The first woman he loved who wasn’t her was dead.
Wives talked. They always had. They’d always owned each other’s secrets, shared them freely. In the first few hundred days all the former wives had asked her questions about Max, what he was like, where had he come from?
Would she share?
As the old bastard’s breeders they’d been kept for as long as they were useful, and shared with no one until they’d lost their value. So the women understood why she bared her teeth at that question, and they acknowledged her rights by wondering about the man they would never be allowed to touch.
But she was already sharing him, wasn’t she? With a dead woman. The dead are always perfect, always beautiful, always protected within the vaults of memory. The dead wife was preserved in Max like the Green Place was reserved in her. No matter what kind of a home she built here in the Citadel, it was never going to be the Green Place. No matter what he shared his bed with, it would never be his wife, would it?
She knew a little about Jessie Rockatansky . She knew that his memories of Jessie were dominated by life in the Blue Place, where they would take walks in water so salty it couldn’t be drunk. And she knew that his memories of Jessie were locked up with his memories of Sprog.
Jessie was not a physical woman, not a warrior like she was, but clever. Sometimes, Max would reveal some strange skill, the ability to speak with his hands, or how to soothe an aching belly, and when he was asked how he knew this, he would fall silent.
The silence meant it was Jessie.
A woman who, along with Sprog, was worthy of the magnificent vengeance that had broken him.
She often wondered what Jessie looked like, what Jessie sounded like, how Jessie laughed or how she scolded. Was she anything like Jessie, Furiosa wondered? Was there some part of her that put him in mind of a wife from thousands of days ago? And if there was, was that better or worse than being completely different from the first woman he loved?
These thoughts would make her frown so hard he’d ask her what was wrong with a nudge of his knee against hers, or a raise of his eyebrows from across the room.
And Furiosa would have to give her head a shake, or be sure to squeeze his shoulder as she left the dining hall, to reassure him all was well, or else she would have to beg to know the answers.
It would have been easier if she wasn’t stalked by the sense that she would have liked this woman, would have wanted to be her friend, if every snippet she learned about this long dead woman didn’t give her the sense of a grievous loss.
She’d been Joe’s once, and she’d traitored him as deeply as she could, took everything he prized, everything she had been. He’d taken her from her home, taken her mother from her, taken her tiny babies from her, taken her arm from her. She’d traitored him and she would do it again, even with the full knowledge of the cost.
And now Max was hers, at least the women thought so, and she hoped it was true.
What galls the most is that it’s a love she doesn’t know. She knows how to love her friends, her comrades, her brothers in arms. She knows how to love Angharad’s memory like her mother’s. She knows how to love Dag’s son as an extension of Dag, an innocent life and blood that’s shared.
But she does not know a love that isn’t wound up inside protection and mother and survival. She doesn’t know the love that one bears an equal.
And Max does. Did.
So she can’t bring herself to hate Jessie’s ghost. But, oh, how she envies it.
Max Rockatansky loves a wife named Jessie, his partner, mother of his child. When Furiosa realises this, she spends the night watching him sleep, lying on her side, her head propped up on the nub of her arm. In the dark, she can still see the lines of his face, the hollow between his lip and chin, the curve of his nose, the slant of his brow and the roughly shorn hair. Every part of his face is clear to her in the pitch blackness of their room.
And the terror of it takes her breath away.
Furiosa understands how he loves the Dag. That love is to do with the baby, she knows, and things Dag needs from him that no one has needed since . . .
Max loves Dag like a father, and Furiosa tells herself she can just about tolerate that. He loves her like a protector, like a provider, loves Dag like Furiosa could have loved her War Boys, if she’d ever let herself.
She had always kept those boys at a distance, knowing that the she couldn’t get to the Green Place with them in tow. Knowing that no matter how much she trusted the Ace in a battle, he lived a good life in the Citadel, and that the both bore the old bastard’s marks on their neck. She never allowed herself to hold one of the Pups that used to follow on her heels, she never allowed herself to give those Boys more than the survival skills that made them a strong crew.
That’s what sticks in her throat when she sees Max and Dag talk of sand devils and whirlwinds while little Nux plays at their ankles. Not that he loves Dag precisely, but that he loves her beyond survival. He loves Dag with kisses to the forehead, advice and argument, confidence and confrontation. He’ll tell Dag exactly what he thinks, something he gives no one else, and when they fight they break apart like an earthquake. They’ll sulk at opposite ends of the Citadel, sometimes for days, until they assent to sending messages by proxy, until they stand to be in the same room together, until the Citadel stops holding its breath and once again they are friends.
