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Extreme foolishness or unsound mind (defines insanity)

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Max sometimes remembers.

Not the wailing screams or haunting apparitions who always lure him back to human populations – civilization is a rotting carcass and a lie. Those old ghosts are there so he could start the cycle of lost humanity and hope that he tucks into the crevasses of his clawed out brain reminiscent of soothing stories, reminding himself later at his most hopeless.

No, he means remembering.

Capable says he hums songs when he works on car engines, unfamiliar tunes scraped out of his throat without permission or his knowledge. Cheedo once tried humming back, high and lilting in a way that felt inherently wrong, though he couldn’t explain how when asked. Best he could do was shrug and mumble, “Does’n fit.”

He didn’t elaborate further. Both girls thought he meant she wasn’t singing it right. To him, he meant it didn’t fit her.

In Toast’s vicinity, he on one occasion called the water flowing freely down from the gate as a ‘waterfall.’ The shorthaired girl gave him a strange look and asked when he decided to name the event. It stopped him in his tracks and had him mentally scratching his head fervently, chasing after the word like it could lead him to something lost – his memories, sanity, purpose, something real – before jolting when a hand slipped into his.

He realized belatedly it was Toast’s tan hand, not nearly calloused as Furiosa’s – fighting against each other in the sand with wild abandon and wild eyes – but not as soft as the other Wives. Hesitant yet tight, anchoring him in place.

She refused to look at him as he stared at her startled and didn’t budge, stubbornness in the set of her chin.

They let each other be.

He looks at the greenery that the Dag diligently coerces out of the ground and spots the first signs of orange globes the size of tennis balls – yet another word that nonsensically came to mind – and knows with undoubting certainty they taste acidly sour yet sweet and can last a long time.

The Dag gave him a flat, piercing look when he told her this but saw her afterwards telling the warboys to storage the orange fruits – ah, he sees, they’re fruits – when they’re ripe.

How he sometimes forget the sound of his own voice, but remember such innocuous facts is all but a tiring game he’s used to by now. He just accepts it as it is; otherwise, he would be driven even madder.

He doesn’t remember how old he is.

That’s always been more of a mystery to him. Time is always a blurry, unreliable thing.

But something’s shifted. There are people left alive, people who know how much time has passed, how long he’s gone when he leaves and return once more. Furiosa said four months and Max had grunted with acceptance. That solid information is a comforting novelty.

She’s patient every time he asks only her, because there is no one he completely trusts to tell the truth. The Wives are occasionally vague to tell the truth to spare him, a kindness he does not need nor want. Sometimes he thinks the only real thing in this wasteland, fractured world is her and the girls, all fierce and full of colors against the unending, unyielding landscape.

Dreaming, though, is one of the surefire ways to always remember them.

Flashes of images and whispers whereareyoumaxyouletusdie torrent him again and again and again and a g a i n-

He wakes up. The world is sand and desolation as always. A comforting sameness convinces him he is no longer in the domain of nightmares.

There are some days though, when he doubts if he ever escaped.


 

Max wakes with a jolt and instinctively latches onto the wrist grasping his arm.

It takes him a blurry, long moment to realize the meat-filled flesh is too delicately thin to be a considered threat. The second sensation is the trembling. He lets go immediately.

This is not normal. This is not constant, and something lurches in his stomach at the thought. Not even the warboys are foolish enough to wake him like this.

His gaze flickers and his tenseness diminishes slightly at the sight of tumbling blonde hair and aqua eyes that are oddly anxious and full of fear (he’s imagining the hope in it) instead of blaming. Strangely, her leg isn’t pooling with blood.

Ah, it’s one of those times. Sleep has not been completely shaken out of him. That explains it.

The remnants of her ghostly touch still tingle his fingers and limb and it almost feels real. He ignores it.

He instead looks to his arms and physically jerks to see them smooth, lacking the scarred, hard-won muscles he has earned over the years (decades, centuries, who knew). Scratchy, paper-thin clothes hang loosely from his shoulders, a uniform the specter appears to be following in example.

No, this is not the usual. Not at all.

