It was getting late. Most of the Soundless and some of the breeders had already left, carrying small children. Marienny's own had curled up in a heap with some of the others, warpups and little Citizens piled up together for warmth, dozing off or chatting quietly, giggling, making new friends. One of the warboys - the one Furiosa made her new ace - was sitting by the largest group together with Polaris, telling them a story in a low voice. Polaris was grinning.
One of the Drummer Boys quietly played his ukelele, a sweet, contemplative melody he must have picked up earlier in the evening. They had such joy in music, Marienny wasn't surprised they hadn't stopped playing all night, now they were finally allowed to play freely..
Marienny watched Naaka and Treb say goodbye. They made an interesting picture, matching in the curly paint patterns they'd chosen, the way the white paint contrasted on their skins. Marienny might have been concerned that they were related, much like Polaris and Furiosa's ace, but their facial structure was so different it was hard to imagine.
"So can I— I really enjoyed— maybe if there's a party again sometime?" Treb said, an endearingly hopeful expression on his face. Naaka's hand was folded in his, their fingers tangling. Marienny observed the two of them, a hand on her heavy belly, a lump in her throat with her memories. The dancing had been tiring, but joyful too.
Naaka was giving him a mournful look. "I don't know when that will be. Nobody's talked about— about a next time."
Treb's face fell.
Naaka turned to Marienny, and she couldn’t help but feel both fond and sad at the familiar expression on her face.
"Marienny, please, can we do something like this again?" the younger woman pleaded quietly.
Marienny glanced at where her children had snuggled up in a tangled heap, smiling in their sleep. "We'll have to see how often, iffin you’re on about the party. But we just talkin’ about the party, ‘cause ya’ll don’t need that to just talk. Can meet up outside of those," she told the other woman, who lit up, turning back to Treb.
It apparently hadn't occurred to either of them that there was no need to wait to see each other again, but neither of them had any idea of how to go about seeing more of each other outside the structures they'd lived under their whole lives. Not that Marienny herself had that much more of an idea, but she remembered very well what she'd wished she could have with Guzzer. All those stolen moments, so much of it that had to masquerade as normal interaction, be hidden from others for fear of it being taken away. Sweetnesses and kindnesses made furtive because it was so looked down on by other crew, by other Imperators, by Joe calling every place that wasn’t ‘their place in the breeder courts’ dangerous.
But. Was it so dangerous as Joe made it out to be? Or if it had been, was it still? Caution was a good idea in general but look at today, where all of the people of the Citadel mingled and no one came to harm.
Just because it was new to them, this way of acting, of being, didn't mean all of them were resisting it. She was sure some of the warboys had scoffed at the idea of coming here, of sharing music and dancing with breeders, but there were also quite a few warboys who'd come and looked to have enjoyed themselves. And these might push the other ones to be nice and behave. To see that there was benefit to this new way of being.
She watched as some of the war boys helped clean up, others herded the younger pups and Citadel children into warmer piles, spread blankets over them. And one or two offered to walk the women up, carry sleeping pups.
Maybe Naaka needed a little help.
"Hey," Marienny said quietly, stopping the other woman with a hand on her arm. "I was planning to go exploring the gardens tomorrow afternoon. Do you want to come along? You could ask your new friend to meet us up there."
She could always take a break and leave the two of them to wander by themselves for a bit. They didn't need chaperoning, but maybe that would be good for Naaka, to have somebody else there. Somebody to fall back on if she felt pressured to act like a breeder. Not that this Drummer Boy seemed like he would do that, with all his polite eagerness. If he'd never been granted a breeder visit he might not even have those expectations like a Warboy might. But… well, something told her that if she reminded Naaka that she could spend the night with him right now if she wanted, knowing it was an option might paralyse the other woman.
She had done a lot of thinking in the many days after Guzzer left, thinking on if there were better ways maybe to have talked to him, made better use of their time. But maybe she didn’t have the capacity back then for anything more than what she did, given her past and her experiences. And his as well. They'd done the best they could, knowing what they'd known. It hadn't been enough, but it looked like maybe their children would have more.
And maybe her experiences could help Naaka.
“You really think so?” Naaka looked at her uncertainly, “It would be nice to see how he is away from all this but. But I don’t know if… If….”
“You don’t have to decide just now, do you? The Tribunes say we have a choice now.” Marienny nodded decisively. “It’s just a walk.”
“Just a walk?”
