Furiosa tries to ignore the graves as she drives away.
The Vuvalini buried their dead under patches of green grass on the outskirts of their village, and the flowers that grew on each grave were called Blessings. When Valkyrie’s grandmother died, Blessings were hung over the entrance to her home whenever they bloomed.
Furiosa remembers the graves, but those were nothing like the mounds of sand that dot the Eastern horizon of the Citadel.
It had been Capable who first voiced her misgivings when it came to disposing of the bodies of dead War Boys. The ones who had been killed or abandoned on the fury road had long been buried by the sand with the storms that had swept across the Wasteland in the days since, with no witnesses and no ceremony. There was no way to retrieve them, and none of the War Boys seemed to care. Their halflives, coupled with Joe’s systematic disregard of any ritual beyond the path to Valhalla, had ensured their ambivalence when it came to disposing of human bodies.
When prompted, one of the War Boys in Toast’s new crew merely shrugged and pointed towards a collection of deep wells just beyond sight of the Citadel. They found a frightful smell and a large a group of the Wretched kneeling in the remains. Toast vomited on the spot. She didn’t leave the Citadel for days.
Now, Furiosa hates herself for feeling sicker at the sight of the newly-dug graves than at the memory of the wells.
Maybe it was Toast’s reaction, so visceral, so human, that made Furiosa trust her.
She presses down on the gas pedal, and steels herself against the wind. It’s still cold outside. In the absence of the scalding sun, the desert air is icy and unforgiving. The scarf wrapped around her neck – white linen, something she never thought she’d wear after it was torn off of her body during her last moments in the Vault – doesn’t quite hold against the wind’s persistence; it flaps weakly against Furiosa’s chin. She would shiver, if something inside her chest wasn’t already shaking.
The Fool’s car is faster than she’d imagined. The blackthumbs boasted long and loud about the adjustments they made – if it hadn’t been for them, Furiosa wouldn’t have known that Max had had a car at all. She’s thankful he did; somehow, the feeling of an unfamiliar vehicle is much more comforting than the heavy familiarity of the War Rig, and she doesn’t think she’d trust anyone else’s hands on it.
When she met Toast by the platform, already in full gear, her eyes squinting at the rising sun, Toast tried very hard to remain calm. Maybe the wives had noticed the change in Furiosa’s expression, when the force of the circumstances had hit her too hard to let her catch her breath; but even Toast wouldn’t ask. Furiosa was thankful that she didn’t.
“Are you taking your crew with you?”
Furiosa gave no reply. The empty platform was explanation enough. “Make sure you keep the blackthumbs out of the watering tunnels,” she said briskly, tightening the straps of her armor and holstering her gun at her hip. “Have someone overseeing the digging at all times.”
Toast’s body was tense with apprehension.“When’re you coming back?”
Furiosa swung herself into the car, fingers moving over the unfamiliar surfaces of its interior . A few silent War Boys began to work the wheels that moved the platform. I don’t know, she’d wanted to say.
Never, she’d heard in her heart.
She’d left Toast shivering at the top of the platform, the weight of the entire Citadel resting on her shoulders.
There wasn’t much beauty after her mother’s green eyes as the last light in them faded – nothing truly beautiful, without sharp edges or ugly scars. Anything after she had been dragged, skull crushed against the floor of an Imperator’s Rig, was of a violent sort: the sort that lived in the scraped knuckles of the Wives who tried to claw their way through the Vault walls, in the golden glint of a War Party in the distance. Nothing was untarnished. Nothing, except for this place.
The sun is already beginning its descent when she stops, waiting for the dust outside to settle before opening the door. It’s been thousands of days, but she still remembers where to stop safely – where the rubble of rocks gives way to a cliff, where it’s safe to leave a vehicle hidden. The first and only time she came here, she vowed never to return. At the time, it had seemed to be the only way to protect it.