There are parts of him he’ll show to Dag that he won’t show to her. When his shaggy hair grows too long, he sits between Dag’s knees while she shears it. When he’s agitated by the Citadel’s people, he retreats to Dag’s farms.
The old bastard used to warn them not to get addicted to Aqua Cola. Did he know that someone could be addicted to a person? And resent their absence?
She resents the parts of Max that he gives to others.
And it makes her feel like the old bastard, keeping breeders locked in a vault.
But Max isn’t a breeder.
They couldn’t . . . even if she wanted to . . .
So Max Rockatansky loves the wife, Dag, in a way he’ll never love Furiosa. But she can bear that because when Nux is teething or fretting, and Dag wants to work in her fields, she’ll find Max sprawled out somewhere with Nux fast asleep on his chest. Her Max looks so blessedly peaceful, his hand gently resting on Nux’s back, that she could stand and watch him like that for hours. Until Dag intrudes, with a hand on her arm and a smile that knows too much, and Max plays that he won’t give the baby back. He’ll follow Furiosa through the Citadel after those days, with heavy lidded eyes and bitten lips, always just in her peripheral vision, until she can’t find any reason to resist and they find themselves somewhere secluded to make good on their silent promises.
She cannot bear how he loves Toast. Cannot bear his pride in Toast’s skill with a knife, his triumph in Toast’s kills, his sheer joy as Toast becomes not just one of the sisters, but part of the club that is only Furiosa and Max and the dead Vuvalini. Toast becomes one of the warriors.
She doesn’t recognise it as love for the longest time. She thinks it’s the feeling a teacher has for an apt pupil, the feeling of an Imperator for their trusted lieutenants. Somehow she never expected him to love the sisters.
It’s okay for her to love them, because she doesn’t love them like Dag and Cheedo love one another, or like how Toast loves Cheedo. Her love is that of a sister.
Max is not a sister.
But he loves Toast all the same.
When Toast’s convoy was blasted by the Rock Riders, Max sat by her bedside and offered up his blood without a word.
Blood she thinks of as hers.
He stayed with Toast for over two hundred days, and didn’t flinch at the scars on her face, or the particularly ugly one on her leg. When Furiosa saw it, she couldn’t help but gasp. Some part of her mind still expected to see the sisters perfect and in white. To see Toast bear the Wasteland’s kiss is a strange kind of shock, and she doesn’t know how to explain how sorry she is that the world isn’t a better one.
But Max doesn’t seem to see it. He expects Toast to walk again, even when the medics are doubtful, and he doesn’t leave her side. He talks through the nights that Toast is near driven mad with the pain of it, and to make up for it returns to Furiosa in silence, and holds her tightly without words. Like he’s just as afraid of what could have happened as she is.
She’s afraid of using him up, of stealing all the love he’s capable of giving, because it’s clear Toast needs it as much as she needed his blood, and now needs his faith.
But she can’t bring herself to let him go. She cannot share him, even if it would save Toast.
Max Rockatansky loves a wife named Toast and so Furiosa leaves to scout the wastelands, reinforces their borders, and sleeps alone. It dawns on her one morning that she has become what she hated the most. The thought of him loving someone else burns in her veins so fiercely she can’t breathe, and she lurches against her bike, to the concern of those riding with her. They think she’s concerned about Toast. They tell her Toast will be fine. They tell her no one will hurt the Citadel’s people again. And Furiosa feels so very, very small and unworthy of the blood she shares.
Toast lives and walks and even laughs at how Cheedo shrinks from her newly scarred face. Toast wears her scars with pride, even shaves the side of her head to show them off.
But it is Cheedo who puts them back together again. Cheedo who kisses Toast’s scarred face. Cheedo who demands Furiosa returns to the Citadel. Cheedo who sits with Dag in the Vault and goes over strategy. Cheedo who whispers things in Max’s ear.
Max is slow to come back to her, but when he does it’s “Cheedo thought you might want some company” while she works on her bike, or “Cheedo said you’d be hungry” as she scouts the perimeter.
He’s so used to being the one who runs that he needs to be pushed into being the one who does the finding.
Cheedo asks for her in the vault, and when Furiosa takes a seat above the faded white paint, Cheedo asks her to read it.
