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axis point (shifting gears in the fifth act)

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The first time he returns to the Citadel, it's been a day since the Beginning, and he's in a borrowed car toting half scrap metal, half almost-dead, mostly redeemed, War Boy. It takes him hours to find the cab of the destroyed war rig and another handfuls of minutes-dragging-into-hours of digging with shovels, then hands, to even gain access to the inside. He expects bone and blood and charred flesh. A dead body, certainly. Something to bring back for closure. Something to bury.

What he finds is Nux's barely-breathing body twisted up underneath where the steering wheel had been. There is blood and charred flesh, but no bone, no scent and sound of utter silence and death to compete with the screaming in his head. He looks like he fell asleep.

A second of watching and he sees the War Boy's chest rise and fall, once, twice. Another second and he sighs, quietly, more a breath than a gust. Then he drags the kid out as quickly as he can without causing further injury. An echo of before, only softer, gentler. Memories of chains rattle like ghosts in his ears.

One more to save. Just one more to save. Then he could leave.

It's the War Pups who greet him when he returns. Toast the Knowing is up on the wall, though, and she's sprinting down as soon as she sees him pulling the miracle boy out of the borrowed car. Nux’s eyes flutter open, then, just enough to see who's holding onto him. He gives the War Boy a nod and says, "You'll be okay, kid," and that's enough for him. His eyes shut once more.

He’s the one who cart’s Nux’s dead weight up to the Chop Shop, where the Organic Mechanic had twelve War Boys hold him down while he tattooed everything that mattered to them on his back. The scars sting and the voices grow louder as he settles Nux onto one of the cots they had just set up, near enough to Furiosa to see her eyes, one still swollen shut, following him. She makes no noise other than a soft grunt at the sight of the boy they thought dead.

One of the last Vuvalini women comes in and pushes him aside, then, and he makes his way over to Furiosa. They don’t speak. He doesn’t look at her face. She doesn’t take his hand. The voices grow quiet at her presence. They stay like this, silently, listening to the Vuvalini work on Nux, and they wait.

He's done enough by that time to repair a car for him to use and to make the guilt a little less sharp, so he takes it, stays long enough to know Nux will live, allows Capable hug him (and tries to hug her back), and he leaves. There's the rotten taste of blood on the back of his throat and the ever-present guilt dug deep into every hidden part of his mind, so he leaves and hopes it will be enough. They got their redemption. He figures it's a good enough time to try and find his.


 

He's back a month later, carting a few bags of wholesome soil and a mostly dead dog with three legs. The hastily thrown together gates open for him when one of the War Boys—not War Boys anymore but still similar, no paint but still loyal—recognizes him from the very Beginning. Shrieking metal and concrete scream apart to reveal a short but familiar figure. Toast greets him with, "You have a thing for bringing us back dying things, don't you," but it's with a gentle smile and gentler eyes, so he doesn't get angry. He can't get angry. Not at the Wives-turned-Sisters. Not when Capable comes running up to him with red braids flying and notices the blood soaking through his shirt with a gasp of dismay. She insists on having Nux come grab the dog so they could drag them both to their rag-tag infirmary, and he can’t be mad at the former War Boy either when he wraps his arms around the dog so carefully, more careful than he can remember being with anyone for so long. Not even when Cheedo the Fragile appears to show him just how fragile she is not, yelling at him for five straight minutes and only managing to get across "How dare you leave us behind without saying goodbye!"

He thinks he deserves the slap he gets from her, but the Dag—just Dag now, a name rather than a title—appears like a wraith right after, pushes her hand away with a brisk flick of her wrist, and forces Max onto one of the cots set up in their cleaner, seemingly bigger, Chop Shop with nothing more than a short snarl on Cheedo's direction. Nux sets the dog down in the bed beside his and gives him a nod and a smile, his scarred face almost unrecognizable without the customary ghost white paint and shadowed eyes. He looks—healthier, maybe. Cleaner, definitely. Happier, too. He nods back but doesn't smile. He thinks an attempt at one would be more terrifying than his normal blank face.

