Max kicks aside a mineral-streaked rock idly while he sweeps his eyes over the area again. Four days of careful driving has brought them to the edge of what was once the source of a river, now just a canyon with steep walls and a bed of tumbled-smooth stones.
A cursory survey is enough to show that there was undoubtedly water here in the past, the question being whether there's any left anymore. Not that the Citadel itself needs another source of water- their aquifer will keep them hydrated a few hundred years after they're all dead- but water means life, means people and green and the chance of finding or establishing new settlements.
Furiosa is crouched down a few paces away from him, digging for the soil samples they'd been instructed to bring back. There haven't been any signs of people in the area but he isn't letting down his guard, makes sure one of them is paying attention to their surroundings.
"I don't think they'll like what we have to report," she says as she straightens back up. She's corking up a bottle of sandy dirt, the exact same as far as he can tell that they've been driving over for days.
He shrugs. The idea of there being any chance left of the world regenerating is still new to him, and of course he wants good news to bring back to the Citadel but he's never been counting on it.
Furiosa stows the bottle away with a little shake of her head and smears red dust on her trousers when she wipes clean her hand. "It'll be dark soon, we might as well camp."
He hums in agreement, and twists away from her to glance back at his car, shadowed by a hulking boulder. It's an okay parking job for a quick stop like this but probably isn't the most secure option in the entire ravine; he'd like to scout the area more thoroughly if they're thinking about sleeping, anyway. "Your turn to cook," he says.
"Liar," she shoots back without any venom, passing by almost close enough to brush against him as she returns the satchel of samples to the car.
Since she's looking in the entirely other direction Max doesn't bother stopping his mouth from curving into a smile, faint as it may be. He feels guilty for taking her away from her never-ending duties at the Citadel, but the guilt pales in comparison to the contentment he feels at spending time with her like this, just the two of them and a car against the wide open desert. He hasn't heard anything more suspicious than a bird flying by since arriving but he still pulls his shotgun out of the holster just in case as he heads further into the canyon.
The deeper he goes the more clear it is that there was water here at some point; in little pockets not covered by stones and sand he finds the remains of mud long since baked into dry cracks by the sun, and every now and again he'll see an impression of long-dead fish. The river and its banks are wide enough that he could drive the car through without too much trouble, he decides.
A flash of movement catches his eye and he whirls, gun at the ready- but all there is to be seen is a desiccated plant clinging to the stone walls, swaying in the breeze. Max stares around for several seconds, ears strained for anything beyond the sound of wind and distant noise of Furiosa digging around the car, but comes up with nothing and relaxes himself. It's a dead old riverbed and nothing more.
He returns to the car to find nothing amiss and relaxes himself another fraction. Surely if someone was waiting to spring an ambush, while they're separated would be their best shot. "Clear," he tells her.
Furiosa nods and leans her hip against the side of the Interceptor. "If there was water there'd be people already," she says like she's been thinking it for a while.
He grunts in agreement since that's been his assumption as well, and stows his shotgun back away. He knows there are places with just enough water to sustain a single traveler for a day or so scattered around, locations traded back and forth almost as valuably as the water itself, but this place doesn't have any signs of being already known even that much.
He edges the car carefully around the rocks as he retraces his steps, bringing it further into the canyon away from potential passersby anyway.
The sunlight is slow to fade this time of year, the familiar cycle of it just about the only sign left that they haven't blown the Earth clean off her rotation. It paints the canyon in warm reds and golds, makes it almost look as if some of the old water-stains on the stones are bleeding fresh.
There isn't actually any need for either to cook; they each just take a share of pasty bean ration from the Citadel to gnaw on. If there had been water there might have been critters around worth hunting or snaring, but as it is the bland bricks are filling enough. Just knowing he has them stashed in the car is a comfort, insurance he's still coming to terms with having nowadays.
"I've got first watch," he says, and Furiosa nods. He prefers staying up to watch the stars come out more than he likes waking up in the dark to see the sunrise, though they try and keep an even rotation of shifts when they're out like this.
There hasn't been a rear seat in the Interceptor since he ran off with it, but he'd put in a replacement for the passenger seat a while back and if you shove the crap behind it out of the way- easy on a day like this, considering Furiosa likes more organization than he usually bothers with- it reclines nearly flat, perfectly good for sleeping. Max tips his head back to watch the sliver of sunset he can see above the ravine's walls while she settles in, loosening belts and boots as she gets comfortable enough.
He still can't get over the fact that she trusts him enough to willingly let herself drop into sleep surrounded by the wasteland, can't believe that when it's time to switch he's going to fall asleep himself without second thoughts about trusting her in return. When they're not out on the sands but holed up behind a thick metal door and stone walls, they don't even take shifts to keep watch but just stretch out on the mattress and sleep as many hours as they can manage at a time. In her presence he's gotten better at sleeping through the night rather than waking up with nightmares but it's still a novelty he doesn't dare get used to.
"We should just head straight back in the morning," Furiosa says.
"Mm," he hums in reply. There's no reason to linger out here, not when there's a specific job they're on and she still has ties to the Citadel stronger than he can fathom. On his own Max can spend weeks, months just driving around from one point to the next, following a never-ending need for water and guzz, but it only feels like a waste when he has a concrete task, a mission, like he does now.
He should have used the last of the sunlight to fill in his map, mark this place off as useless, but he'll have to do it in the morning now.
Furiosa's breathing is the only thing he can hear and it steadies out quickly into the rhythm of sleep, body used to snatching rest whenever she can get it. He leans against the cold metal of his car and counts the emerging stars that he can see overhead, picking out familiar constellations.
In the morning he's woken by Furiosa's voice. "Get up, you have to see this."
Max's body snaps alert before his brain comes online, grunting and twitching. The sun's up so he's gotten a few hours of sleep, and she hadn't said any of their distress words so whatever it is, he doesn't think it's particularly bad.
He yawns and stretches, rubbing a hand against his whiskery cheek. He'll need to shave before they get back to the Citadel again if he doesn't want to have the girls teasing him.
Furiosa's waiting with a patient façade, but when he focuses he can see the energy buzzing under the surface, the way she's adjusting her balance slightly back and forth like she wants to break into action. He fastens his knee brace back up and checks that his boots aren't going to fall off, then gets out of the car with an expectant expression.
She doesn't say anything else, just turns and starts picking her way over the tumbled boulders that line the riverbed, nimble in a way he can't replicate even if he wasn't still shaking off sleep. "I noticed these," she says after they've turned a bend he hadn't bothered with the day before, judging the gap too small for a vehicle to squeeze through. Her metal fingers brush against a weedy-but-green plant clinging to the rocks in demonstration, and he makes a quiet noise to show he's seen.
One weedy plant becomes two, becomes a second type that looks passingly healthy, becomes some shreds of something grasslike. Plants at all aren't all that uncommon in some parts of the wastes- the continent was adapted to being mostly desert for a long time before the apocalypse sanded over the rest, after all- but these aren't the usual hardy scrubs he'd expect to see.
"Smell that?" Furiosa asks, pausing before a crack in the canyon wall.
Max lifts his nose dutifully and sniffs, surprise running through him. "Damp," he says. It smells like mud, like water and earth and sludgy green growth. There's a slight smile on her face when he turns to her, cautious but hopeful, and he returns the expression.
