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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 -

Crack!

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.

Chapter Text

He curls up into the furthest end of the cell from the door as he can, lifting his head from beneath an arm and bristling at the sounds of grating metal and stomping boots above the shouts and screams. Some few hundred days’ worth of chaos now; most of it nothing but white noise under the whispering ghosts, but tonight his blood is rushing like water from the once-gaping maw of the stone skulls.

Something is happening.

Gunfire rings loud through the empty length of the hallway, and Max lunges up on wavering feet with a grunting heave. His chest is filled with frenzied breaths he doesn’t even feel in his lungs, eyes seeking in the dark for some sight, some sign, some hope that they hadn’t gone through with their leering promises to him.

Don’t touch her don’t touch her you don’t go anywhere fucking near her -

He tugs at the shackles cutting into his wrists, stumbles and hobbles to keep on his feet when they yank at the ones strapped to his ankles, but he roars. Shouts and curses and then stands tense, tight, sniffing, listening, feeling - movement, quick heavy bootsteps up and down the upper level, stomping down the stairs, down to here -

Please please no please keep safe keep safe have to keep safe -

He snarls at the flash of light, chains rattling as he makes a wild lunge at the source. His eyes water and burn at the brightness of it, burrowed so long and so deep into the dank and dark, and the smell of burning oil and wood makes his nose curl, his snarl louder, harsher.

“There he is! That’s the one!”

The cell gate bangs open and he jerks violently, tugs and lunges and shouts at them in a rush of garbled sounds as a hoard of painted white boys appear, smelling like adrenaline and fear and grease. “Imperator!”

The sea of white parts for a figure of browns and sand, and this one reeks of authority, of an uncertain mix of fear and rage; he takes a noisy sniff in her direction. Familiar, familiar smells. Soft like sunburnt cloth, tough leather and grease and green and blood -

“Max…?”

His eyes flare wide, pupils dilating into pins as he crumbles down into himself, shields his head beneath his arms. The muzzle yanks painfully at his hair and he groans, but Max scrambles up, shouts and whines and keens desperately; he reaches for her in stilted yanks to the emerald green of her eyes. No no no don’t let them take you away again no please no more ghosts no more ghosts don’t go away

Ghosts, all of them - ghosts, he should’ve known. Where is his name? Who has been alive to call it? Every time he dreams of her, sees her there, so close, so very close, he can nearly touch her, nearly hold her again but there are always hands, always screaming and hands taking him away, away from her, from touching her.

Painted white skeletons coming for him at last, but this is a low blow, this is his newest failure to protect, to keep alive, to hope -

“Max!”

He hurtles forward with a frenzied snarl, hands outstretched and seething. His shoulder jars against hers, and vaguely he registers the stunned shout of his name again, but he can’t let them take her again, can’t take her away again. He presses himself between her and the horde of skeletons, breath bubbling wetly in his chest as he pulls himself up into his full height, shoulders squaring and bracing himself against them.

A skeleton boy moves towards him, shouting her name, and Max bristles threateningly, hisses and spits through the muzzle as he takes a shaky step backwards, feels the solid presence of her behind him. His blood crackles under his skin to protect ; keep safe, keep with him, keep from these ghosts, but when he feels a pincer-like grip on his arm, he can’t help the way he startles, jerks from her grip.

“Easy, easy.” She’s moving towards him slowly, and he aches to press himself to her, but the swarm of white comes again with her, and then Glory, and Angharad, and Jessie. They flicker into view behind her like static of an Old-World television, fragmented and hissing wordless venom.

His fingers cut open on the jagged edges of his muzzle, and he jerks back, stumbles away from her crouching figure peering down at him worriedly, so gentle and soft and kind and dead -

Those eyes those eyes those eyes

Green, green, green, I promised you green and your eyes are green

She touches him, and Max recoils so violently that his head bounces back off the stones, and a pathetic, bubbling sound comes from his dry, cracked lips. The pain cuts into the back of his skull, muzzle digging into his head with a deep piercing hurt as he tries to rub the pain away. He drops into a ball, crouched and hugging tight around his vulnerable belly, and wills the whispering voices and the hovering ghosts to go. Especially her , why is she here, get away get away -

She moves away from him, and somewhere in the frayed edges of his mind he feels himself straining to go with her, to never have her leave his side again, and then he hears the shuffle of boots on the ground and he buries his head under his arms again.

“Everyone out,” she says, clear and loud and steady, and Max waits with muscles coiled and waiting for a boot, a whip, a knife. “Get out, clear out the other cells and salvage anything else we can take with us.”

“Boss, you shouldn’t be alone -”

Everyone. Out .”

There’s a shuffle of reluctant feet, boots scuffing noisily against the stone, and Max winces at the sound of voices shouting through the hallway. He stays in his place, almost wound too tight to move anywhere else, but then he feels the shift of air beside him again, and then again the smell of her and her breath warm and soft and sweet.

“I’m here to help you,” she tells him, voice low and deliberate. There’s a hitch in her breath that makes him lift his head - a curiosity and concern he has never been able to keep hidden, and when he lets his eyes look into her face, he sees her blink in surprise.

Furiosa. Furiosa Furiosa Imperator of the Green

The Green Place The Green Place the grave

“Max.” She says it slower, tentative, and he squeezes his eyes shut tight, and when he opens them he sees her again through the dancing black. “I’m going to get the bolt cutters up on the chain to cut you loose, okay? I can’t cut your hands free because I don’t wanna hurt you in the dark.” Her head lowers down closer to him, eyes searching his face. “If I cut you loose, you have to promise not to hurt me, alright? You can’t hurt me.”

He flinches at the thought; at the memory of blood and fire and sand between them and the desperate way her lungs had worked to keep air pumping into her body. Can’t hurt won’t hurt won’t hurt ever no more hurt please no more no more -

“Hey.”

His eyes flit nervously to her; he’s shaking, he’s trembling hard enough for the chains to rattle and his breath is puffing fast and heavy, but she waits. She doesn’t move again, and Max realizes somewhere that she’s waiting for him , waiting for his promise not to hurt her, not to make her bleed, and he’s so frantic now to prove himself -

He nods. Once, jerking and barely visible in the low light, and she moves carefully to his side, the heavy metal sound of the bolt cutter scraping against the stone as she brings it up from a clip on her belt somewhere; he doesn’t know. The tangle of hair around his face gives him only the barest window of vision, but he can see the way she keeps her hands in sight, the joints and gears of her arm flashing dangerous and heavy, and he sucks in a breath as he feels the weight of the bolt cutters lifting over his head.

