Furiosa is up on the windmill tower, perched on the small maintenance platform. The air feels bright and sharp, high above the noise and smells of the Citadel.
She has two spare parts strapped to her back. This windpump was damaged in last night’s stormy weather – not even a full storm, which suggests a weakness somewhere in the construction. One blade was ripped right off. Her best metalworker spent the day straightening it, smoothing out the crumples and mending its fastenings, ready to be reattached. Another is still hanging from the pump's circle of blades, swinging in a way that must be fixed before the wind picks up again.
The blades look much bigger, up here. The two on her back are heavy, long enough to limit how she can move her legs. She unties them, sets them down on the platform and starts inching out to get the damaged one. The circle won’t take her full weight, beyond a certain point – she knows that, knows roughly where the break point is – but so long as she stays near the centre, she should be able to reach and undo the last fastenings.
Before the revolution, she’d always enjoyed this kind of repair work, though she’d rarely been given the chance to carry it out. She’d liked being up above the world, away from everything. The height still reminds her of the Vuvalini lookout towers. Back then, she could look out towards the Green Place without being observed, imagine them looking back, in spite of the harsh distance of wasteland between them. Now she knows that the Green Place was already gone.
It’s a stretch, but she can just get to the dangling blade. Her prosthetic arm is both help and hindrance, something she can brace against the jagged metal without danger, but a heavy weight on her flesh-and-bone shoulder. The breeze is starting to pick up by the time she’s worked the sail free. She won’t be able to carry it down: the wrenched steel is an awkward shape, with edges sharp enough to cut. The crews know she’s at work up here, so there’s no one below. She shouts a warning, and lets it fall.
Replacing the blades is a simpler job, familiar work with well-maintained tools. She’s just finishing the second blade when she sees the loose fastening on its neighbour. It hangs straight, from most angles, but it’s not secure: a breath of wind rattles it. When it moves, it nudges against the blade she’s just fixed, putting more pressure on the replacement and straining the balance of the whole structure. It will need fixing in days if she doesn’t do it now.
It’s come loose in two places, the middle and the outer edge. She has to shin out a little further, manoeuvring her steel hand to hook onto the edge of the frame, where it’s strongest, her legs firmly gripping. This is the biggest of the pumps, right at the edge of the cliff. There’s an added energy to being so high.
“Furiosa – ” She thinks she hears her name, faint on the wind. When she looks down, she spots Max at the top of the stone stairs. Something in the way he’s standing makes her brace herself for an emergency, but if he did call, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it now. He’s just waiting. She can’t read his expression from this distance, not when he’s squinting into the sun, but he’s not trying to catch her attention. Anyway, she needs to work fast. The sail is creaking under her weight as she finds the replacement fastening in her toolbelt. It’s not really dangerous, not really, but there’s an adrenaline from the height and the risk, a buzz that helps her to go faster, to see more clearly. The work must be quick and sure, so it is, her flesh and metal hands reinforcing the weak spots. Done.
She takes her time climbing down. Most accidents happen at the end of highwire jobs, repair workers swinging carelessly down. The work can make you feel invincible, the kind of pride that comes before a fall. The phrase had been Miss Giddy’s, something she’d say after the Vault door closed after Joe’s departure.
So she moves with practised caution, keeping her limbs steady as she gets down the maintenance ladder. When she drops the last metre to the ground, Max is already there, almost in the space she jumps into.
“Furiosa – Furi – I –” The way he hangs on to her almost knocks her off balance. His voice is rough, sliding into a mumble, his cheek against hers. It’s awkward and insistent, right there, without any warning. She has the urge to move freely, now that she’s back on the ground, but he’s wrapped around her, heavy and urgent, getting in her way. Then he lets go, reacting to her tension or just realising how public this is.
When she looks at him, he’s shaking, his old tremble, something she hasn’t seen in a while. It’s never a good sign, a thing she doesn’t know how to fix, and it’s worse because this space is busy with people, greenthumbs and repair workers. His breath is fast and uneven, coming in little sips of air as he looks at her. She needs to give orders about future maintenance, and Max is still shaking. She can feel herself getting angry, at herself, at him, because she hates seeing him like this and she’s not sure how they got here. The way he looks now, she wouldn’t be surprised if he’s gone by sunset, vanished into the desert. She tries to get a grip on herself.