The crack is just about wide enough to shimmy through, if he takes off his pack and jacket. Inside it widens out to a cavern a few paces wide, illuminated by a shaft of sunlight from up high. There's a very shallow depression with a scum of water in it, just enough to collect together and not yet evaporate in the coming heat of the day.
He has no idea if this is trapped dew or groundwater leaching from the rocks or something different altogether, but it's undeniably water. Maybe not enough for a person to live off but enough for a few plants, probably a few small critters.
"Girls'll be happy," he says, toeing a rock to skitter into the puddle with silvery ripples.
Furiosa lets out a pleased noise and he turns away from the water to look at her, barely illuminated in the dim light but practically glowing all on her own. She waited for him to be up to investigate, he thinks to himself, she could have let him sleep on oblivious but she'd shared the moment instead, and he doesn't know what to do with that.
They wiggle back out of the little cave to fetch jars from the car, to get as much evidence and samples to bring back to the Citadel as they can. Max dips his finger into the puddle and taste-tests the water; it seems untainted and clean enough that he'd drink it, if he didn't already have a tank full of Citadel water he knows won't make him sick.
She declines to take a taste for herself, but surprises him by tugging off her boots and threadbare socks to stand in bare feet on the wet stones. It seems like a silly thing to do but she sighs like it's a relief, toes digging into the squelching mud, and after a moment he joins her because why not? Their feet won't mess up the samples they're grabbing any more than their boots would have, and there's something about the feeling of it that brings him back to simpler days.
Their splashing and scraping and digging means that it isn't long before the puddle is almost completely dissipated, nothing more than just mud. He squeezes his way out into the sunshine again and lets his feet take a minute to dry in the sand of the old riverbed.
"Breakfast?" he asks when she emerges.
Furiosa shrugs. "We should explore more," she says, boots still tucked under her arm rather than on her feet.
He hums an agreement and decides to get food for the both of them, and to make sure the car's nicely hidden in case anyone stops by- now that he knows there's water here in any quantity, he isn't so sure the place is entirely unknown. Discovering water means he feels a celebration is justified, and instead of grabbing for their hardtack biscuits or more bean paste, Max rummages around until he finds a bag of dried peach slices. They'd been intended more as trade than tucker, but when he holds them out to Furiosa she doesn't say a word of censure, just takes a slice to chew on.
There isn't much more ground to cover before the ravine starts smoothing out, certainly nothing else like that cave. Some plants here and there, a few flickers of potential animal life, but nothing really worth taking out the sample jars for.
"Head back?" Max asks, surveying what he can see from the rock he's climbed up onto. He's nearly level with the ground above like this, can see red sand stretching out into nearly infinity against the clear morning sky. If it really is just some trapped dew, or maybe water that had taken months and months to build up, maybe he can believe no one else has stumbled across it yet- no one still alive, anyway.
When Furiosa hasn't answered him he looks over to her, expecting to see her focused on some discovery he overlooked. But if she's looking at something it isn't anything he can see from where he is; she's standing hunched in on herself, frowning vaguely.
He hops down to the ground and she turns sharply at the noise. There's something not quite right about the way she's holding herself, or maybe how her eyes are focusing. Max can't see anything obviously wrong with her, hasn't noticed anything amiss in the canyon.
"Oh," she says softly, swaying as if in a breeze. "Sorry."
When she collapses without any further warning he doesn't think, just darts forward on reflex to catch her before she hits the ground. His heart hammers loudly inside his chest.
"Furiosa?" he asks, lowering her the rest of the way until she's lying limp on the dirt. He puts his suddenly-shaking fingers on the pulse at her neck at the same time as he looks up to the walls of the canyon, checking once again that everything is clear. He can feel her heart beating steady if a bit fast, and sees not a single shadow that's out of place.
"Hey," he says to Furiosa uselessly, mind trying to process what's happened. She doesn't look hurt, doesn't have any visible blood, or bruises that weren't there earlier. Her forehead is warm when he rests the back of his hand there; sunstroke? It's only been daylight for an hour or so and it's hardly the hottest morning they've seen.
Max jostles her shoulder and she doesn't react. Was she sick with anything and he just hadn't noticed the symptoms building? He sees a vision of her insides covered in cancer tumors, growing sinister and unnoticed, and has to shake his head violently to clear it away. "Hey, Furi," he says, and taps his hand against her cheek. She groans weakly at that and he takes in what might be his first breath since she collapsed. "Hey, you here?"
Her eyes open slowly, glassy and unfocused. She smacks her lips together a few times before croaking out, "My foot hurts."
He blinks at the seeming non sequitur, glancing away from her face to see perfectly normal-seeming feet at the ends of her legs. She'd put her boots back on; maybe she stepped on something? Or- he feels his breath catch in his chest. Water means plants, means animals.
"Furiosa," he says, "Did something bite you?"
She grimaces and shakes her head, or attempts to anyway. "Stepped on a rock."
Max smooths his hand against her hair and thinks that's pretty unlikely, unless the foot pain is unrelated to whatever made her go down. He's never been great at calculating odds but he doesn't know anyone who'd take that bet. "Can you stand?"
She looks more lucid, and annoyed now. Furiosa pushes at the ground underneath her and heaves herself partially upright but then closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, like she's worn out or dizzy. He wraps his arm around her shoulders and drags them both the rest of the way up to standing, taking as much of her weight onto himself as he thinks he can get away with.
"I'm fine," she says as a weak protest, and he grunts incredulously in reply.
He keeps his eyes open as he makes his way for the car, but can't see any animals. Maybe she really did just step badly...
"What're you feeling?" he asks.
"Fuck," she says right into his ear. "I think something got me."
He can't hold in a snort at the obviousness of that statement. It's not much further to the car, and as soon as she's sitting down he starts tugging her boots off. If there's nothing wrong after all then her feet can air out; if she's bit or stung this seems like the most obvious place to look first.
Her left foot looks perfectly normal, while her right is slightly hotter to the touch than it should be and has a perfect pair of puncture marks just above her muddy heel. Spaced like that means not a scorpion and it's far too large for a spider, unless there's some mutant variety he hasn't heard about yet, which means it's almost certainly a snake.
Max swears and tries to corral his mind into something other than a blind panic as the reality of it sets in; he was taught first aid once upon a time, if he can remember any of it he can use it.
"We need to get the venom out," she says, jerking her foot when he probes at the wound lightly. The marks aren't bleeding so much as just oozing a thin stream of red.
He shakes his head. "Won't do any good," he says. That's something they'd taught about, he thinks, but even if not it's been nearly an hour they were walking around just now. The venom's surely already in her system.
Furiosa groans and twists in her seat.
Right, he needs to keep her still. The more her heart pumps the faster this spreads, the more harm it can do. "Stop moving," he says, wrapping his fingers around her ankle to hold her leg steady. "You need a tourniquet." That's not quite right, but it's the closest the white noise threatening to overtake his mind can come up with.
"Don't take my leg," she says, jerking her foot away from his grasp and then gasping in pain.
"Shh," Max attempts to soothe. Better her leg than her life, not that he's planning to hack off any limbs if he can help it. "Hold still."
