A/N: I do not own or hold the rights to anything in regards to the Mad Max franchise. I doubt I could do it justice if I did.
This is the first time I've ever written in the present tense. Usually I don't even like reading stories that are in the present tense, but I tried to write it in the past tense and ended up having to change it three pages in. I think it suits the immediacy of the film better this way. In any case, any constructive criticism is welcome. I have no beta, so any errors are my own.
Furiosa rises above the crowd, a victorious conquering hero. She notices her partner, the Fool, is no longer by her side. Her eyes somehow know exactly where he is, there below in the crowd. He meets her gaze, nods acknowledgement. Her head bows in thanks. And understanding.
We did it. Together.
It is not until the platform comes to a stop at the upper level that the others notice he's gone.
"Where's Max?" asks Capable.
She doesn't even learn his name until he is gone.
She knows he's out there somewhere, though she doesn't think about him much.
She is far too busy trying to figure out how to feed thousands of people, scavenge parts from the swath of destruction they reaped through the desert, and somehow protect the settlement and the people she has claimed for her own.
Not to mention carefully disassembling a caustic mythology built around death.
They build a wall around the Citadel, protection for those who live and work down in the sand. Each and every person is interviewed, assessed, and assigned a job. They build shelters at the ground level. An infirmary. A school.
They move the rocks out of the way in the canyon and drag back the carcasses of the vehicles destroyed in their wake. They are lucky that most of those left trapped behind the wreckage of her War Rig in the canyon had killed each other. Those remaining are easily dispatched by Furiosa's scavengers. Many of the vehicles are salvaged, and the fleet slowly and painstakingly rebuilt.
Gastown is nearly defenseless, and Furiosa helps set up new leadership there. At the Bullet Farm they are better defended and it takes months of negotiating to build a new trade relationship, but now a version of the truce that existed between the three cities is re-established.
She has no intention of trying to control all three. The Citadel keeps her busy enough. They need each other, and the other cities fear the mighty Furiosa, who brought down three fleets and the leadership of the entire region in a day.
Her reputation is nearly mythical.
Furiosa assures the War Boys that they have earned their place in Valhalla, regardless of their manner of death. Their service is enough to gain them passage to the hallowed halls. She or the Sisters, as the former Wives call themselves now, ensure that one of them is available as Witness for each one. They pass not in a blaze of pain and destruction, but with a warm hand and kind eyes, and a voice assuring them that they are awaited. With each passing, the Witness reaches a hand up into the air, grasps something ethereal, and pulls it to her heart.
The War Boys still ride the rigs on supply runs, and guard the wall. They are still fierce, valued warriors.
But they no longer need to go out in a blaze of glory to be valued.
The message takes a long time to sink in.
All the while, she knows he's out there, because he keeps sending things:
A caravan of refugees, with four working vehicles.
A man who was a college professor long ago, with a truck full of books, of all things.
An old short bus with the oddest assortment of people, who somehow have two live chickens and a rooster.
None of the ones he sends ever know his name; they just tell of a strange gruff man of few words who directs them to the Citadel, telling them it's a place where they can be safe.
Those he sends are all good people. She doesn't know how he finds them out there.
So she doesn't think of him often, but occasionally he reminds her, in his way.
He doesn't know how long it's been. Months. Years, maybe?
No. Not years. He cut his hair last week. Only a few inches fell to the ground. Trimmed his beard too. One less thing to use against him in a fight. Nothing to grasp anymore.
He is tired.
The chain blew on his bike three days ago and he was forced to abandon it in the dunes. Bloody waste, that. Had to strip back down to the essentials he could carry. He'd been headed into a little settlement to resupply before heading back out.
Marauders had levelled the place. There was nothing left.
No water. No food. Just corpses, covered in flies.
Just another horror to add to his collection.
He hasn't eaten in three days, and he ran through the last of his water sometime yesterday. His feet drag as he trudges across the desert. He can see it now, far in the distance.
Or maybe it's just a mirage.
Something his fragile psyche invented?
It would be a welcome deviation from his usual delusions.
Somewhere ahead lies water and shelter.
She hates it when they call her that. Three months, and most have shaken the habit. The former War Boy before her is one of the older ones. Close to her age, maybe older. He's had more time to steep in Immortan Joe's bullshit.
"It's Furiosa. Please," she replies gently.
"Umm, yes. Ah, there's a problem at processing."
She sighs. It seems her days are made up entirely of a string of other people's problems.