The Vuvalini who had taken care of Nux at the very Beginning, whose name he doesn't know, arrives then and sets to work patching him up. Stitches, disinfectant, a few questions on how he managed to get a shard of glass three inches deep into his hip, of all places, and the healer is done, casting only a glance at his leg brace. He wonders if Furiosa told them to leave it. Or if they knew he would refuse their offer to heal it. Either way, he's grateful, and the healer moves to look at the dog.

The dog, whom he picked up for no reason other than it wasn't as broken as him even with its missing leg, had been the source of the girls attention as soon as the Vuvalini woman had begun tending to him. Toast had left to make sure his car was taken care of as soon as she was assured he was fine and Nux had gone off somewhere, presumably to find Furiosa and tell her of his arrival, but the dog was getting plenty of attention between Dag, Cheedo, and Capable. The damn mutt seems to be enjoying it, too, tongue lolling out of its mouth and its torn ear twitching under Cheedo's touch. He feels the corners of his mouth turn up and struggles to keep them still.

Capable asks him what her name is. He hadn't even known the dog was a she so he shrugs. Capable looks at the dog for a long second, says, "Aggie," and nods her head like it sounds right. He has to admit, it sounds better than Dog.

His daughter agrees silently from beside him.

He'd hoped that the bit of redemption he got from saving the Sisters—saving Nux, too—would lessen the hallucinations. Nothing could stop them, but a little less guilt meant nights were easier, days less jumbled. But his little sprog is always there now, reminding him of what he lost. She is quiet though. The voices were still there, but hers was a soft whisper that quiets the rabble. She smiles at him, now. She'd been the one to convince him to keep the dog in the end.

Nux comes back in, then, trailing a woman that smells like dirt and sand and looks all the part her name when she sees him. Furiosa, in the flesh, her name an extension of her emotions as she glared at him with wasteland eyes. There’s no engine grease on her forehead and her metal arm looks different, shiner, modified. Her skin has lost its grey tinge from after that last road war, cheeks flushed. She looks good, he thinks, healthier. Out there, she’d be a target. Here, it looks good on her.

The rage, though. That was something he could do without.

He almost expects her to attack him. It was what she did the first time they met. She tackled him to the ground and had his shotgun at his throat before he could remember to blink. A smile tries to quirk at the memory, though there's some unnameable sadness in it as well. He had been attacking them then, ready to fight for a single chance to escape. Now, he was escaping to them.

She doesn't do what he expects. She never has. But she sees him, looking at the empty space where his daughter is sitting, and she sees Aggie (the name does fit better), and she simply walks over to him with rage in her wasteland eyes and presses her forehead to his. He freezes, then goes to gently cup the back of her head with his bloodstained, sand stained, wasteland hand. He's seen her do it with the Vuvalini, with the Sisters, too, but never with him. The gesture stirs up feelings somewhere deep inside his chest.

She pulls away all too soon and attempts to smile at him. "Figures you'd only come back when you needed something," she jokes, and he's not angry with the assumption because it's one of the first times he's seen her content since they'd met. She's happy. He won't ruin it by being petty. So he grunts in return and keeps the smile he wants to show in.

"You'll stay here until you and the dog heal up?" It's phrased like a question and said like a command so he nods in agreement and acknowledgement just in case. Capable laughs in joy and hugs him again, careful of the new stitches. He finds it takes less time now to hug her back. Cheedo grunts out a "You'd better," but hugs him all the same, and it's even easier to wrap his arms around her. Dag doesn't do physical touch, but she gives him one of her crazy grins and says "Good," so he thinks she approves. Nux, well, Nux would probably be fine if Capable was happy, but he nods again all the same, a welcoming smile on his scarred lips.

It almost makes him regret punching him in the stomach. Almost, but not quite. He had been a brainwashed War Boy at the time. Now he was... Whatever they called themselves now. Bolt Boys? Something like that.