She’s brought enough water and supplies to last her a seven-day ride, but she hauls the pack over her shoulder with all its contents anyway. Even here, the silence can’t be trusted. The hot sun warms the tendons under her skin, and for a moment she can almost forget the Citadel and all its scars. The surface of the Wasteland stretches out all around her, a smooth, empty surface. Only directly before her does the scenery change. Rocks and stiff dry nets of what she knows must have once been roots, crumble under her feet until finally, the ground opens up beneath her. It gives away into a small valley, where pillars of reddish dirt rise up in the air, as if hewn by a giant sculptor. The grooves and ripples in the walls of the earth grow inwards into hollows and caves. If Furiosa had not known better, the place would have seemed to her a great city full of invisible inhabitants.
But the silence is peaceful. She hoists the pack more comfortably over her shoulder and makes her way down to where the rocks curve more gradually. As she climbs down, she keeps her palm pressed to the gun at her waist anyway; even here, it would be senseless to trust — even when the greatest threat seems to be the loose rocks skidding under her boots and threatening to make her stumble. The edge of the precipice on either side of her is chilling, a threat, a reminder of falling.
She remembers acutely what it was like to be dragged from the Vault for the first and last time, not sure if she ought to be cheering or kicking and screaming, watching the edge of the precipice draw nearer and nearer and seeing the empty, glassy eyes of the War Boys whose painted-white hands dug into her arms, who glanced at her like she wasn’t human, like they didn’t quite know what to make of her, like they couldn’t hear her screaming where are you taking me. And they couldn’t have understood why she wanted to vomit; because when hit with the cold air current that filtered through the tunnels from the Wasteland, a wind she had only felt in the occasions that she had been standing near the Vault door when Joe strode in, she couldn’t help suddenly wishing she was back inside.
At the bottom of the rudimentary path, Furiosa drops the pack and presses a hand to the nearest pillar. It’s warm from the sun, as if it were alive. For the first time in what feels like a lifetime, she feels truly alone – just her, the pounding pressure of her heartbeat, and the slithering of reptiles among the rocks in the shadows of the pillars.
As an Imperator, she hadn’t been able to afford fear. She couldn’t tremble, couldn’t hesitate. The Wives had escaped because she had been unflinching. She had escaped, because the memories of the Green Place had been locked and sealed within her. But a part of her never left the Vault, and as she moves her hand into the concave center of the pillar, the cool draft makes it tremble.
Maybe it’s the fact that her eyes are closed and her other senses strain to make up for the loss of sight, that she hears the slightest shuffle, just behind and above her – a scrape of feet, a movement that could not possibly be anything but human.
Furiosa whirls around, finger already at her hip and on the trigger, barrel pointed upwards towards the cave she is suddenly hyperaware of. It’s nestled in the crevices in the rock, a gaping maw hidden by the shadows of the pillars, but the noise is unmistakeable – she isn’t the only one in the valley.
But it’s too late. The sun shines in her eyes, and even as she turns to look at the cave, a sudden shadow covers the bright light. In the split second of her hesitation, as her surprise is pushed back in favor of the Imperator’s cold control she has hewn out of herself for half a lifetime, something heavy falls onto her.
She’s thrown sideways, stumbling and falling onto her stomach, and already her aggressor is on her back, pulling her legs towards him, scraping her chin against the rock. Rearing up, Furiosa kicks backwards, hand grappling for a better grasp of the gun her hand fell from on impact.
But her enemy is swift. She senses, rather than sees, the incoming blow, and jerks her hand out of the way just as a sharp object smashes into the space her fingers were just in. As it is, it cuts through her skin and she bites back a curse.
She takes advantage of the moment to kick again, even as she draws the gun from its holster.
The assailant is obviously male; that much she can tell by his frame. The impact of her boot against his stomach throws him back, and in a moment Furiosa is on her knees, rising to her feet. Her eyes skim the surroundings. There’s no cover for her to take – running in any direction might expose her to more enemies who might have set up camp nearby. If there is one, it is probable that many more linger. Her best chance is to defeat the current assailant and then use the hollow in the rock to her own advantage.