"What is it?"
"New guy. Fell unconscious in the holding area. Doc figures it's dehydration. But when they checked him out, they found out he has a blood bag tattoo."
A tiny kernel of excitement grows in her chest. She ignores it.
"He's labeled psychotic. Doc wants to know if we should cut him loose."
"Where is he?" she asks.
"In an isolation cell."
She breaks into a run and the Boy is left trailing behind her, wondering what it is that set her off.
Processing is where they assess and disarm anyone who wants to enter the Citadel. It keeps the wrong people out, helps resupply the settlement, and assigns all new citizens to their duties. Isolation is a set of cages for holding questionable individuals so Furiosa or one of the Sisters can decide whether to accept them or turn them out.
Each cage is big enough to fit a car and each is spaced beyond arms' reach from the next. The man in question is in the farthest one, slumped in a half-sitting position against the back with one hand cuffed to the bars above him.
The doctor is hovering outside the locked door. "Furiosa," he says. "Well?"
"You know if we cut him loose, he dies, right?" she asks with a dangerous edge to her voice.
The older man places his hands on his hips. "My first responsibility is to my patients. If this man is dangerous, I won't have him in the infirmary."
She drags her hand down over her face. Addams has always been difficult. He's not wrong though.
"Open the door," she instructs.
The War Boy dodges around them to follow her command, ignoring the glare the doctor shoots him.
"I advise against…"
"Noted," she replies, already stepping through the door.
It is Max, and he's lying there with his arm above him at an odd angle, and he is snoring.
He looks like the least threatening thing she's seen all week.
"He slept through being dragged in here?" she asks, gesturing around the cage.
"Yes, sir," replies the War Boy.
Max looks pale beneath the patina of dirt, and his lips are dry and cracked. Other than that, he looks very much the same: mismatched boots, scarf around his neck, even that dusty old one-armed jacket he seemed so attached to.
"Can we treat him for dehydration here?" she asks the doctor.
"If you think it's…"
"I do," she replies, and turns to face him. "This man was captured, tortured, and used for his blood. He was labeled psychotic because he fought back." She flashes back to getting hit in the face with a car door. "Whatever Joe used him for, he is not a thing. He is a person, and we will treat him as such. Bring me the supplies and I will treat him myself."
The doctor leaves.
They are lucky to have the man, but he is frustrating to work with, to say the least.
"What's your name?" she asks the War Boy.
His face lights up. "Tread," he replies proudly.
"Tread," she says, "Can you please bring me some clean water?"
She just made his week, and he scurries off to do her bidding.
She squats down next to Max. Aside from the chapped lips, he looks like he's in pretty good shape. No bruises, or cuts, or bullet wounds that she can see.
He murmurs something in his sleep so she places a hand on his boot, shaking gently. "Max?" she says. No response. He is dead to the world.
Tread returns and hands her a full canteen almost reverently. She thanks him and he moves back to stand guard on the open door.
She pours out some water on her hand, using it to wet his forehead and cheeks. Her fingers come away brown, and leave streaks on his skin. Still he sleeps. He is too warm, and she wonders if he's in worse shape than she thought. She pours a tiny amount straight from the canteen to his lips. His mouth opens a fraction of a second before his eyes do.
She throws herself back out of reach, prepared for this reaction. Water sloshes across his leg, but she doesn't drop the canteen, and she is now sitting safely by his foot.
Whatever his first instinct was comes up short with the loud clanging of the handcuff against the cage. He blinks and looks around, but his vision is hazy.
"Max?" she says again, and he can barely hear it over the pounding in his head. He blinks hard, but all he sees is a dark shape before him.
"Water?" he asks, and she once again flashes back to their first meeting.
"Here," she says, holding it out. He grabs it with his left hand and slams it back, letting it pour down his throat and over his face.
"Slow down, Max. You're going to make yourself…"
He vomits into the empty corner of the cage next to him.
"That." She snatches the canteen out of his hand.
"Hey!" he says with a snarl as he swipes for the container.
"I'm only giving it back if you promise to drink it slowly."
The headache remains but he haze over his vision is receding. There is a woman sitting on her ass in the dust in front of him, clutching his precious water.
A woman with very short hair.
And a metal arm.
"Fury?" he asks.
No one has ever called her that. She is a person, not a destructive emotion. There is more to her than anger. She grits her teeth as anger rises in her chest.
But there's something to his tone, the way his voice wraps around the word that feels almost like endearment.
