The Citadel is greener than he remembers. Of course, the last time he was here he wasn't paying attention to the scenery--being dragged behind a chopper full of whooping War Boys doesn't open you to aesthetic appreciation. Nor does blind panic while your sword-sister bleeds out in your arms.
But now he has time to take in the full effect. The scouts salute him through at the borderlands, and he drives at a leisurely pace into the basin where the Citadel stands watch. There's a storm-cloud in the distance, towering and dehydrated, and the leafy green caps over the Rocks are denser than they were before. There are canopies, now, stretched above them. The sun is cruel no matter how much water you have, and rain is no gift at all.
It's nice. It's been a long time since he saw that much green in one place; his eyes feel rested just looking at it.
They lead him up the steps to the old Immortan's audience hall. It's buried right behind the giant skull carved in the outside of the rock; eye sockets and teeth cast their negative image across the polished stone floor. It's cavernous and empty, and quiet but for the gentle splashes of the waterfall cistern in the back. It's full of a peace Max wouldn't have expected from a place with the memories it has.
Once, when he was younger and stupid, and thought to shave miles off his trip by cutting through a dead city, he'd spent the night in an abandoned cathedral. This hall doesn't have arches of carved stone, or vaults of colored glass; but as far up as human hands can reach there are silhouettes of handprints blown into the whitewash. Furiosa is waiting for him just beyond the window, cast in gold from the early light. She is smiling.
"Knew you couldn't stay away," she says.
"Needed water," he replies. "Guzzoline. Supplies. You were closest."
She gives him a knowing look. "Scouts said you came from the north." She doesn't have to say that the Bullet Farm is north.
"Didn't like the north," he answers. "Figured I'd go south."
Furiosa snorts, and her smile softens. She looks out the window. Max leans over and takes a peep as well. There's no glass separating them from the drop below, just a row of green creepers trailing down. He can smell sun-warmed stone and dust, damp earth, and the ever-present wash of exhaust from the motorpool.
"Looks like things are good," he says.
"They are," she replies. There are volumes of pride in her words, pride born of hard work and triumph, and the satisfaction of a world made hers. Max remembers that feeling. Chases it every now and then, when he forgets himself. Now, it's comfort enough just to see it in another.
He is glad Furiosa has found her green place.
They spend the day in the chopshop, heaving salvaged metal into place and welding it down. Former War Boys come through from time to time; the desert is full of wrecks to salvage, and theirs is hardly the only project going on. Max keeps a wary eye on them. Some lessons are hard to forget, but no matter how close he watches they're nothing less than meek around Furiosa. She notices, of course.
"I have to go around twice a day and show them I bleed," she says wryly. "They really want me to be a god."
Max smirks around his glass of water. He doesn't say anything, but she takes his meaning anyway.
"Oh, go to hell," she says, flinging a pebble at his face.
It's been so long since he laughed that he startles himself with it, and that sets Furiosa off, too. They giggle like children 'til their sides ache.
She gives him gas, water, and food, and clasps him on the shoulder. The servants look on, but neither bother to explain. There are things beyond words, understandings that transcend mere flesh. They know. That's all that matters.
The next time he comes through he brings a dog with him. He's a scrappy, stubborn mutt, brindled and canny, but for all his bite he's got a soft mouth with kids. Furiosa feeds him scraps from the table when she thinks Max isn't looking.
"Been a while," she says. She's starting to show the wear of ruling: flecks of gray show in her hair when the sun hits it right, and the lines furrowing her forehead are set-in and tired.
"Fair amount happening in the south," he says. Dog comes over to him, tongue lolling and eyes begging. Max thumps him on the ribs just to the hollow drum of his chest. Dog wags his tail like its the best thing since dirty socks.
"You came from the west," Furiosa contradicts mildly. She's staring at him, those lines on her forehead bunching together as she gnaws on a problem. "Things go easy for you?"
Max knows what she's asking, but he doesn't have an answer. "Not especially."
He's gone a few days later, a sack of oranges in the backseat and Dog drooling out the window.
He doesn't come back for a long while. His ghosts drive him on, from place to place, person to person. They've all got problems. Sometimes he can help; sometimes he just makes it worse.
He thinks the ghosts drive him toward people when he starts to get too unhinged. Too lost in the wastes, too lost in the shattered pieces of his own mind.
He'd hate them for it, but if there's a truce to be made in his mixed-up head, he did it so far back he can't even see it in the rearview anymore.