She breaks through the chains with a slow, dull thunk, and he waits motionless again as she bundles the length of chain around her metal hand, gripping tight. “Can you stand up?”

He tries, he really does. His feet feel heavy and leaden and bogged down by sharp pins and needles that shoot up from the soles of his feet into his thighs, and Max grunts as he stumbles onto his knees again, yelping when his bad knees scrapes hard on the stone. He scrabbles against the floor, panting with exertion as he staggers back to his feet achingly, slow and sluggish, but Furiosa lays her flesh hand over the curve of his shoulder and murmurs to him.

“If your knee is bad, I’ll need to get some help to get you out,” she says reluctantly. “Ace can help you -”

Max bites down hard on the caked, hard edges of his lips and bleeds down the front of his beard. Shame eats at the meat of him, rattles his aching bones at not even being able to stand on his own feet, but he moves in awkward, shuffling steps out, staring hard at the worked heels of Furiosa’s boots.

She blows out a breath, but he can’t think of if she’s upset at him or disappointed or sad as she tugs on the chain gently. “Okay. One step at a time.”

Chapter Text

It’s too bright outside. Too hot and too bright and too much noise of people shouting and calling and feet scraping in the sand -

He brings his hands up to shield his eyes, revels in the cold weight of the shackles binding his wrists together as they press against his eyelids. The voices of chattering people come into his ears with the vicious sound of Glory’s voice, endless dead Vuvalini and Angharad all whispering, whispering, screaming -

Someone touches his shoulder, and Max lunges with a frothing snarl.

He doesn’t know who or what, just that it’s not Furiosa, it’s not Jessie, it’s not Glory. His bound fists slam into the side of a skull painted white and smear in paint and grease, and when he smells the blood fresh on a cracked skull he bares his teeth at the sudden rush of skeletons. Two more of them get ahold of his shoulders and Furiosa is shouting now, screaming his name and swearing but he can’t see anything else, can’t smell or feel anything but the adrenaline rushing through him like wildfire. He throws them back with a roar, spittle and froth in his beard as he lunges again, mad-eyed and murderous. These people want to hurt him, hurt him hurt her hurt them hurt them -

The chain of the muzzle yanks him back so hard he thinks his neck is broken, but Max collapses onto his back with a strangled yelp, pain riveting through his skull and cheeks and jaw. He fumbles to roll to his knees, but Furiosa yanks on the chain again, and he goes into the sand, choking on dust and sweat and confusion.

Her hand curls into the bar of his muzzle, he feels her fingers scraping against his hair, and he whines when she shoves him down and pins him against the sand.

“Stay still.” Her voice is hard and unforgiving, as cold and distanced as the nightmares in his head of her ghost, but when he tries to get his watery eyes to look at her from sidelong, she is glaring hard at her group of men.

He beat Junny’s skull in! Bashed it right in!

“And he’ll beat your skulls in too if you touch him again,” Furiosa hisses, and Max kicks his bare feet against the hot sand to wriggle out of her grasp. He gets enough of a leverage to lift her on his back, but Furiosa’s thighs squeeze down around his waist, her boots digging into the sand as she bears her weight down on him.  

She whirls on him with a snarl. “Stay down !”

Max freezes, arms trembling from the weight before he lowers himself under her, turns his face away with hot shame at being reproached as she hisses something at everyone else, growling orders and barking out names until there is a lull to the shouts and hoots and enraged yelling. The crowd disperses begrudgingly, someone taking away the bloody body and the rest clambering up into their cars and bikes and revving their engines almost to spite Max as he flinches at the barrage of noise.

One painted man stops by his side, scarred face twisted into a disapproving frown. “You sure you want him up in the Rig with ya, boss?” His arms are folded, and the goggles that hide the rest of his face only Max bristle warily.

“Yes,” Furiosa says, and the weight of her hand eases off of the muzzle. Her fingers curl into it still, tugging gently until Max comes up off his belly with some effort, wheezing and panting on gritty air as she brushes the sand from his shaggy mane gingerly. “First, get me water. Rations. He needs to eat.”

When the scarred man comes back with both, Max’s stomach makes a wrenching, hurtful growl at the sight of the waterskin and mealworm bar. He can’t remember when was the last time he had been given food or water; loses count of the days when they would tempt him with dribbles of it, and then piss into the puddles of water they’d kick around his feet. The muzzle is made of crude metal and sharp edges, and Max already feels old wounds and new beginning to bleed around his face from the panic of what has just happened. There’s a mess of thin wiring around his mouth; not big enough to let him eat without wiggling a finger through.

He drinks down the entirety of the water, chokes on gulping mouthfuls until his beard is matted and wet but he lets Furiosa pry the empty waterskin from his hands when he makes to rip it open for more.

When Furiosa holds the bar out to him, Max hesitates.

She sighs, waving the thing almost impatiently. “Max, you need to eat.”

He glances down at the sand and then back to her expectantly. And then again.

Furiosa follows his gaze, looking back at him carefully. Her metal hand comes up to the bar as well, pincer-like fingers working to break the bar into half with a dense crunching sound, and Max feels his mouth pool with saliva at the thought of tasting something more than sand and grit.

“Boss, he’s a ragin’ feral -”

“Ace, shut up.”

She holds out her flesh hand slowly, crumbs speckling on her fingertips and palm where she offers the broken piece to him. Max sways forward, a keen locked somewhere in his throat at wanting to taste it, taste her sweat and skin and feel her touching him, but there’s enough clarity in the corridors of his mind to be aware of the threat of his muzzle to her hand.

He keens again, staring from her to the sand beseechingly.

“Think ‘e wants you to drop it, boss.”

“I’m not letting him eat more filth,” Furiosa says sharply. Her tone gentles considerably when she addresses him again, and the raw openness of her emotions on her face digs into the linings of his gut. “Max, please eat.”