Furiosa stares at him for another moment, criticizing, analyzing, before she seems satisfied he's telling the truth. There's a trust there that makes him swallow hard. He doesn't trust. People don't trust him. I am the one who runs from both the living and the dead, he says, and it is because the living know not to trust him and the dead have already made that mistake. She looks at him now, misplaced trust in her eyes, and he wants to break it.

She holds out her hand to help him up. He takes it.

It’s only later that he thinks that maybe it means he trusts her too.

It's been 35 days since the Beginning and he realizes he's never thought to ask himself who it was a beginning for.


 

He leaves before he’s well-and-truly healed. The stitches are out but the cut is still red and angry and aches when he stretches too far. He doesn’t tell the girls that, but Furiosa knows. She always knows, he thinks. When he get’s that look in his eye though, the crazy one, the wild one seen in animals who had been caged for a few days too long, she let’s him go. Dangerous for him to stay, though he doesn’t know whether that danger is for them or for him.

All of the Sisters are there to see him off. Toast has a rifle slung on her back and a shit-eating grin on her face, but presses her forehead to his all the same. Dag’s hands are covered in dirt, bits of green sticking out from under her fingernails, and her clothes look like his after months in the wasteland, so she does the same as Toast with a stranger smile that fit her far-away eyes too well. He feels something slip into his pocket when she does but doesn’t think to look. Whatever Dag decided to give him was what he would keep. Cheedo and Capable are next and hug him tightly. Both girls are so short, he realizes then. So tiny compared to the larger-than-life figures they’d been out on the road, fighting tooth and nail beside him and acting all the part of goddesses of death and destruction. Now, though, in their home, away from the sand and the screaming, they fit into his arms easily. Over their shoulders, his daughter smiles as if it had been her plan all along, for him to find someone else to protect.

They step away soon enough, clutching each other’s hands as if to stop them from reaching out towards him. Even Nux, who had come to say goodbye trailing after Capable like an eager to please pup, clasps his hand in a quick gesture and says “Good luck out there,” with another one of his awe-filled smiles that only started when he had pulled the half-dead War Boy out of the wreckage of the rig. He feels his lips twitch in response but grunts instead, giving him a short nod back.

Furiosa is last, leaning up against a rust bucket with wheels so familiar he has to blink twice to make sure it’s not another hallucination. It’s black as they can get it in the dust that surrounds them, equipped with a V8 engine so quiet it wouldn’t be heard over the noise of a war party. It isn’t exact—couldn’t be, with how well and truly destroyed his old one was—but it’s close enough to bring the smile that had been threatening since he came back onto his lips. He hears Dag laughing behind him but pays her no mind, running a hand over the hood.

“She’s all yours,” Furiosa says from beside him and he blinks, having forgotten she was there. The look on her face tells him she knows already. There’s fond exasperation in the look as well that he tries to ignore, which is easier when he looks at the interior of the Interceptor and sees the damn dog sprawling across the passenger side. There’s a spiked collar around her sandy neck made from gears and other miscellaneous parts that wouldn’t be missed. Her name is scratched onto a long strip of what looks to be metal from the outside of one of the cars. Someone had even made her her own prosthetic leg, complete with padding around the junction where skin and fur meets metal. The whole thing holds a distinct impression of Nux’s work. There’s also a tremendous bag of what looks to be distinctly food for said dog pressed up against the wall of the passenger side, a brick of some other food—likely the bean paste so common with the Citadel—coinciding with it.

He looks back at Capable and Nux, but they’ve already left, Cheedo shadowing after. Only Dag, Toast, and Furiosa are still there. Dag because she seems to be lost in thought again, rubbing a hand on her slowly-swelling stomach while the other dragged itself through tangles of white-blonde hair. Toast because she’s on patrol and has to signal for them to open the gates to let him out. Furiosa because she’s waiting for him to leave, to ride through the gates and disappear into the sand again, like everyone knew he would. So he climbs into the gift, counting bullets in cases and guns easily in reach. It’s on a kill switch like the rig was, Furiosa tells him, so he flicks the switches (one, one two, two, red, black, go) at the Interceptor hums to life. Leaning in through the passenger side, Furiosa gives him one of her half-smiles, nearly as bad as his.