She's staring at him with barely-contained fear in her eyes and he gets up from his crouch at her feet, unable to handle her gaze as well as needing to get something to be a bandage. He comes up with plenty of rags but hardly any that are right, eventually deciding to sacrifice the more stained of their blankets. It rips into a nice wide strip with a bit of persuasion, and then he's back at Furiosa's feet.
"Did you see what bit you?" he asks, not that it really matters. There's no such thing as antivenom anymore. The bite is bruising just a little bit, and he's careful as he pushes the leg of her pants up her calf.
"There was a snake," she says, flinching as he starts wrapping the fabric. He hums encouragingly. He's never done this before for real, but they'd practiced it once- broad pressure, not too tight. Like wrapping a sprained ankle. "Brown, maybe black? It was across the riverbed, though..."
"Snakes are fast," Max says. If she even saw a snake as opposed to any other creature that confirms it well enough for him. He wraps from nearly her knee down to her toes, trying to remember what else he can do- everything always just said 'get to hospital' as the next step, as far as he can recall. "You thirsty?"
She shakes her head, hand flying up a moment later to clutch at the side of her head. "If you have to cut off my foot," she says slowly once she's caught her breath, "Do it."
He reaches out to put his hand on her shoulder, aiming for comforting. He wants to say he won't need to, but he doesn't know that he won't; they're lucky it's not a spider bite, eating at her flesh right from the get-go. "Lie back," he says, ratcheting the seat down flat as it goes without waiting for her assent. He doesn't actually know if lying as opposed to sitting makes any real difference, but they have the option and he doesn't think it can hurt.
Furiosa is clearly reluctant, lowering herself down slowly with a pained groan. He makes sure her things are all inside the car before shutting the door, and moves around to the other side. "We should head back," he says.
She lets out an amused huff of air. "We're three days out at best," she points out. "We might as well stay."
He could make the distance in two days, if he doesn't sleep and there isn't any trouble, but he doesn't say so because the point is that whether it's three or two days they're too far from the Citadel to get help in time. Max taps his fingers against the wheel and tries to picture the area they're in, cursing that he hasn't filled in his map much beyond the route they took to get here. Is there anyone around here who might be friendly enough to help? He glances over at Furiosa lying on the other seat, face creased with pain.
He can't just sit here waiting to know whether things are going to get worse or not. He slams his door shut and turns the key, the Interceptor starting up with a familiar roar.
The first few hours things seem normal. Like maybe she just sprained her leg bad, or broke a bone- in pain, in need of resting quietly, but nothing imminently life-threatening.
Then he loosens the bandage so she can hobble off to relieve herself more easily and when she comes back she's panting, sweating. Fuck.
"Your leg needs to be immobile," he says belatedly as he helps her back into the car. There's a bit of blood trickling from her nose, a bruise he doesn't remember shadowing her upper arm.
Furiosa flashes him a flat look but doesn't say anything argumentative. He tears off a second strip of blanket and wraps it right over her leathers, starting nearly at her hip joint and joining it with the first to cover down to her toes again. He doesn't know how much good it'll do now but it can't do any worse harm he doesn't think. The bandaging isn't tight enough to fully cut off her blood flow- her toes are still warm and pink when he checks them- but it helps stop the muscles from moving, which he thinks is supposed to be the important part.
"Water?" Max asks once she's settled again, mutinously staring at the ceiling with a scrap of cloth soaking up her bloody nose.
She blows out a sharp breath but holds out her hand, and he scrambles around until he finds a canteen that'll be easy enough to drink out of flat on her back. She chokes on it a bit but gets down what seems to him to be a fair amount before setting it aside.
He's trying to drive on fairly smooth areas, but there isn't much to be had- soft sand gives way to rocks in an instant, or what he thinks is a shadow will turn out to be a heap of rusting metal and he'll have to jerk the wheel to avoid running it over, and the concept of a flat driving surface just plain doesn't exist anymore. Furiosa doesn't say anything aloud, only now and again groans in pain when he jolts her too much.
"How're you doing?" he asks after a particularly nasty stretch, feeling extremely useless.
"Like I'm going to be sick," she says.
Max debates the odds of that being a snarky comment for approximately half a second before downshifting to a stop, and reaching over her to get her door open. She reaches up for him and he takes her hand, resting the other on her forehead to check her temperature as much as for reassurance. Then she winces and jerks in place as she fights down a cough, and he helps her roll onto her side.
"Any blood?" he says when she's finished heaving, fingers still gripping her hand tight.
"Not yet," she replies tiredly. She coughs again, but he doesn't think she brings anything up. "We have a bucket?"
They could just find some place to hole up- it's pretty open out here, enough so that he's got every sense not focused on Furiosa on high alert for impending danger, but he's sure they can find shelter if he keeps looking- but not even trying to get to help feels like admitting defeat. He has to let go of her hand to find a container, and then it takes the both of them to get it wedged between the closed door and seat in such a way that it'll actually be of use.
He rubs his fingers over the back of her head before grabbing for the gearstick and she sighs. "Keep doing that," she says with a bare shadow of her usual command.
He probably shouldn't split his attention like this, but when he's up to a steady speed he leans over until he can set his hand back on her head, rubbing and stroking gently. Her hair is too short and the day too hot to trap sweat but the strands are stiff with dried salt, prickly under his fingers.
"You should keep drinking," Max says. She makes a vague noise in reply that doesn't sound encouraging and he frowns, worry gnawing at his chest. His eyes keep darting between the rolling wasteland around them down to her curled up body next to him, looking far too frail like this.
She heaves again a few times, but since he's only been able to coax her to take a few sips of water there really isn't anything in her stomach to throw up. When she rolls herself to lie flat on her back again the side of her face where she'd been resting is alarmingly red, darkish like the threat of bruises, and her nosebleed has only gotten worse.
"You need to suck the venom out," she says, the words mushy on her tongue.
Furiosa isn't looking his way but he shakes his head anyway. "It won't help," he says. Maybe it would have that first time she suggested it, but it's been hours now.
"It hurts," she says, eyes closing. "Get it out." Her hand reaches down to where the bandaging begins on her thigh, but she's too uncoordinated to do more than paw at it. He still takes her hand away, holding her wrist so he can feel her pulse. Fast now but not very strong, and her skin's fever-hot even at the end of her limb like this.
"Max," she says, voice stringing his name out into a whine. "The snake's blood. Wash the venom out."
"Shh," he shushes, rubbing his thumb back and forth over her skin, attempting to project calm he very much does not feel. The question of how bad things can get before they're outright fatal looms over his head.
Her eyes are glassy when she opens them again, unfocused. "Don't cut off my foot," she says, and seems like she's trying to hide it from sight despite the bandaging constricting her movements.
"Hey, no," he says. She has her left arm pressed tight to her stomach, and tugs her hand from his grip to wrap her other arm around over the top, covering the scarred stump.
Would taking off the bitten foot actually do anything at this point? Max thinks the ship has sailed on that one, considering how bad she's gotten- the venom has to be attacking her entire system by now, he's sure. He has doubts about his ability to amputate a limb anyway, doesn't want to cause more harm than good- especially when the evidence of her having endured a surgery like that once before is staring him in the face.