“We are not things,” Furiosa replies, dutifully, wondering what this lesson is intended to teach.
Cheedo nods. Pours some of the brew she likes so much. Dag insists that everything in her farm has multiple uses, to be efficient, to feed as many as possible. But those little flowers can grow wherever, to be boiled up in Cheedo’s pots. It’s difficult to hide these things in the Citadel, where the stone corridors echo and whisper. “And whose words were they?” Cheedo asks.
Furiosa smiles slowly. “Angharad’s,” she says with patience, and Cheedo gives her a smug smile.
Furiosa has tried not to ask about Cheedo and Dag, or Cheedo and Toast. Whatever the three have seems to work for them. But now, she has to know, has to understand if it’s easier to love another woman, if that doesn’t consume your every waking thought.
“They were her words,” Cheedo agrees, and hands the tea over. “Max is very worried about you, Furiosa. He thinks you’re still shaken by what happened to Toast.”
Toast and Cheedo had shared a bed, not long after the old bastard had been toppled. Furiosa had seen that in their proximity, their closeness. But Toast had left to support Gastown, and soon Cheedo seemed to share Dag’s bed, in the same closeness, in Dag’s unusual favours, and in the soft expression on Toast’s face when she watched them.
“Does Dag mind?” she asks into the silence. When Cheedo raises an eyebrow she stares into her tea. “About Toast?”
Cheedo thinks about it. “She would mind if I shared Toast’s bed again, I think, but no. They don’t mind each other. Is that what has been worrying you, Furiosa? Do you want to share someone else’s bed?” she looks so sceptical of this that Furiosa has to laugh. “Does Max?” Cheedo asks, frankly incredulous this time.
Furiosa says nothing, just stares at the steadily swirling tea.
“You know . . . I’m not a cup of tea,” Cheedo says after a moment. When Furiosa frowns at her, she raises her cup. “I don’t get drunk up, Furiosa. I’m not a thing that gets used up and thrown away. There’s no less of me to give to Dag because I gave some of me to Toast.”
This vault has a habit of changing Furiosa’s world in subtle, tiny shifts that can destroy her completely. Where Angharad once said ‘I am not a thing’, Cheedo now breaks Furiosa’s soul apart again.
It’s a difficult thing to hold in her mind, but she goes back to her quarters to find Max there, sprawled on the blankets and reading an old leather-bound book. He doesn’t say anything, but watches her with the wariness of a dingo, prepared to leave if that’s what she needs.
So she teases him for reading, tells him that reading is for women, not men, and digs her fingers into his ribs, making him squirm and bark with laughter. Hearing him laugh and wheeze is one of the sweetest joys she’s ever known, and when he begs for mercy and mockingly promises he’ll never read again she kisses him sweetly and tenderly.
Max Rockatansky loves a wife named Cheedo, in the exact same way that Furiosa does. Loves her like a leader, loves her like a general loves their commander. And just as her love for Cheedo does not diminish how she feels for him, his love for Cheedo surely doesn’t change the way he feels about her.
Max is the first to recognise the hooded stranger as Capable.
He says nothing, but the energy around him changes, cranks up a few gears in a way that Furiosa’s body has learned to recognise as fun and mine.
She tracks his gaze across the celebrating crowds, sees the hooded stranger he’s deliberately not looking at, and she runs her knuckles over his, a fleeting contact.
But he shakes his head.
A little later, the stranger walks closer, through the dancing Wretched, and Furiosa catches a flash of red beneath the hood that takes her breath away. It’s been over a thousand days since they last saw her, and now she’s standing in front of them, hood pulled back, a powder burn on her neck, hair a close-cropped flare of red, and smiling so broadly that Furiosa knows immediately this woman is not the girl who left them.
Max can barely hold himself back from hugging her, and he asks her how she’s been, why she’s been so long returning, before letting the others have their questions and their embraces.
Furiosa knows how he’s missed Capable, how he’s worried for her, so as the shortest night of the year draws in on them, and the dancers tire and the sisters sit together around the fire, Furiosa sits on Max’s left and holds his hand, squeezing gently whenever Capable’s stories turn frightening. Capable tells them of the Wasteland far beyond their own horizons, and she exclaims over not-so-little Nux, and is proud of everything her sisters have accomplished without her.
The love that Max has for Capable is no competition, Furiosa thinks, resting her head on his shoulder.
