Furiosa wakes up as a cat.
She flails free of the blanket she'd gone to sleep in and finds that her body doesn't want to stand up on two legs, that everything looks large and distorted, that she has an entire new appendage attached to her body which doesn't seem entirely under her control. It takes several hours for her to decide that she somehow isn't dreaming or hallucinating or drugged, that the tail she can feel twitching behind her and the fur covering her skin is real.
When she twists her head to try and get a good look at herself, Furiosa finds that she is far more flexible than she ever was before, as well as the fact that her fur- the thought is no less strange than it was shortly after waking- is a strange sort of buff tan, darkening to black at her extremities. It's not a fur color she's familiar with for cats, not tabby-striped or blotched calico, but the shape of her shadow on the ground clearly shows the silhouette of a cat rather than some other animal. The fact that when she tries to speak she only meows confirms the theory of “cat” in her mind, as ridiculous as the entire idea is.
Furiosa circles around her tarp-covered motorcycle on three legs but there's nothing about her campsite that look disturbed, everything exactly as she left it the night before, aside from the way the blanket she'd been wrapped in to sleep is spread out over the sand from where she'd clawed her way free of it.
She has, of course, heard fireside stories of similar events- but she never for a moment considered that any of them were real. But it's gone on too long to be a dream, and her mind is clear rather than foggy with drugs, and if she was going to have a psychotic snap surely she would at least hallucinate herself to be a more intimidating creature than a small feral cat.
The heat of the day has her crouching under the tarp and gnawing on jerky dragged out of her supply pack, deliberating her next move. She's much too far from the Citadel for a flare to be seen, even if she could maneuver her paws well enough to dig out the gun and load it up, but she can't very well hope to continue with her scouting mission. Furiosa isn't eager to be out in the wastes in an unfamiliar body, naked but for fur and with only the defenses of thin claws and fangs, but staying put and hoping for the situation to reverse itself is hardly appealing either.
Her fur ruffles in the breeze and her ears swivel without her direct input to catch every stray sound bouncing off her surroundings, and everything is so much larger than she's used to. It had taken her four days to bike out this far; she has no idea how fast this body can travel or whether she'll be able to make the journey back to the Citadel at all, considering she can't carry any food or water with her.
On the other hand (paw?), the location she's supposed to be investigating would only have been another day's ride; she had planned to reach it by nightfall.
There's no way to know if she'll be able to find food and water, to avoid predators and human scavs, but if anything the odds of finding animals she can hunt for seem like they'll be more in her favor if she goes to where there's plants. The trip back to the Citadel will just as likely kill her whether she takes the detour or not, and the extra time might reverse whatever it is that's caused this to happen.
Furiosa stretches herself out, spine arching and tail lashing, and decides to finish her mission. She's a fucking cat for the moment, assuming she isn't lying in a coma from a head wound she can't remember, but if she makes it back to the Citadel at all she might as well be able to tell the others if there's anything worth looking into further out here. For a certain value of “tell” anyway- the only noises she can make are animal sounds, and a quick test suggests that her already weak writing is completely illegible when rendered by paw.
She uses her mouth to drag the sleeping blanket under the tarp with the rest of her gear, wrinkling her nose at the taste of the sandy fabric. There isn't much more she can do to secure her things, and she's immensely grateful to have not gotten lax about packing up before sleep.
Then she checks the angle of the sun, and starts walking.
Walking on three-and-a-half legs is a challenge, but Furiosa falls into a rhythm and finds that she's able to pick up her speed a little without feeling as if she's flat-out running, the strange gait moving her about as quickly as if she was marching the ordinary way. Not having anything in the way of supplies or defenses puts her on high alert, ears turning this way and that, eyes restlessly scanning the horizon.
The roar of an engine in the distance has her darting for the shelter of a rock, but they never come close enough for her to see them. She rests a while longer in the shade, her cat's body not particularly well-suited to moving like this during the heat of the day. She's less hot under the fur than she would have guessed, but it's definitely not comfortable.
As the sun starts setting and she's on the move again, Furiosa stumbles across a bit of carrion. The familiar smell of blood and meat and rot wends through the air and she follows it to what is only the body of half a mouse, small to have been putting out so much of a stink. There are black ants swarming over and inside the little carcass, taking pieces back for themselves.
She sniffs at it, wondering which aspect of the dusty fur smell is “mouse” or if animals will continue to all smell the same to her, transformed nose or not. It's not much more than skin and bones, what guts aren't missing going putrid in the hot wasteland air. She's eaten worse.
