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When Furiosa is seven her Ma dies, and then not three weeks later her Mom follows. She and Valkyrie hold each other's hands and say practically nothing on the way to their aunts' house, where they'll live from now on.

"It was the curse," Valkyrie says the first night they spend in the great old house, tucked under the rafters of the attic. They can hear the rain outside tapping against the shingles with such clarity it's a wonder they aren't getting wet from it.

"The curse was for men," Furiosa replies doubtfully. Everyone in the family knows it, how their love-scorned great-great-grandmother had cursed herself and her children that any man who dared love a Jobassa witch would die before long. But Ma was clearly not a man, and the curse didn't say anything about then dying from a broken heart yourself, either.

"What else could it've been?" she says.

Furiosa ponders the idea while lightning flashes outside, followed by a sharp crack of thunder. Had anyone actually said it was just men? Even the oldest of the aunts hadn't been alive to hear Maria Jobassa's actual words, and Mom was the only one she knew who loved a woman the right way to want to get married. "Maybe," she allows. "I'm never falling in love with anyone."

"Yeah," Valkyrie says, squeezing her hand, "Me either."

 

The aunts are lax about rules, not caring whether they go to bed at a reasonable hour or eat sensible meals or even if they go to school. When the sun goes down one of them- Maadie usually, but nearly as often Keep or Jet- will pull out a dusty book or two, and teach the type of lessons that can't be had from public school.

Furiosa isn't as good at identifying the plants in the garden as Valkyrie is but she gets the hang of lighting candles without a match much faster, and she smugly tells her that the cats like her better.

"As if I care," Val sniffs, like she hasn't been trying to bribe the scraggly pack with scraps of her lunch for weeks.

The cats like her (or perhaps just the tuna sandwich she'd packed for lunch) so much that they once follow her to class one day in the fourth grade, to her horror. Furiosa has always tried not to care what the other kids think about her, to not hear how they whisper 'witch' under their breaths and tell each other that the aunts will curse them, but faced with a room full of jeering nine-year-olds and a milling dozen or so cats, she ends up screaming long and loud to disguise the hot tears escaping her eyes.

While she's screaming there's a tremendous noise from the room above them, like a roll of thunder, and a tile from the ceiling falls down to break in half against the head of the boy being meanest. He drops, stunned by the blow, and Furiosa grabs the nearest cat and runs out the door, the rest trailing her.

The whispers get louder after that, but none of the kids dare to say to her face that they think she and Val must have the devil for a father.

 

Sometimes women come to the back door of the house, always after dark, always with something important to them clutched in their hands. They'll ring the bell and stammer about needing help, about how he just has to love them or they'll die.

"Please," a pretty woman with mousy brown hair says, her eyes almost feverish in her desperation. "Please, I'll do anything if only he leaves his wife for me."

Furiosa sits next to Valkyrie on the shadowy stairs as they peer into the kitchen, knowing they aren't supposed to watch this but unable to resist finding out what makes a woman come back a second time. The aunts already charmed the man to love her, she's surprised they haven't turned her away now that she's come back asking for more.

"I just want him to love me so much he can't stand it."

The ordinary love spell involves a little bit of the asker's breath, some hair or nail clippings of the person they want charmed, lavender and foxglove and swan feathers. This time Maadie appears with a pale dove in her hand, struggling against her grip.

Trish hands the woman a silver pin and tells her instructions in a voice too quiet to carry all the way to the stairs, and Valkyrie clutches her hand so tightly Furiosa loses feeling when the dove starts making noises. She's glad they're just behind the corner out of sight; she doesn't want to know what they're doing to the thing, what would make love seem worth the price of just getting this spell set up.

The woman leaves not five minutes later, smiling, and Furiosa tugs Valkyrie back up to their attic bedroom because she's still frozen on the steps.

"That was awful," Valkyrie says once the trapdoor is shut behind them.

"Yeah," Furiosa agrees. One thing to kill an animal for ingredients- isn't it just the same for cooking?- but another to play with it like one of the cats. She can't imagine being that desperate for love, of all things.

 

A couple of months later and the same woman is back for a third time, not at night but under the bright light of day. Her hair is a frizzy mess, her skin sallow. Furiosa watches her bang against the back door and wonders what else she could possibly want. The man's brother, too?

None of the aunts answer the door and the woman starts shouting. "You have to make it stop! He never leaves me alone!"

"I thought that's what she wanted," Valkyrie says, just loud enough to draw the woman's attention.

She whirls around, eyes landing on where the two of them are getting their hands dirty around the haphazard rows of comfrey and chamomile. "You have to get your aunts for me," the woman says. "They need to take it back!"

"You said you wanted him to love you," Furiosa says, even though she shouldn't say anything.

"He never lets me out of his sight," she says as if she can have a spell reversed just by convincing them she wants it enough. "He took the door off the bathroom! He wants sex all the time even though I'm rubbed raw."

"Sorry," Valkyrie says.

The woman's face scrunches up, turning mean. "Where are they? They cursed me and I need them to take it back!" When neither says anything she takes a menacing step towards them, hand balling up into a fist. "Tell me where those witches are!"

"Go away," Furiosa says, at the same time Valkyrie lies and says, "They're on vacation."

"You're ruining my life!" the woman shouts, reaching for them so aggressively that Furiosa jumps back with a shriek, the same prickly-hot feeling from the day the cats followed her to school building in her chest.

"Go away or we'll curse you worse," she threatens, knowing she could do it, could have this woman vomiting toads or walking on fire for the rest of her life.

The woman opens her mouth but nothing comes out, though her lips move. Furiosa glances from her reddening face to the back door and sees Jet standing there with a dark expression; Jet twirls her finger and the woman pivots on her heel, walking stiffly towards the gate as if controlled by strings.

Next to her Valkyrie lets out a shaky breath.

"There's brownies just out of the oven," Jet says calmly as if this is the only possible thing to say, rather than something totally at odds with the woman marching- under her own power now, it looks like- back down the lane towards town.

"You only did what she wanted," Furiosa says to her as she leaves the garden.

"Some people don't know what they want," she replies, and ruffles a hand through both of their hair as they pass towards the kitchen.

"I'm never going to fall in love," Furiosa whispers to Val, wrinkling her nose at the thought of ever wanting to be so out-of-control and desperate.

"That's not really love," Valkyrie counters with a shake of her head.

But Furiosa's made up her mind, even more so now than when she watched her Mom cry herself to death right before their eyes. Love makes everything twisted even when it isn't outright killing you, and it's better to avoid it altogether.

A bit before midnight she creeps down the many flights of stairs and into the little room between kitchen and greenhouse where the books and boxes of ingredients are kept. There are a hundred types of love charms and she flips through the pages until she finds the one she's looking for, leaving the book splayed open on the table as she gets a bowl to put the ingredients into.

"This spell will bring me my true love," Furiosa says into the moonlit room. She plucks a swan's feather from the little box of them and starts reciting the list she came up with while pretending to sleep. "They'll have hair with a cowlick in it," she says first, because she figures it's better to ease the spell into going along with her by starting small.

"They'll hum my favorite song," she says next, adding a sprig of lavender. "They'll talk with dogs." A foxglove blossom. "They'll be marvelously kind." Rose petals, now.

"What are you doing?" Valkyrie asks from the entrance of the greenhouse.

"Casting a love spell," Furiosa replies, glancing at her and then back at the flowerpots. "They'll drive a Ford Falcon," she says while snapping off a few blades of lemongrass.

"I thought you didn't want to fall in love," Val says suspiciously.

"They'll have type-O blood," she says, ignoring her as she adds a few drops of sandalwood oil. They've just learned about blood types in class and she thinks it's fascinating, has started wondering if it affects spells at all when they're the sort to call for blood.

"That's really specific," Valkyrie says, coming to stand next to her and look into the bowl.

"And," Furiosa says triumphantly as she adds the last ingredient, a pair of soft dove feathers, "They'll have wings."

Valkyrie squawks. "What are you doing?"

"Making it so I never fall in love," she says, taking the bowl carefully to the back door so she can burn the contents out in the garden. "I can't love someone who doesn't exist."

"But love doesn't have to be bad," Val says with a shake of her head.

Furiosa thinks of Mom lying in bed after coming back from the hospital without Ma, how she'd just laid there crying until her heart gave out. Instead of answering she recites the last line of the spell three times over, sparking a little fire inside the bowl so the ingredients are consumed in a thin reddish flame, the smoke wafting into the air to search out her impossible true love. She can feel the power of it settling into place despite her tall order and smiles.

"There," she says, relieved. Now she'll never die of a broken heart, never go crazy like the woman at the gate.

"You're going to regret that," Valkyrie predicts, but doesn't say a word to the aunts the next morning when they discover one of their nice wooden bowls has been scorched clean through.

 

When Furiosa is eighteen, she leaves home. The town she grew up in is tiny, the house cramped with so many people living in it, the air thick with generations of people whispering about her and the family.

"I just need space," she says to Valkyrie the morning she plans to set out, having run out of patience to explain herself again to any more relatives.

"You have to promise to come back," Val says.

"I will," she replies for what feels like the hundredth time. "I'll come back and we'll grow old together, you know that. Probably die on the same day surrounded by cats." Valkyrie still doesn't look convinced and if she waits much longer she'll miss her bus. "Here," Furiosa says, and pulls out the knife she's kept sheathed in her boots since eighth grade when the boys at school realized she'd grown tits. She runs the blade down the palm of her left hand with a wince, blood welling up bright red. "My blood."

She motions for Val to hold out her hand and when she does she slices a matching cut. "Your blood."

Furiosa clasps their bleeding hands together and tugs her close, so they're standing forehead to forehead. "Our blood," she says, this time with Valkyrie echoing her.

Val sniffs, eyes closed. "Don't leave me to the cats."

"You'll survive," she says, hand throbbing in time with her heart. Then she's stepping away, slipping her knife back into her boot and hefting her bag up on her shoulder.

The bus takes her nearly halfway across the country, to a city with buildings so tall she can scarcely see the sky, where she discovers to her dismay that money doesn't stretch anywhere near as far as she would have expected it to.

Furiosa isn't as charming or as good with words as her sister, but she talks herself into a job waiting tables easily enough, and starts fucking one of the other waitresses because they have nice eyes and so she won't have to worry about having a place to sleep. She calls home every week, brimming with stories of how different things are, and when she gets bored of the first city she gets on a train and moves to another to repeat the cycle.

 

When she's twenty and has lived in five different cities in the two years since leaving home, her boyfriend of the moment introduces her to Joe Moore and his little under-the-table business. She's wary of the whole thing but Joe's charismatic enough to draw her in anyway, until she's twenty three and a surgeon fails to save her left hand from needing to be amputated.

She wakes up after the surgery to see Valkyrie sitting at her bedside, though she'd never given an address for where she's been living.

"I'm not matching that scar," Val says, and Furiosa tries to smile at her instead of screaming at the reality of suddenly missing a hand. Valkyrie pets over her head like she's one of the cats, hair chopped shorter and shorter since it only gets in her way anyway. "Why don't you come home for a while? Just until you're back on your feet."

Furiosa shakes her head. "I have a job here." Not a job she can get paid for, or talk about, but one where she's important enough that she can't just leave on a whim.

"They don't give you sick days?" Val asks, only halfway sarcastic.

"Something like that," she says.

"You haven't called in a while," Valkyrie says, squeezing her fingers around the hand she does have left.

"I've been busy," Furiosa replies.

Valkyrie sighs at her, but starts telling her about what Keep's done with the garden lately instead of berating her any further.

 

That's the last time she sees her sister for nearly ten more years, until Joe finally goes too far and ends up wrapped in a trash bag in the trunk of his own car, the five women he'd been abusing at the moment taking up the rest of the seats while Furiosa drives through the night.

"That's your house?" Toast asks, leaning between the front seats to peer up at it. It looks older than she remembers it, more worn down, and she wonders if it only seems so because it's failing to live up to her memories.

"It was," Furiosa says in reply as she cuts the engine. The place hasn't been her home in years but it haunts her dreams still with its mismatched woodwork and incomprehensible layout. There's only a single dim light on in any of the windows, though the porch light flickers to life as she knocks on the front door.

"Furiosa?" Valkyrie asks around a yawn, clearly having been woken from sleep. "And friends."

"Val, I need help," she says, hating how the words taste. "Are any of the aunts up?"

She shakes her head, visibly waking up by the second. "They're all out," she says. "Vacation."

The aunts have never taken a single vacation in her entire life, so of course they would choose the day Furiosa has a corpse in her trunk to all depart at once.

"What's wrong?"

"I have a body I need to hide," Furiosa says bluntly. She nods her head towards the girls bunched up behind her on the porch. "They need a place to stay for a while."

"Shit," Valkyrie says, and steps back into the house, holding the door open.

Furiosa heads straight for the kitchen, unsure if she'd rather have a mug of Keep's homegrown tea or a shot of Mozzie's homebrewed whisky but knowing she needs some kind of drink. She stops short at the sight of the greenhouse, multiple panes replaced with plywood and more than half the plants dying or gone. A look around the kitchen shows the room is more worn than it should be, too many mugs on the rack chipped, the overhead light flickering every few seconds like it's threatening to give out.

She shakes her head and puts the thought on hold for another time, instead fumbling with the heavy cast-iron kettle until Capable takes it from her grip.

"We can manage tea," she says with a tight smile.

Furiosa nods, rubbing her hand over her forehead while she steps away from the stove again. After sitting in the car all day she's sure they're itching to do something, and she doesn't want them to have to see the body or worse, get any evidence of its presence on them.

"Wheelbarrow still in the shed?" she asks Valkyrie.

"Yeah, shovels too," Val replies, setting down the canister of tea she'd fetched to walk with her out the back door. The garden looks smaller too, more weeds growing in between the herbs. "Why do you have a body that needs to be buried?"

"He deserved it," Furiosa says firmly, grabbing the cobwebbed wheelbarrow and starting to wheel it around to the front of the house.

"Okay," she says, "But why not chuck it in a river?"

And not bring trouble down to their doors, Furiosa hears. She doesn't have a good answer for that one. Certainly there are deserted stretches of land she could have used as a dumping ground, could have dressed the scene a little and just gone to the police saying it was self defense, but she'd panicked. "I can get back on the road," she says.

"No, you're here now," Valkyrie says, taking the wheelbarrow from her while she gets the trunk open. It's a minor miracle that the trash bags contained Joe's blood as well as they have; not more than a few drops spill onto the interior, easily explained by harmless nicks he could have gotten any time. The blanket he's wrapped in comes undone as he flops into the wheelbarrow and his jawless face grins up at the haloed moon.

"Shit," Val says, turning away from the sight to take a few deep breaths. "You really did a number on him. Fuck."

Furiosa drags the bloody cloth back up to cover his face and doesn't bother trying to defend herself. "Do we have to worry about coyotes?"

She shakes her head, still looking green around the edges. "We can put him under the lilac bush," Valkyrie says after a moment. "That should hide any smell."

They're careful to excavate the roots, dragging the bush to the side and then starting the real work of digging a hole deep enough to contain an entire man. It takes hours, long enough that Furiosa sends Valkyrie inside to get the girls squared away with places to sleep. She tumbles Joe down into the dark crater alone, spitting onto his corpse before starting to shovel dirt back over him.

The sun's nearly up when it's finished, the lilac carefully planted back in place and wheelbarrow hosed down to make sure no blood stuck around.

Furiosa scrubs the worst of the mud off in the greenhouse's wide trough sink, too tired to even think about showering for real until after she's gotten some sleep. She'll have to pull her prosthesis apart entirely to get it cleaned out. "Where am I sleeping?" she asks, and yawns. She doubts the attic still has her old bed waiting for her, but she doesn't relish the thought of curling up on one of the couches alongside the cats.