He pictures for a brief moment returning to the Citadel with Furiosa just a corpse next to him, bled out by his own attempts at helping, and shakes his head so vehemently at the thought that the car jerks and swerves.
She lets out a quiet hurt noise and he tightens his hands on the wheel, forcing himself to smooth out their course. One factor that's weighing on his mind is that he knows she has a high pain tolerance, and so for her to be showing distress like this means it must really be bad. He wishes he knew if any of the few medicines in their first aid kit would be safe to use, but doesn't dare try. She's bleeding more than usual, bruising too, and that means the venom is doing things inside her body that he can't even begin to guess at, much less know how to counteract safely.
His initial plan was to drive straight through the night and get to the Citadel as quickly as possible, but an hour or so after sundown he finds a nicely sheltered parking spot and decides he can't handle not at least stopping for a while to do what he can. It's dark with the moon barely half full and in open territory like this he doesn't want to light a lantern if he can help it, so he instead braces himself to get up close and personal with her to assess her condition.
"Hey," Max murmurs when the engine's been cut. Her forehead is still overly warm, but she's taken in so little water he isn't surprised when her skin isn't very damp. She stirs at his touch only weakly. He can't remember when the last time she tried to drink anything was, or the last time she was sick, and leans over her to check the contents of the bucket- no signs of blood, save a few drops that might have been from her nose or a raw throat, and he breathes out in relief before dumping it out the door.
Furiosa's eyes open at the noise or the activity or both, and her gaze seems to focus on him. He smiles to see it, hoping it's a sign of improvement, but her breathing goes fast and shallow, panicked.
"No," she gasps out, "Get away!"
He frowns deeply and lets the bucket slip out of his hand, instead reaching out to comfort her- but she violently flinches away, eyes squeezing shut and face turning to the side. "Max, no."
"What's wrong?" he asks, curling his hand around her shoulder carefully, mindful of worsening the bruise there. He isn't doing anything to have earned that tone of voice, and he thinks back to her previous nonsensical remarks and wonders if she's entirely delirious at this point.
"No," she repeats, raspy and pleading enough to wring his heart, "Don't." Her protests are weak and uncoordinated but earnest, and Max draws back a bit to see if some space will calm her, only for her to thrash all the same, begging to be left alone.
"Shh," he shushes, "You're okay. Hey, shh. It's okay." His babbling doesn't appear to get through to her at all; if anything she gets more worked up, muscles weak from being poisoned but her instincts still honed for fighting. He doesn't want to cause any stress but he also doesn't want her to hurt herself, directly or through circulating the venom more vigorously.
She lunges for the still-open door and he reacts, grabbing her shoulder to pull her back and then moving over her to cage her in against the seat with his own body, not putting much of his weight on her but letting his arms and legs be a living restraint. In her right mind Furiosa would be able to get out a dozen different ways, but tonight when she encounters resistance she only groans and stares around with unseeing eyes.
"Hey, shh," he repeats over and over, a steady stream of what he hopes are soothing noises falling from his mouth. "You're sick," he tells her, "You need to rest." The way she's so panicked, the way she'd said his name like she was afraid of him, makes his stomach turn. Even in the very beginning when he'd had a loaded gun to her head she wasn't scared.
He holds her arms to her sides as gently as he can against her struggles until they subside with a sob, and she goes limp under him.
Then he pulls himself away, testing whether she has enough awareness in this state to be trying a deception, but she remains quiescent in the seat. Max runs his hand down her fever-warm cheek, something heavy and painful lodged in his throat, and wonders if this is the dark before dawn or if there's worse to come.
He climbs off her and onto the sand, barely caring to avoid stepping in the puddle of sick. She twitches when he shuts the door but doesn't stir, and he checks his surroundings- clear, still- before taking measured strides away from the car into the indistinct darkness.
After three days of knowing her the realization that she might die had been nearly unbearable. After almost three years... If he thought it would do a lick of good he would open his veins up for her right now, bleed himself dry for her so that she could go back to the Citadel and to the girls healthy, alive.
The thing in his throat attempts to escape him as a noise, strangled and inhuman.
Of all things, a snake bite? A snake? Because she'd let her guard down long enough to want to feel some water under her bare feet and now she could very well be dying of it right in his car. If she has to die before him it has to be something worthy, something epic. Defending that spit of water against a warlord, or freeing another group of slaves. Not startling a fucking snake.
Max walks far enough that he nearly trips over a dark slab of rock, and he rests his hands against the cool rough surface of it. He could just keep walking. He's turned his back on better things than this, a woman who's made him feel things other than terror and regret for the first time in years. He could just keep walking with whatever's on his back right now and never need to know one way or another. Maybe she wakes up tomorrow perfectly healthy and drives back to the Citadel to report the good news of water; maybe he walks and walks until the only thing he finds out is whether the oceans really have dried all the way 'round.
His eyes sting and he rubs at them, surprised to find that he's leaking water like a rusted tap. Not very surprised at all.
He can't do that to her. He'd gone back and he'd buried the only good things in his life once, he can do it a second time. The girls deserve to have a body to mourn. And then he'll go walking.
He stands there for an hour or so before he musters the courage to walk back. Furiosa is just where he left her, feverish and bruised-looking, still breathing for now.
He soaks some of the remaining peach slices in water and helps her sit up enough to drink the sweetened water without choking, but doesn't try his luck with the actual peaches themselves. She'll probably just throw it all up in an hour anyway.
Her toes are still warm, still have blood circulation, but the flesh of her leg is swollen enough that he risks undoing the bandaging. It must hurt because she grunts and groans as he manipulates her leg, trying and failing to remember if anyone said anything about this happening. Probably he could just leave the bandage off at this point; he doesn't know if it's done any good to begin with and she's definitely gotten sick despite it. But he dutifully re-wraps the lower section of her leg after a few minutes rest anyway, swapping out the bandage that had gotten soaked in blood from the bite wound that's still bleeding a thin trickle.
Maybe she could do with some of his blood, he thinks.
When he contorts back upright her eyes are open, blinking blearily in the darkness. "Max?" Her voice is hoarse and cracked, but not panicked this time at least.
He can't form words himself so he just hums, taking her hand in his when she drags it to his direction. She tangles their fingers together.
"Get the... license... plate?" she asks, and he can only think that she must be hallucinating again- or still. Maybe she sees the confusion on his face even in the dim light because after a moment she says, "Truck's plate. That... hit me."
A rasp of laughter is startled out of him as he gets the joke, and Max leans against the seat to be closer to her face, the hand not holding hers stroking carefully against her hair. "It was a snake," he says, in case she doesn't remember.
She makes a noise that's vaguely dismissive.
"How d'you feel?" he asks.
"Hurts," Furiosa says matter-of-factly, and he's glad that at least the vulnerable whine from earlier is gone. "Still got... my foot?"
"Yeah," he replies, and squeezes her fingers. She lets out a sigh that he thinks is relief, and sinks a little further down against the reclined chair.
"Stay?" she says, and he isn't sure whether she meant for the question to be there in her voice but it is.