“I need to report, do you want – ” Her wrist brushes against his, their knuckles bumping together. He takes her hand, and that’s when she gets it, when she realises what this is about. He was scared for her.
She knows he doesn’t like heights, but it’s not usually a debilitating fear. He doesn’t have vertigo, or the kind of phobia that can make Mel climb down nine winding flights of stairs and back up again rather than use the high gantries, even when her hip is bothering her. Max doesn’t take any pleasure in the skywalks, and he’s careful about the handrails, but he’ll cross. If the situation is urgent, he’ll hurl himself up or off anything: she’s seen him sailing high on a polecat’s pole, or jumping from one rig to another. There’s no risk he won’t take. They’re both starting to realise the difference between taking risks for yourself, and seeing someone else take them.
The Mothers have always rolled their eyes over Furiosa’s cuts and bruises. Sometimes they get angry, but they know her, know her limits, recognise that there are chances she has to take. They saw her childhood, what there was of it. They taught her to make those choices. She remembers how she feels when Max does something stupidly dangerous out in the field, when he’s reckless about cleaning wounds or eating dubious rations. Or when he just takes off, running away, out in the wasteland, facing unknown threats she finds it all too easy to imagine. She doesn’t know if he trusts his luck or if it’s something darker, the way he doesn’t seem to believe he deserves care.
Her anger flares, her head miles away from the focused calm of windmill repairs. She could scream, standing there with Max’s hand still in hers. She doesn’t.
There’s only a little tightness in her voice when she tells Lug what repairs she’s made, and asks him to prepare the new maintenance schedule – he’s ready for the work, it’s good for him to have the experience. Then she nods to Max, tilting her head to suggest they get out of here.
The lift is the quickest way down, easiest on his knee. He lets go of her hand as they get onto the platform, crowded and full of chatter at a busy time of day. His silence shouldn’t be noticeable amid the noise of machinery and other people’s talk. Max doesn’t tend to say much, anyway, but this is a quiet she’s very aware of.
As more people crowd on, they shuffle up on the lift platform. The back of her flesh hand brushes his. He doesn’t press into it, doesn’t push, but adjusts his weight just a little, enough to keep the contact there. She is foolishly aware of it, of this one place on her skin, of the warmth of his body. Feeling builds in her chest, and she doesn’t even know what it is – panic or anger or fear, just a lot of unspoken emotion, things she’s not used to admitting to. She doesn’t know how to deal with this.
In her room, she bangs the door and locks it, more abruptly than she needs to. When she turns around, his look of longing is like a physical touch. She lets herself fall into it, into him, his arms around her and his face against her shoulder. She’s still tense and angry, but she’s softened almost in spite of herself. After a moment, she lifts her flesh hand to stroke his hair, kissing at his forehead, part apology and part comfort, trying to release the tangle of feeling that’s still sitting under her ribs.
“I was fine,” she can’t help saying, and feels him stiffen. She ploughs on.
“It looks worse than it is.” She will not apologise for this, but she can hear how defensive she sounds. “It’s necessary.” Max nods.
“Wasn’t asking you not to.”
She knows that, she does know that. There’s a bubble in her chest, a tension that makes her want to run away, want to hold him tighter, want to fight.
Being cared for is terrifying. She went thousands of days with no one to mind if she lived or died, assuming they wouldn’t even notice it beyond her use as a part for the Citadel engine. For a brief time, she had been guarded as a precious, expensive thing. After that, her human connections rested on shared service to a god she hated, who encouraged and celebrated reckless damage. Honesty would have seen her shredded for blasphemy. It became part of the wall she built up for herself, using not caring as a weapon, a reason to take the risks she needed to take. There’s an ache to letting that go.
It’s not that she hasn’t felt this before. She’s dropped so many barriers, letting the girls in, letting Max in. But somehow once is never enough. However many times she crosses the boundary, it can still loom up in front of her, the fear as sharp as it ever was. She feels as if her whole body is blind, a choke in her throat.
