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on the getaway mile

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The first lesson Toast ever learns is how to hold a gun.

“Don’t ever point it at someone unless you’re ready to pull the trigger,” her auntie warns before handing it to her. It’s loaded, heavy with lead, and Toast almost drops it. She doesn’t, though. She can feel her auntie’s eyes on her as she fumbles, and eventually manages to hold it steady, pointing it at a speck in the distance of the desert.

“Good girl,” Auntie says finally.

There are three of them, all called Auntie with an addendum: Auntie Sol, Auntie Battler, Auntie Kero. They share the task of watching the children between them- six kids in all, including Toast, and no one’s quite sure which child belonged to which woman originally. Maybe none of them. Toast is at least old enough to remember Auntie Battler leaving camp one day and coming back at nightfall with a baby who ended up being her brother Cork, but she’s got no idea where she actually found him. Likewise, none of the kids look alike, but it makes no nevermind to them. They have a tent to sleep in and food to eat, and an entire desert to play in, so why worry?

“They stole all of us, you know,” her sister Relo tells her one day. Relo’s the oldest out of all of them, and thinks she knows everything. “We were all babies in a hospital-”

“What’s a hospital?” Toast asks.

Relo gives her a withering look. “And when the world fell and no one came back to claim us, they just grabbed us all and took off. Our real parents are probably still out there, but they don’t want us back.”

Toast considers this briefly and decides that she doesn’t really care.

She does care about the guns, though- their guns, their cookstove, their motorbikes, anything she can take apart and then put back together to see how it works. Auntie Kero nearly gives her a wallop when she finds her pulling wires out of the engine, but when Toast explains what she was up to, she softens and shows her how to do it properly without breaking the bike. From then on, Toast spends every free moment perched at Auntie Kero’s shoulder, watching at she fixes things that need fixing. Sometimes she gets to do it herself, since Kero’s fingers are thick and clumsy, and Toast has hands that are small enough to reach into the cramped spaces to pull out what’s needed. She goes to sleep every night with black grease lodged under her fingernails, and couldn’t be happier.

The raiders find them when Toast is almost three thousand days old.

They cut Auntie Sol down first, before she even has time to raise a hand in her own defence. The children scream and scatter, but the raiders are all on bikes and there’s no outrunning them. Toast watches one of them catch Relo by her long hair, dragging her through the sand behind him while she screams. Auntie Battler raises her gun, but her shot goes wide and then they shoot her down. Toast has no gun. One of them hoists her up around her waist and tosses her across the back of his bike while she screams and squirms, then kicks off across the desert, sand blowing in their wake. She can’t see what happens to the others.

At her new home- the Citadel, she finds out later- men painted white take her and scrub her until she blisters, cutting her nails down to the quick and yanking at her hair to get the sand out. When they’re done, they dress her in white and exchange looks.

“Good enough for the Immortan?” one asks.

“She should be,” the other says, “she will be.” Toast spits at him, and he laughs. “Once she’s tamed a bit, that is.”

She never finds out what happened to the rest of her family


When she first catches sight of Furiosa, her immediate thought is: Auntie Kero? She scolds herself for thinking it almost immediately. She doesn’t look for them anymore. It’s been too long; even if they aren’t dead, they’re probably something even worse, something she’d rather not know. Besides, this woman is far too young to be Auntie Kero; surely not more than twenty thousand days, even if it’s hard to tell under all the grit. She’s assigned to stand guard at their door, and Toast wants to hate her for it, but she’s too busy being fascinated by her gun. It’s been a long time since she got to hold one, but she still remembers her lessons: don’t point unless you’re ready to shoot. If she got that gun somehow, she thinks, she’d be more than ready to shoot her way out. She doesn’t say that out loud, though. Angharad gets angry when she talks about killing.