"Mozzie's old room," Val says, leading her to the single ground-floor bedroom.

"Old room?" she asks, surprised that any of the aunts would give up their rooms.

"Well she doesn't need it anymore," Valkyrie says, "Seeing as she's been dead three years."

Furiosa sucks in a breath, even more taken aback than she had been at the sight of the withered greenhouse. One of the aunts, dead? Surely she would have known. Except she can't remember the last time she even called. "I didn't know," she says.

"Yeah," Val says with a shrug. "I know you didn't. Night."

She leaves her there without another word, footsteps disappearing down the hallway and up the creaky old stairs. Furiosa stands in the middle of the room for a long minute and wonders why she even thought home was a place that exists anymore.

 

It's nearly noon when she wakes up, sunlight streaming in between the dusty curtains. They hadn't grabbed anything on their way out of town and she slides back into her muddy clothes, leaving her feet bare as she heads for the kitchen.

It's strange to see the people of her current life in a room from her past, drinking out of the same mismatched cups she grew up with.

"Morning," Capable says with a smile, already looking better without the spectre of Joe hanging over their heads.

Furiosa hums a reply and takes the mug passed to her, leaning her hip against one of the cluttered counters.

"Why didn't you tell us you were a witch?" Dag asks.

She flicks her eyes over to Valkyrie, who shrugs a vague apology. There's no real reason she should have told them; it's her secret, after all. Or was, anyway. "I haven't even done magic in years," Furiosa says. She'd set herself up on the curb with a folding table and a deck of tarot cards a few times when she needed some legal cash fast, sure, but that's hardly the same.

"The fact that you even could," Toast huffs.

"Now that you're awake, Valkyrie said she'd show us around town," Angharad says, diverting the conversation.

Furiosa doesn't know how good of an idea it is to draw any attention to themselves- she knows far better than to think an influx of six women is going to go unnoticed in their tiny town, especially connected to the family- but it'll have to happen eventually, especially since they have nothing with them but the clothes on their backs and whatever's rattling around loose in Joe's car and will need to go shopping at some point. She sips her coffee, the kicky aftertaste of anise bringing her right back to being eighteen and realizing that she had to get out. And look where that brought her- right back where she started, missing half an arm and with a dead body buried in the backyard.

"We'll all go," she says.

"I have a clean shirt you can borrow," Val says. "No point telling you paws off the scrunchies now, though."

She smiles despite herself. "Just payback for all the eyeshadow you stole."

"I knew it!" Valkyrie says triumphantly. "Accidental, my ass."

Furiosa snorts fondly. Over the rim of her mug she can see that Cheedo is staring at her, Toast darting her eyes between her and Val.

"I don't think I've ever seen you smile," Cheedo says.

Just that's enough to dim her surprising good mood, and she shrugs a bit awkwardly. There was never much to smile about out in Citadel, though she's surprised to discover that so far Greenwich is any different. She downs the rest of her coffee like a shot and switches her mud-stained shirt for one of Valkyrie's, the plainest she could find in her 'clean' pile.

Just as she's pulling the shirt over her head there's a car's engine pulling up outside, and the house is far enough from any others that when they don't pull into a u-turn her heart rate ratchets up. It isn't the aunts, she knows that much, and she doubts Val invited company.

Furiosa rushes to the front door, wishing her gun wasn't back out in Citadel- still, she's better prepared to face any potential threat than the others. "Get back," she tells Valkyrie, the girls already shuffling out of the way.

She pulls the door open just as the men from the car get to the porch, heads shaved bare just the way she knew they would be. Slit is easy to recognize with the scars stretching from the corners of his mouth, and where Slit goes so goes Nux.

"You bitch," Slit hisses, delight at having caught her written all over his face.

"Slit, wait!" Nux says, three steps behind as Slit moves to tackle her.

Furiosa meets his rush, using his momentum and his weight against him to send him tripping to the deck. She pulls her knife from her boot and looks from Slit to Nux, who's stopped at the foot of the porch stairs, hands up.

"Wait; Furiosa, wait!" Capable calls from the doorway behind her.

Slit tries his luck going for her ankles, and she stomps on his face hard enough to feel the satisfying crunch of cartilage giving way. His howl of pain is cut abruptly short, as if someone hit 'mute', and when she glances down she sees him apparently frozen mid-movement.

"No killing on the porch, please," Valkyrie says, stepping out with her hand raised, finger pointed at Slit.

"I was trying to explain to him," Nux says, eyes wide. He doesn't seem to be spelled but he isn't moving much, either.

"Explain what," Furiosa spits, not lowering her knife. They must have followed the car, and she has experience to know that no one will care if two War Boys don't make it back home.

"He's okay, Furiosa," Capable says, pushing past her to stand next to him. "I've been talking with him."

"You told him?" Furiosa says incredulously. Their escape and continued safety depends on secrecy, not blabbing their plans everywhere.

"I thought Slit was coming around to things, but he found some chrome and it all went out of his head again," Nux says.

Furiosa swears under her breath, and turns her attention back to Slit at her feet. Now that she's looking she can see the glazed look in his eye, the powdery texture to his skin.

"Chrome?" Valkyrie asks.

"Joe's signature drug," she says, and looks back at Nux. He's pale like a long-term user still, but he doesn't have dark bruises around his eyes, isn't shaking. "How long have you been off it?"

"Couple of months," Nux says. He glances at Capable, and she figures the girl might have had something to do with it. "I'd been trying to keep Slit away from the stuff too, but..."

Furiosa reluctantly slides her knife back into her boot. She's willing to believe that Nux might have changed sides, he's always been more eager to please than truly devoted, but Slit's an asshole who wants attention above anything else. She doesn't trust him as far as she can throw him.

She looks at Valkyrie, still keeping Slit immobile. "Root cellar still there?"

The root cellar is a horrid little hole in the ground around the back of the house, the door hard to get open even before a lock is threaded through the latch. As a child she'd gotten trapped in there once for a few hours, the door holding fast despite the way she slammed her body up against it and yelled for help, desperate to escape the dark. Furiosa locks it on Slit and Nux now.

"I'm staying here," Capable says with her arms folded.

"Like hell we're leaving you with lover boy," Toast says.

"I don't see why we couldn't just kill them, too," Dag mutters.

Furiosa tucks the key into her pocket and ignores Dag. "Toast, you can keep an eye on her if you're worried." She doesn't like the thought of splitting them up any more than she wants to leave them in the presence of War Boys, but from here she can see the lilac bush Joe is buried under and she's too stressed from it all to fight them on something small. The boys are locked securely away, and the house is as safe a place as any.

The town, when she walks up to it, looks just about the same as she remembers it, maybe a bit more run down at the heel. She doesn't recognize many of the faces and if it wasn't for Valkyrie's presence she has her doubts about whether very many would remember her, either; as it is they get stared at while Val points out the dubiously landmark-worthy sights on their way around, and she can practically hear the echo of years-ago chanting.

"And here's one of the places we sell our soaps!" Valkyrie says, gesturing grandly to the tired little general store.

"You make soap?" Angharad asks curiously while Cheedo presses her face up to the glass, as if she's never seen a store before.

"We should get toothbrushes and things," Furiosa says.

"Oh sure," Valkyrie says, ignoring her in favor of Angharad. "The aunts are famous for it. Does wonders for your skin, not that you need any help there."

Furiosa rolls her eyes to herself at how little her sister's attempts at flirting have evolved from when they were kids and pushes the door of the store open. They really should grab a few necessities while they're here.

She can hear the whispers building as she walks the store's few aisles, but no one actually comes up to say anything to her until she's at the register paying.

"That is you, isn't it? Furiosa?"

"One and only," Furiosa replies with a tight facsimile of a smile.

"Gosh, I haven't seen you since graduation!" the clerk says, making no effort to ring them up quickly. "It's Cindy," she says when Furiosa makes no attempt to pretend she remembers her on sight after fifteen years, "Cindy Rollins? We had Calculus together, I think."

"Right," she says blandly. She doesn't particularly want to stroll down the memory lane of high school, today or any day.

"Are these your children?" Cindy asks, peering at Dag and Cheedo curiously.

Dag snorts violently while Furiosa says a flat, "No."

Cindy's smile falters, becomes obviously fake. "Well I see you're just as personable as always."

Furiosa slides over the money she owes and waits for her change in silence. When she steps back into the fresh air and sunlight outside she takes a deep breath, remembering all the reasons she'd been glad to leave here in the first place.

"I can't believe you took Calculus," Dag says, squinting at her. "And knew people named Cindy."

"She used to go to dance classes, too," Valkyrie says helpfully. "Ballet."

"Woah," Cheedo says, as if the idea of her ever having lived a normal life is utterly foreign.

"Is your tour of town going to include the thrift store?" Furiosa asks. "Maybe I can still find your cat sweater for sale."

Valkyrie has always been harder to bait; she laughs now, unfazed. "I think Mrs. Johnson beat you to that purchase," she says, but dutifully starts leading them down the street again.

 

The root cellar has not been broken open by the time they get back, despite what she'd been partially afraid of. Toast has, however, left her self-appointed post to read through some of the books in the spell room.

She irritably bats away the pack of underwear Dag chucks at her. "Can just anyone do magic?"

"Mostly," Valkyrie says with a shrug, apparently unconcerned to have someone leafing through their family's secrets. "Not everyone can do anything big enough to write home about, though."

"Really?" Dag asks, instantly alert again. "Could we learn, then?"

Furiosa's eyes catch on one of the smaller books spread out on the table, a scuffed-up composition notebook rather than something ancient bound in cracking leather. She picks it up in surprise, recognizing her own handwriting on the cover. "Where did this come from?"

"It was with the others," Toast says defensively.

"Oh yeah, I found that when I was cleaning out our room," Valkyrie says. "You had some devious little spells in there, sis."

Furiosa flips through the pages, watching her handwriting change as the entries glide by. "I'd forgotten most of these," she says mostly to herself. There's the charm the aunts told them would keep flowers fresh, the curse she spat out at a bully, the fragmented bits of dreams that had seemed potentially important. She finds a page near the beginning with 'AMAS VERITAS' written in blocky letters across the top, and huffs a laugh under her breath at the memory.

"True love?" Toast says incredulously, reading over her shoulder. "You cast a love spell?"

"She did ballet, too," Cheedo pipes up with a grin.

Furiosa snaps the booklet shut. "I was avoiding a curse," she says, and can't help but glance at Angharad for a moment, standing just a little too close to Valkyrie. "Anyone who falls in love with a Jobassa is doomed to die."

"So it was a murder spell," Dag says like she approves of the idea.

She shakes her head and reflects that she doesn't have to explain herself at all, but does so anyway. "The curse won't come true for me because the love spell is for a person who doesn't exist," Furiosa says.

"How do you know they don't exist?" Toast asks.

"I'm pretty sure humans can't have wings," she says drily, before changing the subject to something far less personal. "Have the boys said anything?"

"Slit's fucking crazy," Toast says with a sneer of disdain. "Capable's been talking with Nux to get him calmed down."

"How crazy?" Valkyrie asks. "We can't keep them in the root cellar forever."

"It's basically a cult," Angharad says. "Joe gave them drugs and pretended to love them, and in exchange they'd do anything for him."

"You saw Slit's face?" Toast says, gesturing around her own face for illustration. "He did that to himself."

"Batshit, then," Val says with a nod. "Think an exorcism would work?"

"Could we turn him into a toad?" Toast asks eagerly. "I found a spell for it."

"Yes, let's," Dag says.

Furiosa has no opinions on what they do with Slit, so long as he isn't going to be a danger to them, and instead takes the few purchases she'd made for herself back to her room so she can shower away the last of Citadel clinging to her skin. Not that just a shower is going to be enough to make her feel truly clean- she doubts anything can really accomplish that after the years she's spent caught up in Joe's web.

 

After dark she and Valkyrie find themselves back in the kitchen alone, a bottle of Mozzie's last moonshine batch between them. It burns going down the way nothing else does, and Furiosa tips her head back as she swallows and lets herself imagine flames spitting out her mouth.

"What really happened to you out there?" Valkyrie asks, rolling the bottle between her palms.

She doesn't want to talk about it, not any of it, but her sister has always been her best friend. "Not a lot of good," Furiosa says with a shake of her head.

"Why didn't you ever come home?" Val asks. "We wouldn't have turned you away."

Growing up she'd never understood the idea of someone sticking around a bad situation instead of getting out; the woman at the gate all those years ago, screaming that the man she thought she loved had taken all the locks off the doors- why hadn't she just packed up and left? And then Furiosa had found herself out on the other coast, trapped up in responsibilities and crimes so there didn't seem any way out, even if she'd wanted one.

Not to mention that 'home' is here, where she can still see the crayon scribbles she and Valkyrie left on the wallpaper, the ancient and unchanging portraits lining the stairs, the dozen rooms filled with people who knew her at her brattiest and delight in reminding everyone of it.

Furiosa shrugs. "It was never worth it."

She can see that Valkyrie doesn't get it, the way her face flashes with confusion and something like hurt. 'I was never worth it,' she almost wants to say. She's the screw-up, the one always picking fights and bad dates; besides the judgement it would bring, her life at Citadel was too messy, too dangerous, to want to drag to their doorstep. If it wasn't for the women sleeping upstairs needing a safe space to land she might never have been back until it was time for her and Val to die side-by-side as old women like she'd promised.

"What happened here, anyway?" she asks, looking to the dilapidated greenhouse. They'd never had a lot of money to go around, not with so many mouths to feed and such a large house to keep up, but fixing a few panes of glass shouldn't be a problem. The plants themselves look poorly too, thin and tired; the garden out back is weedy, unruly with neglect.

Valkyrie takes a swig from the bottle and sets it down heavily on the battered kitchen table. "You don't get to look down on the house," she says. "Not after you left for so long."

She hadn't meant it like that, hadn't meant it to insult. Or maybe she had- the liquor is loosening her tongue but not planting words onto it, so maybe she really does look down on it, and the family for living in it this way.

Above them the lightbulb flickers again, little flashes of darkness in the otherwise warm kitchen.

 

Reluctantly, the next day Furiosa unlocks the door to the root cellar to let Nux and Slit out. Twenty-four hours means that there isn't any chrome in Slit's system anymore, even if the actual addiction is going to take a lot longer to kick.

Nux smiles at her gratefully when sunlight splashes down onto their faces and Slit scowls, but agrees to the terms she lays out. They'll stay in the attic room with the ladder taken away at night- they can always try their luck climbing out the window if they want to escape, which she doesn't think Nux will let Slit do- and they'll do what chores are asked of them.

In return they're getting fed and sheltered, both from the elements and from being turned over to the police.

There's a nearly-empty pot of tea next to the stove when she goes back inside and she pours herself a mug, more to have something to do with her hand than because she actually wants tea.

"Wait," Valkyrie says, and she pauses with the cup halfway to her mouth. "Don't drink that. Or, actually, maybe do anyway? It's pennyroyal."

Furiosa regards the steaming mug for a moment, the bitter fragrance of it familiar now that she's looking for it. "Did one of the girls ask for it?" she asks, moving to pour the mug back into the pot. She's drunk pennyroyal a few times over the years to bring on a missed period, but she can't even remember the last time she had unprotected sex.

"Toast saw the recipe," Val replies. "Dag's the one who wanted enough for all of them." She looks quietly angry, like she somehow hadn't thought things with Joe were like that.

"Not a bad idea," Furiosa says.

"The youngest isn't more than sixteen," she says in an undertone, glancing around the kitchen almost furtively like Cheedo is going to know she's being talked about.

Furiosa sighs with regret and weariness. "I know."

"When the aunts get back we're drawing up guardianship papers for her," Valkyrie says.