Madly, he’s tempted to think it’s a dream, but all his dreams consist of clawing hands and a thousand accusing eyes bearing into his skull. Right now, it feels too real instead of the sensation of freefalling into levels of hell that he’s not entirely sure existed. His jigsaw thought process of the old nonsensical has him using words or references that have no context. Impossibly, in this very moment, he never felt more awake.

He tentatively gets off the metal chair ice to the skin and rests his shoeless feet on the ground. He feels a dull sense of shock when he feels no pain in his knee. Max almost forgot what it feels like to stand on his own two feet without problem, pain not a factor in every step he takes. He almost feels wobbly like a babe taking its first step from the sudden shift of balance, as he is able to put his whole weight on the leg.

“Are you alright?” the girl ludicrously asks with bewildering worry, which reinforces the fact this cannot possibly be real. He feels steadier as he reaffirms this to himself.

“Fine.” He answers, rewarded with blooming surprise that spreads across the girl’s face.

Oh. Right. Talking is still rusty to him, words scraping his brain and struggling to leave his tongue. The fact he’s consciously talking to his own subconscious probably isn’t a good sign.

“We have to find the others.” The girl practically orders, and Max relaxes even further. The ghosts always know what to do, even when he doesn’t. Sometimes the pushiness makes him want to flee, having him confront his demons whether he wants to or not. They are maliciously helpful on good days. The fact that she says this with firm authority is a small comfort, and he knows giving in is easier.

His life now consists of the girls and the ghosts. He doesn’t know which he’s chasing half the times.

For now, the ghost would have to do. He simply nods and tries not to frown when he sees honest relief ease the girl’s glowing features.

They start to walk, silence their middleman as they leave the gigantic room that could fit half the population of the Citadel’s people, entering hallways that are endless as the dry terrains that have become Max’s habitat. It unnerves him how the walls aren’t made of sand but iron and metal, the twangy, corroding smell making him wrinkle his nose. He’s gotten used to not being near civilization’s last remains of the old world. He’s accepted it, for the most part, concentrating instead on trying to survive another day with shades chasing his boots.

They reach another room, and the stench of chemicals assaulting his too clean nose that’s not used to not having smudges of dirt or breathing in grains of sand, the landscape becoming one with his lungs. He’s half an ancient ruin and half the raging storm that wore down the ruins in the first place. An alien sound that digs out memories of more civilized times stutters the sound barriers of the room.

A machine. He stares at it, mesmerized, and doesn’t register what the metal contraption is attached to until the ghost gasps “Furiosa!” with choking intensity.

And there the All-Mother lays in air-releasing view. He’s suddenly blind to everything except her and eye-catching brown hair far too long and curling at her open neck. A spike of panic has him blinking rapidly, hands clenching and unclenching uselessly.

How much time has passed? What year is it?

He anxiously thinks back to Furiosa nodding in acknowledgement as he left again, the expected promise of coming back in a few months spoken through eye contact and shared smiles. His days are hazy and lived moment through moment, memories of her and the Citadel glass-sharp among the rubble.

At least she’s alive.

It is a small comfort.

But then he sees her arms, in shocking plural tense.

Whole, untouched, thin. They’re a pair of exotic objects, things that don’t make sense even in his own realm of unreality. It’s so tempting to imagine none of this is real. At least there’s a semblance of normality in repeated insanity.

“Furiosa.” The shade whispers quietly again, appearing quite abruptly in his line of vision and next to the bringer of uncertainty.

She’s quick in sliding the needle out of the reality-glitch’s arm. It’s getting harder to explain the apparition away, but not impossible, not like mysteriously appearing limbs. Blood oozes out lazily from the tiny hole and Max’s lines are starting to blur, a buzzing filling his ears.

They were in a grey building without a hint of ever-present sand spilling the floors. He was still wandering and the Wives are in the Citadel with Furiosa built of steel and dominance.

The unconscious thing with unsoiled skin and soft face absent of oily scent is a wrapped up nightmare.

Max grows closer to the silver, unnaturally shiny table and carefully picks up the small looking knife he vaguely recognizes as a surgical tool without a sound.