But he doesn’t give her a chance. Before she can do so much as aim, an object tears through the air, aimed at her head. It collides painfully, and Furiosa feels suddenly dazed, blood pooling at her forehead and dripping down her left eyebrow. Letting out a cry of frustration, she stumbles back. But the object is not a bullet – looking down at where it lies against her boot, it is most clearly a rock. Her enemy has no ammunitions.
Normally, she might have smirked at finding herself pitted against someone at such a disadvantage, but she’s too anxious to feel any satisfaction at victory. She feels inexplicably shaken at finding someone else in the valley – her valley. She feels oddly invaded, betrayed by a place she had thought would remain intact if she could only protect it by not returning until Joe was dead.
It’s almost like losing the Green Place all over again.
Her enemy dodges. He’s upon her in a moment, fists pounding. The gun is knocked out of her grasp, and she twists her legs under his before he can throw her on her back again, seizes leverage to twist them and reverse their positions. He’s a hulking mass, wide shoulders and shaggy hair, and he delivers punches with the zeal of an experienced fighter who hardly has to spare a thought. He hardly flinches when she punches his nose, though she feels the blood splatter on her cheek.
Her metal arm blocks his next blow, and the way he suddenly halts, even as his knees are on either side of her thighs, lines of blood trailing down his chin, his other hand battling to seize her weapon and finally closing around a large rock is suddenly incredibly familiar–
The word escapes her instinctively, like a breath of fresh air in the midst of drowning.
He halts and is completely still, one arm poised to bring down the rock over her head. He stays frozen for so long that Furiosa begins to wonder if he might strike anyway. The tips of her flesh fingers are scraping against the gun, but she doesn’t dare seize it just yet. She’s almost sure Max will stop – almost. She’ll shoot, if she has to… but she hopes she doesn’t have to.
Max looks only slightly less deranged than he had the first time she had met him. His eyes are fixed on her face, but something about the way he’s staring at her makes her think that perhaps he’s not entirely sure that she’s there. His skin is hot against hers, sweat trickling down his temple, his breath escaping him in short bursts. His hand is still clenching the rock, the other braced against her metal forearm.
Furiosa holds his gaze, and slowly Max’s fingers move down her arm, pressing, as if to make sure she’s actually there. The weight of him against her is starting to drive the air out of her body, but she doesn’t dare move.
His fingers stop where her flesh begins. He drops the rock.
Then he stands up, and she notices that his hands are shaking slightly. When his voice escapes him, it’s the rasp of too many days spent unused.
She pushes herself off from the ground and gets on her feet as well, eyeing him warily, and puts away the gun. “Yeah.”
He shakes his head, a jerky movement, as if to dislodge thoughts that have rusted there. “Thought – worried—” he lets out a breath. “Wondered if the blood was enough.”
“It was,” she replies, and doesn’t waste too much time wondering what kind of voices must live in his head to make him doubt her survival. She can tell just by looking at him that he’s lost – a far thrown from the Max who had poured his own blood into her veins. “Thank you.”
He’s haunted her dreams on restless nights, his face gazing upwards at the rising platform, merging into the crying masses of the Wretched. Furiosa watched him for as long as she could – the man who had been her partner in their run towards freedom, who had shared with her his blood, who hadn’t even spoken his own name until the very last moment – before the Citadel drew her into its arms once more.
She had no answers for the Wives when they demanded where Max had gone, but in the privacy of her own mind, she assumed that he’d gone back to wherever he had come from. There was a strange comfort to be found in the thought that he, unlike her, still had somewhere to go back to.
No spoken agreement is made between them, but she follows him up the short climb. The cave Max has made into a temporary home is small; some four meters inwards and barely high enough for them to stand upright. It’s a good vantage point, close enough to have a clear shot at any intruders in the valley – that is, should he have ammunition.
Slowly, he relaxes, sliding to the ground, his back against the wall of the cave. Furiosa follows suit opposite from him. Outside, the valley remains as quiet as ever.
“Max,” she finally says. It’s only the second time she calls him by name, but the word feels surprisingly familiar on her lips.
The glazed look in his eyes clears slightly. He frowns. “Sorry,” he says shortly, gesturing towards her with one hand, before glancing down at it almost critically. “Couldn’t tell it was you.”