“Be careful out there, Max.”

It’s the first time he’s heard his name come from her lips and it sounds like a benediction, like the first sip of water after hours (days) out in the open. He looks at her and sees fire and blood in her eyes, but hidden underneath wasteland is the desperation he knows she never wanted to feel again. Not truly desperation, not nearly as dire, but something close enough to garner no name. Not desperate for his help, either. More, desperate for his return, to know he will despite all evidence on the contrary. Mad Max does not stay long enough to get to know, and Mad Max never returns. It’s safer that way.

His daughter, having appeared curled up next to Aggie, scoffs at the thought. He knows what she thinks of that. Safer for them, maybe, she’s said, but safer for him? Definitely not. He’s safer wherever he has someone to live for rather than just someone worth dying for. It’s why she advised him to keep Aggie—someone had to care for the three-legged dog more attached to life than he was.

Hope. Redemption. He couldn’t find them, but he could give them away.

“Thanks,” he says, words just a croak still even after a week of speaking to the Sisters, Furiosa, and Nux. She reaches out her hand and he clasps it like he did with Nux, the touch lingering just a bit longer than necessary. Her wasteland eyes meet his and the redemption he seeks feels like it’s hers to give. Then she looks away, drops her hand, and Toast signals the Bolt Boys to open the gates. Max grips the clutch hard to distract himself from the tingling. He eases the Interceptor forward, then through the gates, then down into the desert, never once looking back.

He thinks, if he looks back, he may never want to leave. 


 

There’s blood on his hands, his head, and he doesn’t remember where it came from. The line runs over and over again in his head. There’s blood, on his hands, in his hair, running rivets down his face, and he doesn’t remember where it came from. It’s on his shirt, too, on his pants. Everywhere, blood, rich, warm, running down his gritty skin so hard it hurts with every drop that falls. His hands are slick with it, the wheel he clutches slips and slides in his death grip. A whimper sounds beside him as the Interceptor lurches to the side again, then a gentle shush. He doesn’t look away from the road.

"Just a little further, I promise," he says, but there's a heavy mesh muzzle on his face and the words mostly sound like a series of grunts. One tiny hand reaches up to wrap around his, keeping the wheel steadier. "Just a little further."

Dirt and metal walls are just in sight when black starts eating at the edges of his vision. He eases the car to a stop as gently as he can but weapons and shards of metal still tumble down. Aggie whines from beside him, pressing her cold nose into the skin on his side. The tiny hand on his falls away and another replaces it, bigger this time. The oldest one, he figures, climbs into his lap trying to be as light as possible. She sits on his knee and can barely reach the pedal, but desperation is a motivation and she does what is needed. He keeps his hands on the wheel loosely just in case.

Seconds pass in hours before the littlest one is shaking him, crying, "Max! Max! Ba guys!" He's up and has a shotgun pointed out the window before he shakes the blackness from his vision. A shout sounds but no weapons are pointed in his direction. No one even moves. He flicks the shotgun unsteadily, pointing at each dark figure in turn, his bloody eyes trying to look at the rest. He's come this far, he can't lose now. Not when they were so close.

"Hey, hey, hey," one of the figures says and he points the barrel in its direction before he recognizes the voice. Nux steps forward, hands empty and up in a relaxed manner. The shotgun slips from his bloodslicked hands. One of the children screams, startling the others, but Nux stands completely still. He's staring at the muzzle, he knows, staring at what is and what was. The metal bites into his cheeks.

"Max? You okay there?"