The dead girl doesn’t notice. Of course they don’t.

Dread and something fretful rides his thumping, battered heart, shoulders tense in a way where he’s getting ready for a fight. He still doesn’t know who the enemy is.

It opens its eyes with a ripping familiar gasp, a sound that has Max’s hands shake in remembrance of a dying woman in the War Rig after winning a revolution. A play of memories.

Then the first thing those green eyes lock onto is him, gaze hazed but still twin burning forges, phoenixes rising.

He drops the weapon, grounded and steady.

It’s her.

The blonde specter starts at the sound of dropped metal with wide eyes and Furiosa looks to the side where the nonexistent girl is. Max can see the exact moment Furiosa registers the sight of the woman. Max doesn’t know whether to be relieved he isn’t hallucinating this time, or unnerved. Because something is wrong, and Furiosa knows it too.

“No.” She practically snarls, in immediate denial. Max wonders if she thinks she’s dreaming or becoming as insane as him. The very notion is almost a surprise to him, yet not at all. Even immortals can fall, pedestals are dangerous.

She continues to talk, tone icy cold as a desert night without a warm engine or fire. “You’re not her. What are you?”

“It is me, Furiosa. Angharad the Splendid.” The girl reveals her name, a shackling title. Now that Max is paying attention and has accepted that reality has warped itself once again, her eyes are just as bloodshot as probably Furiosa’s and his own, tired to the bone yet still standing with a tilted chin that speaks of simmering boldness. A shot of all too familiar guilt makes Max’s hands quake.

Furiosa’s huffing is pacing itself now, panic making her more cutting and shaking off the drugs that have been insulated into her very bloodstream. This is what makes Max sometimes think she was just as inhuman as he was. The long brown locks swinging around her face is beyond distracting and distorts the picture. He doesn’t like the fact it makes her look vulnerable.

“So you didn’t die,” Furiosa says this blankly. “You didn’t go under.”

She’s careful not to look at him and it hits him that she’s trying to stop herself from blaming him. He doesn’t know whether or not he’s grateful to the idea she’s creating excuses for him. That he saw wrong that day, that Furiosa left behind one of her own, trusting Max’s untrustworthy word.

Who could trust a madman, including the man himself?

He wishes he could tell her not to do that to herself, but he wants to stand by his claim despite himself. He’s seen so many bodies gone the same way that it was unmistakable, though maybe it’s because of such exposure that this mind could’ve been playing tricks. Furiosa’s rough kindness wasn’t good for either of them, for they are both better when they don’t hide from themselves. The self-told lies catch up to them in the end anyway.

As if she could sense the turmoil, as if to defy reality more than she already is, Angharad shakes her head.

“No.” her voice is quiet and hesitant, knowing. She knows something. “I did go under, and I did die.”

“Don’t.” Furiosa sounds furious, daring her to lie in sentiment’s name. Angharad’s piercing bright eyes stare furiously back.

“I’m not lying. You think I could lie about something like this?” She agitatedly tucks long strands of hair behind her left ear. “But right now, that’s not important. It’s not. We have to find the others and leave before they find out we’re awake.”

“Who?” Max blurts out. He still does that sometimes, involuntarily speak even when it’s unnecessary and someone else would ask. It earns him a flash of surprise from the girl and nothing from Furiosa. She’s still drilling holes with her eyes into the real-not-real girl as if she can dig out all her secrets.

“I don’t know,” Angharad admits, turning slightly to face him. He belatedly notices that the scars on her face are gone. “Someone,” and then she pauses, perplexingly glancing at him intensely for a loaded moment. “Someone warned me it would be bad if they catch us again, and that we don’t have much time.”

Max automatically looks to Furiosa, waiting for her call. Though she physically represents the word frail, her resolute face and determination bring stark reminder to familiar terrains and what he won’t dare call home. It would be too burdensome to admit hell was what he’s comfortable with.

“All right.” His shoulders sag in relief, the burden of leadership resting comfortably on her now evenly balanced shoulders. “We find the others. We leave and we figure out what’s going on later. For now, survive.”

Survive. The only rule that matters.