“I – I – ” She’s groping for what to say, for how to talk about this, his arms still around her and her hand in his hair. She’s near tears and doesn’t know how she got there, how this could be so close to the surface.
“C’mere,” Max says, which is ridiculous because they’re already wrapped around each other. But he pulls her closer, pressing his face against her neck. She takes one shaky breath after another, her cheek against his hair and her eyes mostly shut.
As her breathing gets a little more even, she realises he’s murmuring, his lips moving against her shoulder. He's hanging on, but his grip on her keeps changing. He holds her, lets go a little, holds her tight again, never quite settling. She thinks he’s trying not to crowd her, or maybe he can’t acknowledge what he’s feeling. What she’s feeling.
She takes another breath, and just says it.
“I get scared when you go.”
He nods, his face down but not quite on her shoulder, crumpling in on himself. The words sit there in the air, something she can’t take back. There’s a rush of relief in saying them, with panic waiting to follow.
“I know.” She can only just make out the words.
“I don’t mean – not – ” She isn’t asking him to stay, she isn’t.
Max nods, too fast. They’re both standing there, tense and awkward, in each other’s space but not properly touching. The silence stretches out. She has things to do, nothing urgent but she shouldn’t be just sitting around. If she can’t even talk to him, at least she could be making herself useful.
He pulls away, just enough to look at her. He’s still twitchy, hunched in his jacket, but though his eyes are darting they’re always focused on her, on her mouth and her eyes and her collarbone. Her hand is still in his hair, the tufts of it rumpled under her fingers.
Almost warily, telegraphing the movement, he lifts his hand to the back of her head, his palm firm and broad against her scalp. Then he bends his head, still going slow, until their foreheads meet. She feels as much as hears his sigh when she leans into it, the way her own breathing settles into sync with his.
She slides her hand down to the nape of his neck, inside his collar. Max pushes closer, body to body, ducking his head to burrow into her shoulder. She wants her arm off, wants not to be corseted up and held in, wants to breathe more easily.
“Wait, I need…” She reaches for her buckles, fumbling a little. He helps her, supporting the harness as she loosens it, hanging the arm on its hook then turning back to start on her bodice. His arms are already around her, working on the laces at her back. He manages to stay close as he unfastens the corset and drops it on the bench. She can feel him through her shirt, the warmth of his skin.
For a long time, they just stand there, jangled nerves starting to settle. When he stirs against her shoulder, the edge of his jacket pokes into her, another barrier. She tugs at it.
Taking it off, he nudges her back towards the bed. He presses against her as he takes her clothes off, arms around her even though it means everything takes longer. At last he drops down to work on her boots, leaning against her legs.
She wants him stripped bare, both of them bare. She pulls at his shirt, urging him on, needing to feel him. He gets his leathers off, the hair of his legs tickling against hers when he stands up again.
It’s not about sex. They’re standing pressed together, his scent in her nostrils and his skin under her hand, raised scars and firm muscle. The touch grounds her, allows her to acknowledge her own need without thinking about it. He’s stroking her sides, slow and steady. She noses at his cheek, her face against his. Maybe like this, for now, it’s possible to be here and present, to be cared for and just accept it, her body craving it and her mind letting the jitters go.
It’s not about sex, until it is. She can feel his cock stirring against her thigh, twitching and filling, the texture of his skin as it warms and hardens, as the blood flows. Her own body responds, a rush of wet between her legs. She wants to be close, wants to be closer. Max sits down, and she’s in his lap. There’s a slight bump to it, his hands moving at once to catch her.
“I got you,” he says, words as instinctive as the movement. Then again, gripping more firmly, “I got you.” She puts her arms tighter around him, feels him settle his hands on her hips, his thighs braced under her. He’s holding her, carrying her, steadying as well as stroking. Her skin prickles at the touch.
He turns and lays her down on the bed, hands strong under her back. But he does it slowly, letting himself take her full weight. When their eyes meet, he drops his gaze, then looks back at her, very deliberate.
He’s carried her before: hauling her up from the side of the gigahorse, taking her weight in fights. It’s not the first time he’s lifted her on the way to bed. But he’s cradling her now, gently tipping her back so her knees lift as her torso tilts. She’s almost shaky with it, with letting him do it, allowing herself to be moved. She presses her thighs around his waist, feels his murmur.