Max hums in reply, giving in to the urge to brush a kiss against her forehead. Her fever's still present, skin hot against his lips even in that fleeting moment of contact. He pulls himself back because the alternative is to crowd in on that narrow seat with her and hold her close, which is something he doesn't think she would tolerate especially so sick.
"Sleep," he tells her, gentling his voice as well as he can under the circumstances. "I've got the watch."
Her mouth quirks up slightly before relaxing, and she doesn't let go of his hand as she follows his advice.
He had intended to get back to driving but he doesn't want to wake her with the engine starting, or the jostles of driving in such darkness, so instead he wastes his time until the sun rises by counting the beats of her pulse under his fingertips. Furiosa wakes twice, once raving and struggling and the other calmer again, asking for water and help outside to relieve herself.
He's not unused to sleepless nights but he's rarely spent them caring for other people like this and even though all he's doing is waiting it's draining; he's glad when the sun is up enough for him to avoid the worst of the rough patches and he can get moving again.
Max had hoped that surviving the night would mean Furiosa would begin to get well again, that the snake's venom would only need a little time to work through her system, but it seems he's mistaken. She drifts in and out all day while he steers them towards the Citadel as quickly as the Interceptor will sustain, sometimes perfectly lucid and annoyed at her condition and others entirely incoherent.
When she's out of it she tries to convince him that he'll have to take off her foot about as often as she tries to hide it from sight, like she can't make up which would be worse- losing another limb to a very amateur surgeon, or being too stubborn about losing it and losing her life instead. When he gets the bandages unwrapped to dab at the still-unscabbed puncture wounds, her skin looks a bit red and bruised, swollen, but nothing nearly so bad as to make him reach for a tourniquet and a knife.
His attempts at reassuring her of this are only successful part of the time; she doesn't ever call him the wrong name but in a few instances he has the feeling she's viewing memories more than reality, from the way she flinches and swallows down whimpers.
There doesn't seem to be much of anything he can actively do- he dampens some rags to lay against her forehead when her fever spikes, tries to coax water down her throat when she's lucid, re-wraps the bandaging to be sure her foot still has circulation- and so for the most part he just keeps his eyes roving around the wide open wasteland surrounding them, checking his position constantly while he picks a path through the sand and tumbled debris, trying to spot any hint of danger before it can become a problem.
The one good thing is that it's a mild day, as far as weather goes at the end of the world- the sky is overcast dingy gray, the sun diffuse rather than glaring. Max actually drapes the blanket that hasn't been sacrificed as bandaging around her at one point, careful not to tuck her hand underneath where it might get tangled, because the air rushing through the windows is cooling enough to make her shiver.
Their relative luck cracks somewhere in the late afternoon. Furiosa is dozing quietly after another delirious episode, red staining the corners of her mouth where she'd started bringing up traces of blood some hours earlier, and he sees movement along a ridge of rock.
His hands spasm on the wheel and he focuses on the movement to get a sense of what it is- too big and fast to be an animal, not big enough to be a truck, but he can't tell more than that- before lifting his eyes away to see if there's anything else on his other sides. A single vehicle he could manage, he thinks, but a pack of them could easily spell disaster.
There's a flash of something metallic to his right, wavering in a way that suggests it's a couple of bikes or else a very poorly welded car.
Max growls to himself and adjusts his seat. He shifts into a higher gear and hits the toggle for the turbocharger, the mechanism coughing momentarily just long enough for fear to shoot through him before it catches, deepening the roar of the engine. The Interceptor leaps forward, tires churning up the sand.
Once upon a time his car was meant to chase down the bad guys, not run from them, but it's still all about speed. The workshops at the Citadel are almost as well-stocked as something you'd find in the old world and Furiosa lets him spend as much time as he wants up there, tweaking and fixing and replacing a piece from here and a piece from there, until he's gotten his car to run fast and reliable enough to be depended on.
He's fast, but he's on someone else's home turf and the car on his left takes advantage, swooping in close enough now for him to see the jagged spikes on their grille that look built for ramming. He swerves the other way to keep distance between them and feels the terrain under his wheels soften; the bikes are gone from view entirely among chunks of rock and metal debris, which only makes the tension worse as he waits for them to reappear.
One saving grace is it doesn't look as if they have enough bullets to fling around carelessly, so Max only has to dodge lower-velocity projectiles. Someone in the other car is hurtling rocks at him, little pebbles all the way up to fist-sized launched out of a slingshot.
The Citadel's connection to the Bullet Farm means he has ammo to fill a few guns and he starts using it, pulling a glock out of its niche in the dashboard to take some pot-shots at the other car through his open windows. He's paying too much attention to his driving to aim very well, but the show of force might persuade them to try someone easier- most likely they won't give up until either they're crashed or he is, but some scavs just need to be shown that they're outclassed.
No such luck. The rocks keep coming, pinging off the metal bodywork and thumping against the roof and a few finding their way inside, striking him and Furiosa. So far it's only been the small ones, annoying more than dangerous, but it only takes one- especially when she's looking around in confusion, mind obviously still foggy despite the adrenaline of danger to boost her.
He doesn't bother suggesting she keep herself down; even delirious, he trusts her survival instincts. A shout from his other side draws his attention back to the disappeared bikes- one's in sight again now, and leaping off a ramp of rock to draw level with him. Unlike the car, the bike's pillion rider has a gun trained his way.
Max slams on the brakes with no warning, too tense to wince at the way his engine protests the rough handling. The motorcyclist's gun goes off a second too late to collide with him, though he doesn't get lucky enough for them to hit their mate in the car instead.
Next to him Furiosa says his name, but when he glances her way he can't tell if she's trying to actually communicate anything or not, so he looks away again.
His braking maneuver puts him behind them now, and he's jerking his wheel and stepping on the gas to go around almost before they realize he's dropped away from them. His heart is pounding a harsh rhythm in his chest, eyes twitching around as he makes for what should be a clear enough escape route.
A rock from that slingshot comes flying out and cracks his windshield but doesn't shatter it completely, and he swerves at just the right angle to collide with the second bike, appearing from seemingly out of nowhere. The motorcyclist screams as they go down under his wheels and Max doesn't even blink.
The first motorcycle takes some time to recover but the car's riding his ass, apparently fast enough that he isn't going to lose them on the get-away. A far-too-close gunshot startles him- had they just been biding their time with those rocks?- and movement catches his eye. Furiosa's hauled herself mostly upright, leaning heavily on the door panel as she takes aim with a gun he's certain he'd taken out of her reach when she started getting delusional.
She squeezes off a second shot and the pursuing car jerks wildly; blown tire, maybe. Whatever she hit they're slowing and Max looks out his own window to see that the motorcycle has fallen behind enough to not be much threat, and he holds steady on the gas pedal until they're clear of the both of them.
It takes until the vehicles are well behind them before the adrenaline starts to recede and he starts shaking instead, worn out from the sleepless night and the fight. He doesn't dare stop driving for a break now, though- even a quick scuffle like that could have attracted attention, and if the scavs are part of a larger gang he's vulnerable until he's well out of their territory.
Furiosa's flopped back into her seat, breathing heavy.
"You okay?" he asks, and wonders if he should take the gun from her or not. She'd handled it remarkably well considering her condition but he has no idea if she'll eventually slip back into a fever-delirium again and try turning it on him.