"What?" She's glad she put the tea down, has a feeling it would have sent her into a fit of coughing. "No, she isn't staying. None of them are."

Valkyrie raises her eyebrows. "Do they know that? Because they sure seem to think they're settling in. Besides, the girl already says she doesn't want to live with her own family again and I'm not going to force her out."

Furiosa feels blindsided by the reality that she hadn't put much thought into what comes after. She'd gotten them away from Joe, and knew that Greenwich was a safe place to crash for a while, but she'd sort of assumed they would want to leave and set up their own lives before long. She drops her eyes to study the tile pattern at their feet.

"Can't say I ever planned on having kids," Val says, "But at least I skipped the diaper stage this way."

"She's my responsibility," she says with a shake of her head.

Valkyrie huffs out a laugh. "Yeah right. You're not exactly legal-guardian-of-a-minor material, sis."

It stings, even though Furiosa has never before this moment contemplated it and doubts the idea would have occurred to her on her own. "And you are?" she counters. Val's the one who stayed instead of traveling the country, sure, but that doesn't make her any more responsible.

"Don't even," Valkyrie says. "If you're serious about settling down and taking care of her? My blessing. But don't fuck over a kid because of your weird disdain for the family."

"I don't have a problem with the family," she says.

"Could have fooled me, what with the leaving, and never visiting, never even calling," Val says, crossing her arms over her chest. "How many of the aunts are still around? You don't even know that."

"None at the minute," Furiosa snaps. Shit like this is what drove her away fifteen years ago, the expectation that they all loved being in each other's pockets and would want to keep doing so forever. And the haranguing every time she did call back home helped keep her away, until her life out west had a life of its own, one that felt like thick ropes of spider-silk.

She forcibly takes a breath and lets it out. "I'm not here to fight you," she says.

"No, you're here to bury a body," Valkyrie replies. The words don't have much weight behind them but she still flinches.

"I'll dig it back up tonight and drive it somewhere else, then," she says.

Valkyrie stares her down, steady for a moment before her head tips back and she bursts out laughing. "Oh my god, Furi, you can't just say things like that," she says, muffled by the hand she has clapped to her mouth.

Furiosa shifts the balance of her weight, not entirely sure where the moment turned from serious to humorous. "I will, though. Move him."

"Let the bastard rot," she says with a shake of her head. The mirth in her demeanor calms down some. "I don't care whose name is on the paperwork, but you know it's in Cheedo's best interests to get raised here, with the aunts."

Of course Furiosa already knows that. She doesn't respond verbally, just sends Val a flat look.

 

Some time after dinner, she hears one of the girls give a strangled shriek, all terror. Furiosa drops the plate she was washing into the sink, uncaring that the ceramic audibly cracks, and races in the direction the shout came from.

She sees Dag standing alone in the back hallway, hand covering her mouth and staring out the window.

"What is it?" Furiosa demands, stepping as close to her as she dares to see what she's staring at. Slit and Nux are inside, but she doesn't know where all the girls are, doesn't know if any other War Boys might have followed them. There's nothing in the dark yard save plants swaying in the breeze. "Dag?"

"I saw him," she says, sounding terrified. "I knew he'd never let us go."

"Who?" Furiosa asks, peering out into the yard again in case she missed something.

"Joe," Dag says. "He's standing there, looking in at us." She points a trembling finger towards the lilac bush, the shape of it shaggy and thick in the dark.

"Joe's dead," Furiosa says firmly. "You're just seeing shadows."

Dag shakes her head. "He's there, and he wants us back," she says, tearing her gaze away from the window to look at Furiosa with wide, scared eyes.

Footsteps in the hallway have the both of them startling, Dag violently. "I heard someone shout?" Nux asks, guileless.

"Go and check the back gate," Furiosa says to him. If there was real danger she would go herself, but she knows without a doubt that Joe is dead and buried.

He looks a little confused, but accepts the order easily enough. Furiosa stands next to Dag and watches him move through the dark yard, not reacting to anything like it's out of the ordinary. His pale head is a beacon even at the far end of the yard, reassuring her that she isn't simply skipping over someone's presence.

"See?" she says when he starts ambling back. "Joe isn't there."

Dag doesn't look convinced but she doesn't say anything else about it, hugging her arms to herself. "Where's Cheedo?"

"Upstairs, I think," Furiosa says. Last she'd heard there was something about a possible Monopoly game, part of the reason she volunteered to wash the dishes.

Dag nods and backs away from the window, not turning her back to it until she's halfway down the hallway and then pelting the rest of the way to the stairs. Nux comes in a moment later.

"Gate's latched tight," he says cheerfully.

"Do you have a minute?" Furiosa asks, and he nods. She beckons him to follow and returns to the kitchen, pulling open one of the cabinets. "Check that the windows on the ground floor are locked," she says, "And pour a little salt on the sills."

He looks at the canister in her hand like he's never seen salt before in his life. "Why?" he asks, even as he takes it from her.

"Family superstition," she says. "It keeps out pests."

Nux eyes one of the cats lounging on the floor but doesn't say anything about them being for pest control. "Sure thing," he says instead. "Um. What about the greenhouse?"

"Don't worry about that," Furiosa dismisses. "And stay out of my room."

He nods, and goes to check the kitchen windows. It's a shame to shut the house up like this on a summer night, but the ritual of it will soothe Dag and if there is anything out in the yard... The smell of lilacs is getting overwhelming anyway, sticky and sweet in the humid air. She leaves him to it and returns to the dishes in the sink, almost immediately slicing her finger open on a jagged shard of ceramic.

"Damnit!" she curses and pulls her hand back. The cut isn't bad but it stings from the soap, and she sucks the finger into her mouth to wash away the blood. There's a flash of something pale out in the yard, there and gone again in a blink- a bird late to return to its nest, most likely. She deliberately turns her back on the window as she carefully picks out the broken pieces of plate from the sink and transfers them to the trash.

 

In the morning, a bird gets inside the house somehow. It flies a few frantic circuits around the dusty chandelier in the dining room and then perches on a chair, quivering.

"Toast, go get the window open," Furiosa says, gripping a broom. The bird launches up into the air again before Toast even gets close, and she shies backwards. "It's a sparrow," she says, holding in an eyeroll.

Toast shoots her a dirty look but creeps forward again, ducking almost comically low under the circling bird. She throws the windowpane up and then darts back away.

The bird lands a second time, and Furiosa raises the broom to start shooing it towards the window. It warbles out a tiny fragment of noise, then jumps up with a flurry of wing movements. She sweeps the air, hoping to cut off its circuit around the top of the room, and it darts for the window.

Just as it reaches it the window falls shut, the sparrow hitting the glass headlong.

Toast gasps, and even Furiosa blinks in surprise. The sashes must be looser than she'd remembered. The bird gives a weak twitch where it lies crumpled on the windowsill before slipping off to fall on the floor below.

"Go and get a box," Furiosa says, stepping closer to see if she'll have to put it out of its misery. The sparrow is entirely still, a smudge of blood on the glass. Something else to bury in the yard, she thinks grimly.

Toast reappears with an empty pasta box and a second scrap of cardboard to act as shovel, frowning. "Do you think it was sick?"

"No," Furiosa says with a shake of her head, and kneels down to scoop the little body into the box. "Birds get in all the time." And it's bad luck when they do, she thinks to herself, if they fly thrice around. "You wanna bury it or wash the window?" she asks when she straightens back up, the bird safely out of sight behind cardboard.

Toast glances past her to the smudged glass and grimaces, hands reaching for the box.

"Shovel's in the shed," she says, and pauses. "Bury it by the back fence. Near the trees." It would be horrible if Toast accidentally came across Joe's body trying to get the bird buried.

The girl nods an acknowledgement on her way out, leaving Furiosa to fetch vinegar and old newspaper. She's just about finished cleaning the glass and sill when a car pulls up, unfamiliar and with in-state plates.

She finishes her task calmly, watching a man who carries himself like a cop get out and walk down towards their front door. She pulls it open just as he's about to knock, visibly startling him.

"Can I help you?" Furiosa asks. He's about her height, about her age, built broad and thick- she has her knife in her boot and years of experience fighting dirty, but it'll be a close match even if he turns out not to have police training.

"Hope so," he says with a nod, not off balance for very long. "Are you Valkyrie Jobassa?"

Which tells her he doesn't know her, and he doesn't know her sister- could be he's here for something entirely random, or that he's not a cop despite the way he's holding himself.

"No," she says, and his eyelids lower a little, his gaze running over her quickly. She has to resist the urge to shift in place under the scrutiny, uncomfortably aware of the fact that she's wearing a shirt she owned back in high school and smells like vinegar and mothballs.

"You wouldn't be Furiosa, would you?" he asks.

"Who wants to know?" she says.

One corner of his thick lips twitch up in a minutely amused smile, and it hits her that he's more than a little attractive. "Max Rockatansky," he says, and digs inside his worn leather jacket for something. "With the Medford Police." He shows her a bronze badge sitting opposite an ID card, and her stomach drops away. Medford is just besides Citadel. "I have a few questions I'd like to ask you."

"I can't imagine what about," Furiosa says as calmly as she can. It's fortuitous that she's alone at the door, that she can lay down a cover story for whatever it is he wants to ask her about.

"Can I come in?" he asks.

Her instinct is to say no, to slam the door in his face. But if he's from all the way out west it's going to be something important he's here about, and the more she seems to cooperate the better. Unless it's a set-up by one of Joe's crooked cops, but she would have guessed he'd know what she looks like already in that case.

"Of course," she says, pulling the door open wider. "We have coffee."

Rockatansky gives a wordless sort of a hum that sounds like agreement and follows her through to the kitchen. She is immensely grateful that Nux and Slit had gone into town with Valkyrie- they'd know better than to deliberately out any of them to the cops, but their presence could be hard to explain.

She pours a mug of coffee for him and automatically spoons in some sugar, though she couldn't say why- she normally takes her plain- and slides it his way. He takes a small sip while she pours her own cup and then sets it down with a murmured word of thanks.

"What did you want to know?" Furiosa asks.

"Do you know anything about Joe Moore's whereabouts?" he asks, and she feels her blood turn to ice. If he knows to track her down because her name's connected with Joe's then there isn't any point in lying to say she's never heard of him.

"I haven't seen him in days," she says, which is not what Rockatansky asked. He's quick enough to catch it, too- she can see his eyes narrow ever so slightly, though he nods casually.

"Seems no one has," he says. "You were friends?"

Furiosa barely holds back from laughing. Of all the things she and Joe could be called, 'friends' isn't one of them. "Not as such," she says evenly.

He raises an eyebrow, a clear prompt to continue, but she doesn't offer any information. His entire demeanor is slightly awkward, like he isn't used to questioning suspects. She wonders how many interviews he can skate through with his looks, whether by flirting or intimidation.

"You knew each other," he tries instead.

"To some extent," she says with an affected shrug.

Rockatansky hums a little bit, then clears his throat. "That your car in the driveway?"

"Yes," she replies.

"Mhm," he hums again. "With plates matching Joe's personal car?"

"I drive his car sometimes," Furiosa says, hearing the defensiveness in her own voice. Damn. She does- did- drive for Joe as part of her job, but he doesn't let anyone drive his personal car.

Rockatansky looks unimpressed with her answer. "Miss Jobassa," he says, the formal address sounding about as awkward for him to say as it is for her to hear, "Obstructing an investigation is a crime."

"What are you investigating?" she asks with a false smile, "You never said."

"A murder," he says shortly.

"Murder?" Furiosa feigns surprise. "Whose?"

He sets down his mug of coffee and reaches for a packet of papers in his jacket's inner pocket. He pulls out a photograph, a woman she doesn't think she's ever seen before. "Gillian Owens'," he says, and she feels a gust of relief when it isn't a name she recognizes.

"I'm afraid I don't know her," she says. "How did my name come up?"

"Moore strangled her," Rockatansky says, ignoring her question. "Branded her." His eyes flick away from hers. "Raped her. I'd like to catch him."

"I'm sorry," she says, because she is. If this woman was branded she was one of Joe's 'favorites', but Furiosa made a point of not paying much attention to his personal life.

Rockatansky slips the photograph back into his jacket. "I need to impound the car," he tells her.

"Of course," she says. The drops of blood in the trunk she'd cleaned up with some hydrogen peroxide already, and everything else was normal enough. It isn't as if she'd written a confession and left it under the seat.

Toast chooses that moment to walk back into the kitchen, brushing dirt off her hands. She stops short, clearly taken by surprise.

"This is Officer Rockatansky," Furiosa says, trusting her to get the implication to keep her mouth shut. "He was just finishing up with me-" she turns to look at him with a pointed twitch of her lips- "Weren't you?"

Rockatansky doesn't go for it, gaze flicking to her to share how unimpressed he is with the attempt before sliding over to focus on Toast. "Hi," he says, "You live here, too?"

"Yeah," Toast replies, tilting her chin up defiantly. "My name's Toast."

His eyebrows crawl nearly up to his hairline. "Toast Knowles?"

Toast darts a look at her, clearly caught off guard at the idea of him already knowing her. "Yeah," she repeats. "What's it to you?"

"I'm looking into some things," he says. "Name 'Joe Moore' mean anything to you?"

Furiosa holds her breath. Toast wrinkles her nose in disgust and says, "Not anymore."

Rockatansky tilts his head to the side and hums. "That so?"

Toast glances at her again, and she wishes they'd had the foresight to think up even a simple cover- if only so their acting would be smoother. "I'm not back in Citadel with him, am I?"

"No," he agrees, "You're not in Citadel." Rockatansky turns to look at her again, a different sort of suspicion on his face now. "Mind if I look around?"

"Yes," Furiosa says, "I do mind." Even if she didn't have a body in her garden and a half-dozen runaways stashed in various rooms, she wouldn't just let a cop wander around the house without a warrant.

He looks disappointed with her almost, his brows heavy and sad, but nods in acceptance. "I'll get the car seen to," he says.

The silence is thick while they wait for the tow-truck to arrive, Furiosa on edge from his presence and the uncertainty about his reaction to Toast, and whether the girl would offer up anything she oughtn't, and the uncertainty over when the others will be back, and whether they'll offer up anything the shouldn't. Rockatansky sips his coffee in silence, running his eyes over what he can see of the house from their spot in the kitchen until she suggests they wait out on the porch.

 

"I need to head out," she says to Valkyrie almost before she's through the door.

"What? Why?" Val replies, stepping aside into the dining room with her for the semblance of privacy.

"A cop came by looking for me," Furiosa says. "I'll get on a bus and he'll have no reason to stick around here."

"Don't be an idiot," she says. "You made me an accomplice already, remember? Tell me what the story is and we'll sell it."

Furiosa runs her hand over her upper arm, restless as she considers this. If anyone's going down for this it's going to be her and her alone, she'll make sure of that, but she doesn't like the idea of things coming to that. "He thinks Joe looks good for a murder," she says. "I don't know anything about it."

It's the truth- she can guess an awful lot based on past experience, but neither the name nor the face had rung any bells for her.

"Okay," Valkyrie says. "So the cop thinks, what, you're his accomplice? Tell him you hate his guts and he'll go away satisfied."

She shakes her head. "That was Joe's personal car I took," she says.

"So tell them you stole it," Angharad says from the doorway. Furiosa hadn't been paying enough attention to know she was there, lulled by the familiarity of the old house. "You 'stole' us already."

It has the benefit of being true. "I don't want any of you talking with him," Furiosa says. She doesn't know why he'd known Toast's name and she isn't willing to rule out him being on someone's payroll back at Citadel- Joe might be gone, but his colleagues wouldn't hesitate to step into his shoes, including taking back his women. "He doesn't know you're here." That's her theory anyway, going by his surprised reaction to seeing Toast.

