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smoke in a mirror

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What Furiosa has learned in the last twenty years is that it is easier not to want. She’d known, even as she was being driven back to the Citadel with her hands bound, that she would always want to return home. But wanting anything else will make her weak, divided. So she doesn’t.

After everything, after they’ve taken the Citadel and begun planting seeds, she finds herself adrift. There are things to worry about and work towards, but her drive is gone. There is no Green Place to escape to, no raids to go on. There is only the strengthening of the Citadel, the tending of wounds, and the planting of seeds.

She finds herself wanting to move, to run, to subsume herself in some quest until she has completed it or been consumed by it. She knows now, more than she ever could’ve before, why Max left. Her work, her redemption is never over. But what more can she do?

It would be easier if she was needed - she herself, not Imperator Furiosa, not the unbreakable figure that the people need to gather around. But the Wives do not need her, and the War Boys cannot need her, and the Wretched do not know her.

She spends the first month After fixing up the bikes. She has help, a dozen pale faced children with poison coursing through their veins and a desire to create a place for themselves in this strange new world. But it’s not enough to quench her thirst for the dust of the Fury Road.

Toast suggests Furiosa help her with inventory, and so for a time she spends her days in the depths of the Citadel, matching bullets to guns and packing everything away in cool dark rooms for when it will be needed. The monotony and the cool air helps soothe her, but too many hours standing over boxes and she grows restless again.

“Help me with the seeds,” the Dag tells her. “The dirt will settle you.”

There is peace in it, but too often Furiosa looks over the green to the desert below, watching for any sign of raiders, or those seeking refuge. Or even Max.

“You liked him,” Capable says. They’re walking on an outer wall, late at night. Capable has created a guard, a motley crew of keen-eyed Wretched and the few older War Boys who had survived. She keeps her binoculars at hand and scans the horizon, watching and waiting. Furiosa envies her ability to sink herself into stillness.

“He helped us,” Furiosa says. Max had proved worthy of her trust, her respect. That was as close as she could come to liking anyone, she thought.

“No, but you liked him,” Capable says again. “You want him to return.”

“Wanting is unwise,” Furiosa says, and turns away from the wall. They’re supposed to be nurturing hope and life here, a new way of surviving. But she refuses to encourage foolishness.

It’s nearly four months After when the first raiders come from the Bullet Farm. Furiosa’s blood thrums as she throws a leg over her bike, one of the Vuvalini on her right and two War Boys on her left. Toast has the big guns brought out from the armory and set up on the walls while Capable instructs the guards to keep their sights trained on the raiders.

“Don't fire until we’re certain that we can’t deal with them,” Toast shouts, striding along the walls. Furiosa watches her and Capable, feeling some kind of pride in her chest. Everyone is poised to act, Cheedo up in the old vault where a clinic has been set up, the Dag in the garden, praying. The two remaining vehicles are prepped and ready to go, the last defense if Furiosa and her people fall.

That’s not the plan, of course. The plan, based on the assumption that the Bullet Farm is low on everything besides bullets, is to pacify and barter. It’s not a bad plan, and Furiosa’s worked with worse. Hell, she’s come up with worse. Still, as she drives to meet the raiders, she worries. The Citadel’s defenses can only withstand so much, and if the plan fails-

The plan does not fail. Having the only clean soil and water across hundreds of miles makes people eager to trade, especially when the death of Immortan Joe and his allies is too recent for the raiders to risk an attack. Furiosa’s presence doesn’t hurt - already there are stories being told about the woman with an arm of metal who took Immortan Joe down. She lost all of her blood and survived, they say. She ripped off his face and ate it, they say. They say, they say. They are afraid.

She feels powerful, as the vehicles head away over the sand and she rides back to the Citadel. She does not feel redeemed.

After the first trade agreement, more follow. Word spreads of a place where hope is openly discussed and the water runs free, and so refugees follow. The gardens grow ripe and ready for harvest, and eager hands pick fruit while the Dag tries to coax life into more salty soil. The Wretched, less so with their sores wrapped and beds to call their own, begin to put meat and muscle on their bones. Hair starts to grow, and scalps are no longer shaven.

It’s good. It must be good. It is not enough, not for her. She keeps her hair short, and starts to ride out on the Fury Road, sometimes with a silent Toast, sometimes alone. It’s still not enough, but a night with the wind in her face and the ground speeding under her feet helps to calm her.

“Do you know what you’re looking for?” Toast asks her on one such trip, when they stop to refuel the bikes and turn back.

“Not yet,” Furiosa admits, after considering both the question and the option of answering with a lie, or with silence. But she owes Toast better, after everything. “Not yet,” she says again, and Toast doesn’t look satisfied exactly, but obscurely pleased.

Max returns - because he does return, the myth demands it - with so many others that at first Capable thinks he's one of a group of refugees looking for a home. There are at least fifteen of them, covered in dirt and looking bright-eyed and wary. In their midst, the dirtiest and wariest of them all, is Max.

She almost hugs him, but moves back just as he flinches a little.

“I’ll get Furiosa,” she says, and his tired nod makes her run faster up the stairs to reach Furiosa’s room. The door is already ajar, and when Capable pokes her head in she sees Furiosa pulling on her boots.

“He’s here,” Capable says, and for an instant relief spells itself plain across Furiosa’s face. It’s gone by the time Capable adds, “He’s not in a good way, I don’t think. He’s like before.”

“Wake Cheedo, some of those people will need healing,” Furiosa says, her voice steady. "Is he inside the gates?”

She doesn’t wait for Capable’s answer, just strides out of her room, stump bare and one of her laces undone.

Capable watches her head down the hall, looking steadier than she has in months, and heaves a sigh of relief.

They don’t really have to discuss it. She reaches the bottom of the winding stairs and sees him standing there, covered in dust and looking no less lost than he ever has. The ones he’d brought with him must have already been sent inside, because he stands there alone. Something in her eases at seeing him again.

“When do you leave?” she asks him, and Max’s eyes dart to the ground, then to her face and away again.

“Soon,” he says, shrugging a little, and she takes it to mean ‘as soon as I've refueled and maybe slept.’

“I’ll get my guns,” she tells him, and he blinks in bemusement for half of a long second before his mouth twitches and he nods.

“Car’s no War Rig,” he warns, and she almost smiles.

“Just so long as it runs,” she says. “I don’t drive a Rig these days, anyways.”

She still doesn’t know what she’s looking for, and neither does he, but as her eyes scan the vast expanse of the desert stretching burnt orange in front of them, she thinks that she can see something just over the next ridge. It might be redemption.