“I’ll be right there, don’t hav’ta do nothing you don’t want. And if you like him, you take another walk. Ask him how that song is coming along. Walk some more. Hold hands. Just spend time together." She looked away. Like Guzzer and I never had . "You can do that. Don't have to decide if you want him in your bed right away. Or at all, really."
“That,” Naaka said it like a revelation, “that does sound nice.”
“He do anything you don’t like, or don't listen when you tell him no, well, there’s people all about up there."
She suddenly thought about that first time Guzzer had asked— he'd said the Imperator wanted him to ask if he could touch. And she'd said yes because she'd wanted him to, but also because it had been expected of her; the idea that 'no' could be an option had been too baffling. Breeders couldn't say 'no', not really. Furiosa had been trying to teach her crew something back then the rest of the Citadel wasn't ready for, but maybe now they were ready. Maybe everybody needed to learn how to say 'no' just as much as everybody needed to learn to listen and respect it when it was said.
"Tribune Dag works in the gardens mostly and you know she’d tear into him if she has the slightest hint that he’s not being proper.”
“She would, wouldn’t she?” And Naaka laughed as she bent down to kiss Marienny's cheek, face flushed with excitement, and turned back to Treb.
Marienny watched her go and smiled past the welling bittersweetness in her chest. She turned to hide the dampness of her eyes, and saw Aurotaenia walking up quietly. Her daughter was out of her black Soundless robes for the first time in years, coming up to her shyly as if she didn't quite know what to do now. Marienny wiped at her eyes and held her hand out to the girl, the daughter she'd only recently been able to see again. Auro hesitated and then took her hand, and stepped in, and then Marienny folded her into a hug, quietly grateful to how much the world had changed in the past moon.
Furiosa looked on as warboys put the last of the tables back to their rightful places, and nodded that they could go if they wanted. The mess looked mostly put back together again, the remaining people trickling out or talking quietly in small groups so as not to wake the sleeping children, nested together. By the windows she saw that a group was forming of council members, Tribunes and Vuvalini. Ace was there, too, and Max. They looked to be talking mostly to talk, instead of discussing Council matters, so maybe she wasn't needed. She felt strangely hesitant to join them just to socialize, still not quite rid of the gloomy mood of earlier.
She drifted to a halt by a group of children being told a bedtime story by Kompass, who was accompanied by Polaris. Smiled a little and listened in.
"We were making camp with the Mohawk Tribe for trade," Kompass told the children, rapt attention on their faces. "They're a very strange people. Everybody lives together in tents and they spend a lot of time either braiding each other's hair or having it stick up straight. You’d think they’d make up their minds."
The children giggled.
"Like mama?" one asked, pointing at Polaris with her braided hair, and Kompass blinked.
"Well no, not nearly as nice," he said quickly. "So at night there was a campfire, and some of us were keeping watch on the vehicles, and others were at the campfire. And suddenly there was a great noise!"
The children gasped.
"And we heard this dumbass shouting 'They got loose!' so we jumped up, and and then it turned out they had dragons. "
"Dragons!" the children gasped. "Like the story at Tenday?!"
"Yeah, huge man-eating dragons, trained by the Mohawk tribe, strong legs, very fast racers. Bet the idiot released them himself thinking he’d get some ups catching them all hisself.” Kompass said absently, then caught himself drifting. "That dumbass was only along on the run because our best lancers were in the Blood Shed and he had decent aim, but he was always doing stupid shit. Got burned by 'em, too. Moron."
"Did they breath fire?" a pup asked. Some of them were sleepy, maybe beginning to drift off, but this one was brightly awake.
"Yeah, yeah. They didn't fly, but we were all running around trying not to get burned as well, and they melted some of our tires with their fire. Might have exploded some of our cars if Imperator Furiosa hadn't jumped in and fought them single handedly.”
Furiosa, just outside of their little circle, made a small choking noise, and Polaris met her eyes with a shy smile.
"Without her metal hand even?"
"Did I or did I not say single handedly?"
"Is that how she lost her hand?" another kid asked, "To a dragon, like Luke Skywalker?"
Furiosa met Kompass' eyes over the nest of bedding and pups. He gave her a questioning look, because this had never not been a subject they treated with great care. She supposed it was as good a story as any, better than what actually happened, and nodded her permission at him.
"Yeah, she fought them off, but one of them bit off her hand," Kompass nodded. "There was enough fire to cauterize the wound. That's how she survived it."
