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Resting my eyes

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Furiosa is excited, has been excited for days. There’s to be a gathering of the Vuvalini, members of the clans coming to the Citadel at the next full moon.

Max had once told her that hope was a mistake. Looking forward to this still feels risky. In three days on the Fury Road, she’d found her people and lost so many of them again, lost the idea of her homeland. She longs for this reunion, but she knows she’s expecting too much from it, knows how dangerous that is.

They’ve found ways to move forward. Gilly and Mel have chosen to stay at the Citadel. Furiosa knows that wasn’t a small choice. It hasn’t been small for her, either. Vuvalini thoughts and values are being woven into the place, with every seed the Dag plants, every former war pup that Capable teaches. She still longs for her lost kin, still wonders if other remnants of the clans are out there, scattered but surviving. With the Green Place gone, with so many links broken, finding them again had seemed impossible.

She’d found it hard to believe the first hints. After one scouting trip, Max brought her a metal teapot, bashed but beautifully engraved, with lists of names that she recognises: even Swaddle Dog. That might mean anything, the pot might have been stolen or abandoned, might have changed hands a dozen times before he got hold of it. The woman who had traded it had been reluctant at first, he tells Furiosa. She’d only agreed to swap it for Citadel gin-apricots when she realised that he knew some of the names.

Lin, the trader, had been guarded, but Max thought she had recognised the Green Place, some of the other names he’d mentioned. He’d told her there were Swaddle Dog kin at the Citadel. She’d been sceptical, but agreed to pass the information along, for what it was worth. No promises.

That had been hundreds of days ago. Since then, there have been more trades, more messages. Max and other scouts have met Vuvalini on the road, women with stories to swap and knowledge to spare. A few have even come through the Citadel itself: nomadic women who have built up their own regular routes, with connections to others further out across the wasteland.

It’s taken time to build the networks. Establishing trust had taken longest, but then there had been flurries of greetings, of knowledge passed in embroideries and tattoos. More visitors had come, promised to spread the word. One of the nomads, a history woman, had come back with new remedies, her body marked with medical information. Mel and Cheedo had rushed to welcome her and to read her freshly-inked healing methods. Each trade in information, each gift of a story or of goods with a shared history, has helped to lay the warp and weft of a new Vuvalini fabric. They’re spreading knowledge over the wasteland like a shade tent, patched together from tattered but cherished cloths. It’s threadbare in places, vulnerable to storms, but it’s there, it holds. Furiosa hopes.

They’d held a first gathering, close to one of the big trade routes. It had seemed too soon to send a call to the Citadel, when news of Joe’s fall was still spreading, when so many wastelanders still saw the place as a prison. With passing time, as trust grows, they’re having another gathering here. It’s to be held at the end of the harvest season, an invitation to the tribes to visit the new green world of the Citadel.

The first of them arrive with the last of the harvest, pitching in to work, and to help prepare for the next visitors. Some have the motorbike-tents that Furiosa remembers from her childhood, that Mel and Gilly have only just given up. They’re shelters for one or at most two people, but they can be placed together, and more of them are coming.

They’ve decided to hold the gathering up in the gardens, for the most part. Many of the visitors are uncomfortable with the Citadel’s rock walls; this is an outdoor space that can be both open and defended. And everybody is entranced by the green.

It’s not without complications: getting the tents set up, getting people together. Pups and former Wretched creep into the shade tents, nervous but welcome once it’s clear they’re there to learn. Most of the Vuvalini have brought their own food, but relax enough to share, or to swap recipes. A cherished variety of hummus is a huge hit, and there’s much comparing of notes on the best ways of preserving jerky.

On the second night, Furiosa retreats, overwhelmed by so many people, by so much hope. It’s not that she’s not happy – she is, painfully so. It’s just so much, so much more than she’d hoped for, so far from her days of fire and blood. Max comes to find her, sits quietly with her in a lookout post, watching the moonlit desert. The next day, she goes back to the main tent to find a craft session in progress, milking mothers and visiting Vuvalini discussing stitch patterns as they knit and mend.