She groans a little. "They're gone?"
He checks behind them again- no sign of pursuers- and then toggles off the turbo, preserving both guzz and the state of the engine. Max hums a reply, and her expression eases up a bit. She looks an absolute mess still, skin bruised-looking and mouth and nose smudged with blood, but she seems coherent and not incapacitated with pain for the moment. When he reaches for the gun in her hand she doesn't fight him, and he stashes it away where it won't be an immediate danger.
"Need a break?" he says, and she shakes her head a little.
He'll need a break soon, even if she doesn't- the contrast between how clear-headed he was for the confrontation and how foggy things are again now that it's over is startling- but even exhausted he won't risk pulling over until he's sure they're far enough away from their attackers to be relatively safe. He reaches out again to check the pulse at her wrist, and after a few moments of reassuring himself that her heartbeat is still steady despite the excitement, she twists her hand so that her fingers are wrapping around his.
He finds a place to stop for a while around sunset, the sky painted soft pinks and purples as things slide into night. Max helps Furiosa first- she might be improving, she might be around the same; all he can tell is that she doesn't seem any worse- and when she's settled back down with a fresh canteen of water, he moves to the rear of the car ostensibly to check for damage from the confrontation.
Really he needs a bit of space, needs to pretend there's anything he can do in this situation. Furiosa hasn't collapsed and died but she hasn't burned through the venom, either, and he doesn't know what that means. Is it even possible to get better without antivenom they don't have, or is this what they have to look forward to? Her hanging on sick like this until something pushes her over the edge and she just drifts away?
Max flings away all the pebbles he finds in the car's boot, even knowing it's useless to try and get them all considering that he's driving through a desert.
By tomorrow they'll have reached the Citadel, assuming nothing else happens, and then at least someone other than just him will be worried like this. Maybe one of the medics has a cure, can whip up something to purge out the rest of the venom and she'll be on her feet again in mere minutes. Not that he believes for a second such a thing is possible.
When he drags himself back around to the front of the car Furiosa's eyes are open, and clear even in the dwindling light. She props herself up partway on her elbows as he gets back in, though she really should stay lying down. Probably- he's making this up as he goes along, really, but it makes sense that she should lie down when she's sick and injured.
"Y'okay?" he asks around a poorly-stifled yawn, and reaches out to feel her forehead, to gauge where her fever is. Her eyes track his movements and he can't remember when else he's touched her so much as he has these past days. Her skin's cooled a bit since he last felt it, which makes him wonder if her fever might finally be breaking.
"You should sleep," she says in a hoarse voice instead of answering his question. The inside of her mouth is raw and red, like an open wound, and her eye sockets are deeply bruised.
He pulls his hand away and grunts; he can't afford to sleep, not when she's incapacitated like this. "We'll reach the Citadel soon," he says.
"Max," she says, sounding tired. "I know you haven't slept."
As if he could, even if he wanted to. Max doesn't reply but just reaches past the seats, until he can get to the sack of rations. "Up for eating?" he asks. She's had nothing but water since being bitten and he's anxious to see that she gets something into her stomach that stays there- she hasn't been sick since mid-morning, but he doesn't know if that's a fluke or not.
She lowers herself back down to the seat with a muted sigh. "Something salty."
He hopes she's saying it because she's actually craving salt, not because she knows she ought to be. Still, if it gets into her system, he decides he doesn't care about the motivations. He digs around until he finds their salted meat and then passes over a few small pieces to her, taking a chunk for himself to gnaw on as well.
"We'll be there before noon if I drive straight through," he says.
Furiosa pauses in her attempts at masticating the tough dried meat to answer him. "A couple extra hours won't kill me."
He flinches; she doesn't know that, could so easily drop dead in the next second. She doesn't say anything else, just finishes eating and curls up a little on her side again, facing away from him.
He stares at her back for a long minute, the sturdiness of her body reduced to looking frail enough to unsettle him, before lifting his eyes away and checking their surroundings. The clouds from earlier never receded and the sky is covered almost entirely, the night dark. He could drive in this if he really had to, but Furiosa's breathing is steady and even in his ears and he doesn't want to disturb her if she's getting rest.
Max leans against the back of his seat and tries not to dwell on the future, not to wonder in what state they'll arrive at the Citadel.
The wind picks up, not quite enough to whistle through the cracks but enough to feel the chill cutting through the air. He doesn't bother to check that Furiosa is shivering or not before he finds the blanket and drapes it over her, regretting that it can't cover both her bare toes and her nearly-bare shoulders at the same time. She stirs a little without saying anything, and folds up further into herself so she's entirely covered.
He fusses with the edge of the fabric for a moment before sinking back into his seat, hunching his shoulders up around himself and drawing his jacket in close. The wind shifts some of the cloud cover so that every now and again he can see a glimpse of stars, twinkling up above with no awareness of their lives down on this dustball.
He has no intention of sleeping, but the only thing he can hear is Furiosa's steady rhythmic breathing and it's reassuring, hypnotic. Max finds his eyes blinking slower and slower despite his attempts to rouse himself, and at some point he slips into sleep himself.
He wakes up at a noise that doesn't register itself, something sharp and fleeting that has him jerking upright, alert. It's still dark out and Furiosa is still asleep next to him- he listens for her breathing to be sure- and when he looks around the car he can't see a single thing out of the ordinary.
He takes his time checking that things really are quiet and then opens his door, getting out to take a brisk walk around. From the feel of things he's gotten a few hours of sleep and this little bit if anything makes him feel more tired now that his body has succumbed in the first place. He wants to go back to sleep but he knows he shouldn't, and so he takes a walk in the chilly night air.
His boots dislodge small rocks as he walks and from one of them he sees a shadowy shape skitter away; Max goes entirely still, heart suddenly pounding. A healthy respect for wildlife has been ingrained in him since as far back as he can remember, but he doesn't know if he's ever felt just so aware of the dangers before. He can't tell what it is he's uncovered- a spider, maybe, or mouse or maybe just a leaf blown by the wind- but when he determines that he can't see any more movement against the moonlit landscape he starts walking back to the car, steps slow and careful.
Furiosa stirs when he shuts the door, and he figures if she's already awake he might as well get the engine started so they can head out.
It's just past noon when he rolls up to the base of the Citadel, hordes of ground-dwellers obligingly moving out of the way for him to get onto the waiting lift. He's gotten used to them having it lowered for him, the people on watch recognizing the Interceptor and passing along the message of his arrival, and it's a liability to just assume that it's him but today he's glad for the presumption.
"I can walk," Furiosa says when he stops her from getting out of the car. She's been lucid all morning, her temperature down to nearly a normal range, but that doesn't mean he's going to take her word for it when there's actual medical help finally available.
"Mellita's already on her way," he replies. The first thing he'd done even before the lift finished docking was shout for a runner to get the Vuvalini healer, a few surprised but eager Pups jumping to comply. She scowls at him but coherent or not she's still too weak to really resist, though he allows her to ratchet the seat back up so she can sit up while they wait.
Mellita appears within minutes, a bag of supplies slung over her shoulder. "What happened?" she asks, foregoing any sort of greeting.