Her sharp new teeth have no problem ripping into the body, and before the ants take offense and start biting at her tongue the taste of meat and blood overwhelm the tang of rot, delicious in a way she can't quantify. The mouse is gone almost instantly and she looks around for the other half of its body but finds nothing, which would be worse if she hadn't eaten before leaving her camp.
She spends a moment licking her fur the way she's seen actual cats do, twisting with more flexibility than feels possible as she hunts down the stray ants that had started climbing over her.
The sun sets but she doesn't realize that it's truly night for another hour past, her cat's eyes apparently so well-suited to darkness that they have no problems picking up enough detail that it feels almost as if it's a perpetual twilight. It's far cooler and she's glad of the insulation her fur provides, finds it a comfortable enough temperature that she thinks she'll try sleeping through the middle of the day and traveling at night instead.
Furiosa is forced to curl up and rest eventually, the bottoms of her feet sore and her muscles weary from both the distance covered and the amount of effort she's put into traveling in such a strange new way. She evicts a beetle from underneath her chosen rock but doesn't manage to catch it, the insect flying up and away while she snaps her teeth in futility. Between the jerky she ate before leaving her campsite and the mouse, she's eaten enough to not pursue the matter, though it does have her thinking of what the best way to hunt would be now that she has to catch everything by hand.
When Furiosa wakes up only a few hours later, she is quietly and sorely disappointed to see that she is still a cat.
She washes the dust out of her fur before getting to her feet to continue walking, the taste of the wasteland heavy on her tongue. It doesn't seem like such a good idea to have decided to check out the supposed grove after all, and she admits to herself that despite how lucid she felt yesterday, she had been hoping that she really was only trapped in a dream.
Her new body makes her feel claustrophobic in a way; though everything around her is wide open she feels trapped inside this small fur-covered shape and it makes her feel afraid, something she would never admit to out loud. Everything is larger than her and while the few predatory animals left in the wastes learn quick that taking on a healthy human isn't worth the price, she's no longer human. She feels achingly vulnerable and just as she's done every other time she's felt that way, she fights back against the very idea of it.
Facing the reality of actually being a cat Furiosa contemplates retracing her steps and returning to her campsite, where at least there was shade and food. How long would it take for anyone at the Citadel to worry about her return? Would they send anyone looking and if they did, would they ever find her camp?
Her tail lashes, ears flat against her skull. They're likely to send someone, she decides, but her tracks would be long gone by then and they wouldn't be able to justify the effort of searching thoroughly enough to find her bike and gear except by pure chance. She'll be just another person lost to the road, a name and a story and no body.
Like Max will be one day, she thinks, there one day and gone forever the next. She's never really thought that she'd go any other way, but thinking about being presumed dead while she's still very much alive sends a ripple of unease through her, as if focusing on the idea of it will make it come true.
Furiosa shakes herself out and pushes on, forcing herself to focus on the immediate. The wastes are just as dangerous in either direction, and she's committed herself to finding this rumored oasis for the Sisters.
A flash of movement as she's walking catches her eye and she brakes hard, staring at where it came from. It's small enough that she's hoping it's potential prey, rather than anything dangerous.
There's another flicker of movement, and like she needed the motion for it to make sense to her eyes she can suddenly see a lizard sunning itself on a rock with perfect clarity. Furiosa doesn't think it's seen her, since it shows absolutely no signs of being anything but lazily unconcerned, and she drops her body low to the ground to stalk closer.
She flexes and retracts her claws as she creeps along, testing in her mind how to attack.
The lizard swings its head around and she goes utterly still, wondering if the color of her fur blends in with the sand well enough to help herself stay hidden. Perhaps she shouldn't have bothered cleaning herself earlier, she thinks.
After a few seconds of the tense stand-off the lizard scuttles off the rock and Furiosa leaps at it, pushing off the ground with her hind legs and reaching with what used to be her hands. Her claws score a gash against the skin of the lizard, drawing blood bright and red against the dull scales, but it was a glancing blow and the lizard keeps running.
She runs after it, hoping it doesn't have some hidey-hole to escape into. The scent of its blood is strong in her nostrils and her heart races, all her senses dialed in on the hurt lizard as she chases it down. She strikes a second blow and though it leaves her landing awkwardly on her stump this one seems to do real damage; the lizard whips around and faces her with mouth wide open, threatening to bite.
Furiosa has been bitten by this type of lizard before as a human and isn't particularly fond of the feeling, and she doesn't know if she's small enough now for it to do real damage. Being down one leg is manageable, she can't imagine making it very far if she's lost the use of another as well.
