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Under the Curve (Witness Me)

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The kid's eyes were blue.

Max notices things without knowing he's noticed them, these days. Little fragments of image, of memory, stick in the churned mess of his head like slivers of glass: too small to bleed, they fester.

Of all the things he can't now forget about the past few days, this is not an important one, but it keeps coming back. How blue the kid's eyes had been, in his wasted face, powdered white and smudged black with the War Boys' skull paint. How wide and how blue.

It keeps coming back.

He watches the Citadel scurry and clamor like a kicked anthill as the world undergoes its change. He doesn't know how Furiosa and the others will go about the business of rebuilding; he doesn't much care. This is not his world now. For a brief time he was in it, living in it, caught up like dust in a storm; but now he is moving on.

He had lied to Furiosa, of course: for him there never would be redemption, nothing could make the dead stay dead until he finally joined them. But it was a nice lie, and for a little while he'd almost believed it himself.

Max's car is gone -- really gone, this time, gone and destroyed and over -- but one thing the former Immortan Joe's Citadel has in volume is machines with wheels. It doesn't take him very long to find one that suits his purpose, or to load it up with water and guzzoline and weapons. No one is riding strapped to his roof or hood, nobody stands ready with grenade-spears or flamethrowers to defend his advance. It is a strange feeling, to be alone again, after such intenseness. He drives out into the desert unchallenged.

The roar of the unmuffled engine and the wind in his face, the simple clarity of speed, do not feel like redemption: nothing can. But he thinks maybe they remind him a little -- even just a little -- of absolution.

It surprises him when he turns aside from the road he has chosen, sweeping back across rutted terrain he has now crossed twice before. Hulks of the War Boys' pursuit specials lie along this route, burned-out and crumpled, already dusted with the blowing sand. The next storm to come along will mostly cover them, leaving anonymous drifts with perhaps a wheel-arch or a blower scoop still visible. The dead out here do not have time to go spectacularly rotten before they dry and dwindle. Inside the wrecks, shriveled lips will draw back from dried sand-scoured teeth, papery skin shrinking around ivory finger-bones that still clutch the curve of a wheel, a shift knob.

Max does not know if there is a Valhalla. He doubts it. The things desiccating in these ruins, under this sun, are beyond answering. Their eyes will be gone soon, if they aren't already.

The kid's eyes were blue.

Not like Furiosa's: Furiosa's eyes had hard gold in them as well. He had noticed that sometime along the way. The kid's eyes were a bright, vivid, improbable blue.

Max drives, expecting to hear the voices. Almost wanting to hear them; even terrible things can become comforting in familiarity. He finds himself trying to catch the words: you let us die.

You let everybody die.

Witness me, the kid had said, half-crazed with death-fervor. Witness me. And then again, at the end, that bright intensity back, just before he wrenched the wheel hard across and threw the War Rig into a final hellish roll that brought everything to an end: Witness me.

Max realizes what it is he's doing, and stands on the brakes. The car -- an ungodly mutant based on something like an E-type Jag on huge wheels -- fishtails and throws up a huge cloud of sand.

Witness me.

He rests his forehead on the chain-link steering wheel for a moment, feeling the vibration of the engine in his bones, in his teeth. He thinks he has never felt so tired in his whole existence.

"Okay," he says, out loud, and thunks his head against the wheel. "Okay, fine. I'll witness you."

He shifts into gear and the enormous knobbly tires take big bites out of the sand. It isn't far, now, to where the remains of the Rig lie, blocking the canyon. If the kid is there -- if scavengers haven't dragged what's left of him out -- Max will make his mark somehow on the wreck, write the kid's name to mark his resting place. If he's gone, then...

Then he'll figure out something else.

Max drives a little faster.

~

There are no crows. Crows don't venture this far out into the desert: they keep to their own territory, the slow bitter smokes and mires of the sour ground, the poisoned field, where nothing now is capable of growing. There are no scavengers circling above the wreckage to draw attention from miles around. There is only the smell of death.

Max knows that smell as well as he knows the voices that hide in his head and speak to him. He has never found it to be sweet, the way some people describe it: to him it is a greenish-black stink, salty and grinning, that boils out from hidden places droning and humming with flies. There are flies here, a lot of them, massed wings singing their idiot song, and that smell is very strong as he gets out of the battered Jag and makes his way toward the wreckage. The humped shape of the long tanker-trailer leans drunkenly across the entrance to the canyon, and he can hear more flies -- a lot more -- beyond its bulk.

He shivers, once, the healing scars of the blood-bag tattoos prickling all down his back, and his hand drops to the butt of the shotgun in its holster strapped to his right leg. The sense of having been here before is very strong now, very powerful.

If you're going to do it, says the voice in his head -- and now he doesn't quite know who that voice is, it's changed, it's older, tired, without a lot of patience left -- then do it, or move on.

Max shakes his head as if to dislodge the voice, the way he has done so many countless times, and it says nothing more. He takes another step, and another, toward the jackknifed trailer, and now he can see the roof of what had been the cab already half-drifted in sand. He looks at it for a long moment, and a lot of those little shards of memory twist and gouge and flicker: he had spent a lot of the past couple days in that black-metal space, looking out at the world through the gap where a windscreen had once been. The flies are very loud now, and the smell of death is heavy, heavier than air, plating his nose and throat. He can taste it, like sour hot metal.