It’s a reassuring one in an uncertain world.

Furiosa gets up, making an effort to avoid looking at her flesh arm for too long. Compartmentalizing the new sensations that are disorienting as his own predicament, and striding ahead steadfastly to their now established goal. Max shares a look with Angharad, who frowns worriedly at their fierce leader, and follows.

Max whimsically picks up the scalpel from the floor and moves on.

They wander through the rooms, both women awe-struck at the glossy world sparkling back at them. Max humorlessly thinks this is probably the cleanest place they have ever been in their lives. He ignores it all and just focuses on the task. This is not the time to vanish into his head.

They finally reach another room that’s unlocked like the rest – it’s unsettling and he doesn’t know what to make of it but decides to worry about it later – and by luck of non-existent gods, the Dag always murmurs prayers for, all of the Wives are together.

Unlike Furiosa, much to Max’s relief and confusion, all of the girls look the same. Maybe healthier and less tanned – Capable gained reddish tints of shiny scabs of burnt skin and was damn proud of them, which was a shame to lose – but nothing as drastic as the sight of Furiosa looking like a stripped down version of herself. The Dag, much to Max’s vague surprise, has more yellow in her wraithlike hair. Such sunshine color would irritate her.

All of them are groggy when they wake up, shaking their heads wildly like dogs. Nobody notices Angharad subtly leaning against the wall away from them, eyes shiny and emotional.

“Fuck.” The Dag carelessly gets off the metal slab and nearly stumbles into a table when she does. “Is the world spinning mad or am I?”

She glances around, seeming more clear-headed than the rest, and spots Angharad. Her phantom-like piercing gaze is so wide that all Max could see are the whites of her eyes.

“Are you a specter?” if she wasn’t so stunned, Max is sure she would’ve shrieked this in inhuman pitches. “Are we dead?”

“Angharad?” Cheedo looks astonished, voice wobbling and the tears already coming. Angharad’s teary smile is equally as wrecked.

“I’m real Cheedo. I swear I am.” She sweetly whispers with binding words.

Max remembers how hysterical the youngest was for a while after the blonde-haired woman’s death, the whole world collapsing like a kicked over sand castle. Toast herself looks shaken, a great tree from old stories uprooted by unexpected winds.

Capable, who has always been capable, look sharply to Furiosa demanding answers. Furiosa inscrutably shakes her head. Capable’s lips purse, but she doesn’t speak out.

Max takes in the scene, an outsider of a narrative that belongs to the free Wives and furious warrior, and breathes.

“We have to leave.” He rumbles, attracting the overwhelmed girls’ attention. He gestures to behind him with his thumb in a lurching, spluttering motion. “She says people are coming.”

“It’s true.” Angharad nods to him in thanks and seamlessly takes control.

She looks back to them, her soothing presence filling the room. Max can see why so many loved and mourned her. She wears the title of leader and hope-holder well. Before Furiosa, there had been Angharad the Splendid. Mother of all mothers. The fact Furiosa isn’t stopping her speaks volumes. That, and the fact Angharad knows more than them.

“There are dangerous people here,” Angharad levels them all with a grim expression. “They want to use us, and we don’t have time. They didn’t expect us to wake up.”

“Wake up? From what?” Toast’s tone is demanding.

“Dreams.”

Max can’t help but shudder at the word, a wealth of associating feelings and words attached to it. A realm of monsters and screams that’s always at the corner of his mind. Furiosa catches it and shoots him an intense look. He wobbles his head side to side in answer. The warrior purses her dry lips and looks away unhappily.

Angharad opens her mouth, to explain or placate some more, when all hell breaks loose.

The doors blast open with men in black vests and the most colorful outfits Max’s ever seen barging in with big guns, barking and louder than a pack of dogs. They’re speaking with words Max can recognize, yet it might as well be gibberish to Max’s blood-thumping ears. One of the girls yelp, the sound high pitched and distressed.

He sees Furiosa raise her hands, two, up in surrender and he slowly starts to do the same, angling the scalpel in only Furiosa’s line of sight. They eye each other, back and forth messages sent through their gazes.