She glares at it and crouches down ready to spring, waiting for it to make a move, tail whipping back and forth behind her. The lizard makes another run for it and she pounces. This time her claws get a good enough hold for her to bite down on it, and it struggles against her teeth but she clamps down as hard as she can, shakes her head until it goes limp.
She drops the lizard and looks around warily, but nothing seems amiss or like it was attracted by the commotion and the smell. She dips her head back down and sniffs; mostly she smells blood and sand, but there's a sort of dry scent that she thinks might be the lizard itself. There's not really enough to know if she would be able to find another lizard by smell alone, and she wonders if cats do much hunting through scent anyway.
Furiosa bolts down the lizard, skin and bones and all, and when it's been reduced to a stain on the ground she figures out how to use her paw and stump to clean the gore off her face after some trial and error.
She's strayed a bit off-course, but there isn't any strict road she's following. With a little jolt she realizes that the stacked pillar she's meant to be heading for- shaped like one of those old-world game pieces, pawns she thinks they were called- is just visible on the edge of the horizon. It would have been barely any time at all to reach on her bike, but she looks at the terrain in between and guesses that she'll be traveling the rest of the day.
The hottest part of the day has her tucked into a hollow space under what had once been a tree, dozing off to the thought of what she'd do if she suddenly became a human again. Since all her gear is back with her bike she's not sure if it would be better or worse than staying a cat a while longer. At least like this she has claws.
She reaches the landmark well after sunset, tired from the rapid pace she pushed herself into. There had been more lizards, and small furry things, and once a dusty bird that had caught her attention on the way over, but the only thing she had managed to actually catch was an insect. The detours took up time and demoralized her when she realized that her lizard catch had probably been luck, rather than an innate understanding of how hunting as a cat works.
She's so focused on sniffing around for any hint of water and green that the smell of exhaust fumes and something that really only makes her think of human slips her notice until she's within sight of the source.
It's pitch black to human eyes but Furiosa freezes in place all the same at the sight of a parked car.
When nothing moves she relaxes a little, swiveling her ears and looking around. The single car is parked up against some rocks, beat up and rusty but with four tires, and the sound of just one person's breathing. It's low and steady, a rough note like a muffled snore on the inhale, and she decides that they're probably asleep.
She creeps low, pausing every other step. The car looks familiar, but the low angle she's at and the darkness make it impossible to tell if she actually does know it, or if it's just a coincidence. But if there's a person there's almost certainly supplies, and she isn't direly hungry but she could steal something that's preserved to eat later and not have to worry about it spoiling.
Sitting up in the driver's seat is a man, and she only checks that his eyes are closed in sleep before focusing on her approach, only to do a rapid double-take a split second later.
She knows that face. Furiosa backs up enough to get a running start and then jumps onto the bonnet of the car with a muted thump, clumsy with the unfamiliar act of landing on three-and-a-half legs. The man startles awake, fists flying, and she stares through the windshield in disbelief and wishes she was able to laugh because that's Max.
He jerks his gaze around, looking for the source of the noise, until eventually his eyes land on her. Max scowls, and she hears him mutter something about fucking cats under his breath.
She stares for another moment, wondering what to do now that she's shown herself and his reaction confirms that she's not a human just hallucinating being a cat. If she really is covered in fur then there's no way for him to know that it's her but she still calls out, her throat turning the sound into a plaintive yowl instead of any of the words she was hoping for.
He waves his hands at her from behind the windshield, shooing her away. Furiosa thinks about trying to make him recognize her- if she really concentrates, she might be able to scratch a legible word or two for him to read- but it's dark enough that he probably wouldn't be able to read anything anyway, even if she somehow managed to write it out and directed him to look.
She jumps down off the car, landing harder than she intended on the ground below. Max grumbles something unintelligible and she can hear him shifting in his seat, but before long his breathing eases back out.
It's an unbelievable coincidence to have come across him, and whether he knows her in this shape or not Furiosa doesn't plan on letting the opportunity slip through her fingers. He's adept at surviving, or else he wouldn't keep showing back up alive, and a car can travel much faster than three paws.
The danger of it is she has no idea if he's willing to let her stow away, or if he'll try killing her for meat and fur or just for being a pest. She's seen the way he reacted to a trader's caravan that had a pack of scrappy little dogs, how he coaxed them to let him near and ran his hands over them carefully until they were rolling on the floor in ecstasy at the attention. But she's watched him catch lizards without stopping to think about it, or shoot a bird out of the sky. It might be only dogs he doesn't see as meat.