He tries to say "No," but all that comes out is a harsh gargle and red tinged foam. The littlest one lets out another sob. He thinks he hears Nux curse, or maybe it's one of the other Bolt Boys, because that's who found him, he realizes now, but it doesn't matter. Nux has what's left of the drivers door open and is pushing him aside in the next blink. The other Bolts are shouting down the line, warning of their approach, and he lets his eyes close.

"No, no, not yet, bloodbag," he hears Nux say, trying to cajole him into replying. "Kid? Hey, it's okay. I'm a friend of his. Can you keep him awake for me? We're gonna get inside the Citadel and we'll get him cleaned up, but he can't sleep."

Little hands are on his face, pressing into his forehead, anywhere the metal thing wasn't. They say his name, talk to him, whisper things in his ear. The littlest one presses a hand to one of the bleeding places and he groans, but he feels his eyes flicker open.

The car is stopped, he grasps from the stillness in the air. Nux is shouting too, and then Capable is on the other side, tears in her wide eyes as she pulls the children towards her. Aggie follows closely after with a mournful whine in his direction. The littlest one still has a hand on one of his bleeding gashes to keep him awake, but Toast is there then, pressing her hand hard against his chest and using her other to push the little one towards Capable. Her knowing eyes are steel when she sees him looking at her and her jaw is clenched. Her free hand presses gently against the metal mesh covering his mouth. "Oh," he thinks.

Everything blurs together, then. Nux and Toast and a few others drag him out onto the sand, but it's cloth instead. Toast's hand presses harder onto his chest. Dag is there, too, panting as if she'd run leagues to get here. Her hands join Toast's, dirt covered and bird like as they are. He can't feel the pain they should bring. Numbness is all he's felt for miles.

They lift him up, somehow. Toast's hands fall away and are replaced with more, someone smelling like metal and engine grease. He sees wasteland eyes lit with fire. Then he sees no more.


 

There's pain—first—before he wakes. Sharp bits where he hazily remembers shards being. Dull parts where the burns and shallow cuts seared. An entire sunset of orange and red pain where his brace had been before he'd ripped it off. Black, hard, insistent where the muzzle had been. He relished in it for a moment. Pain was living. Pain meant he was still alive.

Sounds come next. Someone is breathing in his ear. It’s gentle. Quiet. But he can hear it in his ear, calm and steady. A phantom haunting his waking moments. There’s creaking metal, too. All around him. Metal walls moaning like ghosts. Metal beds rasping with any twitch its occupants make. There’s no voices, though. Shock isn’t a new emotion but it is strange. No voices. Not in his head, not out of it. Just hushed breathing and grating metal. Even his daughter is silent, gone, completely and utterly. It was disconcerting. Not placating like it should be. Like a missing limb.

But there was no nightmare. No fire. No blood. No one screaming his regrets and his guilt and his pain back out at him reaching gory hands towards his in an attempt to save themselves because they knew he couldn’t save them or telling him he let them die he could’ve done so much more he could’ve done anything anything at all and—

“Hey,” the soft voice startles him out of memories of a world of fire and blood. There’s metal on his shoulder, but it isn’t the injurious kind. Flesh touches his forehead. His eyes snap open. All he can see is wasteland eyes.

Furiosa stares at him, no emotion on her ungreased face. There are bags under her eyes. Her skin is sallow. She looks sick. Like she had when—

“Max.” Her voice brings him back again. Let’s him focus on something other than the memories. The tide to the shore, he thinks, then can’t remember what it means. Her face is still blank. Emotions wage in her eyes. Pity. Grief. Fury. Her hand reaches up. She traces along the edges of his face. Where the muzzle had been. There’s no bandage that could cover them. No stitches that could heal them. Her gentle touch, so odd when paired with the grim twist her mouth has taken, soothes the blackness. Fire to burn away the dark.

Max doesn’t know his eyes close until she’s framing his face with one part metal, one part flesh. He opens them again to see the sympathy. Never has he wanted to erase an emotion so fiercely. Sympathy for the dead is useless. Sympathy for the living? Is dangerous. Never sympathise. You become, then, what you see in them.