Dog's been dead three years the next time Max makes it back to the Citadel, and Furiosa's hair is iron-gray. She's just as strong as she always was. She'll die with blood in her teeth and fire in her heart, no matter how the end decides to come.
"Think I understand Old Joe a little better, now," she says. They're walking through the hydroponics garden, the new Babylon, the tiny paradise in the middle of Hell. When he'd come in she'd taken one look at him, gone white in the face, and started rambling about cross-breeding a new strain of wheat, one that would take to the sandy, hydrophobic soil easier. Most of it went over his head, but Max didn't stop her.
"How?" he asks
"The older I get, the more..." She waves a hand. "I understand why he wanted an heir so badly. There are days I wish I could last forever."
A hard, bitter stone settles in the pit of Max's belly. "That's not a thing you want to wish for."
Furiosa gives him a defiant look, a little angry, a little scared. He hasn't seen that look since the night before the salt flats. "I don't want to die, either."
Last time they had this conversation he came back with an answer. He doesn't have one now. "Death is a mercy," he says. He looks away, at the balm of green. The rows are being lifted up one by one to catch morning sun through the skylights. "I can't give you what keeps me going, and I wouldn't if I could."
She opens her mouth to say something--something cutting, by the look on her face--but a War Boy comes dodging through the rows. "Imperator!" he calls. "Imperator, they need you!"
"Oh, for--" she gives Max a stern glare. "You will join me tonight, after dinner."
Max bows his head, threads the tips of his steepled fingers together in an old, half-forgotten gesture. "Yes, Immortan," he says.
She looks for a moment absolutely furious, but the War Boy is nudging her on. She leaves down the tunnel. Max watches after her creaky, aging gate, then wanders his way back to the garage. His interceptor needs a new spark plug.
He swears he hears the ghosts giggling in the back of his mind.
When they meet that night, it's in her quarters. They're as spare as she is: a cot against the wall, a desk piled high with paperwork. They're near the top of the North Rock; the view over the eastern dunes is breathtaking.
"I'm sorry," she says with a sigh. She picks at the buckle of her prosthesis. Her hand shakes a little; he raises a brow, but she waves him off. She's got it. "I had no call to be talking to you like that."
She pulls off the straps, pulls her stump free. Lays the arm neatly on a workbench. Max watches as she rubs liniment into the reddened skin. Her hand is knobbly and veined, the joints swollen under paper-fine skin. An ache wells up in the back of Max's throat.
She sighs again and looks out the window. For a heartbeat he can see the old Furiosa, the Furiosa he knew best, when she was in her prime. Then it fades, and he sees her as she is: tired. Old.
"I'm not who I was," she says. "I had to make hard choices."
"Still time for redemption." Max winces as soon as he says it. Hope. God, he fucking hates it.
Her mouth twists up. "Not for some things. I'm afraid that I'm more like Immortan Joe than I want to be."
Max looks down at his fingers. "I don't know about that," he mumbles. He's no good at this, never was. "The people look okay. They love you."
"They worship me," Furiosa says bitterly. "'Furiosa forfend', they say. Max, I've turned into the thing I fought against."
"I'll tell everyone I meet that Furiosa chews with her mouth open."
It startles her into laughter, which gives him time to compose himself. It's been a long time since they fought together on a desperate race to the promised land, and everything's changed except him.
He leaves before dawn the next day, the wind at his back and the empty road ahead.
The next time he sees Furiosa she's a handprint on the wall. The white-haired girl, no longer a girl but white-haired with age, wavers over his shoulder. He can feel her eyes on his unlined face. "There's a terrible dread in my soul," she says. "Are you a spirit, that you tread so light?"
Max shrugs. "Not that I know."
She mimicks his voice and pulls the words right out of his heart. "Hard to tell, when you're out alone."
A chill runs down his spine. The Dag was always a little off, even by his standards. He tenses for a fight, but his ghosts don't come running, so he reckons he's safe enough. "Furiosa," he says.
The Dag straightens. She's still staring at Max with blatant curiosity. "She bought the farm 'bout six months ago. We would've sent word if we could've."
Max nods and bows his head. He runs his fingers over the words, etched deep in stone: Furiosa Jo Bassa, First of Many.
"Many Mothers," he says. "Did she...?"
"No," the Dag replies. "None that lived." Max swallows and steps back.