"And then she made herself a chrome hand?"
"Yeah, but it's not the arm that makes her chrome, you see?" Kompass said softly. "She's not wearing it now. Still just as chrome."
The sleepy-looking faces that were still looking at him nodded seriously.
Furiosa’s throat felt tight. She looked away and pulled up against Miss Giddy’s gaze, who held it for a second and then the History Woman looked back down at her work.
Miss Giddy was tattooing a new word on the inside of her left forearm.
Dragon-arm, it said.
Furiosa found herself interrupted by a sharp look.
“Shh,” Miss Giddy said.
“Did you know,” the old woman remarked as if carelessly, gesturing at her body, “why I started doing this?”
She felt her eyes narrowing. “To keep record.” Furiosa stated. “Truths.”
“Ah. Well. The longer you live, I think, the more you realize how many truths there are,” Miss Giddy hummed, “And some are more worth telling than others.”
“But they should know.”
The History Woman tched. "You did lose your arm to a dragon. And then you slew him."
“But it took…” so long, so much, it took… and here Furiosa couldn’t finish, couldn’t make herself list all that was taken; among them her arm, her dignity, and herself. All the parts of what she thought of as ‘herself’: her identity as a Vuvalini, the pieces of her soul, and the shreds of her self-respect.
“And that story is being told, both mourned and celebrated at Tendays now.” Miss Giddy nodded to herself in satisfaction. “But see, sometimes stories have to be told over and over again, in different ways, for people to understand it. And your truths are worth understanding. Don’t hide that away from those it could help.”
I am one of the Vuvalini! She'd called out in the Wastes, but as she watched Gale and Vicks and Gilly now, as she remembered watching the girls she’d freed take up Vuvalini hair trinkets and wrappings and manners with glee, as she moved among all of them these past sets of Tendays, she wasn't so sure it was true. Those thousands of days spent among the war boys, carrying out Joe's orders, had left their mark on her, even if most of the time it was unwilling and unsought. She wondered if her years in the Citadel hadn't made her more part of— made her more a warboy. Or made her some strange mixture of peoples and places that didn’t quite fit anywhere.
Furiosa swallowed hard. Her gaze drifted uncomfortably until it settled on where Austeyr and Max were helping Ace settle down on a ledge near the fireplace. Austeyr was grinning, gesturing for Ace to lean forward so he could stuff a cushion behind the older man's back. Next to Ace, Max sat down stretching out his bad knee. Watching them, Furiosa felt like a weight detached from the back of her neck.
Maybe the one place where she fit was in this new Citadel?
It was suddenly easier to stand upright.
“Like that. That’s a truth.” Miss Giddy’s smile came through in her voice, “You should probably see to it.”
She nodded back at her, not fully understanding but feeling the meaning anyway. Austeyr caught sight of her, and called out. Max's gaze clung to her, not looking down as she met his eyes, and Ace’s mouth tilted up in that strange fully-formed smile.
Furiosa let her feet take her there, slowly skirting the group of Vuvalini and council members and others that had formed a circle.
"So... I think I'd call this a success," Vicks said as she found herself a seat. She sounded just a little bit surprised.
Gilly hummed in agreement.
Most of the pups had been carted up to bed, a few of the larger ones remaining in warm little nests. The Repair boys and Drummers had all helped with clean up and left, fairly early but some council members still hung around as if gathering words or wool.
Feng was talking quietly to Corpus before some of the Milking Mothers helped him back to his quarters, and her shoulders seemed as relaxed as they probably ever got.
"Agreed." Dag said, leaning back to get more comfortable with her growing belly, “I’ll prod the greenthumbs to plant their ass in the next one.”
"It went surprising well." Toolbox chirruped. “That was what the Greenthumbs and Stuffs were waitin’ on weren’t it? Something to go wrong?”
"Yeah. But nothing did, even though the Distro boys had concerns about the ready grub."
"We should do this again." Capable still looked a little flushed from the dancing, sweaty tendrils of her hair swept out of her face.
"Mm! Even the food went okay," Cheedo said. "I was worried there'd be fighting too, but the Distro Boys handled it pretty well from what I could see, for all they were concerned, and everybody got a snack."
There was a chorus of agreement and several nods.
"Hey, how about we let different groups in the Citadel organize a party?" Mellie asked, playing at her hair.
