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Four In, Eight Out

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When the convoy returns, Max can see right away that it's Capable, not Furiosa, in the driver's seat, and he has to force himself to wait instead of running outside to meet them. He's been working all morning in the garages, now on the ground level, but it's no use pretending. Everyone knows he's waiting for her.

Boys crowd around the new rig, waiting to unload the cargo. They haven't noticed the seating arrangement yet, but they make space for Max as he stalks through.

Capable drops down from the cab and sets herself in front of him. "She's okay," she says. "I promise, she's okay."

Max gives her a look she doesn't deserve.

Furiosa's on her feet by the passenger door, a crowd of crew around her, half trying to help and half, those who can't get close enough, looking worried. She's putting up with it with good grace -- everybody worries about Furiosa; everybody understands how fragile their peace is -- but then she sees Max.

"I'm okay," she says gently. She's the only one who knows why he overreacts, though he thinks Capable and her sisters might have guessed. And he does know he's overreacting. "Max, I'm fine."

Several of the crew start speaking at once, explaining and apologizing. Apologizing to him. He growls at them. They don't yet have the interpersonal skills to understand why.

Furiosa raises her metal hand and they go quiet. Then she lays it on Max's chest and says again, just for him, "Max, I'm fine."

He eyes her right arm. It's wrapped in cloth and blood is still seeping through, the huge red blotch expanding as he watches.

"Should have sent a flare," he says.

A Boy jumps in. "We said! She wouldn't let us!" Others start apologizing to him again, for allowing her to be damaged.

Furiosa just looks at him. He knows exactly what she's thinking, and it's not charitable. "Just take me up to the clinic."

The crew tries to follow.

"I meant Max," she says through her teeth.

Capable sends one of the Boys who doesn't work for Furiosa ahead to tell Gin they're coming. Max hears her hiss, "She's not his property," as he leaves with Furiosa.

She holds out her metal hand as they begin climbing the stairs, and he takes it.

*

Max has never liked this place, but he doesn't panic here anymore. Unless it's Furiosa.

She stares at the wall, having already swallowed an antibiotic and the vile herbal tea that doesn't kill the pain, but makes the patient care about it less. He sits on her left side, still holding her hand, while Gin unpeels the makeshift bandages. The fabric isn't even clean and the bleeding only increases and it's a deep gash down her bicep, long and jagged.

"So many stitches," he says. "Take forever to heal."

"You're not helping," Gin says. "Go wash your hands and make yourself useful."

He obeys, scrubbing off the engine grease and using the stiff brush under his fingernails. He twists his neck, trying to look over his shoulder.

When he returns, Gin is still cleaning the wound. Max feels sick.

"We should be teaching them all first aid," he says. "Why aren't we teaching them first aid?"

"I'll put it on the list," Furiosa says shortly. The list is very long. He shouldn't add to the number of fires she has to put out daily.

"You can do it if you want," Gin says.

He nods. He knows she just wants him to shut up, but he resolves to think about it when he can think again.

"Here, hold this." Gin places a long length of white muslin in his hand. "Need to mop up the blood while I sew."

She threads the needle and begins making her neat stitches. Max spools out the fabric as needed, but eventually he finds he's clutching it too tightly to be any help. Gin meets his frightened gaze and points her chin towards one of her apprentice pups, a girl who looks up at him with big, star-struck eyes and eagerly takes the fabric.

Furiosa's survived much, much worse than this. She's told him some of the things she had to do to save herself, the ghostly memories that visit her in the night. He's being stupid. He can't stop.

She takes careful breaths. He knows she counts when she's in pain or needs to settle, four in, eight out -- for the first time he thinks she probably learned that from the Vuvalini, since he's never seen any of the Boys do it -- and though her forehead and jaw are clenched, her arm is relaxed. He raises his hand to massage her head, the way he sometimes helps her fall asleep.

"That's better," Gin says. "Half done. Good girl."

A shadow appears in the doorway and Max jumps. It makes Furiosa jump, too. She contracts the muscle and whimpers in pain for the first time.

"Sorry, sorry," he says.

The shadow at the door is Eddie, the other Vuvalini. "Max, come here," she says. She's clearly been sent for to babysit him, but with another look at Furiosa, he decides it's not a bad idea.

Furiosa nods and gives him a tight little smile. Go.

*

Eddie leads him out to a perch three-quarters of the way up the spire, accessible from a corridor inside. She offers him some jerky and he chews as he shifts from foot to foot. He can't stand still. He's too far away.

"What happened?" Eddie asks as she sits, patting the ground. He reminds himself he needs the company and joins her.

"Stupid mistake, she said." He hadn't paid attention to the details. He just wanted it fixed. He wanted it not to have happened at all.

"We all make them."

"Mmm."

They're quiet for a few minutes, watching the mulchers who are trying to reclaim the sand far below as soil. Max clasps his hands together to keep them from trembling. At least Eddie doesn't patronize him, doesn't say, Relax or Everything will be all right. Pragmatism is one of the things he loves about Furiosa, and one of the things he appreciates about her people.