A few steps closer, and he can see that part of the black paint is not paint at all, but a gleaming, moving carpet of flies; and when he kicks a spray of sand at the flies they take flight in a buzzing angry roar that reveals something huge, something vast that he thinks he last saw standing on the Rig's hood with a torn-off supercharger held above its head.

Rictus Erectus has no eyes at all now, but then again Max had never had much occasion to remark on them. His face appears to be moving. On closer inspection it isn't the remains of the face so much as the things covering it that are moving. He lies with his arms outstretched, pinned from the chest down under the ruins of the cab. The smell is huge now, almost visible, and the roar of the flies fills Max's mind like falling sand, almost, almost loudly enough to drown out the other sound he can just about make out: a sound that he thinks is coming from inside his head. A tiny whisper of breath, not strong enough to be a groan.

It's a very small sound, and yet it fills the whole world.

Max drops to his knees beside the half-crushed cab, ignoring the body beside him, and pulls at the crumpled metal of the door. It yields reluctantly, with a rusty squalling sound, but it does yield; and inside, in the delirious heat and stink and fly-roar, inside something moves a little, and cracks open its eyes in brilliant slits of blue.

"Kid," he says, and his own voice sounds rusty. "Kid. Nux. Hold on. Gonna get you out of here."

How the fuck had he survived the rollover, Max thinks. How the fuck had he survived the rollover, sick and used-up and evanescent as he was, drawn down to a thin thread of desperation? How had he survived the rollover and then gone on surviving?

His own voice comes back to him, as it sometimes does, talking about the way the world can narrow itself to a singleminded purpose, a solitary instinct: survival. It is a little surprising to find that it works for other people as well as him, and for the first time he lets himself wonder a little about the lives of the War Boys. The half-lives. In the dark, in the dark, feeling their poisoned blood pulse in lips and eyes and the swellings of their tumors, waiting to die, waiting for the chance to die historic on the Fury Road.

The kid's eyes are closed again, and Max reaches into the fundamentally-altered space of the Rig's cab and finds the curve of his skull, cups one rough hand against the skin. Runs his thumb over the ridge of an eyebrow. There is enough left of consciousness and will for the kid to turn his head a little, pushing against the touch with another of those small wordless noises, and with that, suddenly, subtly, the world once more changes its shape around Max.

"Gonna get you out of here," he repeats, and when the kid opens his improbable eyes and looks at him and knows him, Max finds that against all logic, against all reason, his own face is pulling itself into something like a smile.

~

That doesn't last, of course. It doesn't last after he pulls the wrecked door off and gets a closer look at the kid: at least one leg is broken, broken badly, and the sand underneath him is tarry-dark with lost blood. Even in the heat of the day Max can tell how much too warm his skin feels. The eyes are sunk deep in their smudged sockets, the scarred lips cracked and dry.

To get him out Max has to find a long piece of wreckage and work it under the cab's frame, levering the structure up and incidentally releasing a whole new world of stink from what's left of Rictus Erectus. The broken leg is pinned, and he has to bend the metal away with a horrid rusty squall that sends the flies up in a cloud, and then steady Nux while he shakes and clenches with dry-heaves. He has no idea how much time has passed when he can finally haul the half-conscious kid over his shoulder and carry him back to the Jag.

For the second time in recent memory Max uncurls the line of tubing from its strap on his shoulder, looks grimly at the large-bore needle before pushing it into his arm, watches his own blood snaking its way along the clear line. The kid's veins are a mess, lumpy and scarred from God knows how many transfusions, and he has to hunt before he can find a decent place to stick him, but eventually he has the connection made.

Max soaks his own dust-scarf with water and wipes away sand and blood and filth from the kid's face, feeling his own blood running out of him again, wondering how much of it he has left, and if it matters. The water evaporates almost instantly in this thirsty air, cool enough to rouse his passenger: enough for those remarkable eyes to drift open, hazy and unfocused, but trying to track him, trying to see.

The kid -- Nux, he reminds himself, his name is Nux -- rasps something, or tries to, and coughs instead, an unpleasant rusty sound. Max holds the canteen for him, tilting it enough to trickle a little water between his cracked lips, and is a little reassured to see him swallow and try again.

"Did I..." he croaks, "'d I shh...shine."

"Yeah," Max says. "Yeah, you did. Shined like anything. Saved the day."

Nux's eyes drift closed again, but his scarred mouth curves a little in what Max thinks is a smile. There is still a little silver paint in the lines of scarring: it catches the light. "Furiosa's people are in charge at the Citadel," he says. "Take you back there. Get you fixed up."

"'M I awaited?"

"You are," he says, thinking of Capable, of the new lines on her face. "You just hang on."

Nux blinks at him, and at the dark-red tubing that connects them, and something more of recognition comes into his eyes. "...Blood...bag?" he says, heartbreakingly confused.

"Universal donor," says Max, and lights his engine.