Max glances between the two of them, face tight with suspicion at the way this Ace man holds himself braced with his hands by his side. Furiosa pulls out another tool from her belt, and Max eyes the thing warily, at the way it makes a sharp sound in Furiosa’s hand.

“I’ll clip the wires down and then you can eat, okay?” she says, but when she reaches up to the wiring he lurches backwards, whites of his eyes showing.

Hurt hurt they hurt they’ll hurt, no more tools, no more pliers, no more teeth please hurt it hurts -

He makes a pleading sound, begs for forgiveness for his sins; he shouldn’t have hurt Junny, shouldn’t have hurt anyone, shouldn’t have fought, should’ve been good, been good for her, protect her, keep safe -

“Max.”

He kneels with his face hidden behind his cupped hands and presses into the dirt.

Furiosa pauses, and Ace sighs beside her with something like a sad surrender. “‘e’s feral, boss. Dunno what they did to ‘im. Dunno what they made ‘im do to eat. Best if you just treat him like one for now.”

Max shifts from his bowed position, waits apprehensively for the hand of justice to come down on him for his disobedience; for Furiosa to throw him into the sand to rot like he deserves, to curl up in the dark and die.

Instead he feels a sharp tug on the chain again. “Get up.” She is cold now, so far away from him and nothing but the metal of his chains keeping him afloat. He looks at her through the muzzle and hair, shuffling up to his feet as she moves off towards the Rig, the chain a taut cord between them as she pulls the driver’s side door open and jerks her head at him.

“Inside.”

Chapter Text

Getting him into the Rig is difficult.

She supposes it’s understandable, given the time he’s been corralled and contained in spaces as small. He hesitates when she tugs him towards the open door, braced into the sand against her even if his eyes stare at her beseechingly; pleadingly as if everything in him wished to go with her, but he can’t.

She tries for a gentle tug. “C’mon.”

The sound of her voice seems to pull him from somewhere in his head, and he takes a tentative step forward. “That’s it.”

He moves again.

“Good.”

He makes a strangled, grunting sound in his throat; stilted and high and so desperately soft, as if somehow he was hoping for her approval. She speaks again, in soft crooning words the same way she remembers Madera would speak to hurting War Pups and children of the Wretched; mother sounds and words that seem to pull him to her from some lost fragment of his mind.

Ace lingers in her periphery, disapproving as ever but she pays him no mind.

She climbs into the Rig herself, and suddenly she finds him pressed to her as close as he can get. It takes everything in her to quell the Imperator-bred urge to jerk back, break a nose, a jaw, something at the sudden invasion of space, but Furiosa manages to still herself. Tense, sweating, aching from the journey and the battle and the sun beating down into her skin, she feels the swaying weight of him damp with sweat and too hot as his breath lingers on the neckline of her top.

Her body remembers to breathe, and Furiosa swallows down a lungful of air tinged with the musky, bitter, concerningly bitter smell of him. She reaches her flesh hand to his head out of sheer instinct, tries to remind herself not to coil her fingers tight into his head or will him away, and instead she tries for a tentative pet.

“Max?”

He blinks at his name, dazed as he is, and he presses closer to her, a low keen in his throat.

“It’s okay,” she says. “We’re going home.”

 

-------

 

The passage of time through the wastes up into the mountain towers of the Citadel flits only vaguely somewhere in the back of her mind. She knows this road and these wastes like the workings of her engines, and she trusts Ace to keep them on the path back to the Green. She tries not to think about it - in fact she tries not to look at him too much, but she can’t help but remember that they were once exactly like this, together, here.

Max is curled into his seat, chains rattling idly with the Rig as it trundles on, but his eyes are downcast and faraway. Every once and awhile he flinches, jerks back as if coming back to himself, and Furiosa glances his way enough to see the whites of his eyes again.

He’d wanted to be near her. Tried, valiantly, to press himself against her like a touch-starved dog until she gently reminded him that there was no way she could drive the Rig with him half on her lap. The look of loss and hurt and disappointment beneath his beard and shaggy mane was almost enough to have Furiosa passing the wheel to Ace; to curl up in the backseat and hold him to somehow soothe the hurt of him and the burning wrench of her chest for him.

But she keeps moving.

It’s what they do.

She suppresses the bubbling rage inside her at knowing he has been subjected to this, that she wasn’t at all quick enough or smart enough or anything enough to save him. The blood under her skin nearly boils in the sun, and Furiosa thinks she had done a mercy to those rusting slavers for giving them such quick deaths.

Eventually the rocky towers of the Citadel come to sight, a flare sent ahead to let them know that all was well, to lower the lift. At this point Furiosa doesn’t care what else is happening; the Rig is rolling to a halt amidst a small gathered crowd of Wretched, and Max has come away from the window, a low threatening growl in his throat.

“Hey.”

He jerks to look at her, makes a sudden surge to be at her side, and Furiosa reaches a hand to his chest. “It’s okay,” she soothes him, eyes soft and keen and searching on his face as his eyes dart from place to place; gauging threats, figuring odds.

She’s seen this part of him. She knows it.

A part of his chain leash is tangled around the gear, and she tugs it off carefully. “Max.” She eases the word from her mouth, feels her breath leave her with the weight of it. There’s no hesitation when she reaches up to cup his muzzled face, tries to brush her thumb against what skin she can reach there.

Max nuzzles into her hand, and Furiosa feels herself grimacing at the way the muzzle cuts into his cheek, the ridge of his nose. It seems to have no effect on him, though, and Furiosa is somehow bitterly relieved.

“We’re going to get lifted up, and then we’re going to get out of the Rig in the garages, alright?”

He makes a low, chuffing sound, pressing his face harder into her hand.

“There’ll be War Boys. Pups. Milking Mothers and the girls.” She tilts her head down to follow his gaze, squeezes her palm against his cheek until he opens dazed and blackened eyes to her. “You can’t hurt any of them. They might try to touch you, or speak to you. I’m going to try to stop that from happening too much, okay? But you can’t hurt them.”

It takes a long moment of touching him, stroking his skin and hearing the rumble of his purring amidst the grinding and cranking of the lift’s chains. Eventually Max takes a ragged breath, and under her skin she feels him give her the barest nod.