"It might be better if they do," Valkyrie says contemplatively. "Not the kids, but you and Capable. Did he see Toast while he was here?"

"No," Furiosa says in response to the suggestion, voice firm.

Angharad shoots her a look, annoyed, and crosses her arms. "We can make our own decisions," she says. "We can't be arrested for fleeing an abuser."

The risk of it is too much for comfort, and she shakes her head. "Don't talk to him," Furiosa says again. "It's safer for all of us."

 

Elbow-deep in what will eventually be tonight's dinner, Valkyrie rolls her head back and groans theatrically.

"What?" Furiosa asks, barely looking up from the magazine she's idly leafing through.

"I forgot to get cat food while we were out," she says.

Furiosa glances at one of the cats, staring at them from atop the one uncluttered countertop and obviously well-fed. "I think they'll survive."

"Please can you go get some?" Valkyrie says, turning to direct a pleading look her way.

"I'm taking your wallet," she replies. Val sighs but doesn't protest, and Furiosa goes to get her shoes on. A trip into town doesn't take very long, short enough that it's easy to decide she would rather walk than take Nux and Slit's car.

The old pet store's been given a makeover at some point but it's in the same place, still has a heavy odor of wood-chips and musty cages when she opens the door. She's rounding one of the aisles when a man's voice calls out her name. Furiosa turns, bracing herself for another awkward reunion, and instead of seeing some former classmate comes face-to-face with the cop from earlier.

"Miss Jobassa," he repeats.

"Furiosa," she says, and he tilts his head with a confused expression. "If you're going to follow me, call me Furiosa."

His expression smooths, and he points a thumb back at his own chest. "Max." There's a leash held in his other hand, and she follows it down to see a dog standing at his feet, ears pricked forward.

"K-9 Unit?" she asks, though it's some sort of cattle dog, not the big shepherd or hound she would have expected.

Max shakes his head, and looks down at the dog with half a smile on his face. "Just my dog."

The dog tilts its head up towards him with an adoring expression, tail wagging back and forth a few times, and Furiosa begrudgingly admits that it's cute. And since he has his dog with him he's probably in the pet store for reasons that don't have to do with tailing her, she admits even more begrudgingly.

"I have some more questions for you," he says, turning to look at her again.

"I'm just here for cat food," she replies. There's someone at the other end of the aisle looking their way with open curiosity, vaguely familiar the way everyone back here is, and she wonders if Rockatansky's questioned anyone about her and the family.

He nods. "Tomorrow?"

She wants to say no, to just get on a bus and leave town altogether, but skipping out will only make things worse- for everyone else, if not for her. "Sure," she says.

"I'll be by 'round ten," he says, and she nods.

Furiosa waits for him to move on and it takes a couple of seconds, his eyes staying on her while he shifts his weight on his feet, until he nods a little bit and turns away. The person at the other end of the aisle looks away quickly now that they have no pretense to hide behind and she continues towards the cat section of the store.

On her way back up to the registers she hears Max's voice, and can't help the way she slows to catch what he's saying.

"No, put that back," he says, and his voice is soft in a way she wouldn't expect. "We're not getting that."

She glances down the aisle to see him staring at his dog, a bright toy clutched in its mouth. The dog lowers its head and Max sighs, then crouches down and holds out his hand. "You're bankrupting me, dog," he mumbles when the dog deposits the toy into his waiting hand, but there's a fond smile on his face, and he scritches his fingers along the dog's ears before standing back up.

Furiosa adjusts her hold on her bag of cat food more securely and starts walking again before he takes notice of her.

 

After she's warned them about the impending visit and everyone has theoretically gone off to bed, Furiosa finds herself standing by the back door, staring hard at the lilac bush hiding Joe's body. The fragrance is heavy in the air even with the flowers closed for the night, the branches swaying with the breeze as if deliberately meant to draw your eye.

"I'm going to cut that bush down," she says, looking over her shoulder to see Valkyrie padding her way into the kitchen. She's pretty sure it's grown larger than it was when she arrived, despite its roots having been disturbed. Apparently Joe's good for something after all.

Val makes a vague noise, yawning. "Get some valerian root?" she asks, reaching for the kettle that hangs over the stove. "The girls are having dreams."

Not a surprise that they're having nightmares, even in the safety of this place. Furiosa gets the ingredients for a dreamless tea together while Valkyrie sets the water boiling. It's been years since she made anything like this but the aunts haven't changed where they store anything, and the routine of mixing and crushing herbs together is familiar, soothing somehow.

Capable ventures downstairs just as it's ready to be poured, hair frizzed. "This tastes terrible," she says after taking a sip of tea. "Can I add honey or something?"

"Nope," Valkyrie says cheerfully, taking a swig of her own.

"Honey adds too much energy," Furiosa explains, years-old lessons easy to remember surrounded by such familiarity. And sugar isn't the best thing for sleep, anyway.

"Ugh," Capable says. She still finishes her cup, rinsing it in the sink and nearly running into Dag as she passes back for the doorway. "Sorry," she murmurs, voice already calmer.

Dag shakes her head but doesn't say anything, hands hugged around herself.

"Tea?" Valkyrie says, proffering a fresh mug.

"I keep seeing him," Dag says. She looks small, paler than normal. Her fingers are dotted with black ink where they curl around the steaming cup of tea. "He's out in the garden, isn't he?"

"Joe's gone," Furiosa says firmly.

Dag looks up at her. "He wants us back," she says. "He isn't ever going to leave us alone."

"Well, he isn't going to get you," Valkyrie says. "You're safe here. All of you."

"There's gotta be something you can do, right?" Dag asks. She looks between them, hopeful. "An exorcism or something?"

"Drink your tea and go to sleep," Val says soothingly.

"That means no," Dag mutters, sinking back down again.

"It means that it's one in the morning," Valkyrie says, "And you're safe. Nothing needs to be done right now."

Furiosa swirls her own mug of tea around, the murky gold liquid catching the kitchen's light. It isn't the lightbulb but the wiring that's faulty, apparently, and she doesn't know enough about electrical systems to feel comfortable ripping open the ceiling to fix things.

Dag doesn't look convinced at all but she finishes off her tea anyway, flinching away from the dark windows as she heads back up to her room.

"I can't wait for the aunts to get back," Valkyrie sighs. She rubs her forehead.

"Where did they go, anyway?" Furiosa says.

She shrugs. "Some festival, I think."

Surely the aunts gave more details and Furiosa wants to say something sharp about her lousy memory, but she bites down the words. "I don't think that cop's going to let go easy," she says. She'd only met him twice but he had that sort of energy to him, intense like a dog with a scent.

"We could tell him the truth," Valkyrie says. "It was for the sake of the girls, and you just panicked over handling the aftermath. Who would blame you?"

Furiosa shakes her head. "I crossed state lines to cover it up," she says. It hadn't been premeditated but that hardly matters, especially when defense of others doesn't count as justifiable in the first place.

Angharad appears in the doorway, rubbing a hand over her abdomen and looking as if she hasn't slept a wink. "Thought I heard people up," she says. Her eyes go to Valkyrie immediately, and Furiosa decides to take her leave.

 

In the morning when Max shows up he has his dog standing politely on leash next to him. "Morning," he says.

Furiosa returns the greeting and wonders if a dog is going to cause trouble even if it hasn't been trained in policework. Behind her one of the cats hisses, and the dog doesn't lunge or bark but she sees it perk up. "Why don't we go out back," she says, feigning ease.

He hums, and lets her lead him through the gate at the side of the house around to the back patio.

"What's his name?" she asks, letting the dog sniff her palm.

"Dog," Max says, and she turns to him with a raised eyebrow, but he only shrugs with a little self-depreciating smile. "Miss Jobassa," he says, serious enough that she straightens back up to look him in the eye properly. "There was blood in that car."

"You've never scraped yourself up by accident?" she says. There are a hundred innocent reasons for there to be blood in the car, and she knows that there hasn't been nearly enough time for DNA testing to happen, anyway.

He doesn't look impressed with this, but it isn't as if she's going to make his case for him. The dog doesn't seem to care overly much about the lilac bush and what's buried underneath, which is a mercy at least.

"Did you kill Joe Moore?" he asks bluntly.

Fuck. Furiosa sets her chin to look him steadily in the eye while she lies. "No."

He lets out a little sigh of disappointment, but he doesn't call her on it. "Did Toast?"

"No," she says more easily, and wonders if he knows that the other women are here with her.

"Furiosa, you didn't offer our guest any coffee," Valkyrie says from the back door. She's smiling a little, charming.

"Coffee, Officer?" Furiosa asks. "My sister brews it better than I do."

He grunts in what she thinks is agreement. "Can I let Dog off-leash?"

She eyes the animal, sniffing the flagstones at their feet idly. The back yard is fenced, and she's never known any predator to take down one of the cats, but she thinks about the dog digging up something and feels anxiety creep down her spine. "Sure," she says.

Max unclips the leash and stuffs it into a pocket, following her over to the kitchen door to accept a mug of coffee. Black, with sugar.

"Thank you," he mutters, his attention visibly taken up with cataloging Valkyrie for a moment before he takes a sip of coffee. "Heard some interesting stories about your family."

"I'm sure," Furiosa says with a tight smile. She's already quite familiar with what the town thinks of her family, and can only imagine how that's fueling his theories about Joe's disappearance.

"Some of it's even true," Valkyrie adds.

"Mhm," he hums, flicking his eyes away from her dismissively. "I don't care about witches, or curses, or devil-worship." Furiosa can't help but bristle internally a little; the devil has nothing to do with anything, no matter how earnestly some people accuse. "I just want to know where Moore is."

"Not here," she says.

Max tilts his head, clearly not believing her, and takes another sip of his coffee.

"Why would we lie?" Valkyrie says. "He's a creep, from what I hear."

"What have you heard?" he asks.

Val shakes her head with a little laugh. "Nothing to write home about."

This makes him smile just a little, and from his jacket he pulls out a battered envelope. "Enough to write from home about?" Max asks.

Furiosa focuses on the envelope and sees her name written there, and she snatches it from his fingers before she can think twice about the wisdom of antagonizing police officers. "Where did you get this?" It's addressed to her in Valkyrie's elegant handwriting, but the address itself is a few numbers off of a place she was staying in three or so years ago. That Val could have guessed her address so close is no big surprise, despite the fact that she's never given any of them out, but how in the world did this Medford cop get his paws on it?

He shifts his weight and doesn't answer. The seal on the flap is unbroken, but the corner of the envelope where the stamp should be is torn off, part of the letter inside visible.

"I sent that letter ages ago," Valkyrie says. "There's nothing about this Moore skeeze in it."

"That's how you knew to look for me here," Furiosa says, looking back at his face again. It's a one-in-a-million coincidence that things lined up and she mentally curses Valkyrie for sending a letter at all. He hasn't read the contents beyond what's visible from the tear, she doesn't think, but just the fact that there's a paper trail at all is enough to make her uneasy.

Whatever he was hoping to get out of them with the letter, he seems to abandon the tactic without any prompting- definitely not used to doing interviews, she decides, and wonders what it was he'd been doing prior to this, and why they'd sent him here. "I need to talk to Toast," he says instead.

"She's not under my control," Furiosa says as if the idea of it doesn't scare her. Toast hadn't seen her actually kill Joe- none of them had- but that doesn't mean they don't know there was a corpse in the car with them, that one of them won't reveal just a little too much.

"Mhm," he hums, clearly waiting for one of them to volunteer to fetch her.

She's willing to bluff it out- not once has he said anything about warrants, or bringing her in for a real interrogation- but she isn't sure Valkyrie won't crack, or that one of the girls won't just accidentally wander through where he can see, despite her warning them to stay away.

Out in the yard behind them the dog starts barking, and Furiosa jerks her head around to look at it, hoping it hasn't gotten suspicious of the dirt under lilac bush. But it's leaping after a crow instead of digging, perched in the shrub's branches.

"Dog," Max calls out, "Leave it." The dog subsides barking immediately, but quivers in place as it stares at the bird. He sighs, and moves to collect his dog.

The crow gives a rasping caw, hoarse, and seems to cough something up. Furiosa catches a flash of silver before Max gets there, and when he bends down to retrieve whatever it is he lets out a disappointed sigh before turning around to look at her, hand extended.

Oh, shit. The skull on Joe's ring grins at her and her blood turns to ice, heart pounding.

"Get yourselves a lawyer," he says. She hadn't realized any warmth had crept into his voice until it suddenly isn't there anymore.

"What, because of that?" Valkyrie tries, weakly. Her voice betrays the fact that she knows exactly what it is. "Crows find shiny junk everywhere."

Max levels a look at her, and his eyes seem almost sad when he looks at Furiosa again. "Don't try leaving town." He tucks the ring into a pocket and clips the leash back onto his dog's collar, stomping his way out of the yard without another word.

"Fuck," Furiosa says as soon as he's out of earshot, wishing she could destroy something to vent her frustration. She settles for slamming her fist against the wooden siding of the house while his car starts up out front. "Fuck!"

"Shit," Valkyrie agrees. "We've got to come clean."

She whirls on her, angry. "It isn't 'we'," she snaps.

"Sure felt like an us when I helped you bury that body," Val snipes right back.

Furiosa curls her throbbing hand into a fist again and then relaxes it. "You're staying out of this," she says. "And the girls are staying out of it."

"Like hell we are," Toast says from inside the kitchen.

"You were just protecting us," Cheedo says.

She was getting revenge. Furiosa shakes her head. "Stay here- all of you- and if more cops show up, don't talk to them."

She leaves without arguing the matter any further, willing to gamble that Max will accept a confession from her to leave the others alone. The skies open up before she's halfway to town, a drizzle slowly turning to a proper downpour, and she hugs her arms to herself as she trudges through the growing puddles on the sidewalks.

He hadn't said what hotel he's staying at, but last she knew there's only one in town that allows dogs. His rental car is just pulling into a spot when she reaches the parking lot and she doesn't even break her stride as she yanks open the door and slides inside.

"What- Furiosa?"

"We both know that's Joe's ring," she says.

Max nods, and cuts the car's engine so the only sound to be heard is their breathing and the rain pounding against the glass.

"I don't know about your Owens murder, but I know he's scum," she says.

He nods again. "Are you confessing?"

Furiosa lets out a harsh breath. "He's dead," she says. He can't seem to hold her gaze. "Can't say I think it's a crime."

He's looking somewhere off to her right, into the distance past her shoulder. There's a knee brace strapped to his left leg that she never noticed, dull metal against the fabric of his jeans, and she watches his big hands flex against his thighs. "Maybe you should stop talking."

"He won't hurt anyone else," she says, the words sounding more like a plea than a statement.

"That wasn't your call to make," Max says, finally looking at her again. His eyes are sad and heavy, like he really was hoping better of her instead of having her pegged as a criminal the second he laid eyes on her.

"Someone had to," she retorts. Even facing down the barrel of prison time the only thing she regrets about this is not doing it sooner, neater.

He sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. "You need to go call a lawyer," he says, and she gives a short bark of laughter.

"I think I'm past lawyers," Furiosa says.

For a moment there's silence, save the rain, and then with surprising candor he says, "I want to help." She can't figure out what his angle is, though she's pretty sure he's honest as far as cops and men go.

"So help," she replies, and turns more in her seat to his direction. The smell of lilacs hasn't followed her out here, only rain and whatever scent is on his clothes and skin, clean and masculine.

Max lets out a frustrated growl. "I can't just- just forget about this," he says. "A woman is dead because of him."

"And now he can't hurt anyone else," she says, leaning across the console into his space. "That's what's important, isn't it? The only ones left to be hurt are me and the women back at my house if you keep prying into things."

The rain drums against the roof, making everything gray and humid as it fogs the windows; she's soaked through with it from her walk over, but she isn't sure the goosebumps on her skin are from the cold. Between them the air feels charged with something, like any moment sparks of lightning might materialize.