"Snakebite," he says.
Her eyes widen minutely and focus on Furiosa, since he's clearly standing just fine under his own power and thus can be dismissed as a concern. "How long ago? Symptoms? Has it been pressurized?"
"Two days ago," Max says. "She fainted, got delirious. Vomited."
Mellita's hands are probing her wrapped leg, her bruised face. "You've been bleeding? Eyes opening all the way?"
"I had a nosebleed," Furiosa says. "My eyes were fine."
"She had a fever, 'n got all bruised," he volunteers.
Mellita nods at this information. "You're coming with me to the infirmary," she says, stepping back from the car.
"I feel better," Furiosa says. "Wouldn't I be dead already if it was going to kill me?"
The fact that she's resisting care actually makes him feel a bit better; she hadn't protested anything earlier except when incoherent, unusual for someone who deeply prefers to lick her own wounds in private.
"Don't argue," Mellita says firmly. "You want him to carry you or should I call a stretcher?"
Furiosa eyes him warily; tall as she is he can still carry her weight easily enough for a short trip like this, the question is whether she'd tolerate it any better than being carried on a litter. "I can walk," she says stubbornly.
"Stretcher it is," Mellita says, and gives instructions to one of the Pups who are constantly underfoot, curious but knowing better than to interfere with a medic. She turns her eyes to him next. "How long has her leg been wrapped? Did you incise the bite? Try and suck out the venom?"
Max shakes his head and shifts his weight, unsure if what he did was the right thing. "I, ah, bandaged it right away. When we noticed. And changed it a few times. I didn't... didn't cut her, or anything else."
To his relief she nods in what he thinks is an approving fashion. "Might not have gotten infected too badly, then," she says.
The stretcher arrives, along with a couple of sturdy former-War Boys to carry it, and Furiosa mutinously lays down on it for them to carry her to the infirmary. She's allowed to sit up when they reach a cot, however, and Mellita shuts the privacy curtain once the War Boys have been dismissed.
"You pants need to come off," she says, already working to get the bandaging undone.
Max has seen Furiosa in her underwear before, usually as she's changing for bed or getting some wound cleaned, but even in this context it's still not something he's entirely at ease around. "Water," he mutters for an excuse, and leaves the confines of the cubicle to fetch a jug.
Behind him he can ask Furiosa asking, "Does the foot come off, too?"
He intends to take his time, but runs into Capable and Toast before he can even get to the tap. No surprise that someone had told the girls, and he wonders when they can expect the others to appear.
"What happened?" Capable asks, "Is Furiosa okay?"
"She got bit by a snake," he says, the way their faces pale in shock giving him a reminder of how he'd felt to realize it. He turns the handle for the tap and lets water start gushing into the jug he's gripping tightly.
"When? Is she gonna make it?" Toast demands, crossing her arms over her stomach and putting on an expression like armor.
"A few days ago," Max says. "I think... she might be okay." Just saying the words out loud feels daring, like now he's jinxed things and she's really seizing behind the curtain right this second.
"What was she even doing, messing with a snake?" Toast says.
"It was an accident," he says, and shuts off the water with a firm twist. If she hadn't taken off her boots the fangs might have not even scratched her, if she'd been paying more attention she wouldn't have gotten so close to the snake to begin with, if she'd come to the car with him to grab breakfast, if he'd searched well enough to find that pool the night before, if if if... none of it matters because it was just an accident. A stupid senseless accident that despite the odds might not be proving fatal.
The girls follow him when he returns to the cubicle, Mellita currently busy pricking Furiosa with needles to draw blood for whatever tests she's decided are necessary and possible. He sets the jug down on the stone wall's carved shelf- right next to a similar pitcher, already full of water.
"Are you okay?" Capable asks, setting a hand gently on Furiosa's darkly-bruised shoulder.
"I'm alive," she replies bluntly.
"Fuck were you doing to get snakebit?" Toast says, voice tinged with accusation.
Furiosa sends a look her way, weary, and doesn't reply.
"Here," Mellita says, and passes a little glass tube of blood to Toast, "Agitate this for me. Twenty minutes, no stopping."
Toast looks displeased but accepts the task, and Max watches Furiosa's red blood swirling in the tube for a moment before he has to look away. She looks better than she had the day before, but the infirmary smells like antiseptic and dried blood and bitter herbs, and he's at best unnecessary here.
"Gonna move the car," he says, because he'd just left it off to the side of the lift platform, out in the relative open. No one would touch it, he knows, but he can't stay here even if it looks like she might actually be recovering instead of getting worse.
None of them stop him as he slips back out of the curtained space and down through the hallways.
He moves the Interceptor to a better spot, out-of-the-way in the working garage where he's gotten used to leaving it parked when he's here. The jars and bottles of samples he brings up to Dag in the gardens, though she isn't the one who will actually be testing much of it, and then he returns to his car to clean away the traces of Furiosa's illness.
When that's done it's barely been an hour and he opens the bonnet to poke around the engine, desperate to be doing something that doesn't require thinking. He could have brought his car back to the lift platform and been lowered to the sands again, driven off cracked windshield and all. It's not the repairs and maintenance that's stopping him- repairs are harder to come by outside the Citadel but not impossible- but the uncertainty of Furiosa's condition, the painful little kernel of hope that she might recover. If he runs now he could easily never know one way or the other; with an answer so close by, one that might not be negative, he doesn't think he can manage to leave, not all the way.
Cheedo finds him in the evening- it's hard to tell time when the workshop runs lights most always, but the ventilation shafts in the ceiling are dark and she has a bowl of food that she presses into his hands, so he assumes it's late.
"Mellie says she's probably going to be okay," she tells him.
Max grunts and shoves a forkful of greens into his mouth without tasting any of it.
"She said you did the right thing with that bandage," she says next.
He doesn't want to hear about it, because then he'll dwell on all the things he should have done better and all the ways it could have been worse.
Cheedo watches him eat with a sort of frowning concern that makes him itchy with the need to be elsewhere, but he likes the girls too much to be outright rude when it's not necessary, so he endures it.
"You should go sit with her," she says. "I don't know why you're out here to begin with, anyway."
Max swallows the last bite and shoves the emptied bowl in her direction with a grunted "thanks".
She looks between him and the bowl, clearly weighing up the option of making him take it back to the kitchen himself, but takes it from him with a small sigh in the end. "Dag's excited about the water you brought back," she says, but the change of topic doesn't make him any more inclined to want to talk.
Eventually Cheedo gives up and leaves him be, the workshop nearly emptied around him as most call it a night. He leans against the closed hood of his car and thinks about where he's going to sleep- even if she lent him the key, he doesn't think he could sleep in Furiosa's room without her there, especially not if she might never return to it. But the garage is too public for him to want to curl up in his car, and the guest rooms they have remind him too much of the days he spent locked up as a blood-bag.
"Lights!" someone shouts from near the entrance to the garage, and with no one calling out any protests, a moment later the lamps cut to darkness.
Max blinks and lets his eyes adjust to the gloom, until he can make out the shapes of vehicles scattered around the space. There's a bit of light coming in from the ceiling windows but it's mostly the various doorways that are illuminated with the soft glow of hallway torches.