It’s Angharad who gets the idea, Angharad who coaxes the story of the Green Place out of Furiosa. It’s a long campaign of careful flattery and bright smiles and offers of food- Joe feeds his Wives better than he feeds his Imperators, and so Angharad offers Furiosa some of her meals whenever she’s on guard. They tell each other stories of where they came from, seated next to the open door, loud enough that they know Furiosa can hear them. Eventually, after ninety days of this, Angharad turns to Furiosa and asks “so where do you come from?”

Even then, it’s not easy; they prise the story from her in bits and pieces, putting them together like a puzzle. Once they do, though, it revitalizes them. Capable’s eyes shine. The Dag talks of nothing but greenery, with Cheedo hanging on her every word. And Angharad wastes no time: she goes straight to Furiosa pleading over and over with her to take them away to a better place. Furiosa only gives her a dead stare in response. You haven’t been outside in a long time, she says. You don’t know the Wasteland. You couldn’t survive it. Nothing deters Angharad, though, even when she comes back to the Vault in angry tears because Furiosa still won’t listen. None of the others try to argue. None of the others know what to say.

Toast goes to Furiosa one night, when Angharad has been sent to Joe’s room and all the rest are asleep. There was another argument today- if you could even call it that, when it only ever consists of Angharad pleading and raging while Furiosa refuses to be moved. The tactics she’s trying aren’t going to work, and it’s plain as day to everyone but her. If begging won’t work and shouting won’t work, then clearly they need to try another tack.

So instead, she says: “I know how to fire that gun.”

Furiosa looks at her, and Toast wonders all over again how she could have mistaken this woman for her aunt. She’s stocky and strong, to be sure, with close-cropped hair- but that’s where the similarities end. Auntie Kero had had a round, open face; Furiosa’s is drawn tight shut, down to the sharp point of her chin. And Auntie Kero had dark, narrow eyes. Furiosa’s eyes are big and blue, like the sea before a storm. Toast has never seen the sea, but she thinks she can picture it now.

Furiosa spends several moments sizing her up. Toast squares her shoulders and stiffens her spine, refusing to wilt under the Imperator’s gaze. She’ll never believe Toast can survive, if she can’t even pass this test. She’ll never respect Toast as anything but a Wife if Toast falters now.

But even if she did respect her- even if Toast managed to win her over in those sparse seconds- there’s no way she could have predicted what Furiosa does next, which is to flip open the feed tray, let the ammunition fall out into her hand, and then hold both the gun and the bullets out to Toast. “Show me,” she says. “Load it.”

Toast takes the offered weapon, trying not to let her hands tremble. She’s wanted this for such a long time, she knows, but she’s also forgotten what it feels like- to hold death in your hands, to know that you’re one pull of the trigger away from ending someone’s life. Furiosa has taken an enormous risk in handing her the gun- what if she loads it and fires before she has the chance to wrestle it back? What if she shoots her way out of the Citadel? Why would she hand her weapon to someone who has any number of reasons to use it on her?

The obvious answer: because she doesn’t think Toast can do it.

Toast grits her teeth and clenches her hands. She can do it, and she will.  Quickly, with jerky movements, she loads the cartridges back into the feed tray and then push it shut. She meets Furiosa’s gaze, unblinking. “There,” she says.

Furiosa says nothing, but holds her hand out for the gun. For a wild moment, Toast thinks of refusing, of yanking it back, of firing a bullet into the heart of the Citadel. But the thoughts are gone in the blink of an eye, and she hands the gun back over. Her arms ache from the weight, and she hates the fact that it’s been so long that she can barely hold the gun upright anymore. She used to be better than this, before the War Boys took her away.

“Not bad,” Furiosa allows. She’s still watching Toast, face neutral. “What else can you do?”

“I know how to fire it,” Toast says. “That, or a pistol, or a bullpup. I know how to track animals in the Waste to find their water source. I know how to skewer a rat.” She lifts her chin. “I know how to kill a man. And if you gave me that gun, I’d shoot Joe in his rat bastard face as soon as I got the chance.”

Furiosa shakes her head. “Why are you telling me this?” She leans the gun against the wall, angling herself so she’s standing in front of it. Toast notes this with satisfaction: if this was a test, it’s clear she passed. “I’m an Immortan in his army. You think I got here by letting people plot treason under his nose?”