He’s going so slowly, with a weight of need behind every brush of skin, every slide of his hand and press of his body. He leans in to nuzzle at her shoulder, mouth moving over her skin before pressing closer.
They’re clamped together, his cock hot under her buttock and his hands on her, her fingers still in his hair. It’s a surprise when he moves down, pulling away just enough to kiss his way over her breasts and belly. He looks up when he reaches her groin, waiting. When she nods, he strokes his hands down to her thighs, firm and greedy, and buries his face between her legs.
He is noisy and so eager, humming with satisfaction as he gets his mouth on her. A jolt of pleasure goes through her, a pulse in her cunt; he purrs, and keeps going.
It’s good, very good, but she can’t come. She loves his abandon, his tongue and his lips, but after those first shudders her body isn’t really responding. It’s so exposed. She’s alone up here, too aware of the work he’s putting in, conscious that her tension is creeping back. He likes taking care of her. She did know that, knows he enjoys her reactions, likes chasing her shivers and moans. Thinking about that now, thinking about him worrying for her, is more than she knows what to do with.
And of course he realises. He lifts his head, looks up her, mouth wet but no longer smiling. He wants to do this. Why is it so hard to let him?
“Hey.” He’s already climbing up, lying beside her, close but not on top of her or too much in her space.
“I didn’t, I don’t – ” She stops. She feels frozen again, that bubble of fear back in her belly.
After a moment, Max cautiously puts an arm over her, his hand on her side. She presses into him, the comfort of touching him, her body understanding this even if it’s bafflingly resistant elsewhere. He holds her, lets her burrow into him. She has such a starving need for him, for the solid warmth of his chest and the strength of his arms around her, clinging as tight as she is.
His hands are rough and soft at once when he strokes her, callouses snagging against her own scars, his fingers sure. He’s making little noises, hums and grunts, the way he’ll sometimes mumble to himself when fixing an engine. She wants to laugh at that, but her mouth is wobbly. She rubs her nose in a circle on his bristly cheek, feels it curve as he smiles.
Their touches are getting heated again, more hunger than reassurance. She gasps at his thumb on her nipple, his mouth under her jaw. He’s kissing her throat as he strokes downwards, fingers petting over her hipbone towards pubic hair, sending little shivers across her skin. She nudges her legs wider. The noise he makes then is definitely smug.
As his hand strokes lower, he keeps his eyes on her, his breath coming faster. Her heart is pounding, her cunt getting wetter, responding to his fingers. He gives a little growl and pulls her in, holding her firm as his hand works. She can taste herself in his mouth when she kisses him, and only wants to kiss him deeper, her cunt clenching again. His cock twitches against her hip. She moans when she starts to come, a long groan of pleasure and relief.
He’s petting her again, stroking and soothing, but she wants him inside her, tugging him onto her. He holds her tight, his face in her shoulder and his hands under her back, helping to tilt her hips up as she hooks her legs around him. He gets his knees placed so he can rock into her without too much strain on his bad leg, pushing into her in a long, wet slide.
She feels stretched and filled and embraced, as close as they can get, skin on skin and flesh deep inside flesh. He doesn’t move for a moment, just holds her, pressing close and heavy until it’s too much and she has to move, hips grinding up for more of him. The noise he makes is almost defenceless, something that makes her hold his head to her shoulder, clutching at him with her hand and her cunt and her thighs.
There’s a point where their bodies take over, where they can both let go, lost in rhythm and touch. He’s wrapped around her and pumping into her and it’s wonderful, all questions and tensions fading as her focus narrows to just this. Max is gasping when he comes, cradling her close. They’re both sticky and exhausted and shaky, and all she wants to do is cling to him.
When they wash, he strokes the cloth and then the towel over her, tender and thorough. He takes care of her: it’s one of the things he does, when he can, as much as he can. She feels another flutter of panic about it, but it’s good, too. Back in bed, they cuddle together. She knows there are things they’re still not saying, not unsaying. She rests her forehead against his shoulder, feels him snuggle in.