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don't want to look like someone else

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Furiosa is growing her hair. Toast doesn't know why it feels so strange to look at her and see a soft halo of hair beginning to form about her head. Toast had kept her own hair as short as she dared as a form of minor defiance against Immortan Joe's desires, and surely Furiosa had also constructed her appearance in reaction to the situation. Things have changed; hair can change too.

But the softness is incongruous on Furiosa, and Toast can't stop looking at her: hair gentling the line of her neck, curling over her ears, beginning to fall into her eyes. Toast thinks of it when she's braiding Capable's hair in the evening, in preparation for bed. Will Furiosa let her hair grow long enough that it too will need braiding to keep it from tangling in her sleep?

Toast's hands are careful and practiced as she smooths Capable's curls into a strong rope of braid. Capable is swaying a bit as she hums quietly, a song she'd learned from a drifter who had stopped by the citadel for a short rest. Toast thinks the song is about the time before the world was killed; she only knows the chorus, a slow, sad lament for what's gone.

"Do you think of changing your hair?" Toast asks abruptly.

Capable stops humming and is silent for a moment. "I like my hair," she says. "I've changed enough else, I wouldn't feel like me without it."

Toast make a contemplative noise, and Capable says, "You're not thinking of doing something to your hair, are you?"

"Maybe I should buzz it all off, like Furiosa." Toast pauses. "Like Furiosa used to."

Capable shrugs. "Sure, if you want to."

Toast is finished Capable's braid now, so she ties it off and gives a final pat to the top of Capable's head. She doesn't answer, just says "All done," and rises slowly to her feet.

She goes to bed that night in a thoughtful mood, and is still lying awake when the other three have fallen asleep beside her, their quiet breathing the only sound in the room.

The citadel has changed so much in the time since Joe's death. There's new life, new growth everywhere. She and her sisters are not the sheltered girls they'd been. Toast has learned how to load a gun quickly, how to settle a dispute, how to solder water pipes, how to act like she knows she deserves respect, how to listen with real patience, how to weed a garden. She feels a confidence she'd never had before.

But underneath the ways she's grown she's still herself, still the same person hungry to understand everything, collecting knowledge to herself as power.

The next morning when she finally wakes, her sisters are gone, the bed empty around her. She runs a hand blearily through her hair as she sits up, trying to get it into some semblance of order. It feels too long - the longest it's been in years. Trimming it keeps falling too low on her priority list. She didn't really mean it, about getting it buzzed - at least, she doesn't think so. But she does want a trim.

On her way down to ground-level she stops by the kitchens to pick up her breakfast rations. She settles herself in the shade on the west side of the citadel - it's still early enough morning that there's plenty of shade - and watches the people around her as she eats. The citadel's begun gardening on ground level, and her heart still swells at the sight of green growing things down here where anyone can reach them.

There's a number of warboys-that-were breaking up some ground in preparation for a new garden plot, and Toast notices that their heads are decidedly no longer shaved. They're still in the early days of growing their hair out, but already there's an individuality to each of their appearances. She wonders if Furiosa's setting a fashion.

She turns to a warboy who's sprawled contentedly in the dust near her, enjoying the shade for a few moments. He's sporting black hair in tight curls that stand out an inch from his head all around.

"What's gotten into all you boys with the hair?" she asks.

He sits up, and looks shy, guilty, and calculating all at once. "Um," he says, and fidgets for a moment. Then he continues, "I've got a mate, he wants to know how to braid his own hair, can you show him sometime?"

Which is no kind of answer, but Toast laughs and agrees, because teaching people the skills they want to learn is important.

When she's done eating she heads over to the most-established part of the new gardens, which looks in need of some weeding. It's one of the never-ending tasks that gardening requires. When she gets there she finds Furiosa already at work. Her hair is bright with the morning sunlight shining through it. Furiosa looks up, and her eyes meet Toast's. Toast comes over to help her finish the patch where Furiosa's kneeling, and they work together for a number of minutes in easy silence. But when Furiosa sighs quietly as she pushes her hair away from her face for the third time in as many minutes, Toast says, "D'you want some help with that?"

Furiosa glances at her, startled. "What, my hair?" she says. "It's just an awkward stage. It'll pass."

"It can pass more comfortably, though." Toast is already planning the two small augmenting braids she'd do, one along each side, which would hold together all the hairs too short to reach a free-falling braid. It would look good, she thinks - not too showy, practical, but still elegant.

Furiosa nods and says, "You're good with hair. I've seen you helping the others."

"I'm good at lots of things," says Toast. She straightens up, lets crumbs of dirt fall from her fingers then rubs them clean on her pants. "Here, let me." She gestures to a nearby rock and Furiosa submits easily, sitting down with her back facing Toast.

Toast takes a moment to admire the deep, rich colour of Furiosa's hair, then her hands are on it, fingers riffling through the strands. It's as soft as it looks. She runs her fingers through the hair a few more times to get a feel for how it behaves, and then she begins.

Furiosa sits quiet and still, almost like she's an outcropping of the citadel's stone. Toast's used to working with her sisters, who fidget, and turn their heads when they talk. She's learned to keep a tight grip on the hair she's braiding. But it's easy to get Furiosa's hair under control when she doesn't have to worry about it being pulled from between her fingers; she can hold the hair gently, and she does.

Doing augmenting braids with such short hair is delicate work, and Toast has to restart a few times before she's happy with the results. Furiosa doesn't grumble about how long it's taking; instead Toast can see her slowly settling, her posture becoming less forbidding. Oh good, Toast thinks. It's a lot easier to do people's hair when they like the feel of her hands on them. And it's nice to see Furiosa relax a bit.

"How's that?" she asks, when she finally finishes.

Furiosa straightens and puts her hand up to her head, lightly touching the finished braids. She gives her head a little shake; everything stays put. "Thanks, Toast," she says, a smile in her voice, as she stands up.

"No problem," Toast says, and then because she can't help herself, "Why are you growing your hair out?"

As Furiosa turns to face her, to Toast's dismay she can see that all the tension that had left Furiosa as Toast had worked on her hair is back. Furiosa says, "I'm not an Imperator anymore."

Which is true: the citadel's done away with all that hierarchy stuff. There's a council, yes, and Furiosa leads it, but none of the members have any special rights or privileges. None of them blacken their foreheads, nobody looks at them with fear and ambition combined. The council is for serving the citadel, not increasing their own consequence.

"Right," says Toast. "How long do you think you'll let it get?"

Furiosa sighs. "I haven't decided."

"There's plenty of time to figure it out." Toast puts a hand on Furiosa's shoulder. "I'll help you braid it whenever you want. You've got nice hair."

Furiosa's eyes soften, and Toast figures that's the best she's going to get for the time being. Maybe Furiosa will relax again the next time she braids her hair.

Furiosa heads off then to go take care of some issue that's apparently arisen with the guzzoline reserve tanks, but Toast stays amidst the cool green of the plants, and watches Furiosa walk away. Her hair still looks strange but now it's somehow right on her, an extension of herself. Thoughtfully, Toast begins to turn over ideas of what else she could do with short hair that would look good and keep it out of the way. Furiosa should have some options.

Then she unsheathes her knife and begins cutting her own hair.