There’s a heavy layer of dust over all of him, but Furiosa knows the same goes for her. His eyes, however – they seem different; more restless. They move around the cave, shifting constantly, as if he fears to find enemies in the very rock. But there’s a solidity to his fists, which are mostly tight at his sides; he is in control, and when their gazes meet, Furiosa momentarily feels the same way she had felt that night on their race away from the Citadel – dragging the Rig through the mud, watching Max emerge from the darkness bathed in blood, with supplies slung over his back.
“Glad I didn’t shoot you,” she replies.
“Out of bullets,” he explains, jerking his head towards the back of the cave. A handgun and a rifle sit pathetically in a corner. “Couldn’t risk the drive.”
When Max left the Citadel, the only vehicle not accounted for was one motorcycle. Furiosa let it slide; he more than deserved it. Now, she wonders if he still has it. He must have hidden it very well for her to not notice it upon arrival – or maybe the desert sand did its job.
She thinks of Max, and the desperation in his eyes as he tried to commandeer the War Rig, and looks around at the cave. He has set up rocks in piles to guard his food from any roaming creature, has guns and his jacket piled in some form of order at the back of the cave – he has had time to organize himself. Furiosa wonders how long that time had really been.
She used to wonder why he hadn’t stayed at the Citadel with them. Now, she thinks she knows.
She has enough supplies to last her a while, so when the sun skims the horizon, she reaches into her pack and tosses him a canteen, drinking water sloshing inside. Max catches it swiftly, defence reflexes swift even while resting. He stares at it for a second and then glances back up at her, expression unreadable.
“Drink up,” she tells him. She suspects his stash of water is running out.
If that’s the case, however, he’s certainly made use of his time in the valley catching lizards and snakes. The meat is good – somewhat healthier than what she’s tried in the open desert, though certainly no match against the animals the War Boys are starting to hunt around the citadel. They share dinner as the light dies outside, and by the time the sky is black and the only light is the faint gleam of the moon, they are full and mostly in darkness.
“You didn’t get very far,” she says, breaking the silence, gazing out at the moonlit rocks in the valley that stretch out before them. The pillars look like the shadows of solemn giants.
Max glances at her, one elbow on his raised knee, gaze flickering. He says nothing.
“You could’ve gotten more supplies from us if you’d wanted.”
He clears his throat softly, as if he intends to reply, but remains silent. It feels like many days before he finally speaks.
“Why’re you here?”
Furiosa hears the real question: is everything okay?
“We’re at peace with Gas Town,” she replies calmly. “Bullet Farm was a bit trickier, but they aren’t a risk anymore. We had to fight more battles, but the War Boys are learning – Toast is an excellent fighter, Capable a great teacher. The Dag planted seeds… and Cheedo and the remaining Mothers are finding new ways to distribute the water. Everything’s fine.”
Everything’s great. She wonders if he understands half of what she’s saying – did he ever even learn the names of the women in the Rig? How much had he really seen of the Citadel, beyond the horrors of the Organic’s lair?
But Max nods, barely visible in the moonlight, and doesn’t ask. And yet, his question still lingers in the air, too large for the small cave. Furiosa looks away and exhales it into the breeze that wafts over the steadily chilling valley of pillars.
“I wanted redemption,” she says in a low voice, and again it seems that she hovers at the edge of the precipice, and the valley becomes the sea of Wretched, the millions of eyes that watch as she is suspended in the air, clawing for hold, watching as the ground draws nearer, the sun beating down on her exposed, weak body; death reaching up to tear her apart.
Worse, even, is the memory of the realization that the only way to survive was to go back.
Because there was nothing else she could be.