She exhales, and Furiosa nearly hears his bones grind to get closer to her. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

The shunt-chugging of the lift leaves him feeling painfully ungrounded, outside of knowing that they are much too high off the ground as well. His ears hurt at the sheer multitude of sounds around them, near them, everywhere too close to them, but Furiosa’s hand is on his forehead sweeping his tangled hair off his face, and Max feels the ground beneath him a little steadier.

That is, until they lift the Rig into the garages.

Bodies again of white ghosts - no, War Boys, War Boys, they’re War Boys - scrambling up to the Rig, calling for Furiosa, clambering up the hood of the Rig and leaping overhead onto the rooftop into the tank. Max pulls himself into the middle of the Rig as much he is capable, tries desperately to curl himself around Furiosa, to keep her safe. She is touching his face again and calling his name but he shakes his head, breath coming in harsh, too-fast bursts as he whirls again and again and curious faces and hooting voices.

“Ace, get everyone off the Rig and back!” Furiosa barks, and Max bows his head into the crook of her arm as Ace’s boots pound above them, his crackling voice lashing out orders and words. He muffles a stunted whimper into the skin of the inside of her elbow, remembers in his head somewhere when he had once shared his blood with her from this delicate line of skin.

Her metal hand scrapes gently over his scalp, a looming presence of something he should be petrified of; it can hurt, and he would let her hurt him, let it bleed him. Instead he presses his head into it, turns his head up to her and lays his neck bare.

He swallows at the feel of sun-warmed metal against his throat, but finds no urge in his body to move. The scrape of her pincer finger along his jawline should scare him, but he curls himself closer to her, more horrified at what awaits them outside the Rig.

“Max.” She says it in a whisper, like in the many dreams he has of her; a voice in the winds, a ghost in the shell of his head. “We’ve gotta get out now.”

He resists for a moment longer; curls his shackled hands around the curve of her thigh for only a moment before he pulls himself reluctantly away. He feels the tremble return to him as Furiosa pushes the door open, and suddenly there are too many things happening at once.

Everything meshes together in a cut of sight and sound and smell and then bodies, bodies, people moving, living, breathing but not breathing no these aren’t the Wretched no in the crowd he sees Glory, Jessie, Angharad, all of them, all of them -

“Max! Max, you’re here!”

He shrinks back at the voice, holds trembling arms up to block the running ghost. Through his fingers and shackles he sees Cheedo, the young one, the little one, running through the crowd towards him, and Max feels the tremors of grief crawl up his brain again. Dead, dead, all of you dead - even you, even her, all of them, dead she’s calling for you Max, Max she’s calling

“Max!”

He bursts into a vicious snarl, spittle flying as he lunges at the girl, spits and hisses in low garbling words that become only gibberish even to his ears. His chest is squeezed tight with a frantic need to go go go get away go - no more ghosts no more people no more no more, he won’t have more blood on his hands for this. Furiosa is yelling from beside him, chain pulled tight to her side, so he twists around her, braces himself between Furiosa and Cheedo and roars at the approaching girl.

No ghosts no more no more don’t take her from me no you have enough you have enough

Cheedo skids to a halt, wheeling backwards and landing hard on her ass as Max lunges again once before Furiosa yanks him back. He goes to the ground again with a hard thud, breath harsh and fast in aching lungs as he struggles against her metal arm, snapping and snarling and scraping bloodied hands against the floor.

“Cheedo, get back,” Furiosa orders, dropping her weight down onto Max’s body and pinning him face down into the ground, her metal arm braced against the back of his muzzle to keep him from thrashing. “Tell everyone to clear out the hallway and stop running at him, damn it!”

He huffs and snorts and snarls until they go; Cheedo with eyes wide and dark and runny with tears and everyone else with eyes for him that damned him into a painful death. His wrists are chafed and raw and pinned to tight against his body, caught between the weight of Furiosa on his back and the stone, but as soon as the room is cleared the weight of her lifts so quickly and suddenly that he doesn’t even have time to think before she rolls him onto his back.

Her eyes are hard and bright but wide with something he can’t place. She reaches to touch the muzzle with her flesh hand and he flinches slightly, a rumble still in his throat that doesn’t seem to quell her need to touch him.

Quiet.

He goes limp.

The tips of her fingers reach through the muzzle and touch the edges of his grizzled cheek, and she speaks in the quietest murmur he’s heard in awhile. “Good boy.”

“Max.” The name makes his entire body shudder. “Max, I need you to remember , okay? I need you to remember that you trust me.”

His fingers claw and scrape against the dirt, arms straining from the weight of his body and the awkward angle, but he makes a grated keening sound, lowers his gaze submissively until Furiosa rises from her knee beside him. He holds himself tremblingly still until he feels the steady pressure of the chain pulling at the muzzle, and then he goes back to his feet with his body folded into itself both for protection and shame.

Furiosa sighs, and he tries to press himself around her; to protect her from any other swarming horde of people, but she only tugs on the chain lightly, and moves up through the cool, dark space of the winding corridors.

-------

The walk up into the wider hallways on top is uneventful and mercifully devoid of people. By the time Furiosa pushes open a wooden solid door, Max is keenly aware of the burgeoning pain throbbing and growing through his bad knee and thighs and ribs where the buzzsticks had jammed into his body. He doesn’t realize how badly his gait is dragging until Furiosa pauses in the middle of the room, watching him with eyes bright and full of emotions he is afraid and ashamed of making her feel.

“When you’re rested some, I want to get Madera to look at your wounds,” she tells him gently, stilted somewhat; as if she has some trouble getting the words out. “Alright?”

His shoulders lift higher, but he makes no protest. He can’t think of anything but the way the bath pool ripples in the sunlight before him. The room is surprisingly airy and filtered in soft natural light. There is noise from the levels below churning in from the large windows carved into the stone, but Max is dimly relieved to find that the sounds are quiet, soft - inconsequential.

He flinches at the sound of Furiosa shutting the door, the grind of the latch locking into place.

“It’s okay,” she says, quieter and gentler than the last time they’d been alone together in the Rig. “It’s just me now.”

He shifts from foot to foot, makes a strained keening sound as his shackles clink and chafe.The lapping water makes his desert-parched mouth nearly hurt at the thought of so much water in front of him, and he looks to Furiosa pleadingly and then back to the water, whining in his throat like a desperate, starving dog.