Trust in the beginning of a carnage. Four men.

The girls catch their meaningful looks immediately and tense.

Max raised his hands just enough to reach his shoulders before propelling the surgical tool lightning-fast to one of the men’s eyes.

He screams shrilly and Max bolts toward one of the other stunned men, not giving him time to retaliate and lodging his elbow into his nose. At the corner of his eye, Furiosa is taking advantage of the stabbed man’s pain and ripping away the gun from him before shooting him directly in the head and doing the same with Max’s fallen foe. The girls ducked behind the beds, Angharad closest enough to the door to knee a man in the balls fearlessly and butting him with the loosened gun from his hold.

Without hesitation, Angharad tosses the weapon to Toast who’s behind the metal bed. She proves Angharad’s faith in her wise as she systematically shoots down the kneed man in the chest and the head, proceeding to do the same with the shocked fourth who had been fumbling getting ready to shoot.

He sees Angharad stealing the firearm from the fourth man’s corpse and handing it over to Capable who is next in line when it came to knowing how to work a gun.

He picks up the wayward gun from his own opponent, impressed and disturbed by how well-oiled and shiny it is. Not a scratch or grain of sand has infected the beauty of a weapon. In a world where manufacturing new things is a thing of the past, to see a well hunted for object be so unused is unsettling. The fact Furiosa is inspecting her own gun with furrowed brows hints her line of thinking same as his.

Something warm and wet is tingling his toes.

He blinks and looks down, feet jerking back a little as he realizes blood was pooling the floor and dyeing his bare feet. It looks less red than he expects, unreal in how the sight doesn’t trigger any sensations or flashes. Max’s own heartbeat is deafening, thumping rabbit fast.

“We should steal their shoes,” Cheedo speaks out abruptly, snapping him back into attention. She’s looking at him, chin down and gaze understanding. All the Wives know better than to get close and comfort him when he’s like this.

He... appreciates it.

He nods back, in thanks or just to acknowledge her words, and they all began to gather around and struggle to upend the boots from their belonged, dead person. It’s all quick work and the only ones not wearing footwear now are Angharad, Cheedo, and Toast, their feet too small to be able to run comfortably in them.

Task finished, Furiosa speaks authoritatively in the silent room. “We should go.”

All of them nod and they move out.

Max watches as all the girls inspect the insides of this foreign building with curious-filled eyes as they hurriedly move out. Their surroundings look vaguely to Max like something from an old picture, eerily untouched by time. He belatedly comprehends that he alone seem unfazed. Even Furiosa is unnerved, her finger all twitchy-like around the trigger.

This is nothing new. He may not know his own mind, but his instincts and body certainly does. He’s seen and done so many crazy things in this span of time existing that by this point, it’s a challenge to surge up any feeling of astonishment for anything. This situation is testing that boundary very much.

(And, of course, people. Their cockroach tendencies and unpredictable nature make his time in hell a bit more interesting. Their inventive cruelty is almost preferable over the long stretches of cold nothingness Max is lulled into on restless nights.

Sometimes, Max thinks the world is better off without them. Sometimes, Max thinks the world wouldn’t be worth anything without them.)

With the findings of the girls, their biggest worry has lifted the load of tension that hung earlier, letting Max’s mind mildly drift. Purposeless words are already seeping in his brain, tasting strange in his mouth.

Hospital. He mouths it, dry lips popping at the strong p before sharply loosening the t with his thick tongue. Three, meaningless syllables that he knows must mean something. He glances around, the word rattling and cackling at him the more he soaks in the smell of something heady and cutting, saturating everything it touches.

Ah. He realizes, something clicking into place. It’s this place.

Prison? He furrows his brows, sensing his line of thinking is off. Sex slave trade routes? He guesses next, for he’s heard rumors of such things, though that sounds wrong too. There would be more people, more meat to sell in these hallowed halls. Nothing makes sense and the word rings in his ears as important. A clue, a hint of their situation.

Max waits for a moment, nothing spurring to life the longer he does.

He exhales softly and shifts his shoulders as he holds his gun comfortably. Buries the word in the dirt and walks away. For now, it’s a lost cause to be dug out later.