The way he says it, the word sounds like hope.
She decides to allow it, and the anger ebbs away.
"Drink it slowly or I will take it back," she warns with a glare.
He takes the canteen gently from her hand and does as he's told, though he'd desperately like to tilt his head back and let the whole thing pour down his throat.
She sits patiently and watches.
He pulls the canteen from his lips, leaning his head back against the bars. His arm rattles in its restraint.
"Why am I handcuffed in a cage?" he asks calmly, his too-blue eyes stark against the brown of his skin.
"Not my idea," she informs him. "You passed out before they could figure out what to do with you, and your back has you listed as psychotic."
His forehead wrinkles in confusion.
"Your blood bag tattoo," she reminds him gently.
His eyes widen. "They wrote that I'm psychotic in permanent ink on my back?" he asks, flabbergasted.
"I suppose you've never read it."
He shakes his head, gives her an odd look. "Bit difficult."
He does have a point.
"Tread, keys," she calls out behind her. The War Boy dutifully brings them, and they jangle as he presses them to her palm. She stands and leans over Max. "Besides," she says to him as she unlocks the cuffs, "You have a tendency to come up swinging."
"Yeah," he acknowledges, setting the canteen between his legs to rub his wrist.
She steps back to give him space but remains standing, hooking her prosthetic into the bars above and lightly testing her weight against it.
He takes another drink before sealing the canteen and trying to get to his feet. He doesn't make it two inches off the ground. "Easy," she says, "You're weak from dehydration. The doctor is on his way."
"Planning on keeping me in here?" He raps his knuckles on the bars over his head.
"Of course not," she replies, slipping down under his arm and pulling him to his feet. She supports him with his arm across her shoulders, hanging on with her good hand. Her prosthetic is on his back. "Tread," she calls out as they step out the door, "I need you to bring the things he had when he arrived."
"He had weapons on him. They were confiscated."
"I want all of his things brought to the infirmary, including the weapons."
He looks as though he wants to argue, but stops when he looks in her eyes. The look there reminds him precisely who and what she is, and he darts off to follow her order. She made that rule. She can break it if she wants.
Max leans on her, letting her hold him up. His legs are shaky and his eyes are heavy. If Furiosa was to let him back down, he could quite happily sleep wherever she dropped him. He focuses on staying upright until they reach their destination.
A rumble sounds beyond the gates, and the War Boys on wall duty call out. Max's head is pounding and he can't make out the words. The tall metal gates creak open and a tanker pulls through slowly. Fury turns them to watch it pass, and a head pops out the window.
Shaggy hair. Dark skin. Giant, shit-eating grin. Chewing on a toothpick. The truck shudders to a stop. "Good run?" Fury calls out over the sound of the engine.
Toast nods. "We put the fear into them last time. Fair trade. No issues. When did Max get back?"
"No idea. Just found him myself. Need to get him to the infirmary," she calls back.
Toast eyes them up. "Need a lift?"
Furiosa shakes her head emphatically. "Too hard to drag him up there. I'll get one of your escort to do it."
Toast puts the truck back in gear and it starts rolling. "Catch you later!" she promises. The crowd parts as the truck and its company of armoured cars make their way across the settlement.
"How long has Toast been driving the War Rig?" he asks. He is leaning heavier on her now. His strength is waning and she needs to get him help.
They don't call this one the War Rig, but she doesn't bother telling him that. "From the very beginning. She needs to be moving. It's a good fit. She has steady hands and a good head on her shoulders. Good shot, too."
He grunts, and she almost smiles at that.
She flags down a passing truck and the War Boys in the raiding party help lift Max up to the tailgate, and hold him steady there. It is all he can do to stay upright and not vomit again from the motion. Furiosa jogs to the front of the truck, clearing a path to the infirmary. She is recognised easily, and the crowd simply flows out of her way.
Addams meets her in the doorway to the infirmary, and they help Max to one of the pallets on the floor. He is barely conscious as Addams hooks up a bag of salt water and drives the needle into his arm.
The doctor checks him over, but there is nothing left for him to do, so he leaves.
The bag hangs on a hook on the wall, and Max is lying on his back on the mat, fast asleep.
She sits on the floor next to him, leaning her back on the wall, and watches him.
His face is dirty, and covered with a few days' worth of beard.
He looks… calm. Peaceful. Like he's getting the first good rest he's seen in months. She knows it may very well be true.