He doesn’t say anything. She knows pain. He understands that. She knows what it’s like to be unmade. To be savage. To become something not human. Max stares back at her with blood tinged eyes and knows she sees the animal they tried to cage. But her hands are steady on his face, and she leans forward to press her forehead to his with a trust that would take away whatever breath he could’ve spared.

“I trust you,” she says, reading his mind once again. She does that, his Furiosa. No, not his. She could never be owned. Couldn’t be caged. Not like him. She was a sandstorm he had been hopelessly swept up in. There was sand burning his eyes and tearing into his flesh. Flaying him alive. She could tear him apart with a gaze.

No, she wasn’t his. But he was hers. She trusted him. A mistake, maybe. Definitely. But she trusted him. Above all else. Binding, those words were. She trusted him, so he trusted her.

His throat worked. No water, no use for words behind mesh, left his voice as ragged as before. “The kids?” he finally gnarls out, the words fitting strangely on his arid lips and wrapping around his clunky tongue.

Furiosa sighs, but when she pulls back, he sees a fond smile curling at the edge of her lips. It’s less awkward than it had been before—how long now, two months? Three? Her flesh hand swipes at his forehead again before she leaves his constricted sight.

Metal and flesh lift him up, then. They prop him up against something—a wall, maybe—and Furiosa swims into view, pressing a clay cup to his mouth. Max opens it obediently. Cool water slides down his throat. A deep, unending thirst awakens, but his hands won’t move to grasp the cup and Furiosa lifts it at an agonizingly slow pace. It’s more torturous than withholding it completely. Every little sip makes him want to drown in it just so that he never feels the dryness in his mouth, his throat, his skin.

The cup is empty all-too soon, but Max doesn’t ask for more. Can’t ask for more. There are too many unanswered questions, too many loose ends. More, and he would sleep. More, and he might not get his answers.

“The kids?” he asks again, gravel and sand still cutting his words in his throat. Furiosa shakes her head at him, snorting. She goes to refill the cup, but he forces strained and weakened muscles to move so he can grasp her arm. “Fury, the kids?”

“They’re fine, Max,” she replies, not skipping a beat despite the odd nickname that had slipped out. “Barely a scratch on them. Cheedo has them now, though I hear they really want to see you.”

She gently pushes his hand back down and goes to pour more water. Max takes his heightened position to look around. He’s sitting up on a bed in the corner of the large open room, his upper body leaning heavily on the stone wall behind him. It’s dark. Probably well into the night. Though it could be noon for all the light that couldn’t be found this far into the rock. The Vuvalini woman he saw the last few times he was here is sleeping in the far corner under the cover of at least three blankets. There are a dozen beds, more or less, only one or two occupied. There’s at least three empty beds on his right, four on his left. He’s center. Won’t hit anything if he wakes up fighting. Probably the point. It’s also clean, which is surprising. Even the stone that had to have been bled on and bled out on was scrubbed sterile. Then he looks around him and swallows hard. Oh.

The others are there. Cheedo is taking care of the kids, Furiosa said, but everyone else—

He thinks, for a second, it’s another hallucination. Then Capable moves in Nux’s arms and Aggie, next to them, gives a soft whuff of irritation back. Toast is lying up against the wall next to his bed, looking as if she’d only fallen asleep at her body’s insistence, and Dag is curled up in a chair on the other side, one of her flowing hands resting spastically on the bed next to his leg. In place of the dirt and green usually under her nails is rusty flakes of blood. His blood. Capable and Nux are curled up together on the ground, limbs tangled in a heap, a nest of blankets to keep the chill of the stone away. Capable’s head is resting on Nux’s chest—covered in a shirt, for once. Aggie is laying against Nux’s back, three legs stretched out and pushing the blanket she’s laying on across the floor. Her prosthetic leg had been removed. There’s blood on Aggie’s blond fur, too, but he knows it’s mostly his.