Max says nothing for a long time, and in the darkness it’s hard to tell if he’s looking at her. He can’t know what it’s like to watch The Dag flourish just as her plants do, something bright growing in her eyes with every passing day that her belly becomes more visible – something that quells the fear and pain Furiosa learned to see in the eyes of the Immortan’s Wives. Max has not seen Cheedo’s gentle hands as she heals injured War Boys, slowly beginning to prove to them that their bodies matter, or the newfound strength in her arms as she hauls shovels along the edges of the Citadel, planning out the watering system. For all Capable’s kindness to Nux during their time in the Rig, Max cannot guess how unmoveable yet considerate a leader she has proven to be in rallying the War Boys to their side – and Toast perched upon a Rig, a gun in each hand, shouting orders to her crew with black grease smudged under her eyes is a picture Furiosa herself would have had trouble imagining, had she not seen it with her own eyes.
And she – what did she know of this life, of building a nation, beyond war and raids and passing guzzoline and bullets between allies? A life where graves were dug for dead War Boys, with plaques placed over them?
Even after thousands of days working alongside the same mass of War Boys, it didn’t even occur to her to learn their names.
Her mind is still Joe’s, even now.
She blinks to dislodge the feeling that she is falling, and looks at Max. She can only distinguish him from the shadows by the moonlight glinting off the less dusty edges of his jacket.
He clears his throat. "Know something about running. It, mm,” he trails off, and for a moment Furiosa wonders if he’s going to continue at all. “Doesn’t work.”
Furiosa falls asleep near the edge of the precipice, shoulder blades digging against the rock.
She wakes up to the light scraping of boots against the dirt. For a moment, she’s at loss as to where she is, and fumbles for the gun at her hip. But even as her fingers find it, she sees Max, expression unreadable as he watches her from the opposite side of the cave. He’s standing, slightly bent to avoid scraping his head against the rock, and in his hands he’s holding a flattened rock.
When he can tell that she’s no longer about to shoot him, he steps forward and offers it to her with a low grunt. Dried meat, with something she doesn’t recognize. She takes it.
Breakfast is a silent affair, with Furiosa rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and rolling her shoulders to get rid of the stiffness that settled in them during the night. She should have taken advantage of having a companion she trusted, and rested properly – but she hadn’t really been thinking of comfort the night before, with her mind trapped between memories of falling, and the image of the Citadel graves, silent witnesses of the person she had allowed herself to become.
She watches Max as he eats, his eyes focused on some distant point outside the mouth of the cave. His eyes, she realizes, are blue, and even brighter with the reflection of the sky outside against them. His eyebrows are still drawn together in the perpetual frown he never seems to shed, tension coiled inside him like an animal that has been hunted for too long. Furiosa knows the feeling. She undid the knot as she lay broken on the Wasteland, and tied it again, in a different shape, when she climbed the platform and became a War Boy – the will to not be hunted, but to be the hunter.
Max has been prey for too long.
They don’t speak about how long she would be there, or where Max was going. Max doesn’t ask her where she’s running to.
But then again, running away almost never comes with a set destination.
When the sun is high in the sky and she can be confident that the shadows of the pillars won’t swallow her up, Furiosa wanders down from the cave into the valley. Max doesn’t ask if she’ll return, but turns back to the handful of stones he’s carving into makeshift bullets, and says nothing.
The further away she moves from the cave, the less it seems that there’s ever been anyone else there with her. The valley curves and cuts through the flesh of the earth, digging itself into strange shapes. Once, centuries ago, these crevices must have held water. Now, all they hold is silence, as if the memories themselves are too ancient to be remembered.
They haven’t changed at all since she left them last. She has changed – but the world has not. The last time she set foot here, she had only just stopped coating her skin in War Paint. It was the day after Joe himself had grinned at her with his eyes, and muttered her name with undeniable satisfaction.
She had made him proud. She had been thrown from the top of the citadel into the abyss of the Wretched, broken, maimed… had dragged herself back up by her fingernails, had clawed her way through the Immortan’s ranks, killed, murdered – and Joe looked at her like he was proud.
I’ll show you, she whispered in the secrecy of her own mind, nails clawing at the brand at the back of her neck. I’ll make you hate me.
She ran the next day. She’d meant to go to the Green Place, because she now had a Rig. She could do it; she could escape. Sometimes, when she could look out from high places, it seemed that the Mothers called to her. Sometimes she could see Valkyrie’s eyes in the sunrise.