The last time he left, he went on foot. As far as she knows, he returned the same way. She wonders how he's survived all this time.
And why he's returned.
Though regardless of his reason, he is welcome.
She's tried to tell herself she doesn't miss him.
She was never quite convinced.
He wakes to a sea of faces. All female. Their expressions range from welcoming to irritated.
"Welcome back, Max," says a voice from beside him.
He likes the way his name sounds from her lips, remembering a time when he didn't think she'd live to do that.
He smiles faintly to his audience, feeling out of his element.
"Why'd you leave?" asks the Dag, and her belly is visibly showing off her growing baby. She sounds particularly put-out.
"Dag," Furiosa admonishes, and earns herself a glare from the petite blonde.
"Well, you left! Went through all that trouble to get the Citadel back, saved her life, whispered your name like it damn well meant something, and left! Who does that?"
Max looks ready to pull the needle out of his arm and bolt.
"Dag," Furiosa says again, gentler this time. "Let it go. Please."
Dag huffs out a breath. "Fine. I'm still angry though," she adds, meeting Max's gaze with a glare.
"It's good to see you," says Capable with a warm smile, like her two companions weren't just squabbling like children.
"Thanks. Uh… you too," he replies, and Furiosa could swear under all that dirt that his cheeks just turned pink.
"In one piece, too," adds Toast. "You must be one lucky sonofabitch."
He doesn't know what to say about that. He's alive, yeah, but the things he's lived through… he wouldn't exactly call that 'lucky'.
"You must be hungry," says Cheedo.
He is, and his stomach betrays him at that moment.
The women around him all laugh, and Cheedo produces a plate of food and a bottle of water from somewhere beyond the circle the women have formed around him. He sets the bottle on the floor and the plate on his lap, and unabashedly starts eating.
The Sisters exchange glances, and rise as one to give him some privacy. Furiosa follows, and they form a circle just outside where the infirmary exits out of the rock that is the base of the Citadel's rock wall.
"Damn," says Toast. "Forgot what a looker he was. If you don't want him, can I have him?" she asks Furiosa with an impish tilt to her lips.
The sisters eye up their leader, interested in her reaction. None of them missed the way their leader and the man acted as halves of a whole those months ago.
"Max doesn't belong to me. He is his own person. And if he shows an interest in you, in that way, go ahead. He's a good man." She seems honestly confused by the question.
But none of the Sisters ever ask again, and for some reason none of them ever approaches Max, either.
It's almost as though they know something she doesn't.
Max wakes in a strange place.
It's dark. He is on a mattress. He is in a building of some sort.
Voices murmur from across the room, and he sees others on similar mats. Hospital. The needle is no longer in his arm, and there is a green duffle bag next to his mat. He drags it over, unzipping it and shuffling through its contents. As Fury ordered, his weapons are back. All of them.
He grunts, and looks up to find eyes watching him.
Apparently all it takes to summon the woman, is to think of her.
Or maybe she was sleeping on the next mat over.
Shouldn't she have a bed somewhere?
"Hey," she says, stretching her neck.
He nods. "Headache's gone."
"Good. We can get you moved out of here." He's been here for over a day. It's past time.
"Do me a favour first?"
Her eyebrow quirks.
"Read it to me." He stands, and finding his legs steady, peels off his jacket and dumps it on top of his bag, then pulls his shirt over his head, turning his back to her.
Her joints pop as she slowly raises to her feet. She traces the bold, raised black marks on his back, and he barely stifles a shiver at the touch. "It's upside-down," she says, "So they could read it while you're hanging."
He grinds his teeth, snarling.
"If you stand still, I can read it." She tilts her head to see better, and reads aloud,
"Day 12 045, height 10 hands, 180 pounds, no name…"
He grunts, and she smiles, whispering the word 'fool' to herself. Something else sounds in his throat, and he may be laughing. She continues:
"No lumps, no bumps, Full Life clear, Two good eyes, No busted limbs," she grunts at that, surprised. She's seen him fight.
"Piss ok, genitals intact." She snorts laughter out her nose, whispering, "Good to know," to herself. She's pretty sure his ears turn pink, but it's too dark to tell.
He takes a longsuffering breath. "Continue. Please?"
"Multiple scars," she says with a hint of sadness in her voice. Her fingers are tracing the words now, and he does shiver. She is fascinated by the texture of the raised letters, and doesn't notice his reaction. "Heals fast." The next part is in capital letters, she informs him. "O-PLUS, HIGH OCTANE. UNIVERSAL DONOR." She pauses. "That's how you knew it was safe to give me your blood."