"How do you mean?" Oti asked, filling in since Ace was still asked to take it easy.
"Well, we could rotate it. Maybe next time the Blackthumbs organize a party, with council support, or the Mill workers. Let them have some snacks to make it festive, like tonight. And they invite everybody too. And the time after that…"
"What if their idea of a party is being elbow deep into an engine?" Oti pointed it out. Toolbox just smiled wryly next to him and bounced a little on his spring leg.
"Then we give it a go, just like they gave dancing a go." Britt cut in as she hoisted a pup a bit higher on her hip.
"Well, OK. Long as you're ready to try," Oti grinned. "They'd need a bit of supervision, but we can do that," he said, and Kompass nodded.
“And maybe,” Capable said quietly but gaining volume, “Maybe we can make it last, make it grow. Maybe we can invite the other towns or other tribes, someday when we’re safe and secure. In the future.”
It was a heady thought, because to be that safe, that secure; to be able to be strong enough to let the other towns and tribes in like that was currently unimaginable. Was a thought no one else had dared approach because it sounded like the most dangerous thing. A party, with them? To open their doors like one would to one of their own and trust that there would be no attack?
But didn’t the breeder courts do that today? Went the thought in the eyes of those in the circle. Didn’t it work today?
“It’s something to work towards, making this Citadel a place of peace.” Capable insisted. “It’s something entirely possible. You can see it, can’t you?”
They all looked at each other and it felt like standing on the edge of the high terraces, the ground yawning below and the air smelling of green, the terror of falling and that small inner voice that felt the wind making everything light.
That made it feel like you’re already flying.
(It felt like hope.)
Furiosa nodded to herself as she watched from outside the circle, satisfied with knowing that the council would steer the Citadel in a better direction than she could even have envisioned for herself. She would help defend it, but they would plot its course, with nothing of Joe in it like she might have done, and that felt exactly right.
She let her body sink down in the middle of her crew, shifted around until she was wedged between Max and Austeyr, Ace at her back. After a while Kompass drifted over from the now sleeping pups and wedged himself in at an angle, shoving his long legs under her knees so they were bent more comfortably. As if summoned, Rachet came over too, sat down on the ground to lean against Max's legs. They all shifted and prodded and grumbled until everybody was comfortable, a warm tangle of relaxed, satisfied bodies.
Furiosa looked around, taking them all in. Austeyr was also leaning against Ace, who looked content to support the lot of them, his own back supported by a cushion against the wall. Max had shifted to curl around her side a little, head against Ace's knee, his fingers playing lightly against her elbow. He looked at ease, settled somehow in a way she hadn't seen on him before. As if he'd stopped running, at least for the moment. She pressed her arm into his touch, a happy little hum in her throat.
Furiosa felt a large hand settle on top of her head. Knew it was Ace without even looking. His fingers lightly scratched her scalp, warm, affectionate.
"Glad to still have you," he said, and she tilted back her head to look at him, upside down.
Saw his mouth curl up. Yeah, it was deliberate, he clearly remembered that touch, those words, so long ago now.
Warmth welled up inside her like fresh water. Affection for these men, new and old, for how after all that she'd done, all the distance travelled between then and now, she still got to have this.
She felt her own lips up lift in answer.
"Screw Valhalla," he murmured.
There was a hum of surprised agreement that came from somewhere around her. And something that sounded like a bubble of laughter muffled by tiredness. It didn’t matter where the hum came from, or where the laughter, or where the words. She knew without looking that they were in sync, and smiled without opening her eyes.
"This is perfect right here.”
"If one tries to think about history, it seems to me - it's like looking at a range of mountains. And the first time you see them, they look one way. But then time changes, the pattern of light shifts. Maybe you've moved slightly, your perspective has changed. The mountains are the same, but they look very different."
Most of the council members had drifted off to bed, only a few of the old women remaining by the fire.
"So when Volt was here," Rachet looked thoughtful. "Why'd they call us the Furies?"
"Said he'd heard about us."
"Maybe it's like some've been calling you Furiosa's lads," Gale said.
"Hmm." He tilted his head, considering it. Didn't actually seem to dislike the idea.
"Could have been worse," said Miss Giddy. "Coulda been an extra r in there"
"What?" Rachet frowned.
Feng's face turned red and she made a loud wheezy sound that turned into laughter.
Everybody collectively paused, and stared.
Feng didn’t even notice, eyes scrunched tight from laughing.