"You want me to lie," he says.

She hasn't technically said anything he needs to lie about, but she knows he's sharp enough to have read between the lines. "I want you to do what's right," Furiosa replies, gambling that he might think personal justice trumps the law in some cases.

He closes his eyes, visibly weakening, and she reaches out to put her hand on his shoulder. At the touch his eyes snap open again, and she starts to draw back only to be stopped by his hand grabbing her wrist. "Furiosa," he says with a slow shake of his head, like he's denying something or rather, attempting to.

His grip is gentle enough that she could jerk away easily, if she wanted to. She finds that she doesn't.

When Max doesn't say anything else she leans in across the console and presses her lips to his. He returns the kiss with a surprising intensity, not hesitating at all before his mouth welcomes hers. She's cold from the rain and he's all heat; it's easy to slide the distance between the seats into his lap, her hand burying into his messy hair and his searing warmth against her skin.

She gasps when his mouth finds a spot below her ear, his hands pushing her shirt up so rough fingers brush against her bare skin. Stupid, stupid- this is so stupid for her to be doing, but she doesn't want to stop, claims his lips again for herself and holds onto his strong shoulders. It's worse on his end, anyway- a suspect throwing herself at the cop for mercy is one thing, but the cop taking her up on it?

Furiosa takes a deep breath and smells lilacs, suddenly, sickly-sweet and suffocating. She pulls away from him and says, "We shouldn't."

Her eyes open slowly to take in his face, pupils wide and lips starting to swell red from where she tested her teeth against them. He swallows heavily and nods, but when his hands don't leave her skin she swoops in to kiss him again.

Max rolls up into her and she has a split second to appreciate how she's already made him hard before her ass hits the steering wheel and the car's horn blares out, startling her nearly out of her skin. She scrambles off him and back onto the passenger seat, her breathing ragged as she struggles to calm herself.

He has a hand extended across the space between them, hovering, but he retracts it. Outside the car thunder rumbles as the storm moves in.

"I should go," she says. Part of her wants nothing more than for him to offer to take her into his hotel room, but he only nods in mute agreement.

Furiosa reaches for the door handle to let herself out and he says, "Wait. I'll drive you." She turns to look at him and finds nothing but honesty on his face, confusion and lust and concern.

"Okay," she says, because the rain is still hammering down and it's a long walk back.

He fumbles getting the car started for a moment but then they're away and rolling, windshield hastily wiped clear with a few greasy napkins. There's a bag of fast food crumpled at her feet that she hadn't noticed, probably the reason he was in the car in the first place.

"You're not used to driving an automatic," she says after his hand unnecessarily reaches for the gear-stick yet again.

Max shakes his head. "It's all the rental place had."

"What's your car?" she asks, uncharacteristically twitchy about the silence. It's probably the storm in the air but it doesn't feel right, nothing about these last few days has felt quite right.

"Ford Falcon," he says, and slides a look her way that suggests he's wondering if she knows anything about cars.

"Yeah?" Furiosa says appreciatively; her aunts had more of a thing for motorcycles growing up but she's always appreciated a nice car. "What run?"

The line of his shoulders relax a little, and he clears his throat. "It's an Aussie import," he says. "’73 XB."

"Cherry red, I hope," she says with a teasing lilt.

Max sends her a vaguely offended look. "Black."

Everyone knows red cars go faster, but she has to admit that black seems more his style. She hums, and stretches a little in the damp seat as they round the last few turns. "I drove a truck for a while," she says, unsure why she's sharing. "A Tatra, if you believe it."

He makes a vaguely surprised noise, one that suggests he understands why it's unusual. Not a huge surprise for someone with an import himself.

"Out west?" he asks, and she can't tell if it's an idle question or if he's fishing around for more information that might connect her to Joe, but she doesn't really care because the house looms up suddenly, gloomy in the storm.

"Yeah," she says distractedly, staring ahead through the dark. Dozens and dozens of crows are perched on the fence, the branches, dark lumps that should be taking shelter out under the trees. There's only a single window lit up and the whole building seems wrong, somehow. The unease she'd been trying to chase away with conversation hits her again full-force and Furiosa barely waits for the car to come to a stop before launching herself up out of the seat, ignoring Max's confused voice behind her as she runs for the front door.

The air inside the house is thick and foul, lilacs giving way to rot, and she finds herself standing at the doorway to one of the rooms the girls are staying in, terrified eyes turning her way.

"What's going on?" she asks even as she takes in the scene. Valkyrie's slumped against one of the walls, seemingly knocked out, while Angharad writhes on- and in the air above- a bed, her breathing labored. Toast has one of the thick spell books clutched to her middle like a lifeline, Nux with a box of salt in his hands.

"He's squatting inside her like a toad," Dag says.

Angharad suddenly falls back to the mattress, her body lying limp while a shadowy figure sits up, looking for all the world as if it- he- is partially inside of her.

"Joe," Furiosa spits.

His jaw's attached again, which at least saves them all some nightmares. "I was hoping to see you," he says, voice echoing somehow in the space.

Behind her she hears someone else come in; Max, she would guess, considering everyone else seems to already be inside the room. She's never seen a ghost like this, nor someone possessing a body like something out of a horror movie, but considering all the evil Joe's done she isn't entirely surprised.

"Did you try anything?" she asks Toast, keeping her eyes on Joe's shadowy form.

"No," Toast says. Her voice wavers. "He knocked out Valkyrie."

Furiosa flicks her eyes over to her sister, stomach lurching at the sight of her lying like that.

Joe stands up fully out of Angharad's body, but puts his hand flat on her abdomen. "You cost me a son," he says.

She doesn't know how to deal with a spirit like this and wants viciously for the aunts to swoop in and save the day. "Get away from her," she says, groping inside of herself for the magic she barely uses these days but knows she has. On the bed Angharad's making quiet hurt noises, trying to shift away from his touch.

How do you kill a spirit?

Joe smiles at her, oily and smug, and leaves Angharad's side to advance on her. "I could shred you piece by piece," he says, more contemplative than menacing. "Or maybe make you watch."

Furiosa jams the knife that had been in her boot into his chest, but it gives way exactly as if there's nothing but air. Nux throwing a handful of salt at him has more of an impact, Joe's form wavering like disturbed smoke.

Joe grabs for her neck but at least being incorporeal cuts both ways, and he can't do anything but swipe out futilely, immaterial touch sliding through her body with a sickening coldness.

"Salt," she says, jumping away from him. Nux dutifully throws another handful, but it doesn't do much.

"We should salt his bones," Toast suggests.

Joe whips around to face her, face contorting in a snarl. "I'll kill you all myself before I lose you," he says, voice booming.

Capable's inched her way towards Angharad, taking her hand to comfort her. Furiosa thinks of the bird that flew into the window and wishes she had a broom to chase him out with as well.

"You're already dead," Dag says, halfway curled around Cheedo like that will keep her safe.

He turns to them. "Spoiled, selfish, brat," he hisses. "And you two," Joe continues, rounding on Nux and Slit, "Cowards. Traitors."

"Shut up," Valkyrie says weakly, not unconscious at all apparently. There's a flash of green light and a ripple of energy, and Joe's phantom dissolves with a shriek. "What a shitstain."

"Holy shit," Slit says faintly.

Furiosa moves to her side. There's blood trickling from a split in her lip, which she's apparently smeared onto the wooden floorboards in a rune of some kind, the design crooked but emanating a sort of energy. "You okay?" she asks, holding her hand to help her up to her feet.

"Gonna have a wicked headache," Valkyrie says with a weak attempt at a reassuring smile.

She squeezes her hand and then looks back at the rest of the room, the girls crowding in around Angharad while the men hover, awkward for different reasons. Max looks poleaxed, a hand still on the handle of the gun holstered at his side like he was ready to draw it against a ghost.

Furiosa moves Valkyrie over to the bed to sit, but then steps away herself.

"What was that," Max says flatly when she walks back up to him.

"Not in here," she says, and gestures out the door. She doesn't like leaving the others so soon but she needs to deal with this, and would rather do so away from them. He lets her direct him down to the foyer, the front door still hanging ajar and bringing in the scent of rain and sound of crows.

"That was Moore," he says, sounding more composed now.

"Yeah," Furiosa replies. She crosses her arms under her chest and shivers at the memory of his phantom touch against her neck, cold and clammy. "Part of him, anyway."

"Those girls were his, weren't they?" he says. Max's hands move restlessly, fiddling with the zipper of his jacket and his pockets and his belt-loops, fidgeting. Mumbling to himself he adds, "Would have been an easy case."

"He's gone and they're safe now," she says firmly. That he's seen this changes nothing- she already said Joe was dead, already implied she'd done it herself.

He looks at her, rumpled and a little damp in the dim yellow light of the hallway. "You're witches," he says slowly, like he's testing the words. He'd said he heard rumors from the townspeople but she isn't surprised he hadn't believed any of it until seeing it with his own eyes.

"Yeah," Furiosa says, rolling her shoulders back like she's going to have to fight him.

He doesn't do anything more than nod, though.

"Are you going to arrest me now?" she asks. He tilts his head in a silent question. "If not, I have things to deal with."

Max's eyes leave her face to look behind her, towards the stairs. It's quiet now but she has no idea what sort of after-effects there might be from being possessed, or whether Valkyrie's knock to the head will need to be looked at, or how to even begin reassuring the women that Joe's really gone now when she's no longer completely sure it's true.

"What'm I supposed to do?" he says.

"Can't you forget about this?" she replies, taking a step closer to him. She can still taste him against her lips, can still feel his touch, and winding that up with some magic to bend him to her will wouldn't be the hardest thing she's ever done, or the least moral. She doesn't reach for the power inside of herself. "Go back to your dog, and go back to Medford, and just be happy Joe's taken care of."

He doesn't look at all as if he wants to, and he can't meet her eyes. Finally he sighs, the noise heavy. "I need to look into some things."

Furiosa feels a knot of tension loosen in her stomach and nods. The storm is still coming down outside and she watches him get back into his car from the porch, sheltered from the water if not the bite of chill in the air.

When he's pulled out of the driveway back onto the road she turns back to the house and heads for the storeroom off the kitchen, sure they'll want something to clear the air with for peace of mind, if not actual magical purposes. She gathers up sage and rosemary and a few other herbs before returning upstairs.

They move Angharad and Capable's things out of the room because she doubts they'll be able to sleep in it again, and Furiosa rubs herbs into the baseboards and windowsills while Valkyrie uses chalk to repeat the symbol she'd drawn in blood a few times, just in case.

"We probably should salt his body," Val mutters as she finishes chalking the last window.

Furiosa has no desire to dig his corpse back up, even if the rain does seem to be stopping. "Be my guest," she says. Maybe if she'd shoved some iron nails down his throat the first time around he would have stayed put. She dusts her hand off on her jeans and looks at her sister, unusually pale under her dark hair. "You should go lie down or something."

"Eh, I'm fine," she says, even as her hand goes up to rub against the side of her head.

"Angharad could use company," Furiosa says, hoping the teasing comes across right.

Valkyrie sticks her tongue out at her exactly as if they're still twelve, and she smiles a little. "Why was that cop here, by the way? You don't look like you got arrested."

"We talked," she says. "I don't know what he's going to do."

"Give us all medals, I hope," Valkyrie says wistfully. She claps her hand down on Furiosa's shoulder and squeezes it as she makes to leave the room.

Furiosa lets her go, and continues through the rest of the house to smear the herbs against the other windowsills, just because it's something she can do that doesn't involve talking to the others. She'd left her own window open this morning by mistake apparently and rain got in, soaking the bed.

She swears as she wrestles the soggy quilt and sheets off the mattress, and swears more as she fights to get them hung up over the clothesline in the backyard when the rain stops. The ground is soft and muddy under her feet and the scent of lilacs is still much too strong, and the fabric is heavy with so much water soaked into it.

Finally she gets the quilt clipped in place, the sheets thrown muddy into a basket to just be washed entirely. When that's done she yanks open the door of the storage shed and can't find the hedge-clippers she knows they own, only a pair of rusty boltcutters. They'll do, she decides.

The lilac bush puts up a fight as she hacks it down, every little shift in the ground underneath her making her feel as if the earth is going to give way and leave her standing right on Joe's rotting ribcage, or allow his arms to reach up through the dirt and grab at her ankles. Nothing of the sort happens, of course; she only gets scratched up bloody with thorns that were growing among the flowers as she moves armfuls of cut branches over to the fence by the woods. She'll burn them as soon as things dry out a little more, but already the smell of them is lessening, and she breathes in relief.

"There are crows all over the garden," Furiosa says when she returns inside.

"Yeah," Valkyrie says from the couch she's curled up on, "They live here too."

Not like this, gathering in a thick flock to watch every move she made with beady eyes. It was a crow that had Joe's ring. "Why don't the cats chase them off?"

"What's it matter to you?" Val asks, twisting to look her in the eye.

Furiosa shakes her head dismissively because it doesn't really matter, it's just unsettling.

"They eat the slugs," Valkyrie says with a shrug, turning away again.

 

The question of what Max is going to do plagues her all day, following her like those crows perched all over the garden. He might quietly pack up and pretend this was a dead-end but she isn't willing to bet on it, not for something this important.

Maybe she should go and put a proper spell on him, make up a banishment charm or something to turn his will to hers. Furiosa goes so far as to pull out one of the spell books, flipping through the pages in the dim light of the storeroom, but can't make up her mind to actually go through with it.

The storm dried up but the clouds linger, so that when the sun's gone down for the night there's nothing but pitch black sky above the house, thick and inky.

Her mattress is still damp and the cats eye her warily when she stands in the living room contemplating the couches, and Furiosa moves on impulse to leave the house. The night air is a relief, cool and wet-smelling, and she starts walking.

If Max checked out of the hotel and went home, that will tell her- not much of anything, really, other than that she missed her chance to fully persuade him over to her side. But if he's still there she can talk to him now that there's a few hours behind the screaming ghost.

His rental car is still in the motel parking lot, and there's the dim yellow glow of a lamp showing through the curtains of the unit it's in front of to suggest he's awake. Furiosa looks at the cheap plastic numbers nailed to the door for a moment, contemplating all the reasons she should turn around and head back, before raising her hand to knock.

She can hear bedsprings creak, a man's voice muttering something, and then the door opens to reveal Max like she'd been hoping. He frowns. "What's wrong?"

She shakes her head in answer and watches confusion and concern chase each other around in his expression. He takes a step back, holding the door open, and she lets herself inside the room. It's tiny and dingy, and his dog stares at her from the foot of the bed.

"Furiosa?" he says, and he looks like his voice should be rough but it's soft instead.

Even though she had all the time during the walk over she hasn't planned anything to say, and now that she's looking him in the face again the urge to talk has left her entirely. Furiosa reaches out to him and he lets himself be drawn in, until she's kissing him up against the closed door.

He hasn't shaved and his stubble scratches at her skin, and when he opens his mouth to hers she can taste that his sweet-tooth extends past just coffee. It's every bit as bad of an idea as it was earlier in his car, but she doesn't make herself pull away this time. He knows she's a witch, and that Joe is undoubtedly dead, and he could throw her in jail easily but all he does is run his hands over her, holding her close.

"Why're you here?" Max asks even as he nuzzles at her neck, his big hands not doing a thing to push her away.

"I want you," she says, as if that was in doubt. Her fingers push under his shirt so she's touching his bare skin, the muscles in his side flexing as he breathes. He lets out a low rumbling noise that reverberates through her.

Without warning he pushes off from the door and she stumbles backwards, her knees hitting the edge of the mattress and the momentum sending her down. Furiosa makes sure her hold on him tugs him down as well so he's on top of her, but the noise of metal jingling off to the side has her opening her eyes to see the dog moving away with a vaguely offended look on its face.