And yet she turned away from the Green Place the second she left Citadel territory, turning away from all the memories. Because she was Joe’s, now. And as she lay in the dust between the pillars in this abandoned treasure of the world, she hated herself: for being caught, for being barren, for being thrown, and for climbing back up. She could not – could never – shed the Imperator, a title which was now her own name… Joe’s favorite of all warriors.
It would be a good place to die, here in the valley. Clearly, she has not been the only one to think so.
As she bends down to look at the foot of one of the pillars, movement catches her eye. She looks up to see Max, lingering a small distance away, shifting from foot to foot as if he’s not entirely sure he has the right to be there. His eyes flicker between the ground and her.
“M’sorry,” he rasps. “Thought maybe—”
Furiosa shakes her head, and nods to the ground. “Seen these?”
He walks over to her, some of the tension leaving his shoulders as he realizes he’s not disturbing her. She watches as his eyes move to what she’s been looking at. The roughly hewn square of stone is barely visible in the dirt, but Furiosa bends down and brushes off a layer, running the tips of her fingers over the thin marks.
Max is frowning. “Words?”
“Graves,” Furiosa murmurs, as if speaking any louder might disturb whatever lies beneath the ground.
“Mm.” Max sinks down, reaching to touch the stone as well. His fingers brush against Furiosa’s thumb as she moves her hand away, and she half expects him to flinch, but he doesn’t. Instead, he strokes the lines of what once must have been words, but are now too worn out by the dust and wind to be legible. “’S old.”
Furiosa straightens and takes a few steps, until she reaches the next one. Again, she brushes off the dirt to reveal the fading scratches. She’s not quite sure why she does it – but it feels right, somehow. Respectful, in a world where there’s very little left worth wasting reverence on.
Somewhere out there, buried under dust much like this one, is Ace’s body, his bones no longer mimicking the good-natured grin he always offered as he hung by the Rig’s frame just outside her window. And the multiple bodies of the crew she gave up for the sake of Angharad and the others, who had rebelled against their adored Immortan without even knowing it, lay entirely forgotten, their names not even properly put to rest in Furiosa’s own memory.
Looking around at the graves, she wonders if the number is equal to that of her lost crew. She wonders if those who engraved names on the stones still remember the names, wonders how much they really mattered. Wonders if Ace and the others would have liked to have their names engraved on the ground above their bodies.
She wonders if these people believed in Blessings, and what sorts of flowers would grow in such a valley, in the barren dust.
“There must’ve been a city nearby,” she says quietly to no one in particular. “It’s a good place to bury the dead.”
When she looks around, she sees Max still kneeling in the same spot, eyes fixed on the stone. There’s a quietness about him – he’s mostly silent, of course, but he never seems quiet. It’s not exactly peace – more a subdued form of recognition. And Furiosa knows, instantly, that he’s buried people before.
Finally, he meets her eyes.
“Must’ve taken a lot for the names to fade,” he says.
When the sun begins to set, and the sky is tinged orange, they sit on the edge of the crags, elbow to elbow, and eat what’s left of the lizard meat. The desert is silent as the shadows stretch and elongate beneath them.
“Came back,” Max remarks suddenly.
Furiosa looks at him in confusion, and he’s facing the sunset, his blue eyes stained with the dying sunlight. His hands are fists on his knees, but Furiosa doesn’t think it’s on account of her. He takes breath, sharp, through his nose.
“I left—but was on my way back.” Max swallows. “Got chased by Buzzards, ran out of bullets. Stopped here. Was going back.”
When Furiosa can finally speak, her voice sounds foreign. “To us?”
Max nods, shortly. “Mm. To you.”
For some reason, she has been thinking that he’s been trapped in the valley on his way away from the Citadel. Now that she thinks about it, it makes sense – of course he can’t possibly have spent so many days there and not known about the graves; but the realization stuns her. That Max turned back, had tried to come back, to them.