"Mmm," he agrees.
"Back to small letters." She is still tracing her fingertips across his skin. It is the most anyone has touched him in years, but he doesn't ask her to stop. "Lone Road Warrior, run down in the powder lakes. V8. No guzzoline. No supplies. Back to capital letters." He can feel how high the letters are, across the top of his shoulder blades, and he realises that this is why she is tracing them. She is telling him where each word is. "ISOLATE PSYCHOTIC." She doesn't tease him, instead placing a hand on top of his bare shoulder and squeezing, a small gesture of comfort, both for the pain he endured having the words etched into his skin, and for the kind of struggle that leads to having such words describe you. "Back to small letters, and this is the last of it: keep muzzled." She traces the words once more with her fingers, then drops her hand to her side.
He feels the absence of her touch keenly.
Grunting a series of expletives under his breath, he bends down and retrieves his shirt. He is still swearing as he jerks his way back into his shirt and jacket. "I have to live with those goddamn words as a part of me for the rest of my fucking life? The sonofabitch died too quickly." He is shaking, he's so angry.
"He did," she agrees.
She waits for him to face her, and gently grasps the back of his neck. Leaning in, she lets her forehead bump his gently. He recognises the gesture as the one she used when she rejoined the Vuvalini, and reciprocates. "Welcome back, Max," she repeats her earlier words. What she would really like to say is, 'Welcome home, Max,' but she doubts he would appreciate such a sentiment. However true it may be.
His anger seeps away like mist. She toys with the hair at the nape of his neck and something occurs to her. She steps back, playing her fingers over her own neck, feeling the raised skull there.
"Why don't you have his brand?" she asks.
He grins, a proud, terrifyingly feral expression. "I escaped before they could do it. They had to run me down and drag me back. That's probably the reason for the 'muzzle the psychotic' thing. Guess they forgot to finish the job when they had to add to the ink."
She grins back. "Good," she says with a note of finality.
He picks up his bag and the fingers of his other hand stray down the neck of his shirt, just brushing the edge of the words at the top. "Keep muzzled," he mutters darkly.
"Come on," she says. "Let me show you what we've done with the place."
She gives him the tour. He didn't see much of the Citadel during his stint as a blood bag, and wasn't in a position to really notice it anyways.
She shows him the smaller lifts they've built to ferry the workers to the Green, and the old rusted out cars they've repurposed as living space at sand level. She tells him of the infirmary they've carved out of the Citadel rock, and how construction on the wall is going. She gives him a tour of the Green, and they ride a cage very much like the one she'd found him in that morning, to the upper level.
Many of the workers now live and sleep in the tunnels he vaguely remembers running down. The Sisters, as they call themselves now, share one room to themselves, in a more private area, but their quarters are empty when she brings Max through. They all keep very busy with helping run the Citadel.
They pass the two remaining Vuvalini, Defiance and Tessa, who greet Max's unexpected return with wide smiles and knowing looks. She explains that they spend their days tending the seeds they brought. Most of them have taken, and are growing well.
He sees all they've done here, all the hard work Fury and the other women have put in, but mostly he notices the way the people look at her.
She has become to all of those who live here, what she became to him all those months ago.
The place is practically reeking with it, and it terrifies him.
In this world, a place with so much goodness is begging to be torn to pieces.
He can't stay. He doesn't belong in a place like this and he can't bear to watch it fall.
She notices the difference: the way he stiffens and his eyes stray far away across the plain. The way his hand squeezes the handle of his bag reflexively.
"Max?" she says.
"At least have one last meal, and let me give you an equipped bike before you go."
She knows. Somehow she knows. There is no accusation. No recrimination. Something that was tightening around his chest releases.
"C'mon. I'll show you the bike."
It is strange. He needs to get out so badly his palms itch, and she is helping him leave.
She sits him down with a plate of food beside the garage while she makes arrangements and gets the bike loaded down.
He hears the rumble before he sees her pull it around. He sets his half-eaten plate of food on a barrel and stands. She drops the kickstand and turns off the bike, handing him the key. "All yours."
"Look, you didn't have to do this. I can…"
"I know," she replies, setting a hand on his arm. "Take it anyway."
"Try not to stay away so long this time." She squeezes his bicep before walking out of the garage without a backwards look.
He smiles faintly.