"The dog," she says, and Max stops mouthing at her chest long enough to send a disgruntled look the dog's way.

"Dog," he says, heaving himself off her and pointing at the bathroom's open door, "Get."

The dog obligingly jumps off the bed and lets itself be shut up in the bathroom, and Furiosa uses the pause to kick off her boots and fish her wallet out of her jeans for the condom she keeps stashed there.

He pauses when he turns back to her from closing the door, and she wonders if he's having second thoughts, if he's going to tell her to leave or want to start talking instead. But he only looks at her for a moment, eyes dark, before advancing again.

He's just as hot against her as he was in the car earlier even if she isn't as chilled, and they're both clumsy as they get their clothes off, distracted by kissing and exploring newly-bared skin, feeling the strength in his body and sharing hers in return.

He has scars that she only expects in hindsight, a gunshot to his shoulder, a knife to his gut. Little mementos of being a police officer. The knee he had a brace on is an ugly mess she doesn't let her eyes linger on, somewhat surprised he's bared it at all; he runs his hand down her left arm lightly, skimming right over her own less-easily-hidden scars before moving on. When she's down to just her underwear Max slips his fingers against her cunt, teases a circle around her clit so she moans at the sensation.

She curls her fingers around his cock and it's his turn to moan, hips twitching forward into the touch. She bucks underneath him and gets him rolled onto his back, hand searching the sheets until she finds the condom packet. "Put it on," she tells him, not having the patience to do it herself.

Max doesn't hesitate, unrolling it to cover his length while she straddles his thighs and fingers her pussy, throbbing with want. It's a relief when she can sink down onto his cock with a moan, the girth of him a stretch that reminds her of how long it's been since she fucked anyone last.

He swears under his breath and she lays herself over him, kissing his stupid lips and rocking her hips against him. His hands are broad and calloused; they roam over her skin, kneading her ass, pinching her nipples, sliding between their stomachs to rub her clit.

She pushes into the touches with a ragged gasp, feeling the hot promise of an orgasm building in her as she moves against him. It's still somehow a surprise when it happens with a careless flick of his thumb, pleasure cresting over her so all she can do is cry out, rutting her hips down to work herself through the high.

"Did you?" he asks, and she hums a contented answer, moving only lazily against him now. "Fuck," he says, "Can- I need t' move."

Furiosa has no objections, even when he flips them over so she's under him against the cheap hotel sheets. She wraps a leg around his waist to keep him close while he thrusts into her, cock hitting her at just the right angle to send sparks all along her nerves. Energy crackles between them until she feels as if she could light up the room with it, put on a show that's partly magic and partly lightning.

The mattress is creaking loudly underneath her, the headboard loose enough to rattle against the wall, and she spares a moment to belatedly wonder if they'd locked the door.

She scrapes her teeth against his neck and rolls her hips into his movements, but her rhythm stutters entirely off-track when she glances up and sees that he's looking at her with an expression she's not sure she can categorize on his face. It's not a bad look but it's intense, like he's seeing more than just a quick fuck.

She squirms in place under it but can't just close her eyes, now, instead grabbing the back of his neck to tug him down to kiss as a distraction. Max groans against her lips and she squeezes her cunt around him, making everything that much more sharp, vivid.

Spots dance in her vision until she can't see anything anyway for the pleasure of it, head rolling to the side as she gasps in air. He grinds against her and she thinks he's probably close, squirms her hand down to touch her clit to see if she can't come a second time. She doesn't manage to get there before he does, but he keeps his cock inside her as he catches his breath and even unmoving it's good enough for her to work the rest of the way to orgasm.

He has enough of his weight resting on her to feel solid, something between reassuring and confining, and he kisses her lazily as they unwind from the rush.

Furiosa untangles herself from him slowly, feeling the places that are going to be sore tomorrow with a satisfied shiver. She sighs with regret when he pulls himself away from her, stretches herself out while he takes care of the condom. The idea of staying for a second round is appealing, even if that was her only condom, and she's idly contemplating her options while she adjusts herself away from a damp patch on the sheets.

She's not expecting it, so when Max turns his back on her to throw the condom away she freezes in place, something sick and jagged shooting through her. "What's on your back?"

He cranes his neck over his shoulder like he's checking what she sees and shrugs lazily. "Tattoo."

It's an exact copy of his badge in black ink, a star over a shield shaded to look bronze- complete with a pair of wings stretching across his broad back, feathery tips nearly reaching the rounded curve of his deltoids. He has fucking wings.

Her gaze traces over the lines of it as if it'll change, until the dog makes a noise in the bathroom that draws her attention. His hair's messy, and he drives a Falcon, and this can't be happening.

"What's your blood type?" Furiosa asks, feeling slightly hysterical but doing her best to keep it out of her voice.

His forehead scrunches up in confusion, but he answers her. "O-neg."

She wonders what song he would hum if she asked him to and has to swallow down a shocky laugh. "I need to leave," she says instead, scrambling away from him and towards her discarded clothes.

"Are you okay?" Max asks, confused and concerned, so painfully kind. This has been her biggest mistake to date, and she needs to get out of this hotel room and then get out of this town, make her way someplace new where no one knows her and she can forget magic exists.

She can't find her underwear and she gives it up as a lost cause, tugging on her boots and grabbing for the doorknob just as he closes a hand around her wrist.

"What's wrong?"

"Let me go," she says, jerking her hand away from him. His grip is strong, though, and she can't get the doorknob open with her bare stump from this angle. "Let go."

"Hey," he says, voice pitched carefully. Barefoot as he is he's maybe an inch or two shorter than her, but she doesn't feel any height advantage. "What's wrong?"

Furiosa looks into his eyes and realizes that she's scared of him. Not of the physical risk he represents- some part of her is always aware of what men can do but she's moved among them too long for it to affect her much- but the way he's looking at her, into her. Like he knows her.

"Why are you here?" she asks. She was twelve when she cast a spell for a love that doesn't, can't, exist, but it feels as if it was just yesterday. The woman at the back gate come back a third time after mutilating a bird and twisting a man's mind in the name of love, her Mom crying herself to sleep and never waking up again, women on the street clinging to the shadows of partners who'd drawn blood the night before. And now her, trapped in a hotel room by a man staring at her with heavy eyes that only the panicked part of her wants to leave.

Max licks his lips and searches her face. "I'm investigating a case," he says slowly.

"Why are you here," she repeats. "Why did you come to Greenwich? You could have found leads all over the west coast."

"A hunch," he says with a shake of his head. "That letter turned up... it seemed good as any."

The letter Valkyrie had sent her three years ago to tell her about Mozzie's death, lost in the postal system until the exact right moment to lead him here, a place she hasn't set foot in for fifteen years...

"You're here because I cast a spell when I was a child," Furiosa says. "You weren't supposed to exist."

His hand is still on her wrist, grip steady. He frowns deeply in confusion.

"There's a curse on my family," she says, explaining because if she doesn't she thinks he might never let her leave. "Anyone who we love dies. So I cast a spell years ago to find someone who doesn't exist- except you do and you've showed up here anyway and I. Need. To. Leave."

She tugs on her arm again but still can't get free, and isn't quite desperate enough to lash out and fight her way to freedom.

"You cast a spell on me?" he asks.

It was a finding spell, not a binding one, but the difference doesn't really matter. "Let me go," she says. "Go back home and none of this matters."

Max looks lost, and she absolutely hates the way the expression makes her want to fold into his arms and explain everything until it's fixed, as if she even knows what fixed would look like. His hand releases hers, finally.

She doesn't hesitate to slip out the door, walking briskly away from the hotel. She makes the mistake of looking back when she's at the edge of the parking lot and sees him standing there silhouetted in golden light, watching her; she ducks her head and runs until the hotel is out of sight.

 

There isn't anyone awake when she gets in, the house dark and silent. Furiosa locks the front door behind her and goes for the spellbooks, finding the one she'd used all those years ago.

The words are familiar despite the time that's elapsed since she read it last, laying out the simple steps and explaining the drawbacks. It isn't a spell that forces love, like the ones she watched the aunts sell out the back gate to those who don't even know there's a difference, but it's one that directs possibilities. Max will go back to Medford and live his life exactly as he had before now that the magic's brought them together as it was meant to, and she will continue living her own life with the knowledge that there's someone whom magic itself considers her true love out there.

She rests her forehead against the pages of the book and wishes she'd never cast the spell, or at least that she hadn't put together the pieces to realize it'd been fulfilled at last. She was already on her way to liking Max, to feeling a connection stronger and less rational than it should be, but now it seems suffocating.

"What are you doing?" Toast asks, startling her back upright. She's obviously been asleep, probably just going to the kitchen for water.

"Nothing," she says with a shake of her head, shutting the book closed. "Goodnight."

"I'm worried about Angharad," Toast says, shifting from foot to foot. "What if Joe tries that again?"

"He's gone," Furiosa says for what feels like the hundredth time. She hopes she's more right about it this time than she was before. "We got rid of him, and protected the house so he couldn't get in anyway."

Toast doesn't look convinced. "We thought he was gone before, too."

She rubs her fingers against her temple. "Did the tea from last night help? I'll teach you how to make it."

"Sure," Toast says. "Will you teach me other stuff too? I want to make sure he'll never touch any of us again."

Furiosa has never pictured herself as a teacher, and doing so now produces and unsatisfactory image. Valkyrie would be better suited for it, if not the aunts. But she can pawn Toast off on someone else when it isn't the middle of the night. "Alright," she agrees.

The tea is just measuring out herbs in the right amounts, letting some steep in hot water and grinding up others fine enough to dissolve completely. She guides Toast through making enough for two cups and drinks the second herself, bitter on the tongue.

"Goodnight," Furiosa says once the mugs are sitting rinsed in the sink, remembering only when she closes her bedroom door behind herself that her bed is still messed up from the storm.

The mattress feels mostly dry when she flips it over, yawning as she searches out clean sheets to put down. She can't find a set in the room itself, and if she goes into the linen closet upstairs she knows the creaking floor will wake up at least one person. She can't even find a blanket to curl up under and begrudgingly heads out the back door to see if the quilt she'd hung up is dry yet.

They have no streetlamps so far out of town, and with the sky still cloudy the moon can't really be seen. Furiosa regrets not putting her boots back on when she steps onto a thorny branch she must have dropped cleaning up the lilac bush, the sharp thorns spearing right up into the flesh of her foot. She curses in pain and steps away, her bare feet finding a few more branches as she heads for the clothesline.

The quilt is bright even in the dark night, but it's only when she gets close enough to reach for it that she sees the clothesline is sagging under the weight of dozens of fat black crows.

Their eyes are shiny, unblinking as they stare down at her. A few clatter their beaks but don't call out, and no matter how Valkyrie had implied they were welcomed in the garden she starts walking backwards slowly, unnerved by the foreboding presence of them.

A crow caws somewhere behind her, and Furiosa lifts her eyes from the clothesline to scan the rest of the garden, her better-adjusted eyes picking out more and more birds, until she feels dizzy with the thought of how large the flock is. There's easily a hundred out here, and now that she's aware of it she realizes that the noise she's hearing are wings flapping and shuffling, not the wind disturbing leaves. Another bird caws, and she turns to run for the house, not caring about whether it's silly to be scared or not.

There are far too many thorn branches strewn across the pathway and she trips, the air knocked out of her as she lands hard against the paving stones.

The crows start calling out in groups, loud as gunshots in the silence, and Furiosa flinches as she feels some fly over her, swooping low enough to feel the wind from their passage against her skin. She untangles herself from the thorny branches and scrambles upright, ducking to avoid the crows as she heads for the safety of the house.

She slams the door behind her as soon as she's in but turns to look out the window like she can't help herself.

The crows swarm in and out, looking more like bats against the darkness if not for the noises they're making, but they begin to subside while she calms her pounding heart. The abandoned quilt flutters in the breeze, and for a moment she imagines she can see a pale figure standing somewhere behind it.

Furiosa takes a breath of the comforting kitchen smells, the lingering odor of the sleep tea, and forces herself away from the door. She'll set some coffee to brew and spend the night reading instead of sleeping, she decides.

 

The tea forces her to sleep a bit anyway, and she restlessly stretches out on one of the living room couches while the cats avoid her, despite her hoping one or two might curl up with her and keep her toes warm. She isn't supposed to dream but the coffee she's drunk probably messed with things because she dreams alright, seeing Joe's bloody corpse and foul deeds every time she closes her eyes.

When the sun eventually comes up the garden looks marginally less menacing, though now Furiosa can clearly see not only the mud-and-blood footprints she'd left on the stones, but also the fact that the lilac bush she'd cut down the day before has decided to become a sprawling mass of thorny vines instead of staying a dead stump. She sips at a cup of coffee and waits for Valkyrie to get up, sore feet pulled up under her.

"You look like shit," Val says around a yawn when she finally appears.

"We've got a problem," she replies. Valkyrie squints at her, not entirely awake, but follows her pointing finger out the window to the backyard.

"Oh, gross," Valkyrie says. "I can see boots."

Furiosa stands up so fast she nearly sends the chair backwards and goes to check. It takes her a moment but there among the twisted weeds she can indeed see the tips of a pair of boots, just about where they'd buried Joe's corpse. She swears under her breath.

"All the rain must have made him float, or something," Val says.

Ideally they'd dig the body up the rest of the way and burn it to ash, but she has no faith that Max won't be back unannounced and very little desire to handle a rotting corpse. "I'll put more dirt on him," Furiosa says. "The plant should just get tossed."

"Yeah," she agrees. "So much for masking the smell."

There are far less birds in the daylight than there were at night, but their beady gazes still make her uncomfortable as she walks back outside. Furiosa moves for the shed where the shovels are kept, but as she passes the boots they quiver in place, and then sink back under the surface. She stares at the spot they just were, then glances back at Valkyrie to confirm that she wasn't seeing things.

"The ground's soft from the rain, is all," Valkyrie says, returning her look with wide eyes.

Furiosa shudders but grabs a pair of shovels, and together they hack away the bush, roots and all. The wood is damp enough to hiss and smoke, but it burns well enough with a little encouragement once they drag it out to the rocky beach out the back gate. At least the smell of lilacs is gone entirely now.

That done, things seem normal; she takes the quilt in, and washes the muddy sheets from the day before. Angharad doesn't seem to have suffered any lasting effects from being possessed and Dag doesn't say anything about catching sight of Joe at all.

At lunch, the boys are sent into the root cellar for jars of preserves stored there, only to return with cracked jars full of festering slime.

"You ruined them when you were still high off your ass," Toast accuses, sneering at Slit.

"I didn't touch your wretched veggies," he says in reply. The jar he's brandishing is a viscous green color, clearly not the 'pickled carrots' the label proclaims. Furiosa can easily believe a few jars getting contaminated or broken, but Valkyrie swears up and down that things had been fine the last time she was in there barely a month ago.

"Maybe the storm did something?" Cheedo says.

"That doesn't happen overnight," Capable says, shaking her head with a grimace.

Furiosa thinks of the evil rotting in the ground and says nothing. They empty out the entire cellar, coming up with plenty of undamaged jars but none with anything that looks remotely edible left inside. Some are rotted, others turned to dust, one somehow filled with dead insects. There's no way for this kind of spoilage to have been overlooked, not if anyone had looked inside the cellar at all in the past year.

They slop the mess over to the beach they'd burned the bush on and dump it, letting the water wash it away. The intact jars they clean and sterilize, though she suspects even the aunts will find non-food uses for them in the future.

Despite being tense waiting for it all day, Rockatansky doesn't show up at the house, and their phone only rings once, with a misdial. Furiosa wonders if he's gone back west after all.