Finally she says, "We've all lost somebody. Lots of somebodies, most of us."

He opens his mouth to object, planning to be loud, but she sees it coming.

"I don't mean all loss is the same. Love is different. Loss is different."

Ah. "This, mmm. This about your husband?" He knows she had one: she took his name after he died. Edwin the Weaver, they call her.

"That was a long time ago," she says. "But Swift. You remember Swift, from the canyon?"

He does. Swift was a damn good shot.

"Swift was my wife."

This, he didn't know.

She looks at him like she's disappointed he didn't react to wife, but he's heard about Mary and Katie. The Vuvalini weren't like the people he grew up with.

"I didn't," he says. "I'm sorry."

She acknowledges his sympathy with a nod.

He thinks of the small salvage mission to the canyon, five days after Joe died. They found that some had survived the battle, but then died of their wounds or of thirst. He wasn't at the Citadel then -- he'd run away -- but he wonders, now, whether Eddie went with them.

Furiosa says Vuvalini names like a prayer, sometimes, in the order they were lost in battle. Swift was the last. Did Eddie see her go? Like he saw his wife and his son on the road, like Furiosa saw her mother tossed out of the skull by Joe?

"My." He can't. The road, and the hospital room, and Furiosa. "It was a long time ago." His leg starts shaking. He holds it down with one hand.

Eddie nods again, and offers him a sip of water from the canteen that hangs from her waist. He accepts.

"Swift's mother, she was a hunter. One of the only people Furiosa would listen to. That's how she learned to shoot."

He looks at her sideways. "One of the only ...?"

"Never told you that, I guess? Our girl was an absolute terror as a child."

"Mmm? No," he says. "She said she had trouble following directions."

"Ha! She was downright impossible. Screamed and screamed until she got what she wanted, wouldn't stay put, wouldn't do chores. Other children get distracted. Not our Furiosa. Kept all the clans awake."

"Really?"

"Really. She chased lizards, she got into fights, she refused to bathe."

"Good training for the Wasteland," Max says, and Eddie chuckles.

He shouldn't laugh, but he does. He can picture it, so clearly. Little Furiosa, with the long hair he knows she had, shouting and stomping her foot, opinionated as hell. Stubborn as a magpie and just as loud.

"Like that, do you?" Eddie says. "She stubborn in bed, too?"

He coughs. He knows she's joking, but he's still horrified. Only Furiosa and the two Vuvalini can knock him off balance that way, and they all know it. "Don't say things like that, for fuck's sake," he says.

She laughs and he notices her looking at the angle of the sun over the other two spires. Gin must have told her to keep him away for some time.

Furiosa, he thinks. Furiosa. But he stays where he is.

"Girl loves the pants off you, Max," Eddie says. "But she can survive without you, just as well."

"Mmm," he says, and he doesn't say anything more.

*

Max jumps again when footsteps come running towards them, but it's only the pup who was helping in the clinic. She smiles and beckons to them shyly, before taking off down the stairs.

Three of the four sisters are crowded around the bed when he arrives. Gin is trying to get Furiosa to lie down and the sisters are speaking all at once, but Furiosa won't settle. Her arm is in a sling and he knows, he knows she's already made a fuss about leaving, and not gotten the answer she wanted.

"Hey," he says from the door.

Everyone stops talking.

She reaches for him with her metal fingers. "Hey."

"Okay?"

"Won't let me leave."

"If you leave, you'll take that sling right off," Gin says.

Toast agrees. "You know you will, Furiosa.

"Hurts when I lie down," Furiosa says, scowling.

In the corner of Max's eye, Eddie whispers something to Gin.

He thinks, and decides to set aside his self-consciousness. "Here, sit up for a minute," he says. He climbs onto the bed behind her, carefully fitting her body between his legs. His back is to the wall, her head propped up on his chest.

He doesn't need to ask if it's better. She melts into him.

They react exactly the way he'd expect: a smile from Dag; a faux-cynical eye-roll from Toast; and eyebrows shooting up towards Cheedo's hairline.

There's not a single person in the Citadel who doesn't know that Max is with Furiosa. But very few have seen even the most casual touches; their handholding, while climbing the stairs earlier, was rare. This level of intimacy is an eyeful for the sisters.

Outside, a cheer goes up. Gin's apprentice must have passed on the good news.

"Furiosa! Furiosa!" And then: "Joe-Killer!"

To them, even to her own crew, she means only security, safety, and fair allocation of resources. Max, and the women, and a few others know better.

Dag convinces her sisters to leave for dinner, and Gin and Eddie retreat to the clinic's back room.

"I know something about you," Max says in Furiosa's ear.

She tries to crane her neck to look at him, but grimaces and stops when it pulls at her stitches. He straightens her head with both hands, so she's facing forward again.

"What did they say?" she asks suspiciously.

"Take good care of that arm and I might tell you."

"You'll tell me when I make you tell me," she says. Stubborn.

He smiles into her hair, and thinks about teaching that first-aid class. For next time.