She reaches to tug the chain gently, and Max sees her gesturing to a wooden stool by a cobbled together dresser at the far end of the room, by the window. “If you let me cut off your chains and that muzzle, and some of your hair, you can stay in the water as long as you like.”

He hesitates at the thought of anything sharp and potentially murderous near his body, a flash of adrenaline spiking sharp into his veins, but Max looks at Furiosa again and feels himself succumbing to the urge to drape himself over her lap, nuzzle her skin fully, without this rusting muzzle, with the risk of chains and wires scraping delicate skin.

After a long, pendulous moment, he moves to the stool in slow, deliberate shuffles.

Chapter Text

He bends on aching knees, holds himself painfully still before her. His twitching fingers press against the dust and grime of his pants, eyes watching her with the wariness of an animal cornered into reluctant submission. He folds himself down into the stool like a creaking willow, rests on something other than his battered knees and blazing sand. It feels - strange. The muscles of his shoulders hold taut, the strain in them even more persistent in this position, until Furiosa’s hand comes to rest on his arm.

She kneels carefully before him, crouched low so that she’s looking up into his face.

He can’t bring himself to look into her face. He knows that he’ll see that same searching, open look in her eyes the same way she had demanded to know about Angharad. His fingers twitch against his thighs; aching, but afraid to reach out and touch her - to pull her up from her knees. She shouldn’t have to kneel, not to him, not to anyone.

But especially not him.

Furiosa’s brows furrow deeply. To see him beaten like this carves a tremoring ache deep inside her. Even when he’d been nothing more than a blood bag to the Immortan, battle fodder for those wretched slavers, she saw the flames behind his eyes. Nothing, it seemed, could break him.

Nothing, it seems, except her.

“Max.” He flinches, though she speaks his name in such a gentle whisper. There’s a slow, grating sound of steel against stone, and his eyes flit warily to the tool she has produced somehow.

Bolt cutters.

It passes through him like a wave of memories, crashing behind his eyes - water, muzzle, bolt cutters .

The touch of her flesh hand over his knuckles startles him. He reels backwards, nearly toppling off the stool, but Furiosa reaches to clasp his hand tight in hers. Under her touch, he steadies, swaying slightly.

“I need to cut your shackles off,” she murmurs to him gently, her touch apologetic. “First your hands, then the muzzle, alright? Will you hold still for me?”

Slowly, he jerks his head in a nod. He can feel the scabs and scars on his wrists bleeding open; can smell the faded rust of his blood mixing into the stench of his own body. It burns, but the pain barely registers anymore. What registers is the softness of her touch, the work-toughened texture of her fingertips that brush like kisses over his wrists, the squeeze of reassurance she gives him before the bolt cutter presses between his hands.

The hard clunk of metal biting through metal pulls a violent flinch from him, anticipating the resonating agony of broken bone or the jarring connect of steel against skin. Instead the weight lifts from his wrists.

For the first time that he can remember, his hands are free.

He clenches his fists tight, tucks them in against his belly. The weightlessness confuses him; he doesn’t know what to do with his hands now, so free and unburdened, suddenly aware of the grime and dried blood embedded deep into the creases of his skin. He lowers his head to peer at them, and the heavy clink of the muzzle against his face pulls his attention to the other contraption on his body. He reaches up to touch it, feels the sharpened, fraying edges of wire mesh against his fingertips and digs his nails into the edges -

“Don’t!”

The sharpness of her voice pulls his lips back from his teeth, baring his teeth in defense, but then immediately Max simpers, lowering his hands back into his lap. Furiosa frowns; like a beaten dog, he obeys her, frightened of more punishment, and after a long moment she nods her approval. The bolt cutters raise up above his head beyond what he can see. It takes everything in him to keep from reeling back, from recoiling and slapping the weapon away from his face - he keeps his eyes on Furiosa. Keeps his gaze on the smears and smudges of earth and grease on her skin; the dried dark blood and wounds scabbed over.

He makes a pained sound in his throat, reaching with trembling hands to the closest wound he can, touches the raised edge of a scab across her arm.

She looks down curiously, brows softening as he traces the line of the cut and moans again. “I’m fine,” she promises him, but the guilt and shame folds his shoulders down lower. “Max.”

He sees flickers of memories of the last time he’d seen her blood smeared across her skin; the last time he saw the clear blue of her eyes, like endless oceans of Back Then. The spark and fleck of glass in sunlight, iridescence encompassed.

“Max.” The sharpness of her voice brings him back; he looks up at her helplessly. “It’s fine.”

He looks away from her then; can’t find any reason why he’s worthy of looking into her face again. He’d made her bleed.

When at last the muzzle comes free from his face, his head feels almost like it could float off his shoulders. On a swaying whim, he tips forward.

“Oh!” Furiosa staggers backwards slightly, weighed into place by Max’s arms wrapping tight around her waist, the burrow of his face against her belly. The sheer strength with which he clings to her is nearly stifling; she can hear the whine of her leather belts and straps protesting the strain, but it’s like he can’t hold on tightly enough. He breathes against the cotton of her blouse and she feels it spreading across her skin like fire, hears the raggedness of his lungs sucking in fresh air for the first time in forever. Feels the dig of his nails against cloth on her back, and Furiosa reaches tentatively to stroke his hair back.

“It’s okay,” she whispers, fingers carding gently through the tangled mane on his head. “You’re safe. You’re fine.”

He makes a strained, pleading sound in his throat, and Furiosa stands calmly in his arms for what feels like an age; stroking and petting, whispering to him as quietly as the wind. Eventually she speaks, murmuring low. “Are you ready to get clean?”

Max grunts, his arms squeezing tighter around her.

“I’ll still be here,” she tells him, but Max shakes his head. Swallowing down a sigh, Furiosa considers her options. Brute force isn’t what she wants to use; she’s used enough of it on him to get him this far, and it doesn’t seem as if all of her words are pushing through in his mind as of yet. He listens when he needs to, but the most Furiosa moves him is with touch.

She glances behind them to the cool, rippling waters, and then down to the sand-crusted tangle of Max’s hair. She reaches to ruffle his hair gently, shaking off what sand and dirt she can without tangling her fingers into his hair. Eventually she steps back slowly, hushing Max when he makes a desperately, whimpering sound, and nudges him. “C’mon.”

