't say anything he just stared at his bowl and prayed that Micah would stop touching him soon. He would push him away, but that was a bad idea, he had a dark bruise on his belly from the last time he tried that.
“I didn't talk to any Odriscolls… I swear… “ He felt the need to remind him in case Micah had come to continue the interrogation.
“Oh I know, I was just playing with you.”
Kieran had to use all his self control in order not to glare at him. If it wasn't because Micah was more important to the gang than him, he would have tried to kill him long time ago. Maybe even used Bill’s method to do it.
“And believe me, I’m sorry about the slap. It’s just you get on my nerves sometimes.” Micah smiled again and gave Kieran a pat on the cheek before sitting next to him. ”But you’ve improved. I can almost tolerate you now.” He chuckled and stared closely at Kieran, but he didn’t laugh. “Alright, alright. I see you’re not in the mood. I guess I’ll just go ahead and say what I came here to talk about.” Micah wrapped his arm around Kieran’s shoulders in a way that tried to be friendly, but to Kieran, it just felt like a leash being placed on his neck, holding him in place so he couldn't run away, which was exactly what he wanted to do. “I have a job for you.”
Kieran didn't look up, and he didn't ask. He just tilted his head slightly towards him to show that he was listening. Just like he had been trained to do, even if he didn't give a shit about whatever it is that Micah was trying to say.
“Way more exciting than cleaning horse shit all day, and there might be something in it for you too.” Micah squeezed his shoulder, and Kieran wanted nothing more than to push his hands away from him. “There’s this small group of Lemoyne raiders that have their hideout not too far from here. Those bastards have stolen a lot of money lately, and I finally found where they are hiding it. So I say we take it. Well, I was thinking you could do it.”
To Kieran, that ‘job offer’ had ‘bad idea’ written all over it. Even if Micah was telling the truth, and it was actually a good opportunity, he didn't want to do shit for him. Kieran was going to let him know right away, but in a way that hopefully wouldn't get him punched again.
“I don’t know, it sounds-“
“God fucking damn it, O’driscoll!” Micah suddenly yelled, making Kieran freeze and immediately shut up. He felt so stupid, even if he didn't know what he did wrong. “Didn’t we just go over this? Huh?! Fucking let me finish!”
“Yeah you’ll be if you interrupt me again.” Micah sighed and rubbed his face for a bit. “As I was saying, these guys have hidden their money pretty well but I’ve found the place. What I was thinking is that you could go every few days, take some of the money so they don't get suspicious, and move it to another place only you and I will know about. I’ll let you keep a small part of it once we get all of it. So what do you say?”
Kieran opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again until he felt Micah getting impatient.
“Why do you want me to do it…? Don't you want all the money to yourself?”
“Well, of course I want more money, but I’m too damn busy with all these side jobs Dutch wants me to take care of. And believe it or not, I trust you more than any of those idiots. You know how to keep a secret, don't you?”
Micah carressed Kieran’s cheek again, and even though it made him feel disgusted, Kieran didn't move away. He was busy thinking of all the possible outcomes of saying ‘no’. In his head most of them ended with him bleeding.
He was about to accept out of fear when Micah spoke again, but in a sweet tone this time.
“I know… you may not trust me, especially after the little disagreement we had this morning. But I know you can do this, Kieran. It's a simple job. The place isn't even guarded. Don't you want Dutch and everyone here to see that you’re capable of pulling your own weight? Hell, if you do this right, you’ll probably be going out on jobs with the rest of us! You’ll be Kieran Van der Linde before you know it!”
Kieran slowly looked up for the first time and there was that horrible smile again. He considered the offer for a moment. Maybe if he gained everyone’s respect, Micah would stop abusing him. He would do anything to get him off his back… But was it worth it trusting him?
“Tell you what, O’driscoll. I’ll let you think about it, and you can tell me what you decide tomorrow.” Micah got up and stretched with a groan. When he turned back to look at Kieran, that friendly smile had vanished. “But not a single fucking word of this to anyone, you hear?”
Kieran nodded and let out a big sigh once Micah was gone. He set his bowl to the side and didn't even look at it again, his appetite was now completely gone.