There’s plenty of talking, more words than she thinks she spoke in a thousand days, before. But there’s also time when they just lie there in the heat of the day, on cushions and convenient rocks, with the Dag and Toast and Capable and Cheedo all there among the Vuvalini, passing teacups, snoozing as much as speaking.

If it’s a lot for Furiosa to process, she’s not surprised that Max hangs back. People are often too much for him, even people he knows, even people who love him. But she hadn’t expected so many of the scattered Vuvalini to come with greetings for him, such an obvious sense of affection. He’s met so many of them on the road, done so much to bring them together.

Max is gruff but pleased, she thinks – he hadn’t seen the friendship coming, either. He still stays away from the chattiest gatherings, sticking to the work parties and the smaller groups. He’s good with a needle; some of his repairs have been hasty, patched things, but given time he’s neat and precise, able to coax another sixty days of wear from garments she might have given up on.

It’s late one afternoon when he edges into the shade tent.

“You traded me apricots,” says Lin, smiling as he passes. “For a teapot with Furiosa’s clan name on it.”

She nods to a low table, where the teapot sits.

“There’s mead,” she adds. Max nods politely, hums in acknowledgement.

“Was glad to trade,” he says, before coming to sit by Furiosa. She pours him a cup of the mead, watches as he sips. Mead is a honeyed liquor, with a taste of herbs running through it. The mothers had made it in her childhood, but she’d forgotten, would never have been able to reconstruct the recipe. Drinking it now, she can remember KT brewing, debating different flavours, the look on her face as she tested the latest batch. Mead certainly makes the conversation go faster, though this may not apply in Max’s case.

“S’good,” he says. “Really good.” Lin smiles, then goes on with her work.

Max has finished his own mending, so this time he just sits beside Furiosa on the old couch they’ve dragged out to the shade tent, leaning against her as people come and go around them. Toast brings in a lantern, starts lighting the little candles dotted about the tent. Cheedo is delighted by the mead, gets louder and gigglier after half a teacupful. The Dag is more interested in the brewing process, how the herbs affect taste. As they discuss it, Lin mentions an old friend, a fine brewer she’d lost touch with after the loss of the Green Place.

“She swore by what she called bochet,” Lin remembers. “You cook the honey, burn it almost. Always used to say it reminded her of toffee. Made the whole camp smell gorgeous.”

“What’s toffee?” asks Cheedo. She’s on her second cup, and sounding sleepy.

“A before-time sweetmeat,” Mel chips in.

“KT Concannon made bochet,” Furiosa says, her voice a little rough. “My initiate mother…”

“That’s her,” Lin interrupts her. “My friend.”

They stare at each other, across the tent. Then Lin gets up, bends over the back of the couch, reaching past Max to hug Furiosa. They stay hugged close for a moment, foreheads pressed together, before Lin sits back down. They’re both smiling, both a bit teary, not quite sure what to say next. Lin swallows.

“Did Katie ever tell you about her brewers’ training?” Furiosa shakes her head: she only just remembers the brewing.

“That was a story. Back before she joined Swaddle Dog…”

Leaning on the back of the couch, eager to hear more, Furiosa shivers a little. It’s getting colder, as the sun sets, and her tears have left her feeling chilly. Beside her, Max quietly takes off his jacket, still warm from his body, and puts it around her shoulders. Instead of sitting back down beside her, he turns on the couch, lying down so he’s not blocking her view of Lin. His head and shoulders are a solid, comforting weight against her legs. It’s brave of him, to lie down so unguardedly, with so many people here. He’s not often so trusting. She moves her bare nub to stroke his hair, feeling the heat of him spread through her, as sweet as the mead.

“So Katie said…”

Furiosa is laughing, recognising the way KT spoke, the salt of her jokes. In her lap, Max lets his eyes close, as the talk swirls on around him.