She circles around his car but he's quiet, asleep again or nearly there. She might as well continue exploring the area like she intended and try her luck with him in the morning.
The sand beneath her paws is less sand and more soil, richer and softer. Furiosa follows the faint smell of damp and green until, just out of sight beyond a boulder large enough to block anyone not on foot, she comes across the oasis that she was originally searching for; scraggling little bushes and vines scattered among the broken foothill of the game-piece pillar. There's even a few trees, some dead and dried out but one or two with growing leaves still on them.
It's exactly what was rumored to be here: signs of life too small to attract much attention, but with the faint hope of more. She can't bring back a sample of the earth here when she's like this, nor any clippings, but she can see with her own eyes that it's a good spot for the hopes the girls have, far enough from the Citadel that surely they're beyond the pull of the aquifer.
With plants there's animal life, and Furiosa spends much of the night exploring the area thoroughly as she chases down mice and insects, any reptiles there might be too well hidden away to be disturbed. She finally manages to work out a system of hunting that seems to work, if her prey isn't acting too unpredictably.
She tears into a mouse so freshly killed its heart is still beating and wonders if this is going to be her life from now on if she doesn't manage to reach the Citadel, all her energy devoted to hunting small animals. It's survival, but it's survival on a far more base level than she's had to worry about.
She dozes until the sun starts to rise, and it occurs to her that Max was parked far enough away from the greenery that he might be here by coincidence, might not realize it's here. And there's no way to know for sure, but he's not too far from the Citadel here, has come back before with things he thinks they might be interested in. If she can lure him in, he might end up taking her directly to the Citadel where she stands a better chance of figuring out what's happened to her and how to fix it.
Furiosa eyes up the bushes with fruit on them- there's some ripe enough to serve her purpose, she decides. The first bush tomato is overripe and bursts all over her when she tries to grab it with her teeth, the splash of sticky astringent juice on her fur and in her mouth making her jump backwards unthinkingly, startled by the spray and disgusted by the taste of it. Finding out that she can growl menacingly like this is a small comfort, and she rinses her fur clean brusquely, regretting the fact that being forced to use her tongue means she keeps tasting the fruit.
As a human she didn't have any particular opinions about the taste, but apparently cats are not fans.
When she's clean and can't taste the juice anymore, she eyes the rest of the bush. Grabbing just one directly apparently isn't an option, so with a grimace at the taste of wood and sap she gnaws through the twig holding up a cluster until it falls to the ground, then grabs hold of the stem to carry it.
She feels a bit absurd as she makes her way back to where Max is parked, the sprig of tomatoes dangling out of her mouth to bob against her with every step. He's awake when she arrives, standing next to his car and doing something that looks like the stretches Edie had shown him for his leg, and she makes sure to keep low, hiding behind every bit of rock she can for cover.
She knows he has at least one gun on him, though there's no telling if he has bullets left anymore. Furiosa can feel her whiskers quivering as she cautiously approaches, ready to fly in the opposite direction if he so much as looks like he's going for a weapon.
She's out in the open a few meters away when he spots her, and she freezes entirely.
He looks very tall from this perspective, and he's Max but she's a fucking cat, and there's no telling if he'll decide she looks like breakfast.
When he doesn't move she starts creeping forward again, one cautious paw at a time. Furiosa drops the fruit two meters away, as close as she's willing to go before she knows if he's going to be a danger to her.
His eyes follow the sprig of tomatoes and then flick back to her, face scrunching up in confusion. She steps backwards without taking her eyes off him, moving a few steps back until she estimates she's out of grabbing distance and then folding her legs down to sit.
Max rubs a hand over his face, and she thinks she hears him muttering to himself but she can't make out what words he might be saying. Then he takes a step towards her and the tomatoes, and she feels a shiver of danger run through her. He's not reaching for a weapon but he's much larger than her like this, and she has a feeling his leathers are tough enough to repel her teeth and claws if it comes to that.
She quivers in place, ready to leap up and away, but he only comes close enough to pick up the tomatoes. It's still close enough that she can smell him, can make out with perfect clarity the scrape on his forehead and newly-patched area on his jacket, the shade of blue-gray in his eyes.
“Where'd you get that?” he mumbles, turning the sprig over in his hands, and her ears perk up at the noise.
Furiosa watches as he tests one of the fruits, a flicker of satisfaction going through her when he concludes that they're edible. He eyes her warily before biting down on one, and the shadow of pleasure on his face confirms that it's her tastes that have changed, rather than there being something wrong with the plants.