"Could use some fuel." He's only been here a few hours, but he won't find rest here. Better to move on before it bites him in the arse.
Later, when he's pointed the nose of his old interceptor toward the open road, the Dag leans in through the window. "Her bones are east of here," she says. "We gave her body to Grandfather Buzzard, so there's no saying where for sure." She steps off before Max can muster the words for a reply . He can't think of anything, anyway; it's easier just to hit the gas.
He does head east, though. Kneels in the sand near where he failed to hijack the war rig and looses the knot clogging his throat. The only ones listening are the earth and sky, and maybe his ghosts, and they don't care.
The next time he comes to the Citadel it's a mistake. The Citadel is different, now that the last of the Wives have joined the cacophony of handprints on the wall.
"What's going on?" he asks of a bystander. The open plaza between the Rocks is thronged with people. They're all looking upward, toward the old sluice pipes at the base of the Immortan's sigil.
"The Living Goddess has chosen Her avatar!"
"Avatar?" Max murmurs to himself, but a unison shout from the crowd draws his eyes up, to the ruler's seat. A girl, resplendent in glittering black and white, her hair shorn down to a bristly fuzz, is standing in the skull's gaping maw. She is impassive, and she is impossibly young.
He stares, uncomprehending, as the crowd begins to chant.
"Furiosa! Furiosa!" They hold up mirrors, scraps of metal, anything reflective, and scattered sunlight flickers in a hundred thousand directions. Max ducks against the blinding light. "Furiosa!"
He'd laugh if he knew he wouldn't scream.
He trades a day's worth of labor in the chopshop for a full tank of gas and three gallons of water. He's gone before sunset the next day.
Time doesn't mean much, anymore. Stopped meaning much a while ago. There's no point counting the years when they slip by faster than you can count.
Memory, too. That's not worth anything but pain.
There's a wall around the Citadel, now. Rainwater catches dot the sides every hundred paces. Guards line the top of it, and Max can see rooftops and tree branches beyond.
The guards at the gate let him through with a cursory inspection. What is your purpose? How long are you staying? Are you carrying any of the following contraband goods? They give him a pass, he stows his car, and then he wanders. This is not the the City of the Holy V8 any longer; the only streets he sees wide enough to fit a car are the ones near the gate, and the boulevard lancing away toward the Citadel itself.
A woman sells him oranges at a market stand. The Rocks loom in the distance, but there's green here, in the date palms shading the street and the oases he sees growing inside private courtyards.
"You're a drifter?" she asks, wrapping up the fruit.
She points up at the storm front rolling in. "You might want to find shelter for the night, then. Those clouds look fierce."
The rain isn't toxic anymore, he remembers. Green things grow in even the most blasted places.
"Thank you," he says. His voice feels rusty.
All of a sudden a pair of boys tumble past, screaming bloody murder and pounding on each other and rolling around until they're the color of the street. Max doesn't think before he's moving.
"Hey!" he bellows, taking them both by their collars an dragging them apart. They stare at him in shock, their dark eyes big as glass marbles in their dirty faces. "Don't need to fight."
"Max, get over here right now!" the fruit-seller snaps, and Max startles so hard he drops both boys. One scampers off into some crevice, but the other stands cowed while his mother drags him over by his ear. "Thank you," she says to Max, then proceeds to ignore him completely.
"Oh, Max, look at you!" She beats at the boy's clothes, raising clouds of dust. "We're supposed to visit Nanna this afternoon, how are we to do that if you look like Old Joe blew you in? Go home right now and clean yourself up!"
"His name is Max?" Max asks dumbly.
"Yes," the woman says, shoeing her boy off. "I know it's whimsical, but it's a family name."
"Whimsical?" Max has never heard his name described as whimsical.
She gives him an odd look. "After the legend?"
He shakes his head.
"You must have drifted very far, if you don't know the legend of Furiosa and Immortan Joe."
Max freezes. "I've heard of it," he says slowly. "But--Max?"
She waves a hand and goes back to her fruit-stand. "He's the desert spirit that helped Furiosa. My grandfather was named Max, so here we are."
"Here we are," Max echoes. He raises the sack of oranges. "Thank you."
"Any time," she replies brightly.
He lingers a full week at the Citadel. He hears the names of his past echoing back and forth through the streets, and he feels a well of memory bursting forth as though from Old Joe's sluice pipes, so fierce that it silences his ghosts.
His name is Max Rockatansky, and he drove historic on the Fury Road.