“You’ve been listening to us talk for weeks,” Toast counters. “You already know how much we hate him. If you were going to report us, why not do it then? Why give let me have the gun?” Furiosa’s gaze drops, and Toast feels a surge of triumph as her bullet hits its target. “Because you want to go as bad as we do. You’re just scared to do it.”

She’s hoping to provoke a real reaction this time- an argument, raised voices, something that will let them hash out whatever’s holding Furiosa back from making the trek across the Wasteland. She doesn’t get it. Instead, Furiosa turns her head away, eyes once more carefully blank. “You should go back to your rooms,” she says.

Toast feels like Angharad must. She wants to stomp her foot, throw a punch, kick the wall- something to let off the steam of all her unanswered hopes. But she wants to convince Furiosa, and she’s learned to bide her time here at the Citadel. She walks back into the Vault without another word, already plotting her next move.


“Why do you shave your head?” she asks another day. “You ought to keep it covered, or you’ll get sunburned.” She pulls her gauze up around her head. “Like this.”

Furiosa doesn’t even dignify her question by looking up. “Better than having long hair flying around.”

Toast touches the end of her plait, saying nothing and thinking of Relo. She knows Furiosa’s right.

“We’d travel at night,” she says another time. “Keep cool, move under cover. It’ll be harder for them to track us in the dark.”

Now Furiosa does give her a look, and a withering one at that. “And give them all day to catch up?”

Toast chews on her bottom lip. In her haste to impress, she hadn’t thought the plan through. “We’d need some kind of cover, though,” she says instead of acknowledging the mistake. “Something survivable, but one that they’ll have a hard time getting through. An eclipse, maybe.” A thought strikes her. “Or a sandstorm.”

When she raises her eyes, she’s struck through with surprise: Furiosa’s still looking at her, and now her face is neither blank nor contemptuous. Instead, she looks thoughtful. “How would we get through?”

“We could, if we had goggles,” Toast says. “And we wouldn’t even need to get that far- we’d just have to go off-road while the storm was going. It’d cover our tire tracks, and they wouldn’t be prepared to follow. By the time the storm cleared, there’d be no sign of where we went.”

Furiosa's eyes gleam: the ocean in the aftermath of a tempest. "You've thought this through."

Toast squares her shoulders. "I told you I had." She pauses, then amends "we had."

"You did," Furiosa allows. "And I guess you did." She lays a brief hand on Toast's shoulder- nothing tender or lingering, just a firm pat of approval. Still, Toast draws in a sharp breath. It's the first time she's allowed herself to be touched in kindness since she arrived at the Citadel- she even holds the other Wives at arm's length. Furiosa’s hand is rough, sand-blasted and covered with calluses, but it’s also warm and strong in a way that has nothing to do with the strength of the Citadel. Furiosa’s undoubtedly killed people with those hands; maybe she’s even choked the life from them bare-handed. Toast doesn’t care about that. She cares that Furiosa is strong and stalwart, and Furiosa is going to take them to the Green Place. It's a rush of emotion like she hasn't felt since she last saw her home, and it's too much.

"Thank you," she mutters, and flees.


 

 ("What did you say to her?" Angharad asks, equal parts admiration and envy. "How did you get her to agree?"

Toast shrugs, not sure if she can even explain it to herself. "I dunno. She likes me, I guess.")


 

One of the things Toast always hated most about life in the Citadel is how little there was for her to do. Being ornamental required endless attention to her looks- painting her face, brushing her hair, trimming her nails to make sure she looked just as Joe wanted her to- but there was never any real work, nothing she could take a real sense of pride or accomplishment in. On Fury Road, she feels like she’s finally been cut free: there’s so much that needs to be done, so many things to busy her hands with, so many reasons to keep sharp and alert. For the first time since she was taken, she takes a deep breath and feels like there’s a use for it.

