He grits his teeth behind the muzzle, sweat burning the edges of his eyes as he grips the man’s lanky shoulders and flings him across the ring with a brutal thud. The muzzle’s razor edges slice into the skin of his cheeks and nose, but the man is already barreling back his way. Sand cuts into his eyes and he shouts, goes down on his bad knee with a howl before he’s crumbling from a foot to his gut, but Max rolls, snarling and teeth gritted in frothing spittle as he gets ahold of the man’s head, his frayed nails to his eyes -
The whip singes across his back and Max arches up, a shout caught in the forgotten muscles of his neck. There’s shouts and cheers and booing from the crowd pressed in on them; cursing jeers that he shakes off like a waterlogged dog. His fingertips are bleeding, the hot rotten smell of dried blood and simmering sweat rising in fumes between them, but Max feints left, rolls away from the low lunge for his middle.
He glances into the crowd, flitting and sharp, but something moves in the sunlight, a glint of metal and grease -
A blow to his head jars the muzzle against his skull, and Max goes to his knees with static noise in his ears.
The pain rushes up with a pulse of nausea and he hacks, heaves and gags on nothing before he’s hauled up to his feet by the back of his muzzle. Black spots and clouds mist over his vision as he struggles, growling and spitting as the slavers wrestle his hands back into shackles, but his eyes are searching the crowd again, seeking, hoping, wanting -
There. In the crowd.
A barest glimpse of her, it has to be her - the paint black on her close-cropped head, the steely green eyes that cut through the horde of faceless people. The dangerous flash of metal fingers disappearing to something at her side -
He lunges forward on a gasp, reaching into the crowd as they reel back in squeals of terror, and then Max feels a sharp buzz of electricity blazing through his thigh.
“Useless beast! Losin’ yer touch, eh feral? Not as vicious as you think you are no more. ”
“Oughta just sell you off; slaughterhouse meat for them sickly bastards at Gas Town -”
He sees her again, for sure. He knows, he knows, he knows - Furiosa Furiosa Furiosa
A brutal cuffs to his ears puts him down on his knees again, bloodless and numb as they shout for new bets, new players, a new round of beating for the Feral Mad Man of the Wastes. There are hoots and hollers of new numbers, new opponents, new blood, a cacophony of madness and sound that pull into the tangles of whispering voices and ghosts caught in the bristles of his muzzle. Sweat cuts into the grit in the corner of his eyes, seeping into the edges and he blinks harshly, shakes his head free of the voices and the sting of it, but suddenly the crowd is deathly silent, still.
She’s standing as she was before; alive. Shoulder-width apart, stronger, steadier, less bloody. She looks as unchanged here as she does in his dreams, inside the hidden nooks of his mind where he imagines green and softness and her, but she’s never looked this murderous in his head.
“I’ll buy him off you,” she says, and something inside Max shudders outwards at the sound of her voice again.
Real, tangible. Here.
“Ten gallons of water and half a gallon of guzzoline.” Furiosa jerks her chin at him, and Max strains against his chains, a whimper dying in the depths of his gut when the slavers haul him back sternly.
“Well, well. Please t’be graced with yer presence, Imperator. ”
The greasy sound of the slaver’s voice makes Max growl, bristle at the way they dare speak to her this way, but Furiosa doesn’t bat an eye. She doesn’t move an inch, and for a moment Max wonders if he isn’t dreaming again - knocked out somewhere in the sand and conjuring fantasies of Furiosa coming to his aid, saving him and taking him back to somewhere soft and green.
Her eyes narrow; he knows the twitch in her lip. “You’re being made a gracious offer. I’d suggest you take it before I change my mind.”
“Well see, Imperator, this feral here’s our meal ticket. Can’t think to see why we’d wanna part with ‘im for just a couple barrels of cola and guzz .”
The slaver scrubs his hand through Max’s hair mockingly, and Max snarls, indignant and frantic now. The niggling sense of doom lingers overhead like the flies that buzz through his mane; if he doesn’t do something now, they’ll take her away from him, hurt her and bleed her and do worse to her than to him. He won’t be able to save her again, won’t keep her alive, he’ll fail her again and again and again
He makes a wild lunge for Furiosa, yanks his chains hard enough to send one slaver to the ground as he staggers across the bare handful of paces he needs to make to get to her. He’s so close, so close, he can see her beginning to reach to him, reach for something -
The chains tighten around his neck and the buzzstick jams hard into his side, digging upwards under his ribs, and Max crumbles into the sand with an anguished howl. The world tilts and whirls and comes in spots of black and grey in his eyes by the time he can hear the words the slavers are speaking again, muffled and tinny and too loud.
“Well . I haven’t seen that much fight in ‘im since we took him from the sands.” The slaver tugs at the muzzle roughly, pulls Max up to dangle painfully by nothing more than the metal cage around his face. “If I didn’t know any better, Imperator, I’d say you had some history with this mad man.”
Max grunts as he’s dropped suddenly into the sand again, jarring his chin against the muzzle and biting his tongue. Blood sticks matted and warm in his beard where his chin and neck slice open from the metal.
Furiosa is standing as she was before, unmoved, untouched; her eyes cut out of black whorls of murder. “You’re making a dangerous mistake,” she says lowly, the promise of unholy rage and death laced in each syllable that leaves her lips.
One of the slavers tangles his hand into Max’s hair and forces his head up into an arch, takes some sharp pleasure of hissing into his ear. “Won’t she make a pretty little fucktoy for us, don’t y’think? Don’t think she fights as well as they say out in the wastes - won’t be worth anythin’ if I can get that arm offa her, eh? You tear ‘er down for us, won’t you, feral? Shred her nice and good and maybe we’ll give you a turn with ‘er when we’re done.” He shoves Max’s head away with a cruel laugh.
He tries to roll up to his feet, scrambled as fast as he can in the flying sand to make a wild lunge away from Furiosa, a keen in his throat that could’ve once been her name. He can’t let them get to her; can’t let them touch her, hurt her, take from her all that they’ve taken from him. Go go go run go don’t hurt her can’t hurt her no no no
“Where do you think you’re goin’, mad man?” The chain attached to his muzzle pulls taut, and Max gasps through cracked lips as he’s hauled back again, a thousand hands and faces fluttering into view; ugly whispering voices hissing at him with glee.
The slavers drive their boots into his back, hooting when the dust settles and he can barely make out the shape of Furiosa coiled tense and two steps closer than before.
“Sorry, Imperator,” the burlier slaver says, the sickly sweet lilt forces Max into a frantic writhe again. “But this beast ain’t for sale.”
There is only a bare movement of her jaw before she spins on her heels in the sand, and leaves the flurry of dust in her wake.
Max pants frantically, straining in his bindings for her, a whine caught somewhere between his chest and his throat, bubbling ugly and raw through his bleeding lips as he begins to lose her in the crowd. He chokes on the fragments of her name, a sound of something brought forth from memory and dream, but she is gone, gone, he’s lost her again.
Gone from him again.