She meows, and he keeps staring at her with confusion and suspicion.
“Git,” he says after a minute, making the same shooing motion as the night before. “Scram.”
She watches him steadily, unimpressed. He apparently doesn't want to kill her or else she thinks he would already have done so, so she meows again. It's a strange noise to hear herself make and it doesn't really convey anything specific- she wonders if she should try writing now that it's daylight and he's not a complete threat.
“Go on,” Max says, and takes a threatening step forward, foot landing heavily. She can't help flinching a little, aware of what a kick can do to a human and not eager to find out how that damage translates to a cat's body, but doesn't move from her spot.
He sighs, then kicks his foot along the ground, spattering dirt and pebbles in her direction.
Furiosa skitters back and hisses, though none of the rocks were large enough to do any damage.
“Scram!” he says again, drawing his foot back for another kick.
She weighs her options and decides she isn't willing to find out if he'll manage to hit her with a rock big enough to hurt or worse, draw a gun, and darts off to cover behind a nearby cluster of rocks. She curses to herself and keeps her ears tuned to his direction, wondering what to do next. If he drives off now she'll have lost her chance at getting in with him completely, but sneaking into the car isn't an option at the moment now that he's aware of her presence.
“What kinda cat hunts fruit,” Max mumbles to himself, and her ears twitch at the sound. “Hmmph.”
When she hears him starting to move around again, boots scuffing along the ground, Furiosa creeps out of her hiding spot to watch him. He's twirling the stem from the tomatoes in his hand and staring at it contemplatively, and she perks back up with hope that he's at least going to go searching for the plants, that maybe he'll take some clippings back to the Citadel.
They'll know something's gone wrong when he makes no mention of seeing her or her tracks, which only accelerates the timeline for them searching and finding no body. But they'll hear about the grove at least, and if she manages to get to the Citadel she's certain that she can find a way to communicate.
Max opens the door to his car and her heart sinks.
She meows again, loud enough to get his attention, and he whirls around looking startled. He doesn't seem to spot her and turns back to the car, grumbling too quietly for her to pick up on. Instead of getting in and starting the engine he roots around the back, emerging with a ratty canvas sack a few seconds later.
Furiosa follows from a distance as he starts walking, kicking aside rocks in his path like he's hoping to find something underneath. He startles a small snake and the movement of it nearly has her forgetting to keep track of him and hunt it down, but she reigns in her instincts. The snake's probably venomous anyway, and who knows how much it takes to kill a cat- probably not a lot.
He is headed in entirely the wrong direction, curving off to the east instead of sticking true south, and she huffs to herself before thinking about how best to steer him. Eventually she decides to dart across his path, stopping in plain view but ready to run if he turns hostile again.
Max jolts to a stop, then looks around before squinting at her suspiciously. Feeling very annoyed at her current limitations, Furiosa meows at him.
“Nnn the cat came back,” he mumbles under his breath, voice stilted almost like he's trying to sing to himself, “no it wouldn't go away...”
He sighs. “What?”
She's a little bit surprised to be addressed directly when it's not like she can reply, so in answer she takes a few steps away from him in the correct direction. She turns back to see that he hasn't moved and meows at him again.
“Cat wants me to follow,” he mutters, “'course it does.”
Furiosa waits patiently for him to start walking in her direction before starting off again, looking back every few steps to make sure he's following despite the fact that she can hear him clearly.
He keeps talking to himself as they walk, more than she would have thought he would. It's mostly bits of a sort of narration, little observations about what he's seeing, about how ridiculous he's being for following a cat, even one that hunts down vegetables. She wonders if this is how he keeps himself remembering to speak when he's out on the road, if this is one of the reasons he's able to articulate himself with more than just grunting and gestures even when it's been a long while between visits.
She brings him right up to the edge of the green area and then turns to look at him, wishing she could figure out how to translate smugness onto a cat's face. Max blinks and looks around, not really paying attention to her when there's plants growing undisturbed.
While he gathers up whatever's ripe and some things that aren't, Furiosa curls up on a sun-warmed rock and watches him for a while. He's careful with the plants, moving from one to the next without crushing anything underfoot, nor stripping them all bare. He handles them like he does the ones up on the heights that the Dag would kill him for damaging, even the ones that she knows are nothing but inedible weeds.
She sense the finality to his movements when he's gone through the majority of the easily-accessible plants in the area, and she takes off like a shot back for his car. She reaches it well before he does since he's walking back at a casual pace, unaware of her plan, and because there are no windows but the windscreen she jumps inside easily.