It doesn’t take them long to find an exit despite the staggering size of the place, the very air changing from the nose-itching stagnancy to something more grounded. He can nearly feel the sunbeams shining through the glass planes of the white, thick door they reach.

Max leans his weight against the door and Furiosa does the same on the other side, avoiding the window’s viewpoint. Max peaks and filters out the sight of familiar looking, reddish-brown lands. Not important, not the job. He mentally counts and pulls back swiftly before he’s spotted.

“How many?” Furiosa questions.

Max seesaws his head.

“Saw eight.”

Furiosa furrows her smooth brows. Max resists the urge to close his eyes and shut himself away from the picture.

“That’s not many.”

“More will come.” He reminds needlessly. Angharad was right. They need to hurry while they have the chance. None of the dead men left behind managed to call for anyone. Right now, finicky luck was on their side. Max sees Toast grip her gun while Capable moves front, Toast the better shooter and needing more coverage. Out of the two of them in a fight, the girls know Toast is more able and valuable. Pragmatism takes more precedence than feelings.

“Anything we can ride in?” the All-Mother asks briskly, tone contradicting the tentative way she clenches onto the gun with her bizarre new hand. Max holds up three fingers, discounting the ring and pinky, in answer.

“Old models.” He comments. “Pickups.”

Furiosa’s face tightens. Her soft face is capable of severity. He doesn’t blame her, they’re not known for speed.

She rolls her shoulders – both – before sharply releasing pent up air from her lungs.

“Right. We go on the count of three.” She orders, a thin vein visibly thumping steadily on her long, thin neck. Max blinks away the vertigo when his mind absurdly associates the sight to a hunted deer ready to run, when the All-Mother was anything but.

“One,” she starts, pulling him out as she always does from his thoughts. He focuses on her desert-sinking eyes instead. He could trust them not to warp and change. “Two,” she wraps her left hand on the handle. “Three!”

They burst out, chaos happening all at once.

Max’s blood roars underneath the sun as he runs across the landscape, loud cries of alarm surrounding him as he shoots one of them near the ear before they dodged. One. He counts as he crouches low before aiming at the man’s arm then chest. Two. He’s tackled down and without thinking, uses his bad leg to knee the man’s chest with ease before lightning fast butting him at the side of the head with the end of his gun. He doesn’t have time to reel back in shock at how much easier it is to fight with two working legs. Three. He is pulling Capable back behind one of the cars, who somehow managed to snag a gun and nick one of the men’s legs while dangerously coming close to getting a headshot.

“I almost had him.” She insists violently, but Max is having none of that.

“Get the car running.” He merely says then proceeds to shoot the window of the vehicle, shattering the thick glass effectively. He elbows it, causing it to break down even further and cleaner, reaching in to unlock the door. Capable crawls in, brushing away the glass from the side seat absently before crouching low and immediately begins working.

Max ducks just in time as the nicked man, who looks mighty pissed, tries to shoot where his head two seconds ago was located. They volley against each other until finally, Max gets lucky enough to successfully hit the man’s neck, leaving him gurgling and choking as he fell. Max veers his cranium around cautiously, trying to spot the others in this whole mess. He finds Furiosa, and takes a brief moment to observe the scene.

Furiosa is blazing and angry as the day she came into the world, no longer the breakable thing Max had been struggling to puzzle out. She sheds the deceptive cloak off, thinner arms utilized to jab the man who tries to grab her narrowly in the face without the earlier hesitation she displayed for using her real-not-real arm. Her sweat-matting, disheveled hair makes her look like a wild animal, snarling sideways to show off her canines in a sign of aggression.

Four. The man Furiosa is brawling with whose nose bleeds heavily gathers enough wit and range to try and lunge for his dropped gun. He’s dead before his fingers come close to touching it. He joins the other two bodies desiccating on the floor.

She stands victorious, mighty and bloodstained. Something untwists inside of him when watching her savage, unaltered capability. The world has righted itself once again.

