"Huh," the bandit leader murmured, climbing down off his bike. "Looks like he came."
Leo squinted against the dust and the glare of the setting sun. She didn't have a good view; she was gagged, hands tied, and the only thing keeping her from falling off the back of the bike they'd set her on was the fact that she was tied to it. She couldn't even wipe the dust out of her eyes; all she could do was blink, and by now it must look like she'd been crying.
She wasn't. She hadn't cried at all. Frank needed to know that.
"Get her down," the leader snapped, and the bandit sitting in front of Leo swung his leg off the bike with a creak of leather and a stink of unwashed flesh, and untied the rope that was bound to the bar behind the seat, holding her on through the unpleasant, bone-shaking ride.
At any other time she would have wanted to take a closer look at the gang's machines. They were pre-Collapse tech, and still in good shape, tricked out in various ways by their owners -- some had spikes protruding from the wheels, some had weapons mounted on, and the bandit leader had a string of skulls rattling from the handlebars. Leo wasn't sure about their power source. They didn't seem to be solar, like most of the remaining agricultural machinery. Did people have fusion reactors small enough to put in a vehicle, back in those days? She wished she'd paid more attention in class, back in the dome.
Wondering about it gave her something to dwell on other than what was happening to her as she was pulled, stumbling, with the oily taste of the gag in her mouth and her nose half clogged with dust and tears, all the way to the base of the crumbling bridge across a long-dry riverbed.
That was Frank on the other side, she was pretty sure. The sun was in her eyes. It wasn't supposed to go like this, she thought, blinking fiercely to keep the dust-tears from being joined by real tears. She was supposed to come out here and learn to be like Frank, learn to survive in the wilderness and help find her parents, not get swept up by a bandit gang after she had (it was still so humiliating she hated to think of it) gone behind some boulders to relieve herself.
She'd spent the last few hours tied up on a filthy mattress in a tumble-down cabin, so she didn't know what they'd asked Frank for in exchange for her, or for that matter, how they'd managed get close enough to negotiate without Frank shooting all of them. She tried not to think of it, but she could all too easily see him riding onward, no longer burdened by a city girl who he'd had to teach every wilderness skill from riding to shooting.
So far, they hadn't hurt her, not to speak of. Roughed her around a little, but she'd had worse falling off the not-horses when Frank was teaching her to ride, and by now she'd learned not to snivel at that kind of thing. Even though by now she'd heard plenty of crude jokes about how much of a price they thought she'd fetch in the settlements down along the Salt Lakes, wherever those were.
Managing not to break down sobbing was really the only thing she had to be proud of right now. Frank wouldn't have spent the afternoon wrestling with the ropes tying him up, facedown on a dirty, threadbare mattress while a bunch of no-good bandits using him as the butt of their dirty jokes. He would've been out of those ropes in half an hour tops; he would've killed half the bandits and forced the other half to give up whatever secret loot they had stashed around. He would've set that cabin on fire and ridden triumphantly away with a brand-new arsenal slung over his shoulder.
Even if she hadn't managed to do that, at the very least she should've been able to get out of her bonds and slip off into the desert. It was the very bare minimum, after all the training Frank had wasted on her! And she'd tried, but they had tied her so tightly that all she had was rope burn to show for it, and some bruises from when they'd put her back, not gently, after she had tried to saw through her ropes on the jagged edge of a broken board.
Frank was going to be so angry at her, and rightfully so. She'd earned a good chewing out over this, between getting herself caught and then not getting herself out of it. Everything she'd done in this situation was the exact opposite of what he'd taught her to do.
But she didn't even mind being yelled at, if he was there to yell at her. She squinted into the blinding sun as the bandit leader took hold her of her by the ropes around her sore wrists and gave her a shake. "Hey!" he shouted. "We got her right here! You bring the stuff?"
Leo closed her eyes until all she could see through the dancing tears on her lashes was a splintered kaleidoscope of sunset colors. She could just make out Frank on the far side of the bridge, with the sun behind him on the edge of the desert.
Among all the lessons Frank had drilled into her, there had been several that had to do with gaining and keeping the advantage in a fight. And one of them was about light. Sun's an asset, he'd said, after putting her flat on her back in another hand-to-hand training session. She hadn't even seen him coming, could still barely see him as she squinted up at him with the afternoon sun glaring past his head. Get it behind you, then you can see, your enemy can't.
Oh, she thought, just as Frank -- the real Frank, not whatever scarecrow he'd built over there -- came up over the edge of the bridge and shot two of the bandits before they had a chance to move.
Leo lashed out and got a foot right between the bandit leader's legs. He stumbled back with a startled curse and then Frank was there, snatching her away and flinging her to the ground -- she went down hard on her chin, with no ability to catch herself -- and then he shot the bandit leader twice in the head and whirled to face the others.
Leo lay on the ground and watched dazedly as he took on the other two, grabbing one and spinning him around and using him for a shield to shoot his buddy. She missed a little of the action as she struggled painfully to her feet, but by the time she got up, it was all over. They were dead, she thought dizzily, every last one of them. That was what she could have done, if she was Frank.
But she wasn't, and if all of this had proven nothing, it was the absolute truth of that. She didn't belong out here.
"Kid," Frank said. She must've zoned out, hadn't even seen him approach, but now he was taking off the gag, pulling it out from between her teeth and making her cough. "Kid," he said again, turning her around and finding the bonds around her wrists. He cut her hands free while she flexed her sore jaw and even sorer tongue, finding her mouth drier than she could ever remember it being in her life. Frank was patting her down, rough and a little bit frantic, and she just stood there, not sure what she could say to make it right. If anything could.