There's plenty of places inside the car for a cat to hide away in and she picks one under the passenger seat where she'll be able to see the driver's side but probably not be seen herself, kneading into the pile of scraps and refuse to make sure there's nothing sharp underneath before curling in on herself to wait.
Max takes his time; she's slipped into a doze by the time she hears his footsteps approaching. She tenses but tries not to move, not wanting to draw attention to herself though she should be well-hidden. She doesn't think he'll kill her, not after hearing his thoughts while she led him to the grove, but he's still large and strong enough to easily throw her out of the car if he doesn't want her there.
The door opens, and Furiosa watches as he rearranges the heaps of stuff in the back of his car with apprehension, secure enough in her spot but ready to leap clear if she feels the need. He gets the sack of produce settled and then walks away, out of her view. She can track his movements just by swiveling her ears, something she still isn't entirely used to but appreciates.
Max gets back in and starts up the car, flicking through the kill-switch sequence she convinced him to add after he came back with a story of it getting hot-wired and nearly stolen for good. The car rumbles to life and then starts rolling out of its parking spot, the swaying and lurching far more pronounced to her than it ever has been before.
Furiosa isn't used to being solely a passenger; she doesn't even leave her hiding spot to keep a watch out the windows, and if there is any danger she doubts she'd be any help at all. She's tense as she waits for Max to find her out and throw her from the car, but he seems to not even suspect her presence.
He hums and mumbles sing-song words to himself now and again as he drives, snatches of songs that aren't familiar to her, but mostly he's quiet. She wonders where they're headed to, only knows from the angle of the sun that it's not the Citadel as she'd hoped.
When he stops for a break she takes the risk of leaving her spot, stretching herself out only to curl right back up, this time on the seat he'd just vacated. It's risky to insinuate herself like this, but she doesn't want to risk him getting twitchy if she keeps hidden at his periphery, since she's sure he would notice sooner rather than later.
Furiosa slits her eyes open to look at him, outwardly indifferent as if she has any right to being in his car while still tensing to spring away.
“No,” Max says, frowning. “Shoo.”
He doesn't even wave his arms this time, and she lets her eyes drift almost all the way shut again, keeping her ears wide open. He growls quietly, but she's spent enough time deciphering his noises that it actually has her relaxing a little for real.
She isn't prepared for his hands to close around her, large enough to be a serious threat, and she twists away with a hiss and a swipe of her claws, fake nonchalance gone in a heartbeat as she flees to the far side of the car.
“Ah! Damn cat!”
He draws back just as quickly, cradling one of his hands close to his chest. She can smell his blood.
Furiosa stares at him with her back arched and the curious sensation of actually having hackles to raise, ready to jump away if he comes at her again. But he only sucks his bleeding finger into his mouth for a moment, then shakes his head.
“Not the only feral,” he mutters, and sighs. Max climbs back into the driver's seat and she tenses, but he only looks at her for a long moment, sizing up if she's worth killing, maybe.
“That wasn't nice,” he says, tone rebuking, and she thinks he's directing it at her, though to her knowledge a real cat wouldn't be able to make head or tails of speech. “'s not nice to steal people's cars 'n make them bleed.”
She's not entirely sure why he's talking to her, but she thinks he's decided not to attack her again, and slowly she relaxes her posture, her fur laying flat again.
Max grunts and looks back down at his hand. There's still blood beading up from the scratch; she must have gotten him deeper than she thought, and with the terror of not knowing anything but defending herself fading she regrets it a little, hopes she hasn't done any serious damage.
He shakes it out but then seems to ignore the scratches in favor of getting the car started, one eye on her like he's waiting for her to claw him again. Furiosa has no intention of doing so unless he provokes her, and since he apparently hasn't even decided to throw her out of the car for drawing blood she lowers herself down to the leather of the passenger seat, folding her legs under her.
The car rumbles to life and starts rolling again, and he turns away from her to watch the road ahead.
“You're getting out at the next stop,” he says, and it takes her a second to realize that he's talking to her again. “Got enough freeloaders.”
She blinks and tilts her head, wondering if he'll clarify even though he isn't looking in her direction at all to catch the cue, but then she thinks about the things he sometimes wakes up yelling, the way he'll react to things that aren't there for the rest of them.
Furiosa flicks her tail at the thought of getting ditched, and gets up from her crouch to stand against the door, looking out the window. He knows that she's here now, and doing absolutely nothing is an uncomfortable sensation. She keeps one ear swiveled back to his direction, tracking the sounds of him shifting gears, tapping his fingers against the wheel, scratching at the healing scab on his forehead.