His eyes dart from her to the water, and then back again.

“You need to get clean,” she says, but Max is still watching the shimmering water dubiously. She doesn’t know when was the last time he’d seen clean water in abundance, let alone the last time he’d tasted it, touched it, submerged in it. In the airy chambers, it’s a pool that can either soothe or overwhelm him.

Carefully, she steps back from him. Far away enough to be within reach, but she needs his eyes on her for this. She needs for him to be able to see that he can trust her. “Eyes on me,” she says lowly, needlessly; he hasn’t taken his eyes off her since she stepped back. She reaches her flesh hand around; unclasps the belts of her metal arm, and Max jerks his head in surprise at the creaking sound of it sliding to the ground. He stares at her with wide eyes full of question and fear, uncertainty and intrigue as she begins to unravel her blouse, unbuckling her belts.

Free of her metal arm, Furiosa holds up her hand and her stump. Surrender, like the last time. “It’s just me.” Slowly she reaches to unravel her blouse, unweaves it from around her body with a careful, practical air, as if disarming herself; freeing herself of weapons. It’s not easy to do - she doesn’t want to remember the last time she was bare in front of a man, not even in front of War Boys. But all of her is leather and steel and iron, and as long as she stays that way, all Max will ever do is cower and bare his throat.

As soon as it gives way to pale skin, Max makes a shuttering sound in his throat, reaching up and then hesitating.

She pauses. “What is it?”

He lowers his head and his gaze, darting a shameful look at her as he tilts his head helplessly. To unravel herself like this - he doesn’t deserve it. She shouldn’t have to prostrate herself so much for a feral like him, wild and mad and only good for hurting. She’s already given him so much, and asked for so little, and now she’s willing to do this?

“Hey.”

His head jerks up, as if strung by a cord, and he sees the look in her eye, the arch in her brow. “Eyes on me.”

Max swallows a shuddering breath, all of him trembling, but he obeys.

She does away with her clothes without preamble; thinking about it too hard only makes this harder. She’s getting undressed to get clean, to help Max get clean. There are wounds on him that must’ve been festering for months - perhaps it is the delirium from an infection that has him so wild? She could smell the sour, heady rank of seeping wounds on him when they were cramped into the Rig together.

“My boots,” she says, and Max looks down the length of her. “Can you help me?”

Carefully, anxiously, his fingers unfurl from the material of her pants, like the unwinding joints of a machine as they travel down her legs and reach to cup the hardy texture of her boot. Furiosa feels him press his shoulders into her thighs, offering himself as a brace as she steadies herself against him and lifts her foot. He slips the boot from her foot with some effort, remembering, somewhere, how to move without violence. He tugs at it as gently as he can, gingerly until it gives way, and slowly pulls it from her foot. She pets his hair with thanks, and Max rubs his head into her palm for it. He reaches for her other foot, and she gives it, and once her feet are bare on the floor, his callused fingers stroke across the skin of her ankle, palming and kneading the sinew there until she pulls away.

His shoulders almost sag with disappointment, before he hears the sound of her zipper. For this, she steps completely away from him, standing just off the edge of the pool, and Max leans on the stool to go after her. He watches enraptured and choking on a guttural sound as she steps out of her pants and straightens before him. His eyes drink in the sight of her like a mirage across a barren plain; an oasis of pale, soft skin over muscles and scars and jagged lines of her past.

Naked, Furiosa watches the way Max takes in the sight of her; from her bare toes up to her face. It’s quick - fleeting, shy almost, before he ducks his head back down, hands curled tight against his belly still.

Furiosa reaches for his face, cups it in her hand and lets him nuzzle into her wrist. She feels the press of his lips against her pulse and the flare of his nostrils to breathe in the scent of her. The rugged scrape of his beard on tender skin, and she urges his eyes up to her face.

“Your clothes,” she says, soft and steely. “Off.”

It’s slow and aching work, undressing him. His clothes are so caked in sand and grit and everything else in between, and when Furiosa peels away the cracking, crusty material from his battered body, she can only do so much to stop herself from wincing. Wounds old and new pepper the broad planes of his shoulders and back - he’s leaner than the last time she saw him, roped with muscle and little else, carved with festering wounds and healing scars. She smothers a gasp at the sight of the freshest wounds; one jagged and seeping down his shoulder blade, barely even scabbing over.

She reaches out tentatively to touch it, but Max twitches away from her touch before her fingers can even brush his skin. She curls her fingers back and nods calmly.

Instead she runs her fingers down the length of his forearm, spreads them out over the thundering pulse in his wrist.

It hurts him to bend, so Furiosa kneels carefully before him, offers her shoulder for a brace as she pushes his pants off his hips, yanks them down into a puddle at his feet. Max steps out of them gingerly, one hand hovering over the bare skin of her shoulder, as if afraid to touch her; but his knee protests the weight. Furiosa’s hand comes up to steady him, grasping firmly on his thigh, and she looks up at him with a gentle, steady gaze.

He looks away, bringing his hands up to cup over his nudity.

Her cheeks flush affectionately; all those days lost in the sand, and still he is so much the mad man she remembers. She straightens, reaching for his hand, and she squeezes his wrist with barely any strength, just enough pressure to be present.

She moves back towards the water, one foot first, then the other. Standing at her full height, the bathing pool barely comes up to her hip. Max shuffles forward with her like a reluctant child, though in his eyes she can see the deep longing for the water and the way he licks his dried and cracking lips. She moves further into the pool, crouching down and feeling the coolness of it enveloping her, gathering her into its rippling presence as she lowers herself into the water, submerged up over her breasts.

He hovers in the water, grown murky around his body as the grit and grime begin to seep away from his skin. He peers at the idle waves almost strangely, eyes glazing in empty hunger for a moment before he tips face-first into the water. Furiosa lets out a startled cry, reaching to him, but she can hear the greedy, choking gulps of water he’s taking. Her flesh hand curls into his shoulder, tugging hard, but Max takes another mouthful of water, swallowing desperately.

“Max - stop that! Hey!” She shoves at his shoulder, but Max takes another sputtering swallow, and she tangles her fingers into his hair.