Furiosa helps, she discovers. Because Furiosa always needs some sort of help- having her load a gun, having her fix the Rig, having her keep a pistol trained on Capable’s new pet War Boy- and every time she silently hands a task to Toast, she feels herself stand a little straighter. It feels like life on the road when she was a child: being trusted, being valued, knowing she has a place on the team. And she does want to impress Furiosa.

“She’s scary,” Cheedo says in a whisper while they’re still in the depths of the Rig, huddled against the Dag. “She doesn’t speak.”

“She speaks sometimes,” Capable says. “Just not much. Only when she needs to.”

Toast gives Cheedo a sharp look. “Are you more scared of her, or of Joe?”

Cheedo ducks, hiding her face. “That’s not what I meant.”

Toast knows what she meant, but she still doesn’t understand it. Why would anyone find Furiosa frightening? She’s competent. Out here, in the desert, that’s the best thing she could be. If she doesn’t waste words while she’s getting things done, all the better.

But, Toast discovers, being silent doesn’t serve them as well after they’ve re-taken the Citadel. Everyone crowds around demanding answers, and Furiosa doesn’t have any to give. Toast looks at her, noting how her shoulders are hunched and her eyes are narrowed, and realizes she looks trapped.

“Shut up!” she bellows at the crowd, and they all fall silent, staring at her. “Hasn’t she done enough for you already? If you want answers, you sort them out amongst yourselves, or you talk to me. Now bugger off!”

Shocked, the crowd disperses. Furiosa turns to Toast, one eyebrow raised slightly. “I don’t think that’s going to endear them to you.”

“I was helping you,” Toast snaps. “And they let Joe talk nice to them for years while he stole their water. Which one’s better?”

Furiosa acknowledges this with a silent nod, and Toast is satisfied.

They’re both right, in a way: the Wretched don’t much care for how Toast talks, but they’re happy to put up with it in exchange for the food she passes out to them at every mealtime. Furiosa fades slowly into the background, until she walks among the rest unnoticed. Capable has her little herd of War Pups, the Dag has her garden, and Cheedo has the Dag. Toast has her mechanic’s shop, and it keeps her busy. She has grease permanently stuck under her fingernails and smeared over her knuckles. She takes to Furiosa’s old habit of rubbing black paint across her eyes to keep herself from going sun-blind from the reflection of light off the metal parts. After a hundred and sixty days of this, she thinks she might need some assistance.

She climbs down the Citadel to Furiosa’s new room. Furiosa spends most of her time there now, though Toast doesn’t know what she’s doing. Reading, maybe- the room is packed with books. She doesn’t talk to many people. Max vanished back into the desert the day they retook the Citadel, and everyone else is too busy. Toast knocks, then opens the door without waiting.

Furiosa looks up from her bunk. There’s a book lying open in her lap; Toast can’t tell what it is. “Were you looking for me?”

“Who else would I be looking for?” Toast crosses the room, standing next to Furiosa’s bed. “I want you to come and work in the shop with me.”

Furiosa gives her an unreadable look. “Something you need help with?”

“Yes,” Toast stands with her legs slightly apart, feet planted firmly. “There’s enough work for two. And I want you.” She pauses. “Specifically.”

“Any why is that?”

“Because-” She pauses to pick the right words. “Because we work well together. And you trusted me, so now I’m trusting you. And because you helped save us all, and you should be out among us instead of hiding in here all the time. And because I like being around you. So.” Having said what she’d determined to say, she holds a hand out. “What do you say?”

There’s a pause- a short one, but long enough for Toast to be seized with fear that she’d miscalculated. Then Furiosa takes her hand, clasping it. Like before, Toast can feel the burns and calluses. Unlike before, she can now match Furiosa, blister for blister. Her hair has started to grown back in; she pushes it back with a headband and cuts it short whenever it threatens to touch her shoulders. Her muscles, which grew soft and slack in Joe’s captivity, have hardened again. She rarely looks in a mirror, but what she sees is something of what she first saw in Furiosa: power and strength and purpose. And she can feel it in Furiosa’s grip now.

“Deal.”