She wonders how he got it, if it was a story worth telling or if he only hit his head doing something mundane, sliding under his car for a repair or losing his footing.
The landscape is dull and flat, empty. Max keeps his own watch- she can feel his eyes sweeping over her from time to time, watching out all of his windows at once.
When her eyes go dry from the wind and sand Furiosa drops back down to the seat, blinking away the grit and wondering where exactly Max is going. There's a few settlements she knows of not too far distant, but if he's aiming for one of them he's taking his time about it. Staring at him offers no insights, since he isn't talking the way he was earlier in the morning and she has yet to regain the ability to speak like a human.
She curls herself up on the seat and dozes off without entirely meaning to, but she's tired from the night before and the sun feels wonderful on her fur, the perfect counter-balance for how the wind keeps her from overheating.
She wakes up when the car brakes, sudden enough that she slides on the seat a little and digs her claws in for balance. Still a cat, then.
Furiosa doesn't hear anything amiss once the engine cuts out, and she opens her eyes and gets to her feet with a stretch of sleepy muscles. Max grabs the shotgun wedged between the seats and gets out of the car without a word to her, and she jumps up to the ledge of the dashboard to see what he's doing.
There's a car a few meters away that's banged up pretty bad, abandoned by the looks of it. She has to fight down the urge to jump out and follow him- it doesn't seem like there's a lot of good a cat can do when it comes to either fighting or scavenging. Besides, he'd said he wants her gone the next time he stops- if she leaves, she might not be quick enough to jump back in before he drives away, and then she'll be screwed over even worse than she would have been if she never encountered him, because he's drifted even further from the Citadel by now.
Her tail twitches restlessly as she watches him approach and circle the car, gun held at the ready. She hopes the shells loaded in it aren't duds this time.
Apparently he decides there isn't anything to worry about, posture relaxing, shotgun getting wedged into his belt. Furiosa can't make much of anything out in her current position, but she watches him kick at the tires and open the doors, only reassured when he starts throwing stuff from the interior down onto the ground. It's mostly junk, cracked plastic and fabric scraps and poorly-tanned hides, but he pockets a few things now and again.
She hasn't stripped a car out in the open without backup since she was a girl, but she remembers how easy it is to forget to keep an eye out for danger. This doesn't seem like a trap, but there's plenty of scavs driving around who'd be willing to fight over something like this.
Furiosa decides that the risk of potentially being left behind is worth it and climbs through the open window, hopping up onto the roof of Max's car. The black painted metal is burning hot under her paws, but it's nothing she hasn't had worse of before.
Max glances over to her as she settles in, aware enough to sense that movement at least, then turns back to his looting. She can't hear anything out of the ordinary, and the horizon is clear enough, but she's not particularly fond of the idea of risking her hide by being lazy over something so simple.
It turns out to be a good thing. While Max attempts to siphon whatever oil he can from the engine she catches a flash of something metallic and artificial and leaps to attention, ears straining for any sound. Her eyes have no trouble latching onto the movement, a pair of bikes resolving themselves out of the haze of heat and dust.
Furiosa glances at Max, but he's occupied. She can hear their engines growing louder and wonders if it's even loud enough yet for a human to hear, wonders if they've even been spotted by the bikers.
She meows, and he doesn't even react. She meows louder, adding as much force to it as she can. Max grumbles something to himself and looks over at her; she's standing stiffly to try and be as obvious about the fact that she's directing his attention as possible, ears focused on the approaching bikers, tail lashing back and forth. She meows again, then ducks her head and hisses.
He scrambles around the car, grabbing whatever it was he'd decided was worth salvaging, and Furiosa hops down from the roof and back into the open door of his car. He shoves his loot in quickly and is pulling away almost before he's even sat down, engine roaring loud enough that if the bikes hadn't spotted him yet, she's sure they have now.
Furiosa wants to grab for a gun, wants to be of use- but all she can do is stare out the windows, keeping track of the bikes without even any way to report back what she's seeing. It is incredibly frustrating, and she's not surprised to realize that she's growling low and continuous.
Max drives to evade the bikes, peeling out into the other direction, but even if the dead car wasn't a decoy it's still not as interesting to them as a live rig. Her heart rate spikes, paws skittering as she tries to keep upright through the jerky evasions he's attempting.
If she had her hand, if she could help-
But Max is used to surviving on his own, and when the first of the bikes gets into range to start flinging bullets at him he whips out the shotgun, fires it with one hand on the wheel. The blast is deafening to her more sensitive ears and she flinches, but she can see the bike go down.