He surfaces with a gasp, arched hard into the iron grip of her hand, trembling through wet breaths of water running through his mouth and nose. She pushes him back against the edge of the pool, but instincts forces his muscles tight. He lashes out with bruising grips to grab her wrist and throat, but Furiosa’s voice deepens into a harsh growl.

“No.”

His eyes snap open wide, pupils black whorls before they constrict, and Furiosa watches the blue return to his eyes before she eases her grip on his hair. She glances pointedly at his hands laid on her skin, watching carefully as Max lowers them in trembling fractions. “Good.”

He blinks the water from his eyes, the clinging beads of it to his lashes. A flicker of recognition comes back to his face, followed quickly by shame, and Max makes a broken moan of a sound again.

The claw in his hair becomes a gentle hand, smoothing over the tangled knot of hair behind his head. She doesn’t tug any further, but the strength in which she touches his hair keeps his eyes steadily on her face. Looking at her in the water, she becomes a mirage again in his eyes - rippling and soft with slick skin and the taste of fresh water cool on his tongue. He sees the rivulets of them clinging to her collarbone, her neck, the edge of her cheek smeared gleaming.

“Drink slowly,” she commands him, and Max lowers his hands to cup the water obediently.

Her eyes are cold on his face and then soft, guilty. “I should’ve given you some to drink in the Rig,” she sighs, almost to herself. She shakes her head. “I should’ve fed you.”

The words he wishes would come forth stay clotted in his chest. Not you, not your fault, just me. Hurt me, hurt you, hurt everyone. Fire and blood fire and blood fire and blood -

He lifts his hands, watching her watch him sip the water in slow, careful gulps for a moment. When the weight of her hand leaves his head, he feels bereft. She turns away for something - a woven basket perched by the edge of the bathing pool. When she turns back to him, he sees a strange bran-colored bar in her hand, and a scrap of cloth.

“Come here.”

He glides to her willingly; the desperation for absolution bright in his eyes. Before her, he holds himself crouched until his chin brushes the surface of the water. He tilts his head up, eyes searching her face, and Max can’t help the way his eyes flutter when she cups his cheek with her half-arm.

A corner of her mouth tilts upwards. “Good boy.”

In her hand, she holds the cloth aloft, dripping wet and foamy. “Now hold still.” He grimaces at the wet slap of the cloth against his cheek, wrinkles his nose at the scrubbing sensation of the coarse fabric against his beard, but he holds himself still. Like a good boy. He tilts his head back for her when she works the cloth deeper into the scruff of his beard, ghosting over the worst of the damage to his face. He doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands - perhaps tread the water? Remember how to swim? He’s close enough to reach the edge of the bathing pool, but to brace himself against it would trap Furiosa between his arms, and he’s trapped her enough.

Furiosa scrubs a little too hard, and his balance tilts.

Her hand is there to steady him readily; soapy and warm and smelling like faint grass and earth. “Sorry,” she says, reaching for his hand. “Here -” she guides them to her waist, holds them there patiently when he makes to pull away. “Hold onto me,” she whispers, tilting her head down to him. Looks at him with green like emeralds in sunlight.

He touches her, palms the skin of her waist and tries to remember that he shouldn’t cut his nails into her skin. Touching her like this...he feels the ground steady beneath him, forgets the buoyant waters around him that threaten to cast him adrift.

Her half-arm nudges his head back, tilts his face heavenward as she runs the cloth gently over  his forehead, his nose, his cheeks. She wipes, and dabs, and strokes the grit from his skin with such careful delicacy. He doesn’t deserve this, as much as he doesn’t deserve her. But she caresses his face and neck and skin as one would touch a child, firm but loving. He feels the run of water over his face a few times, tastes the bitter of soap and grime in the water through the corner of his mouth, and Max leans his face into the touch of her palm when it comes to wipe his eyes and mouth.

The water sways him gently; like a cradle.

“Hey.”

The soft murmur of her voice pulls him from his empty daze, and Max blinks almost sleepy eyes up at her. He doesn’t know how long he stays swooning in the water for her, holding himself still for her cleansing hands. All he knows is that he blinks, and he doesn’t feel the crust of dirt and sand in the creases of his eyes.

“I need you to get clean.”

He blinks in confusion. Isn’t he already getting clean?

Furiosa glances down pointedly and then back up at him. “The rest of the way.”

Oh.

He nods jerkily, reluctantly removing his hands from her waist to accept the cloth and soap. It takes a moment for him to remember how to gather the suds; to scrub into crevices and cracks and to wash behind his ears. (He can’t even reach behind his ears - there’s too much hair around his head) He does all this under the watchful eyes of Furiosa, who drifts back towards the basket again. She pulls out another scrap of cloth and gives herself a cursory scrub-down, nowhere near as gritty as he is, and Max feels enough awareness to pull his eyes away from her body.

“Are you done?” she asks eventually; she dips her head underwater briefly, breaking the surface with dews gleaming like gold in her hair.

Max gives her a soft grunt, holding out the cloth and soap gingerly.

Again the corner of her mouth tilts up, and Furiosa gathers the things into her hand patiently. “Good,” she murmurs, placing them back into the basket. She glances down into the basket briefly, as if to be sure of what’s inside. When she looks back up at him, her face is smooth and serious.

“Do you trust me?”

He stares at her wordlessly.

“Do you trust me?” she presses again, harder.

Max swallows thickly. The words are creeping to the tip of his tongue, easier to reach now with the water in his throat, the touch of her lingering warm on his skin.

Eventually, he pulls the word his chest in a low, guttural croak. “Y-es.” Yes. More than anything yes

Furiosa’s eyes widen a fraction, and when she breathes he thinks her shoulders sag with relief. “Okay,” she says, and it’s almost happy . “That’s good.” She tilts her head at him.

“We need to cut your hair.”

Chapter Text

He stares at the reflection before him. The mirror shard is propped up atop a slumping table, warped and caked in eons of dust and sand around its edges. The image is faded, peering back at him as if through lashes heavy with sand, and Max blinks.

Slowly, he scrubs a hand over the shorn length of his hair. Without the weight of the muzzle, the burden of his shaggy mane, he feels afloat. Drifting in a vacuum of space he doesn’t quite know what to make of. It feels like an entity on its own; he almost doesn’t recognise the man looking back at him. There are scars and scabs, faded scrapes and wounds that have healed into mottled and ugly patches around his mouth — remnants from his battle with the muzzle.