Something twitches at the corner of his mouth, and he meets her eyes suddenly. “Can’t run forever,” he says, and swallows and clears his throat. “The Wasteland… ‘s no redemption to be found,” he raises a hand, suddenly, pushes his fingers together in a snap. The noise cracks through the silence like lighting. His eyes are bright; the sky is red. “Just like that. ‘S not something that can be found.”
Furiosa takes in a breath, puts down the remains of her meal and leans back on the palms of her hands, digging her heels into the rock. “Why come back?”
“Can’t…” he mulls over his words, wavering slightly. “Can’t change where nothing’s growing.”
She thinks of the Dag, whose hatred of the creature in her womb has slowly turned into care – even love, nurturing it as if were a particularly delicate and important one of her crops. Of Toast, whose pain and rage, so much like Furiosa’s, have crystallised into strength. Of the War Boys, who’ve begun to tell Angharad’s story like that of a legendary warrior – a story where the hero does not kill, but puts together the words that incite a rebellion.
“I tried many times,” Furiosa finds herself saying, as dusk falls around them. “To get to the Green Place.”
“They stopped you?”
She shakes her head slowly. “I was an Imperator. I could do whatever I wanted. I got far. Past the canyons, even, once. But I always stopped myself. Didn’t feel… like I’d done anything to deserve home again. I had Joe tattooed on my neck, had his symbols all over me, had fought and killed for him… I had to have something better than that, to offer.”
“Wasn’t your fault.”
Furiosa blinks back the tears when they come, and the darkness hides them well. “I thought… that when I got them out, and more so when I killed Joe… I thought that it would be enough.” She swallowed. “It wasn’t.”
Sitting so close to Max, it’s hard not to remember the way the world stilled when he stopped her over the Salt; how she had somehow already known what he was about to say, even as he opened his mouth to say it. How she felt the same hatred, the same shame, at turning back, again – because there was nowhere else to go.
“Way I see it,” Max begins haltingly. “You’ve two choices. Run – and you’ll stay like this. ‘Til it starts erasing you, like the rocks.” He nods towards the gaping hole of the valley, engulfed by shadows. “Or go back – ‘n let redemption find you.”
“Which one are you choosing?”
Max turns away, and his lips twitch before he answers. “Found you already.”
She leaves her pack ready at the entrance of the cave, and walks out while he’s still sleeping. If he feels her leave, he doesn’t show it.
Walking between the graves, she finds herself wondering, again, whose bones lie in the ground beneath her feet. And she thinks of the mounds dotting the Eastern flank of the Citadel, of the teams of War Boys that worked day and night to dig enough graves for their fallen companions, even when they didn’t really understand their purpose. She remembers the tears in Capable’s eyes, and the rueful satisfaction in Toast’s mouth when the burial was over.
More than anything, she remembers Cheedo, walking around and collecting the names of the dead, so that they could be engraved on small plates of metal. We’ll go to Valhalla with a chrome nameplate, she’d heard some Boys say to each other. Cheedo’s innocent eyes had focused on hers, and asked for the names of the dead in her crew.
And she had not known how to answer.
How long will it take, she wonders, until Joe leaves their minds completely? For the War Boys the process has begun already. Maybe soon, even talk of Witnessing will slowly be forgotten. Maybe Furiosa will begin to remember what it was like, when she was free in a place where the dead had graves, and the graves had names, and each name would sprout forth Blessings.
When Max joins her some hours later, he finds her holding a handful of dust.
“Why do you think it was so easy for them, and so hard for us?”
Max doesn’t ask who she’s talking about. Maybe he’s been thinking about the Wives too – captives turned to triumphant warriors.
“Mm,” he hums, and doesn’t say anything until they reach the foot of the rock that leads up to the cave. Furiosa notices hat his hands are no longer clenched into fists, and his gaze is steady when he finally answers. Perhaps he’s buried some of his own memories in the valley graves, too. “They weren’t alone.”
Furiosa is almost completely sure that she already knows the answer to her next question, but when she has her pack on her shoulder and has tightened the belts around her waist, she turns to him and asks anyway. “I’m going back. You coming?”
Max hoists his bag onto his shoulders in reply.
Furiosa pockets the handful of dust.