Her head aches and has been aching all day, until she skips dinner to lie down on her mattress that still smells faintly damp, the sound of crows loud outside the shut window. She gets some very restless sleep, plagued by fragmented dreams that don't make any sense when she opens her eyes again.

She only realizes that she really is stroking her hand through Angharad's hair and crooning something about how splendid she is when Toast shoves her away, and she impacts painfully with a doorknob on the opposite wall. The pain is the only thing that feels real, her vision swimming with shadows and limbs not obeying her commands.

"What the hell?" Toast asks, but Angharad's the one to stare her in the eye and say, "Joe."

Furiosa feels her mouth contort into a smile, her stomach roiling as she pieces together what's happening, something right out of a nightmare. "You're mine," her voice says, "You'll always belong to me."

If she had control of her body she would be sick, she thinks, but all she can do is focus inwards to find where Joe's seated himself inside her and try to rip him out. It's hard to concentrate past the pounding in her head but his presence is easy to find now that she's looking for it, an oily feeling coiled up through her.

She shoves magic at the feeling and feels it give a little, just enough for her to gasp, "Get him out." Then Joe's ghost is swamping over her again, reaching back out towards Angharad.

"Shit," Toast says, "Get the others, help me hold her!"

Furiosa concentrates on stymying Joe's movements, not that there seems to be much she can do. He's taking the magic she tries shoving him away with and only using it to grow stronger, until she gives up that idea. The struggle distracts him enough for the others in the house to wrestle her down to the floor, Nux and Slit sitting heavy on top of her as she thrashes.

"I told you we should have come back yesterday," a familiar voice says.

"Oh thank goddess," Valkyrie replies. The aunts fill out the space with their comforting presences, so that Furiosa relaxes a little even as Joe keeps raving from underneath her skin. They're going to take care of this, they're going to make it okay.

The house turns into a flurry of activity, people talking and moving all around while she herself gets tied up to one of the sturdier dining room chairs. It's dark even with lamps lit and her vision keeps cutting in and out, her hearing muffled and nonsensical; she feels almost like she's wrapped up in a thick blanket inside her own body and it's horrible, a living nightmare.

She doesn't need to pay attention to whatever spell they're setting up so she doesn't try, saving her strength to push against him when it's time.

He shows her horrible things while they're waiting, memories of things he's done that make her want to bring him back to life just to kill him a second time even slower.

"Keep a hold of your brooms, now," Jet is saying from above her, and Furiosa feels Joe writhe under her skin.

The women- the aunts, and Val, and the girls- are all in a circle around her, hands holding on to overlapping brooms, toes just outside a ring of salt on the ground. Gilly starts to say something in what might be Latin, a steady chanting noise, and Joe uses her mouth to hurl insults and promises as the others pick it up.

Furiosa could have guessed that it wouldn't be a pleasant experience, but she's unprepared for just how much it hurts, every nerve on fire as the magic washes over her. She doesn't know if it's her or Joe screaming but the sound is loud in her ears.

She digs her heels in and pulls her magic to herself like armor, wrestling with Joe's slimy presence to get him out. He has hooks all over her flesh, tugging with every repetition of the spell in white-hot agony, her head splitting, blood boiling.

Valkyrie breaks the chant to shout something about breathing, and Furiosa realizes she can feel her lungs burning, desperate for air.

The spell stutters and then the heavy pressure of it lifts, and she sucks in a huge breath of air. Her head is spinning, throbbing, but paradoxically her vision clears a little.

"You still in there?" Valkyrie asks, her face inches away where she's apparently lying on the floor, the chair she'd been tied to in splinters around her.

Furiosa croaks out a noise, but she can feel that Joe's weakened enough by the spellcasting for her to speak. "He doesn't want to leave," she says unnecessarily.

"Well he's gonna have to," Val says.

Her ribs ache with every inhale like someone's been standing on her chest. When she lifts her eyes from Valkyrie's face she can see the others arranged in a ring around her, the girls mixed in with her aunts like they belong there. "I'll take him down with me," Furiosa says.

"Absolutely not," Angharad says from somewhere to her left.

"He'll leave you alone," Furiosa says, vision swimming when she tries and fails to turn her head to look at her. She wouldn't even say it's unfair to trade her life to keep him actually dead; she's done enough things under his command that some form of punishment wouldn't go amiss.

"Stop being a fool," Valkyrie snaps. Her hand slaps down on the floor and the vibrations are enough to send a spike of pain through Furiosa's head, and she's too tired to hold in a whimper.

"What if this doesn't work?" Toast says, and Furiosa can't concentrate on the answer beyond recognizing Trish's voice as the one speaking.

So that's why the spell brought Max to her now, she thinks a little dizzily. Last chance before it goes unfulfilled.

Valkyrie gets off the floor and moves out of her sight; inside Joe stretches out again, recovering from the spell's effects. He's whispering horrid things to her, promises for if she lets him stay, threats if she tries pushing him away again.

"Joe," Cheedo says, and Furiosa feels her eyes open of their own accord to focus on her. The girl's eyes are wide and a little wet, earnest. "Take me instead."

Furiosa growls internally at the thought; through her Joe narrows her eyes, suspicious.

"I wanted to go back," Cheedo says with every appearance of honesty.

"What are you doing?" Dag asks, grabbing for her shoulder and getting shrugged off. Furiosa's body gets up to her feet, wavering from the internal war and the exhaustion of enduring the spell.

"You can stay with me," Cheedo says. She reaches out a hand, easily bridging the lines of salt and brooms.

Furiosa yanks backwards as hard as she can, succeeding only in keeping her body stationary against Joe's desire to move closer. He pulls against her and she digs in her heels, teeth gritted.

Cheedo smiles encouragingly, her hand wavering in the air a little where she's holding it out to him, and with one last push of foul thoughts in her direction Joe suddenly detaches himself from Furiosa. She reels backwards, caught off guard by the sudden loss of antagonistic force, and stumbles into the salt line that no longer does anything to stop her from leaving. Arms wrap around her middle and yank her the rest of the way over, her legs shaking under her from the strain.

She wants to shout at Cheedo, fight her way back into the circle and push the girl away, but Cheedo's already retreated back from the edge several paces. Furiosa doesn't relax, but she stops straining against the arms still hugged around her.

"Quick, we're not done," Jet says.

Where she was standing in the circle dust gathers, the color of old blood, swirling and shouting in Joe's disembodied voice- but unable to pass the barrier of salt and now without a body to latch onto. The women pick up the chant again and the dust collects into a nearly-solid shape, only to collapse in on itself as the spell takes effect, falling to the ground to lie like sand instead of a manifestation of the sick old man he was.

"Salt," Mellita says, and Nux appears from the corner of the room to fling handfuls into the center of the circle.

"Out back, now," Maadie says, plunging her broom into the pile of dust and beginning to sweep it away. "Quickly!"

There aren't enough brooms for Furiosa to grab one and help sweep the dust outside, but Keep directs her to the kitchen anyway. The huge cauldron the aunts use for boiling up soaps in is bubbling away on a flame, the scent of lye and quicklime almost suffocating in the air now that she's aware of it. Just like getting rid of a garden pest.

She and Keep drag the cauldron out behind the women sweeping, the dust from Joe's presence settling onto the bald spot over his body. Valkyrie takes over for Keep in holding the cauldron and together they empty the mixture out onto his grave, the liquid hissing and bubbling as it comes into contact with the dust. It sinks down into the earth and the earth sinks with it, his body dissolving away under the chemicals and magic both, steaming up into the air only to blow away in the breeze.

Furiosa's hand slips to drop the cauldron as she backs away from the rapidly growing hole, but the pot's empty enough to only swing against Valkyrie's leg harmlessly.

"There now," Jet says with a sigh of relief when the last of the mist dissipates. The girls are still holding their brooms like they might need to beat something back into the grave, but the aunts have relaxed. Furiosa focuses for a moment and can't feel any trace of Joe's presence inside or around herself anymore.

"Tea?" Keep offers to the group at large, completely unruffled by anything that's happened, and they all trundle back inside the house. The girls look giddy, disbelieving that things are over- or maybe that they've happened at all, even after seeing Joe possess Angharad the other day.

"Come on now," Maadie says to her with a smile that's kinder than she feels she deserves, her hand landing on Furiosa's shoulder. "It's been a long day."

She follows easily, too tired to resist or cringe away from the thought of whatever sort of lecture she's earned herself. Her head still aches, chest tender. She feels as if she could sleep for a week and still be tired.

 

She has a dream that night of living in the desert, and when she tips the aunts' cauldron over water pours out in an endless stream. Everywhere the water flows the sand turns to grass, an ocean of green.

 

The morning after, she wakes to the smell of freshly-baking cake and melted chocolate, so it's no surprise at all to see Maadie and Gilly and Jet holding court in the kitchen, the girls each happily slathering frosting onto still-warm cupcakes.

"Morning!" Cheedo chirps, frosting smeared dark on her lips.

"You feeling better?" Capable asks.

Furiosa pours herself a cup of tea- her head feels too sensitive to handle coffee this morning- and reflects on how much better the girls look now, brighter with Joe truly gone. "Better," she says.

She can hardly bring herself to look at her aunts, but when she does lift her eyes to them she doesn't see any of the censure she would have expected. It's a wonder that she recognizes them as the aunts at all; there had always been so many that keeping them distinct in her mind seemed impossible, but here fifteen years since she last saw any of them they're each unique, and a good deal older than she seems to remember. She wonders how much older she must look to them in return, whether they can read the things she's done in the lines encroaching on her face.

"Cupcake?" Jet asks, holding one out with the wrapper already mostly peeled away, frosting melting a little at the edges.

Furiosa sets down her mug and takes the cupcake, though she isn't one for sweets in the morning, and takes a bite of it. It's sweet and rich, and the sugar on her tongue makes her think of Max for some reason.

"I'm sorry I didn't call," she mumbles, wishing the girls weren't here to listen in but glad for the buffer they provide.

"You were never a talker," Maadie says with a wave of her hand right out of Valkyrie's playbook, all casual dismissal.

She wants to argue, wants to make them to show how upset with her they are, but says nothing as she eats her cupcake. The girls are at ease with the aunts already, laughing when Trish drifts through with a joke about rotting their teeth out, flashing her denture-less smile for them to see.

Nux stumbles in, still looking half-asleep, while Slit follows with a glower.

"Cupcakes?" Nux says excitedly, his eyes lighting up. When Capable passes him one he smiles as if she's handed him the moon.

Slit sneers and crosses his arms over his chest. "You'll get fat," he says.

"No one offered you any," Dag tells him, and nudges the bowl of frosting away from him. Furiosa can't tell whether she's imagining the flash of hurt on his face, an expression that makes him look for a second as young as he really is before he covers it with another scowl.

"That one I'm not sure about," Maadie whispers to her, shaking her head. No one in the kitchen is welcoming him in, save Nux who seems oblivious to any tensions, and Furiosa realizes that if the aunts felt as conflicted over her presence they wouldn't need her to pick a fight to get them to admit it. She smothers whatever expression might be on her face with another bite of her cupcake, turning the thought over in her mind.

 

Furiosa had half-expected the crows to disappear along with Joe's ghost, but two weeks on and they're still gathered around the house, cawing and croaking and flying at alarming speeds too close when you're walking. She hasn't seen a single one eat any slugs.

The greenhouse is apparently half boarded up not because they lack the money for repairs, but because even money can't get workers out to install new panes. Valkyrie had taken it upon herself to try and fit a few in the beginning but every window had slipped and shattered, until the aunts forbade her.

It's the same for the electricity and the plumbing, just old lines needing maintenance they can't get with their reputations.

"Money is money," Furiosa says, annoyed by what seem to her to be excuses. "Every single handymen in Greenwich can't think they'll be cursed for setting foot here, surely."

"Hard as it may be for you city-slicker to believe..." Valkyrie replies, but graciously allows her to call an electrician in an attempt to convince them to come out for service.

 

No one knows where she is except for the people already with her, so getting a piece of mail addressed to her is a surprise. It's a certified letter from all the way out in Medford and she holds her heart in her mouth as she opens it. A summons? They'd sent a cop out her way once already, surely if they wanted her in custody they'd simply come collect her.

The letter is short and to the point, telling her that the remains of Joe's body were discovered in the desert just outside Citadel's city limits, identification made possible by the presence of his signature ring. Cause of death was ruled to be accidental.

Furiosa reads the letter twice over before the words really sink in. The name and looping signature at the bottom of the page is Max's and she knows that he's aware that Joe's body is most certainly not out west, which means he's lied for her. Not just handed it over to someone else to chase dead end leads, or turned a blind eye to her and kept the case open unsolved, but he's slipped that damn ring onto the hand of some corpse and sworn that made it Joe's.

"Well? What is it?" Valkyrie asks, snooping but just polite enough to not read over her shoulder.

Furiosa holds out the letter for her to read in answer.

Valkyrie's eyes skim down the page, widening in surprise. "He's that cop who came by, isn't he?" she says when she's reached the end.

She nods and takes the paper back; on the back side there's something scribbled in pen and she wants to read it herself before Val notices.

Valkyrie lets out a whistle. "Did you spell him or something?"

'I don't believe in curses, and I wished for you too' the postscript says, followed by a string of numbers that don't match the office phone in the official letterhead. She has spelled him, but not in the way Valkyrie's thinking. "I slept with him," Furiosa says, which is true but is also not what she thinks is the reason he's done this. The sex was a side-effect more than anything. It's also not something she'd meant to share, at least in this context.

Valkyrie barks out a disbelieving laugh, shaking her head side to side. "Well, that's one way to do it."

"It wasn't like that," she replies, knowing it's her own fault for bringing it up like this in the first place.

"Sure," Val says easily, dismissively. "But hey, you're off the hook now! We should celebrate."

Furiosa looks down at the letter still gripped in her hand, the handwritten message that definitely goes beyond a courtesy update, and thinks about telling her the ways Max matches the terms of the spell she'd cast twenty years ago. It could all be just a coincidence, though she has a hard time convincing herself of it. He fits with the list too well, fits in with her too well to really believe there's nothing more to it.

She wonders what it would take to undo the spell. Then she thinks about the ways he'd looked at her, and how he made her feel in just the short time she's known him, and about the risk he's taking for her with this report, and she wonders instead if there's any way to break the family curse.

She's standing right by the garden gate where desperate women would come and beg for love charms from the aunts, where she stood watching and learned that men have nothing but lies in their hearts. She's always reviled those weeping desperate women, maybe pitied them in her kinder moments. Now she grips a man's letter tight and thinks maybe she can agree with Valkyrie's long-ago assessment that what those women were looking for wasn't really love at all.

 

Max's phone number taunts her from the bedside drawer she'd shoved his letter into. It would be so easy to call it and talk to him, not that she has any idea of what to possibly say. "Thanks for covering up a murder for me" seems like a conversation starter to be avoided.

 

It's seeing the way Valkyrie grows closer and closer to Angharad that cements the decision in her mind. Furiosa likes to think that even after all this time apart she knows her sister pretty well, and she knows Angharad well enough to know that the way they're both responding to the other suggests something more than just a bit of flirting to pass the time.

"Does she know about the curse?" Furiosa asks when it's just her and Valkyrie, cleaning up the table after dinner.

Val doesn't pretend to not know what she means, her eyes immediately jumping to the doorway through which light and noise from the living room is spilling. "We haven't really talked about it," she says. "Any of it. I know she hasn't had the easiest time and I don't want to push anything, you know? The curse isn't really first-date material."

"She deserve to know what she's getting into," Furiosa says, but then shakes her head because she doesn't want to have that discussion. "I've been thinking of looking into breaking it, anyway."

"I'm pretty sure it can't be broken," Valkyrie says. "And why do you suddenly care, anyway?"