The love Max has for Capable is like the water that flows up from the aquifers, ever renewing, always ready to be drawn upon. He is no Joe, with limited Aqua Cola that will get used up if one drinks too much of it. Max does not love like that.
When they retire to their quarters, he needs her.
He needs her like he needs to breathe, like her kiss is a lifeline, like being inside her will save him. He needs Furiosa because he is so happy to have Capable back behind their stone walls, and he was so sorry to lose her for so long.
She is only too happy to oblige him, to let him find that comfort in the sweat that beads on her skin. It is like Cheedo said, after all. He cannot use her up, because she loves him.
She cries as she thinks it, but it’s not unusual for her to cry when they’re together, so he doesn’t question her on it.
But she loves him. She loves him because he came back. She loves him because he loves the women she loves. She loves him because she’s not the only thing he cares about, because he chose to open himself to the things she valued too.
She loves him because he’s proved she is no Joe, because she doesn’t need to keep him locked away to keep him true.
Over the next few days, Capable is the most famous woman in the Citadel. Even Furiosa is hard pressed to find opportunity to talk to her. The people of the Citadel no longer fear Furiosa, and it’s hard to tell the half-lifes from those who used to be Wretched. They’re all just the Citadel’s People now, and they all want to speak with Capable, who has seen things they can’t even imagine.
Of course, Capable brings Max back his car, which he is pleased about in a quiet way. And indulgent with her newfound feeling, Furiosa lets him find her in the passenger seat wearing very little at all. After, she lies curled up in his lap, watching the stars and thinking that this might even be a sweeter life than the one she led in the Green Place.
Max moves his lips against her neck, his arms tight around her waist. And then he clears his throat a little, enough to make her look around, to rest her forehead against his. “What?” she murmurs.
He takes a breath so deep that his chest lifts her a good few inches. And then smiles. “Our girls are back,” he says, which is not what he said before, but it’s still something that makes her smile.
Max Rockatansky loves a wife called Capable, loves her like a daughter. Loves all his daughters. Loves them fiercely and even knowing how badly that will hurt. Loves the daughters that Furiosa has given him. When she took those girls on her Rig, long ago now, she had wanted to hurt the old bastard. Wanted to repay him for the babies he’d killed, from the family he’d stolen from her. She’d done that and more, and it was all the sweeter for knowing the old bastard would never have understood.
One moon she doesn’t bleed.
It’s a sickeningly familiar fear that courses through her veins, though it’s not noted by Miss Giddy in the ledger, or celebrated by the old bastard.
And it’s intoxicatingly unfamiliar to think that it’s something that she and Max made together. She doesn’t dare even imagine telling him, and it’s a good thing too because by the next moon she bleeds again.
Dag’s belly is round again – whose, she and Max haven’t asked, but they’re both pleased to think that Nux will have a brother or sister, and Cheedo is practically glowing – so Furiosa feels strangely foolish for even wondering. She was never much good at that part of a wife’s duties, which was why she is she and Dag is Dag.
Still, it eats at her. She asks Corpse one day in the clinic, tries to be casual and uninterested. She’s told it happens as women gets older, that one day she’ll never bleed again. Corpse takes pity on her and puts a hand on her shoulder. Blames the Wasteland. Says Furiosa’s not that old. Says that if she and Max try, they never know.
She finds herself wandering the Citadel in a daze, more unsure now than she was as a child. Max finds her sitting on the roof of the Rig’s cab, contemplating the desert horizon. And when he asks she tells him all of it, in pieces, starting with the blood and ending with the blood. And he sits beside her and listens without asking questions. When she repeats Corpse’s last words, he sucks in a breath though his teeth.
“Do you want that?” he asks.
They look at one another. The answer she sees written on his face is the same heartfelt yes and the same resounding no she feels in her heart. After a moment, he rests his forehead against hers and they both close their eyes. Max rests his hand on the back of her neck, and she smiles.
“I love you,” he says suddenly, and she jerks back at the unexpectedness of it, staring at his defiant expression.
“I love you,” she says, a little uncertain, almost expecting some trap.
She might hold her breath for a moment, just in case the world does give way beneath them, or he runs again, or a bullet plants itself in his heart and he’s robbed from her like the others.
She thinks he’s waiting for the same thing.
But the world goes on like it doesn’t care what they feel, or what they say. So they go to the girls, silent, and rejoin the life they’ve built together.
Max Rockatansky loves a woman named Furiosa, and somehow, Furiosa loves a man named Max Rockatansky.