The second bike is coming up on their left, and Furiosa thinks she might hear Max saying something through the ringing in her ears but she's not really sure. Another gun goes off, this one right above her, and if she was herself she wouldn't react but as a cat she bolts, scrabbling down into the junk-packed footwell and panting, heart nearly beating out of her chest. She can't hear anything at all now but she stares out with wide eyes at Max shooting out the window she had just been standing at, braces herself against the jerks of the car as he drives.
He lowers the arm holding the gun and the driving smooths out, and she thinks they must have gotten away. She shakes her head and stays tucked where she is, wondering how long it'll take for her ears to recover.
Her body sways with the motion as Max turns the car around, driving back to the fallen bikers. She climbs onto the seat when he gets out and sees him quickly tossing over the bikes, grabbing the most valuable of the things strapped to their frames. She darts back into the hiding place when he starts tossing his finds into the back of the car; though she doesn't really think he'll do anything to her she still can't hear, and her current set of instincts take his clipped movements as a threat.
By the time the car slows to a stop some hours later, she can make out most noises again, though they're muffled and interspersed with ringing. Furiosa creeps out from under the footwell, embarrassed by the fact that she ran even if there wasn't anything she could do to actually help while trapped in a cat's body.
Max smiles at her when he sees her and stretches out a hand, slow enough that she's pretty sure he isn't planning to hit or grab her. “Y'okay, cat?” he asks.
She extends her nose towards his fingers because it seems to be the thing to do; she can't smell much more than salt and gunpowder, but there's something underneath she thinks might qualify as human or skin or perhaps just Max.
He reaches his fingers out a little further until he's touching the side of her head, then the base of her ear, rubbing in little circles. She's being pet like she actually is an animal and some part of her wants to pull away in affront, but the touch actually feels nice. He's gentle, and the feeling of his rough skin over her fur is like every pleasant touch she can remember getting multiplied by ten.
Max pulls away before she can really sink into it, though that's probably for the best. He sighs to himself and then gets out of the car, leaving the door open.
Furiosa waits to follow until she sees that he's setting up camp, the sun nearly set. She has no plans to be left behind, and if that means staying in his car until she changes back or he returns to the Citadel, that's what she'll do. But with evidence that he's planning to stop for a while she jumps down to the sand and starts thinking about where she can go to hunt her dinner.
Her hearing is unreliable at the moment, and her nose doesn't seem particularly sensitive compared to what she imagined it would be like for an animal. She relies on her vision instead, glad that it's acute even when it gets dark.
Still, the only thing she manages to catch is a spider, and it's large enough but it isn't really satisfying, and the hairs on its legs have her throat itching for hours afterwards. She returns to the site of the car and is relieved that Max hasn't driven off after all, as slim as the possibility seemed. There are far easier ways to be rid of a cat than pretending to set up camp to lull it into a false sense of security, after all.
He's sitting on the ground eating the bush tomatoes and a hunk of dried meat she can't identify, no fire or even a lantern lit.
“Hey,” he calls out when she stalks closer, voice pitched soft and low. He clicks his tongue and holds out his free hand, and if she wasn't currently a cat she would be offended to be called over like that. As it is she can't really blame him, and with the memory of his fingers rubbing her ear she steps closer.
“Hey puss,” Max says, and when she reaches his hand she rubs her head against it, though it's not the same as being actively pet. He keeps his voice quiet, words sounding tired and unguarded. “You should clear out, cat. It's not safe.”
Furiosa pushes into where his fingers are caressing her fur, the amount of contact nearly overwhelming in a pleasant way. It's not like being touched as a human, doesn't make her feel exposed and on edge.
He sighs, and pulls his hand away. She bites back a protesting noise and a moment later there's a chunk of that dried meat in his hand, held in front of her nose. She's eaten, but the smell has her sniffing at it before grabbing it with her teeth anyway. Roo, she thinks, but it's hard to know if she's translating the taste of it right. It's not as delicious as meat fresh and bloody but it's good, better than the spider by far.
She settles onto the ground a little ways away from him, and every now and again he flicks a shred of jerky over to her. It's not long before she's restless, even having her belly full of food, and when a flicker of movement catches her eye, she follows it.
When she comes back from chasing shadows Max is asleep, hunched in on himself in the driver's seat again. Furiosa pads over and then jumps up to the passenger's window, landing as lightly as she can. He stirs, but doesn't wake, and she curls up on the seat next to him to sleep herself.