Superficial wounds. Another fragment of life leaving its mark on the tapestry of his skin.

He keeps staring, dazed and disoriented. A mirage from a lifetime ago, lost behind muzzles and whips and buzzsticks. But Max moves, and it moves, so it must be him.

He grunts softly, nails scratching against the surface of his scalp, and he feels a small shudder go through him.

“Max?”

He startles at the second figure in the mirror, whirling around suddenly. Furiosa holds up her hand peaceably, and Max drops his hand to his side, flushing to his ears.

She gives him a patient smile. “You like it?”

He grunts softly, darting one last glance at himself. “Mmn.” He feels... reborn , and yet not. Unleashed, perhaps; unfettered from the mindspace of something purely instinctual, animalistic. Feral . Without the mane, without the collar and chains and muzzles to hide behind, he isn’t quite sure how to behave.

A warm breeze flits in through the windows, and he shivers. Eons of dullness, his senses geared into nothing more than survival, skin caked in dust and dirt and blood —suddenly everything is kicked into high definition, technicolour textures.

The wounds on his back sting, and Max inhales sharply.

“We should get some food in you,” Furiosa says, a knowing and sad look tilting the edges of her eyes. “And look at those wounds.”

His stomach growls something vicious at the thought of a meal; of something more substantial than sand and scraps. Ears burning, he ducks his head to his chest — bare still and damp — as Furiosa lets out a surprised little puff of breath.

“C’mon.” She reaches out and touches his elbow with her flesh hand. “We’ll eat in my room.”

 

-----

 

He shuffles into the room hesitantly, eyes flitting from one corner to the next. It’s foreign space to him, untrodden land, a high tower of haven above the desert. From behind him, Furiosa slips into the room, sliding the lock on the thick door with a solid thunk. The thought of being confined into another small space should have his hackles rising, hair prickling at the back of his newly-bared neck.

He breathes, and smells Furiosa in every corner of the room.

He never wants to leave.

Furiosa guides him down onto the edge of her bed. The space of her quarters is nothing if not pragmatic; a work desk pushed into the corner of the room and filled with tools and gear, a solid wooden trunk in the other corner. Amidst the steel and wood, little pots of green. Hanging pots of ferns and bright flowers, a cactus with a brilliant red flower bloomed.

Woven quilts and cords of the Vuvalini carefully folded and tucked at the end of her bed.

Earth and steel at once.

“Don’t move,” she tells him, reaching for a rolled pack of something from her desk. He folds down obediently, fists curled on his thighs as she produces a bottle that smells like it promises a sting. The bed jostles under their combined weight, aged steel frame creaking in protest, but Max relishes the closeness to her, leans back into the heat of her.

“I’m gonna clean out the worst of these, okay?” she asks, fingers tracing delicately over the healing ridges of lashes along his back.

Max grunts, nodding once. The sensation of her fingers tickles, a feathery caress he hasn’t felt in years. He leans into it.

Furiosa uncaps the bottle, and Max wrinkles his nose at the ethanol-sharp scent. She soaks it in a rag, the smell of it burning in his nose, but Max holds himself obediently still. The first touch of it cuts like a knife, blade red-hot and splitting open his skin again, but Max fights back the snarl in his throat, sinks his nails deep into his palms.

Furiosa freezes behind him, pulling the cloth back. “Okay?” she asks worriedly.

“Mmm.” He pulls his lip between his teeth, biting down. Lowering his shoulders, he rolls them backwards almost seekingly. Another beat passes, and then he feels her touch return. It doesn’t take much to keep him still; nothing she’s doing to him can match the things the slavers had done. Nothing she could ever do to him could hurt him, Max thinks. Even with each stinging sweep of the cloth, Furiosa’s touch is careful, delicate almost.

She doesn’t want to hurt him, but she has to.

That, somehow, is a comfort.

She murmurs softly to him, praises and soothes him when she touches the deeper wounds, the ones weeping pus and blood. The repetitive cycle of pain is almost soothing, a familiar sensation of constant and underlying hurt that grounds him into this moment. The ghosts and whispers aren’t quite so loud here.

There are wounds that need stitching. Furiosa offers him roots to chew on; something spicy and earthen, but he shakes his head. He doesn’t see her when she presses her lips together, but he can feel her hesitation in the first push of the needle through his skin.

His fingers twitch at every pass of the it under his skin, rumbling low in his chest as the thread slips in place. He growls and grunts, a constant engine-grumble in the lull of conversation between them. Furiosa is mercifully quick, wiping away the trailing blood that weeps down his back as she ties off the last stitch. She reapplies the antiseptic, smoothing her fingers over the trembling muscles building in knots around his shoulders.

Max rumbles again; a purr.

She sweeps her thumb over an old scar, shy affectionate. “Come on,” she says, patting him on the shoulder. “I’ll get you something to wear.”

Someone knocks at the door as she rummages through her trunk of clothes. Max stiffens, shoulders tense as she moves to open it. He growls, pressing in behind her to glare at the War Boy holding a tray. Furiosa huffs, pressing something into his hands.

“Put this on. Go sit on the bed and wait for me,” she orders quietly, giving him a look.

Max blinks, clutching the bundled wad of cloth in his hands as he obediently (though reluctantly) shuffles back to the bed. Unraveling the cloth, he realises it’s a shirt — a tunic, made of woven fabric and dyed the soft and faded colours of The Many Mothers. He traces the outline of the threadwork reverently, feels unclean and unworthy of touching something so sacred to her. He looks up, realises that Furiosa has already sent the War Boy away. His stomach clenches painfully at the sight of the tray she’s holding.

She looks at him expectantly. “Well?” She holds out the tray. “Put it on, and we can eat.”

He pulls it over his head quickly, baring his teeth when the stitches tug and catch. The fabric prickles against his skin; soft and slightly scratchy. IHe pulls the neckline up to scrub it across his cheek, inhaling deeply.

It smells like Furiosa.

The bed shifts as she comes to sit by him, laying the tray across her lap. She reaches for a peach, plump and bright and lush, and places it in his hands gently.

Her voice is soft, the same as her eyes as she peers into his face. “Welcome home, Max.”