As if one of the higher beings the Dag prays to agree with this sentiment, the car roars to life underneath his leaning body and the rest of the girls come in his line of sight, alive and well. Even from a distance, he can tell Angharad and Cheedo are now wearing boots of differing colors, sandy brown and black in order. Both are checking Furiosa’s hits, scavenging for possible valuables and sensibly hoarding the dead’s weapons. Toast, alone in her bareness, passingly lifts the leg of one of the kills and measures her foot against the man’s shoe, comparing sizes.

In the background, he swears he hears something exploding, two great booms that vibrate his very bones and leaves him quaking. It’s a sound he’s well acquainted with and Max already knows with certainty two out of three of the cars have been blown sky high. He can smell the smoke in the air and it’s invading the empty battleground.

Streaking out of the great plumes of dark clouds is The Dag, wild and grinning like madness personified. Soot and ashes have mingled into her pale hair and her shown-off teeth, her white sheet of a dress splattered with all shades of darkness.

Capable pokes her head out the window, blue-as-the-sky eyes boring into him urgently.

“We have to go now!” she says loudly over the engine. At the sound of her voice, everyone scrambles to gather their prizes before sprinting toward the truck as Capable moves to the back while he takes the driver’s seat.

As he sits in the only position he knows he belongs, wheel in front and back pressed against still too new chairs, he stares down at the controls and takes in the details. This model really is old. Simple with none of the complicated maneuvers or passcodes he half-expected to be there. This car, as disconcerting as the thought was, is not meant for racing across large plains. It’s only adding to the sense of nagging dread and puzzlement that he has been holding back this entire time.

Not yet. He tells his ghosts and doubts as he puts the stick to drive. Furiosa is sitting in the front, slamming the door close. All the Wives pile together in the back. Not yet.

He takes one last rearview glimpse of the white, unreal structure whose existence is unfathomable as his own mind, and then floors it.


 

3 months earlier

 

When Cobb calls, Arthur is sitting in Montmarte in a nice little café with the clock barely striking three. It’s one of those rare days when the weather is perfectly sunny without a cloud in the sky and he is enjoying it while it lasts. Paris is known for its rainy disposition.

And after just completing a difficult job with an equally difficult team who were rubbed wrong by his tight reigning plans that didn’t allow sloppiness from anyone including himself, he feels he deserves to celebrate the end of their collaboration and ended up here.

Sipping his cup of coffee, Arthur barely hesitates to answer his phone at the first ring, donning professionalism like a sleek suit jacket. Cobb doesn’t call often these days and when he does, well, it’s usually due to the man’s own bad judgement calls on offers Arthur gets dragged into or Cobb’s personal life.

He prays it isn’t the return of Mal. After all they’ve been through, he’s had enough of lying projections of a deceased woman he had respected and mourned for.

“Cobb, what do you need?” Arthur bluntly asks, meticulously placing his cup onto the plate with a scarcely audible tink. Better to get to the point and deal with whatever consequences will occur sooner rather than in the uncertain future. The older man has a tendency to keep important information to himself that bit them later in the ass.

There’s a slight pause of tangible indecisiveness that immediately has Arthur tensing.

That’s never a good sign.

“Have you seen Eames?” Cobb requests tersely, pinging Arthur’s mental alarm bells instantly. Still, the topic is enough to throw him off kilter for a moment.

“No.” he frowns microscopically and leans the back of his chair. “Last I heard he was in Budapest.”

“When was this?”

Arthur’s answer is instantaneous. “A week ago. Cobb, what is this about? He’s been off the radar longer than this.”

The silence on the other end is almost tangible, a strung out string ready to snap. “... Arthur, I need you to come to Los Angeles.”

Arthur takes a millisecond to only think one thought.

Shit.

“Cobb. Tell me what’s going on.” His deceptively calm tone breaks no argument. “Or I won’t come.”

Problem with Cobb was he is an elusive bastard paranoid to a fault. And the fact he’s in his own home, which he wants untouched by his ‘work’, giving only sparse information when he knows Arthur prefers upfront, cold hard facts no matter how bad, is already damning the situation as being fucked up.

The next sentence Cobb says proves him right.

“Eames is missing. The government just declared him dead.”