"Hey. Kid. Leo," he said, taking her by the shoulders. "C'mon, say something, dammit. I know they had you for hours, know you're probably pissed at me, but hell, just give me a sign here, say something, let me know you're okay --"
Her startled, disbelieving laugh came out on a choking cough. "Frank," she began, a question mixed with an apology, but then she got the shock of her life when he pulled her against his shoulder and just held her there.
She took a few deep, hitching breaths, just breathing in the smell of leather and gun oil with her face pressed into his coat. "I'm sorry," she gasped out, finally. Her voice sounded like she'd been gargling with rocks.
Frank made a choked, disbelieving sound. "What the hell're you sorry for?"
"I got caught. I couldn't get away. I made you have to come get me. I did everything wrong and I forgot most of what you taught me and did the opposite of the rest of it, and I tried to get away but I wasn't any good at it, I didn't do any of what I was supposed to --"
"Leo." Frank huffed it out in a sort of half-believing laugh. He started to say something, huffed another sort-of laugh, and led her away from the dead bandits, pushed her onto a sun-warmed boulder. "Sit here. They give you anything to drink? No, of course they didn't. Drink this."
She took the canteen he gave her and gulped it down eagerly. Amazing how stale, warm water could taste so good after an entire day without it.
Frank took one of her hands in his big ones, turned it over, and carefully, very carefully, brushed a fingertip over the raw, bleeding abrasions where she'd fought the ropes. He laid her hand down on her knee, reached into a pocket of his duster, and took out a jar of the salve he kept around to use on the not-horses' saddle sores and other injuries. Leo knew how much it stung (she'd had it applied to her scratches and sunburn a few times by now) so she braced herself as Frank began gently applying it to her wrists.
"Kid," he said, looking down at what he was doing, not at her. "The only person around here not doing his job is me. Keeping you safe is what you hired me to do, remember?"
All she could think to say was, "Well, I haven't paid you in ages, though, have I?"
He laughed again, another of those hoarse laughs like he hardly remembered what laughing sounded like, and he went ahead and cleaned up her wrists and then dampened a rag from his canteen and cleaned up her face. Leo sat there and let him, while the world darkened around them. She had almost forgotten what it was like to go pliant under another person's care, letting their hands soothe away your hurts and aches. It took her back to childhood, back to having both her parents at home, with a warm hug and gentle ministrations from either parent whenever she tripped carrying firewood, or scrapped with other kids in the neighborhood. All those little hurts that she thought were big hurts then.
She didn't want him to stop and she didn't know how to deal with it either, and the combination of those two feelings carried her through Frank cleaning her up, until he helped her to her feet. She limped across the bridge with his arm around her, past the stack of rocks with a hat on top (Frank snatched it off as they went by) and down into a little valley where there was a banked campfire and the browsing not-horses and her blankets already laid out for her.
"Eat or sleep?" Frank asked her, and she was too tired to answer, so he laid her down on her blankets and pulled the top one over her. She curled on her side and lay there dazedly. Frank settled within arm's reach of her -- she didn't really feel like she needed to reach out and touch him, but she could have, and that was comforting, somehow.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
Frank brushed a hand across her forehead. "Nothing to be sorry for. Go to sleep."
Whumptober Master List
Oct. 1 - Shaky Hands (Stranger Things) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 2 - Explosion (Iron Fist) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 3 - Delirium #1 (Agent Carter) - On DW | On Tumblr
----- Delirium #2 (Punisher) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 4 - Human Shield (Alliance-Union) - Coming Around on AO3
Oct. 5 - Gunpoint (Iron Fist) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 6 - Dragged Away (Iron Fist) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 7 - Isolation (Alliance-Union) - Reference Points on AO3
Oct. 8 - Stab Wound (Iron Fist) - Deeper Cuts on AO3
Oct. 9 - Shackled (Iron Fist) - Shackles and Bows on AO3
Oct. 10 - Unconscious (Doctor Strange) - Pride Before a Fall on AO3
Oct. 11 - Stitches (Agent Carter) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 12 - "Don't Move" (Punisher) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 13 - Adrenaline (Stranger Things) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 14 - Tear-Stained (MCU - Endgame spoilers) - On DW
Oct. 15 - Scars (Agent Carter/MCU) - Flesh and Blood on AO3
Oct. 16 - Pinned Down (Alliance-Union) - On DW
Oct. 17 - "Stay with me" #1 (Stranger Things) - On DW | On Tumblr
----- "Stay with me" #2 (Iron Fist/Jessica Jones, Ward/Malcolm) - On Tumblr
Oct. 18 - [skip day]
Oct. 19 - Asphyxiation (Agent Carter) - Down in the Dark on AO3
Oct. 20 - Trembling (Iron Fist) - Run Down on AO3
Oct. 21 - Laced Drink (Iron Fist) - Monochrome Delirious on AO3
Oct. 22 - Hallucination (Agent Carter) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 23 - Bleeding Out (Punisher) - Hideout on AO3
Oct. 24 - Secret Injury #1 (Iron Fist) - On DW | On Tumblr
------------ Secret Injury #2 (Defenders) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 25 - [skip day]
Oct. 26 - Abandoned (Agent Carter) - On DW | On Tumblr
Oct. 27 - Ransom (Punisher) - On DW | On Tumblr
Complete list of prompts.
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