For a few minutes he thinks about the merits of staying where he is, then picks himself up and makes for one of the doorways. He doesn't have any plan of where to go, or at least he tells himself that, and yet it's without much surprise that he finds himself standing at the entrance to the infirmary.
Mellita's gone off-duty by now and the medic who's working this shift dismisses him as unworthy of care with a quick look. He makes for the cubicle Furiosa had been in and hesitates when he hears a kid's voice stumbling over words inside, but the curtain's pushed back enough for him to easily see her propped up by pillows on a cot, a War Pup sitting next to a dim light and painstakingly making their way through a battered book.
She looks up at him as soon as he appears, and she doesn't look very much better than before, skin still pale and bruised, but her expression warms just a little. "Raz, that's enough," she says, evidently to the War Pup who jerks their head up in surprise, reading stopped mid-word.
Max shifts his weight from one foot to the other. "Feeling better?"
"I'll live," she says, a casual dismissal of whatever she's feeling now and reassurance in one. He can see two lumps where both her feet are under the blanket, and if amputation was really on the table he doesn't think she'd be so calm, even now that she isn't feverish. When he doesn't have an answer for her she turns to the kid and says, "It's late. You should get going."
"Okay," the Pup says, carefully setting the book down on the chair so the pages are splayed open to the page they were just reading. They send Max a speculative look, one he's gotten used to from the scamps running around with second- and third-hand stories about things he's supposedly done, but they only tell Furiosa "goodnight" before slipping out of the curtained room.
"Good book?" Max asks, stepping in further to see what it is. ‘Treasure Island’ stares up at him in faded letters from the once-bright front cover.
She shrugs in answer, and he supposes from what he heard of the kid's reading skills not much of the story would actually be intelligible. He picks the book up and scans the pages; they're not very far into the story, maybe only a third of the way. He wonders if the Pup started reading it to her of their own initiative or if Furiosa asked them to.
"You could finish the chapter," she says.
"Shouldn't you sleep?" he counters, setting the book down on the shelf next to the pitcher of water. There's plenty of light in the main section of the infirmary but in this corner there's really only a few dim candles lit here and there outside the curtains, plenty dark enough to sleep.
"I've been sleeping all day," she says with an undertone of frustration, as if she isn't recovering from being injected with venom.
Max takes a seat on the chair next to her cot and reflects that he most certainly hasn't been sleeping, his gut still strung tight with worry. Things are fairly calm here, no one groaning in pain, no sounds of a surgery going on. He picks the book back up, and finds the start of the first sentence on the page. "‘Pew was dead, stone dead. As for-’"
She interrupts him almost immediately. "Start from the beginning," Furiosa says, adjusting the blanket draped over her as she sinks further down into the cushions.
He flicks a look her way that's meant to be quelling- he's the one doing her a favor by reading- but he can't help but obey even so. He only goes to the start of the chapter, not the entire book, and clears his throat before starting to read again. "‘My curiosity, in a sense, was stronger than my fear, for I could not remain where I was...’"
She appears to fall asleep before the end of the next chapter, which is just as well because his throat is unused to talking for long periods of time like this. Max marks the place with a scrap from his pockets and sets the book onto the shelf, then blows out the light. He doesn't know if the medics will scold him for doing so but the dark is more restful, and they can always re-light it if they need to.
"Max," Furiosa whispers just as he's settling back onto the chair, apparently still awake after all. He hums to let her know he heard and leans in to see that she's alright. "You should sleep," she says, gaze finding his despite the darkness.
He replies with a vague noise; the chair isn't very comfortable, but now that he's here in her presence again he's reluctant to go slink off somewhere else, even if he could use a better night's rest than this seat promises.
"The bed holds two," she says, and drops her eyes from his face. "Or you can have my room key."
Max thinks about being in her room without her there, about being in an entirely different tower than where the infirmary is, and shakes his head. He's reluctant to share the cot with her when she's recovering, and not entirely convinced that it really can hold the two of them, but at the same time he's worn out and can't resist the lure of the offer.
He sheds his boots and jacket, loosens his brace and belt, and then slips in alongside her under the blanket. The cot creaks a warning under his added weight but holds. They usually share her bed when he stays in her room but this cot is narrower, unsupported so they sag into the middle together in closer contact than they'd be on an ordinary night.
Furiosa rolls onto her side and switches from resting her head on the pillows to using his chest, her arm wrapping around his middle like she wants to hold him in place. It's a more intimate pose than he's used to- they sometimes wake up tangled together, but don't usually fall asleep that way- but he likes the way she fits against him, is reassured by the fact that he can feel her breathing, the warmth of her skin seeping through their clothes.
"I was scared," she whispers, the words muffled by the fabric of his shirt.
He curls his arm around her and swallows heavily against the memory of his own fear. It could have gone so badly so quickly, and then instead of being here with her warm and safe and getting stronger next to him he'd be out in the wasteland, trying to outrun her ghost- or trying to catch up to it. Under his hand he can feel the strong line of her spine, the shift of bone and muscle as she breathes in and out steadily.
"Me too," he says. Scared for her, and scared for himself as well- he's lost everything precious to him before and doesn't look forward to experiencing it again, though now he will, one way or another. Either he leaves of his own volition to preempt the pain, or he loses her like this for real, another snake or a lucky bullet or a hundred other possibilities. He's too attached, too entrenched, to even pretend that he won't feel anything other than devastated when it happens.
Her breath washes over his skin when she sighs, barely audible.
He wants to tell her what it means to him that she's okay, what she means to him, but Max was never good at getting things like that into words. And the idea of it sitting there between them, his heart out in the open for all the wasteland to drive over...
As if not saying it makes him any less vulnerable.
"Hey," he says, and then has to stop because he doesn't know what else to say.
Furiosa lets out a little hum, questioning, and angles her head to look more directly at him. It's dark in their little corner but he still finds that he has to look away from her, that he can't possible force out words and look her in the face at the same time.
"I'm glad you're okay," he says, stumbling over himself.
She breathes out with a shadow of amusement and tightens the hold of her arm around him minutely. "Me, too."
"I don't want to... lose you," he says. It's not the right words- if only because he can't lose her because he doesn't have her- but he can't summon up any better way to phrase it. Not without using language that petrifies him just to think in terms of.
She doesn't reply for a long time, long enough for him to start counting heartbeats and wonder if he's said the wrong thing, or if maybe she's just fallen asleep. Finally she says, "I'm not going anywhere."
The world they live in doesn't allow for promises, for certainties- the very idea is if anything a red flag egging on the wasteland's cruel sense of humor. Max knows this with painful certainty and yet her words are soothing all the same, the quiet conviction behind them something he's come to trust. She isn't leaving just yet.
And neither, he realizes, is he. The urge to run, to just walk away before anything worse can happen to him, is still there- it'll always be there, he suspects- but it's muted, as dim as the candles behind their curtains. One day he'll be faced with a life that doesn't have her in it, but for tonight at least he can say it isn't going to be because he's taken off running.
He sighs and feels a knot of tension inside him relax a little, and when she tucks her face back against him he curls himself inwards as well, until he can brush his lips against the top of her head. Her breath is warm and damp against his skin, rhythmic, and he lets his eyes slide shut.