He wants to stay as still as possible to not wake them. There are bags under everyone’s eyes. Toast’s are the worst, but Dag is sleeping fitfully as he does. Capable and Nux are better, but not by much.

“They were worried,” Furiosa says, returning to the side opposite of Dag. She lowers herself gently onto the bed next to his hip and pressed the cup back to his lips. “You lost a lot of blood before you go to us. We thought you wouldn’t make it.”

“Shouldn’t’ve made it, crazy bugger.” Max startles, a few drops of water spilling onto his chin. The Vuvalini woman had gotten up sometime between him noticing the others and that moment, because she was suddenly being right beside him, poking at the skin around his face with practiced indifference. Unease settles deeper into his dry bones. How had he not heard her get up?

Furiosa takes the cup away from his lips to turn and glare half-heartedly at the woman. “Come on, Yindi, give him a break.”

So that’s the Vuvalini’s name, Max thinks as Yindi replies snarkily, “You didn’t have to find donors for this idiot.

“You lost so much blood,” Yindi continues, moving down to check the bandages he just noticed were swathing his chest, his arms, his legs, “that I had to find three—not one, not two, but three—Wretched to donate to your less-than-adequate supply.”

Arm and chest bandages deemed clean enough, Yindi bustles over to the bag of fluids hanging above his head. “Not only that, but I spent hours cleaning all the grime and dust from your abrasions. If you weren’t gonna die from the blood loss, infection would take you for sure.

“But it didn’t, devil child,” she says, pressing surprisingly light fingers to the bandages around his bad leg. “You’re still kicking. Don’t know how. You must be the luckiest man I’ve ever met.”

His mouth opens again, but from beside him, he hears, “Not lucky. Obstinate,” and he turns to see Dag gazing up at him with her wide, colorless eyes. Her restless hand reaches over to take the closest of his, one of the few touches he’s ever received from her. A vague smile rested on her lips again, like she wasn’t exactly looking at him.

“You’re right about that,” Toast says from his other side, having been awoken by the ruckus of Yindi’s screeching. Her smile is more wolfish than Dag’s. “I told him before, he has a habit of bringing us back dying things.”

“Like a cat!” Dag says, pressing her thumb into his hand. He looks at her questioningly, noting how the empty smile had changed once again to something akin to fond.

“Haven’t you ever seen a cat, Max?” she asks, “They were wonderful creatures according to Miss Giddy.” She messed with his hand again, more like a toddler with the way she played with his fingers. “They would bring back dead animals as a sign of affection.”

“He’s not bringing us dead things, though,” Toast replied, stumbling up from the floor. She leaned heavily on the side of the bed, just enough for her hip to be against his arm. “He’s bringing us mostly dead things. Alive things.”

“Like himself,” Dag affirms. She presses every one of her spidery fingertips to his and he has to bite the inside of his cheek to not be lost in the memory. His daughter used to do that, too, long ago. Daddy, look, she’d say, your fingers are like mine!

Furiosa had been silent throughout the exchange, but when he looked over to her, she had her half-grin back on. “More like a dog, I think.” She presses the cup back to his lips and lets him take a long sip. “A lost dog. Maybe a pup.”

He doesn’t choke on the water but it’s a near thing. When he looks up again, Furiosa’s smile is more genuine, Dag is laughing, and Toast has her knowing smirk stuck on her lips. Yindi is tutting but she seems to be enjoying the repertoire as well. He wonders how they’ve fared so well, after all that’s happened.

“Don’t you know, pa?” he hears, and yanks his head around to the far side of the room. There, in the entrance. Curls darker than shadow, eyes burning blue like the bottom of a flame. She is smiling, too. “Don’t you know? They have to be happy. If they were sad, they’d be broken.

“Sometimes,” she says, turning around to walk further away, “when things break, they can’t be fixed. Sometimes, when people break…”

They end up like me, he finishes in his mind.