She drops her eyes to the plates she's meant to be drying off and doesn't think about her own selfish reasons. "It wasn't originally a curse," she offers instead.

There's a few moments of uncomfortable silence where Furiosa can feel Valkyrie's gaze evaluating her. "It's that cop, isn't it? The one you said you slept with."

"It isn't anyone," Furiosa lies. She moves the dried plates to the cabinet, not looking at her sister and not thinking about the way Max looked at her, touched her. "It's dumb to live with this curse hanging over the family."

"Well, I'm not to going to argue if you want to bang your head against that particular wall," Valkyrie says in a tone that suggests she doesn't believe her supposedly altruistic reason but isn't going to call her on it.

"Thank you for your permission," she replies drily, and gets a soggy washcloth flicked at her in answer.

 

The family curse wasn't originally a curse.

After breaking the noose that was meant to hang her Maria Jobassa waited for her lover to come to her so they could raise their child together, only for him to never appear. She'd sworn a vow to never love again, and later vowed that her daughter would never know the pain of a broken heart herself, and somewhere along the line it became a death sentence for anyone who dared love a Jobassa witch. The few far-flung cousins who didn't inherit any of the gift seemed to escape the effects of the curse as well.

Furiosa has never paid much attention to the underpinnings of magic, the reasons why one spell works and another doesn't, why exactly it matters what phase of the moon some herbs are picked at. She knows how to feel for that spark inside of herself and use it to make her life a little easier and that's always what has mattered most to her.

Now she finds herself going through thick old books, searching for clues on how to break a curse like this. She does want to break it for Valkyrie, but she won't lie to herself and say that no part of her motivation has to do with Max, with the potential he represents.

She finds counter-curses and hex reversals everywhere, but the ones that she tries don't seem to do a lick of good. The curse sits like a shroud over her, over Valkyrie, over the aunts. It's even settled onto the house itself, a malevolent aura that she'd chalked up to Joe's haunting until it occurs to her that it hasn't dissipated even nearly a month after his last gasp.

The curse is only a curse because it mutated in the first place, so the idea of it stretching the limits of 'loved by a Jobassa witch' to encompass property isn't entirely out of the question, she decides. Especially after helping Keep out in garden, and listening to her croon at the plants she so carefully tends despite the weeds and souring soil.

It does shift her ideas about how to deal with it, however. Maybe it really isn't a curse at all but something that needs to be cleansed, Maria's spirit appeased?

Furiosa has been jotting notes down in her old notebook, right next to the spell she'd cast to make a neighbor's cat unable to catch birds and a muddled recounting of some pre-pubescent dream. It's a perfectly ordinary composition notebook that they'd bought at an office supplies store before school one year and yet somehow there always seems to be plenty of pages to fill in, even all these years past.

The notebook sometimes falls open to the pages she'd marked up with the amas veritas spell and she'll read over the list of qualities twelve-year-old her had demanded of her true love, half hoping and half dreading she'll realize there's some way Max doesn't fit. She comes to the same conclusion every time however, and has to flip to another page before she does something ridiculous, like reach for the letter with his phone number and call him.

 

Cheedo starts talking about catching up in time to have a real senior year at the high school, while Toast acquires a book about GED requirements from somewhere and glares at anyone who looks like they might want to talk to her about it. Capable goes on an errand to town and comes back with a job application she was told to fill out. Even Slit finds a way to endear himself, his hands no longer chrome-shaky when he's tuning bits of the motorcycles that are stabled in the garage.

They're settling in for the long haul, Furiosa thinks to herself as she watches them- the aunts and the girls and the boys and her sister- circled around a table and arguing over what rules to use for the board game they've scavenged from somewhere. She's happy for them but she feels like there's something missing, or maybe that she's extraneous, out-of-place.

 

When a floorboard gives way right under Capable's foot, rotten through despite the care she knows the aunts put into keeping the house sound, Furiosa decides it's time to start putting her theory to the test.

She finally does call Max's number, barely needing to look at the letter to make sure she's gotten the numbers in the right order.

He picks up after the second ring and she remembers belatedly that there's a few time zones between them now, his voice thick like he might have been asleep. "'lo?"

"Max," she says, "it's Furiosa." Before he has a chance to respond she forges on. "I need something of yours. Hair, or nail clippings. Something like that."

There's silence on the other end of the line, save for the sound of his breathing to let her know he hasn't hung up. Max clears his throat and asks, "Why?"

Not outright refusing, which most people probably would.

"Are things okay?" he asks before she figures out what would best convince him. "That... ghost didn't come back?"

Furiosa shivers at the unwelcome memory of Joe possessing her body. "Everything's fine," she says. Her eyes drop to the message he'd left for her on the back of the letter. "Just... you don't have to believe in curses for them to be need to be broken."

He makes a little nonverbal noise that doesn't carry well over the phone and she thinks to herself that now is when he tells her he isn't interested after all, leaving her to feel like a fool for calling him.

"Okay," Max says, surprising her.

"Okay," she echoes uselessly. "You have my address already."

He hums, and Furiosa thinks about saying something stupid, telling him that she misses him or explaining what it is she's planning to do with the clippings he sends her. There's a strange noise over the line and then he says, "Dog says 'hi'."

She wonders if the dog sleeps in his bed with him and her nose wrinkles at the thought even as a reluctantly fond smile tugs at her lips. She doesn't mind dogs overly much, but she draws the line at having their hair all over the sheets. At least cats don't smell.

"'Hi' back," she says for lack of anything better. She hears something come crashing to the floor somewhere inside the house and even though they've said all of a dozen stilted words between them she still regrets that she should go and deal with whatever mess was just made. "I have to go," she tells him.

Max lets out a grunt that she thinks sounds disappointed, if she isn't reading too much into it. "Alright," he says. "I'll get that in the mail."

She thanks him, and returns his goodbye, and only when there's a second crash does she actually hang up. It's absolutely ridiculous but talking to him just that little bit now that there isn't the threat of a murder charge hanging over her head has her mood buoyant the entire rest of the day.

 

The family isn't quite so nosy as to actually open her mail for her, and when Max's package shows up a few days after her phone call she takes the box into her room and shuts them out. He could have just sent an envelope but he clearly hasn't, and she isn't sure what she'll find when she opens it.

There's a little plastic bag with nail clippings, and another with some trimmed hair. A third bag is labelled 'Dog' and contains, on closer inspection, dappled fur. He's included a folded-up bandana and when she cautiously lifts it to her nose she can smell his skin, like he'd worn it around his neck just before tucking it into the box.

A small plastic bottle falls out of the bandana and she picks it up next; it looks like a hotel shampoo bottle with the label ripped off, and when she opens it she finds thick red blood.

Furiosa carefully caps the bottle back up and takes a deep breath. There are so many things she could do with hair and nails and whatever traces are on the bandana, but to have some of his blood, willingly given- the possibilities are terrible, and nearly endless.

At the very bottom of the box is a keychain, a piece of dark brown leather stamped on one side with a twisting tree and the other with a moon and star, with a note taped onto it that says 'saw this + thought you might like it'. She picks it up and is glad that she'd taken the precaution of shutting herself into her room because she's sure the expression on her face would earn her a round of brutal teasing.

 

It was old magic that set the curse into motion, and it'll be old magic that undoes it.

"Can you get some of Angharad's hair?" Furiosa asks Valkyrie, not bothering to ask if she'll come along and help. Of course she will.

"Probably," Val says, with an expression that demands to be told why she needs it.

"I know how to break the curse," she says with as much confidence as she can, even though really her plan is more theory and a gut feeling than anything else. "Tonight's the best night for it." Keeping track of the moon's cycle is old habit, reinforced every time she looks up at the night sky, but for this she'd actually cracked open an astronomical atlas and checked the positions of planets and stars as well. Conditions would have been better three months ago, but three months ago she was still living in Citadel.

"Really?" Valkyrie asks. "Have you told the aunts?"

Furiosa shakes her head. "Just the two of us are enough," she says. The aunts won't hinder anything, she knows that much, but despite all their collected power and experience she doesn't think they'll help, either. It was a strange decision to come to but it feels right; it's her and Val who are the ones most affected by the curse right now, and it's always been the two of them sneaking off to do ill-advised things anyway.

"If this ends up with one of us getting possessed again I'm banning you from magic," Valkyrie says, teasing but not disagreeing.

 

The house they live in is not the house that Maria Jobassa built those two-hundred years ago. That house is little more than a stone foundation these days, hidden away in the woods and protected from even the most curious trespassers with a few discreet charms and the benefits of an old forest. It's a small affair, a single room and the remains of a great chimney that legend says produced smoke in every color of the rainbow, ocean waves breaking on the rocky shoreline only a few yards away

"This place gives me the creeps," Valkyrie says, peering around the dark clearing distrustfully. Even with the full moon it's dark, their old oil lantern barely making a dent in the thick shadows.

Furiosa sets down the bundle of supplies she'd lugged out over by the old hearth and silently agrees. "You could leave," she says, not wanting her to take her up on the offer and fairly certain that she wouldn't anyway.

"And let you take all the credit? As if," Val replies easily. The light from the lantern she's holding dances crazily all over her face and the remains of the old garden.

Furiosa lets the relief she won't admit to feeling show on her face, sure the dark hides her expression well enough that she won't be teased for it. She sets the wooden bowl she'd brought- a twin to the one she'd burned twenty years ago trying to circumvent this same curse- down on the worn hearthstone and lays the ingredients for the spell next to it.

Most of the spells she does are off-the-cuff things, casual little flicks of magic to switch on a lighbulb or stir her coffee. She's read dozens of spells for curse-breaking in the past week and it wasn't so hard to use them as a scaffold to write up a little chant for herself to use tonight.

She'd feel better with a circle of salt and maybe iron around herself, but defense like that defeats the purpose of calling up old Maria's spirit so she can be reasoned with and/or driven off, depending on how things go.

"You're sure you know what you're doing?" Valkyrie asks, finally turning away from scanning the perimeter of the clearing as if something is going to manifest out from the trees.

Furiosa doesn't answer, instead blowing a little magic on the candles she'd brought to set them alight. One for each point of a star and one in the middle, also standing in for the six generations of Jobassas afflicted with the curse. Val finally sets the lantern on what's left of a foundation wall and kneels down across from her, the bowl between them.

"White as light," Furiosa says, and tips into the bowl a handful of daisy petals.

"Black as night," Valkyrie says like she was supposed to, and adds some crow feathers.

"We call on Maria to make things right," Furiosa says. Even having grown up with magic, reciting a spell always seems vaguely silly; not for the first time she wishes she'd been interested enough in learning Latin to at least know how to make them sound more officious. The herbs she puts into the bowl smell fresh and green, comforting.

"Ash to ash," Val says after a slight pause, and sprinkles in a pinch of soot from their fireplace.

"Dust to dust," Furiosa says. She'd mixed dirt from the gardens back at the house with some from here as well, to cover both bases.

"Family calls upon family," Valkyrie says more confidently, adding in some oils that Furiosa had mixed earlier. The oil hisses as it lands on the other ingredients, and she feels the hairs at the back of her neck prickle. Some part of it is working, apparently.

Furiosa had thought long and hard about whether to even include this next part, insides squirming with the thought of her personal life being made public even just with her sister. Still, she picks up the little braided circlet of golden hairs Angharad had donated because she's started and now she needs to finish. "From desire's field."

"To hope's yield," Val says, and lets the little bottle of Max's blood drip into the bowl. His hair would have worked just as well, or his nails, but the temptation of using such a gift was too much to pass up.

"Time has come to be healed," Furiosa says, pushing as much intent into the words as she can. She tosses in the last handful of herbs she'd prepared.

Nothing happens, though the air still has a charge to it. She looks over at Valkyrie and starts repeating the spell from the beginning, her sister joining in so they're speaking in unison rather than alternating lines this time. At the end of the third round the air pressure abruptly drops, so suddenly her ears ring, and the contents of the bowl burst into flames.

Valkyrie flinches back, then lets out a quiet laugh. "Think we got her attention."

"Someone's," Furiosa agrees. The burning ingredients should smell foul- there's feathers and hair and blood in it, after all- but all she can smell is sweet rosemary smoke.

She can still feel the shadow of the curse if she concentrates, but perhaps it's a little lighter? It clearly hasn't dissipated entirely which means she's missed something... Inspiration strikes as she sees the faint scar running across Valkyrie's palm.

"The curse was meant to protect us, right?" she says, and pulls out the knife she has never stopped keeping in her boot. "But the family's always loved itself best. So it's killing us instead."

Val eyes the knife warily but doesn't say anything to refute her line of reasoning. It makes about as much sense as the curse extending to the house, in her mind.

Furiosa feels a phantom tingle from the scarred palm she no longer has when she draws the knife down the center of her right hand, wincing at the burn of it. "Yours next," she says, and cuts a shallow line through Valkyrie's old scar.

"My blood," she says, and lets her blood run from the cut down into the bowl of burning ingredients. It hisses on contact with the flames. "Your blood." Valkyrie follows suit, and the flames leap up high enough for her to flinch back.

She grabs her sister's cut hand with her own and squeezes them together, like she'd done the day she left. "Our blood," they say in unison.

As their commingled blood drips down the fire abruptly turns unnatural green, and the heat of it seems to vanish even as it keeps on burning up their ingredients. The candles gutter in the breeze and she thinks she can almost make out the figure of a woman dressed for another era standing near the edge of the water, looking out to sea.

All in all it feels a bit anticlimactic for the breaking of a centuries-old curse, but then it wasn't something that was cast out of malice, or even intentionally. The figure breaks up into just reflections of the moonlight on the waves.

"I think it worked," Valkyrie says with surprise as the bowl burns through itself, starting to smolder on the sandy ground below it.

Furiosa nods her agreement and extracts her hand from their grip, skin slick with blood and aching from the cut. And now she'll have to manage having no hand and a damaged one, she thinks ruefully. Maybe she should have cut somewhere less dramatic.

 

Over the next few days the crows leave by ones and by twos, until the massive flock that covered the house is reduced to a single pair of birds, sharing a nest somewhere in the nearby trees. Furiosa makes a call to the plumber and they actually come out to fix the toilet on the third floor after what was apparently five years of dodging calls and 'getting lost' on the way over.

She accidentally spies Valkyrie giving Angharad a kiss in the foyer and smiles to herself even as her fingers run over the shapes stamped into a silly keychain, reminding her of what she doesn't have.

 

Furiosa is sweaty and dirty all over from renovating the greenhouse when she hears Gilly call out that there's someone for her at the door, and her snappish reply dies on her tongue when she actually looks in her direction. The broken windows on the greenhouse have all been replaced and through the new clear glass she can see Max standing on the porch, shoulders drawn up like he's going to be attacked by the old women ringed around him.

"Didn't put him under a spell, my ass," Valkyrie mutters.

She ignores her sister and unlatches the side door, moving as if in a dream. He visibly relaxes when she approaches, like it's a relief to trade the aunts' attention for hers. "What are you doing here?" she asks, surprised when her voice doesn't sound accusatory.

Max shrugs a shoulder, mouth curling into a warm smile. "Dog kept talking 'bout a road trip," he says.

She glances down the driveway and sees an unfamiliar car parked at the end, black and angular like the ones she coveted in her youth, with a familiar dog sticking its head out the open window. Furiosa decides she doesn't care what his real reason in, smiling a little at Dog's goofy expression and still smiling as she looks back towards Max. In the clear sunshine she can finally see that his eyes are more blue than they are gray.

Inside her chest she feels a fizzle of magic, the amas veritas spell giving a happy hum at having brought them together a second time- or perhaps that's just her own heart. She certainly doesn't love him but she could, and his being here suggests he sees enough of the same potential in her, and for the first time since she watched love destroy someone's life she actually feels excited by the prospect.