The room is silent. He can’t tell if he said it out loud, or if they just knew. Or maybe his jerking movements give him away.

He doesn’t want to worry them. Freak them out, either. Capable is the most disquieted when it comes to his state of mind, but Dag seems to fret in her own way. Their minds are dissimilar but matched—foggy at the best of times, never quite screwed on enough. Dag sees the worst of it because she understands. When she watches him look to something not there, she doesn’t try to snap him out of it. She looks there, too, and narrows her eyes as if it would allow her to see what he did. Sometimes, she asks him questions. Who he’s seeing, what they’re saying, if they think this flower would look pretty in her braid. She never cared much for pretty things until the Beginning.

When he turns back to the others, she’s giving him the look again. The one that isn’t pity or concern or fear, but muted comprehending. She doesn’t ask. Doesn’t usually. But she knows. Her fingers press against his like hers used to, and she nods. She’s fiddling with the necklace around his neck, too, that he hadn’t noticed Yindi had left on. She’d given it to him. Slipped it right into his pocket. It had a little metal flower on it. He keeps it under his shirt.

Toast, from his other side, sighs and stands up straight. “Best let the mad man get his rest, eh?” she tells more than asks. Dag nods back, rising hesitantly from her perch. Toast rouses Nux and Capable, sleep-drunk as they are, and manages to get them both up on their feet. He’s surprised to feel his lip threatening to quirk at their grogginess, how they don’t even notice who Toast is talking to. “Besides, you look shittier than usual. Could probably do with a bit of shut-eye without the likes of us ruining it.”

“Look sleep-deprived rather than half dead?” he replies back, and thinks, for a second, it’s probably the longest sentence he’s ever uttered since convincing them to turn back from the salt.

“Nah, more like a quarter dead rather than mostly,” she retorts with one of her smirks, “till you come back through dragging your corpse into the gates. Scared half the Bolt Boys, I tell you.

“Your car’s fine, by the way,” she calls as she herds Nux and Capable out, both stumbling drearily. “Alkina—you know, the other Vuvalini woman?—patched the holes and fixed her up nice and pretty again.”

It would sound like a goodbye if everyone had left him here alone. Maybe even a push for an exit with the heavy cut-off of the door slamming shut, curtain close on the fifth act. You have a means to leave, I suggest you take it. But Furiosa hasn’t deviated from his side. In fact, her metal arm clatters to the ground a second later as she unhooks the buckles. He startles when she crawls up beside him. They’re touching but only barely.

It’s reminiscent of the time before the Beginning, that last night. He’s stretched out under the rig. It’s a relatively safe position, easier to defend than open sand, and it covers his head so he can’t see the stars and think of how his daughter knew almost every constellation. He startles when he hears someone come up beside him, but it’s only Furiosa, so he settles quickly. There’s no explanations, no excuses. She brings a blanket. He lets her come close enough to share it.

The nightmares aren’t as bad, that night.

There are still no explanations or excuses, but it’s different this time. Her stubbed arm between them; that’s the trust. The blanket she drags up from the ground; that’s the kindness. Her head on his shoulder is different. It’s a comfort, maybe, but for him or her he doesn’t know. But it feels right. Feels safe. Her head on his shoulder, bristling hair—grown a bit longer than it had been when they’d met—brushing gently against the muzzle wounds are, her breath in his ear. He thinks that’s what he heard when he first woke up. Her soft breath in his ear, so different from the wasteland eyes he saw.

“You gonna stay longer this time?” she asks, words a mere trace, possibly thinking he was already asleep. He ponders her words. Was she asking if he was staying longer than a week, or long enough to heal this time? Stay longer, or stay long enough (or stay forever)? Does it matter? He knows his answer either way.

He grunts, then decides that’s not enough, and says, “Sure.” It feels like a benediction, much like his name on her lips. The smile he feels curl on his neck is different.

It feels like a bit of redemption.