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.
She's still a cat when she wakes up again.
Furiosa is starting to wonder if she ever will become human again, or if this is just how she's going to live the rest of her life. There's no telling how it happened in the first place- she remembers absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, not even a shouted curse from the wastelander she'd tangled with the day before waking up covered in fur- and thus, no way to know how to reverse it, or if it's even possible to. Some part of her is still convinced she's only having a particularly long and vivid dream, though the possibility seems less and less likely with every passing moment.
Her hearing seems to have fully recovered though, which is only half a relief- she can now hear clearly the whimpers Max is making, quiet hurt noises as he twitches in his sleep.
Furiosa has shared her room with him enough times to know that he gets nightmares, but she's never been this close to him while it's happening, never watched the way his face creases up in pain and fear. It's distressing to watch without making any attempt to help, so she meows in hopes of waking him up and he twitches, but doesn't rise.
She really doesn't want to risk getting in the way of his hands if he comes up swinging, but she ducks her head and stretches between the seats to pat her paw against his leather-clad thigh anyway, meowing again.
His eyes snap open and he gasps, and she jerks herself back to the passenger seat. His hands only flutter in the air instead of lashing out, and a moment later he settles them over his face.
When she's seen him wake from nightmares before he's always been as quick to recover his feet as she is, whatever horrors he's seen shoved out of his mind. But now she listens to him inhale roughly, smells a tang of salt. Furiosa makes a quiet noise, a sort of strange chirrup, unsettled by the idea that he's been affected by whatever he dreamed that he's crying or close to it.
He rubs his eyes and uncovers his face, and then looks down at her with a thin watery smile that looks like he's forcing it. His eyes are red around the edges but she can't see any other evidence of tears, just smells a trace of salt cleaner than sweat. Max reaches out a hand to her and she butts her head up against it, and the smile on his face grows a little bit more genuine.
Having seen him in the throes of a nightmare has her thinking back and realizing that she hasn't dreamed at all since her transformation. She doesn't know if it's because her mind has nothing it wants her to mull over while she's asleep, which seems unlikely considering the past few days, or if it's because cats don't dream at all.
She keeps close to the car while he goes through his morning routine, not wanting to be left behind. He offers her a piece of bush tomato and then chuckles at the way she quickly recoils, and pours a little water into a battered tin cup for her.
Furiosa hasn't been anywhere near as thirsty as she thought she should be considering the only water she's drunk has come from dew in the morning, but she laps the water up gratefully anyway. When he makes to get into the car she darts in ahead of him and sits on the passenger seat, staring like she's daring him to say something about her leaving.
He only shakes his head a little and gets in himself. “Had a chauffeur before, hmm?”
The day is less eventful than the last- Max drives, and she stares out of the windows to feel like she's doing something useful. She doesn't think he has any destination in mind, a sharp contrast to every time she gets behind the wheel herself. Their speed is low and the horizon is clear, and after a few hours she decides to go explore the heaps of stuff stuffed into the rear.
He startles when she steps past him, but relaxes a moment later. “Careful,” he advises, “Lost a Sig back there.”
If she was a human she would sigh, because of course there's a probably-loaded gun rattling around his car unaccounted for. Furiosa as a cat only flicks her tail and steps lightly.
A lot of it is junk or close enough- ragged bundles of fabric, greasy engine components, loose bullets and wires and screws. There's a big jug of water, the same he left the Citadel with nearly fifty days past, now filled with water that's blooming with cloudy sediment visible through the translucent plastic. There's food in bundles and packets, dried greens and meat and a few cans of Before food, most puffing at the seams enough to hope he doesn't plan to eat any of it himself. She finds plenty of random things- a battered but shiny gold ring, a plastic animal of some kind, a singed book with half its pages ripped out- almost enough to outweigh the things she considers actually worth salvaging.
The lid of the boot has been hacked off, and between the tanks that take up most of the space there's plenty of holes big enough in the netting for her to slip through. Unsurprisingly, the view from out the back is just as nondescript as from any other angle, but here there's sand and dust kicked up enough to send her into a sneezing fit.
She retreats back into the cab and settles on top of one of the tattered fabric scraps, kneading the coarse material in one of those actions that her new body seems to find perfectly natural. Max glances at her every now and again through the sliver of rear-view mirror somehow still clinging to life, and she avoids returning the looks so she doesn't catch sight of her cat's body while she dozes off to the sound of the engine running steady below her.
They make camp when it gets dark, and Furiosa hunts for her dinner while Max takes the risk of setting a fire to cook something for himself. She unearths a nest of mice and eats the small hairless infants inside quickly, but takes the mother back with her.
“That for me?” Max asks when she reenters the sphere of light put off by his fire with the small carcass dangling from her mouth, and she flicks her ears back in answer. If he wants to eat mice he can hunt them down himself.
She scratches out a shallow hole in the sand next to the tire and buries the body, glad that she'll have something come morning. Max calls her over and she debates staying away, but remembers how nice it had felt to be pet and walks over.
His hands over her fur make her want to curl up and melt into the touches, so much so that when he shifts his hands to carefully pull her onto his lap she doesn't fight him. Furiosa does tense as his hold gets a little firmer, more constricting, suspicion only ratcheting up when he notices this and starts shushing her, voice crooning.
“Just wanna check,” Max mumbles, and she realizes abruptly that he has her mostly on her back and at a disadvantage. She starts wriggling to right herself and his hand tightens on the scruff of her neck, the other pulling one of her hind legs while she lashes out with her other ones, claws unsheathed.
He lets go with a muttered “sorry, sorry” a second later and she leaps away to a safe distance, fur on end and ears pulled back as she stares at him. Checking for what- how much meat is on her body?
“Girl then,” he says with a nod to himself.
Furiosa narrows her eyes and realizes that no, he wasn't testing the muscle mass of her legs, he was checking what was between them. She wraps her tail around herself because it's not as if she hasn't been essentially naked this entire time, but the reality of being treated like an animal with no personal autonomy makes her want to hurl herself at his face claws first. The only reason she holds herself back is that she surely wouldn't be able to do any real damage, and not at all because she doesn't really want to hurt Max.
“They uh, they call girl cats queens,” he says to her, voice pitched like he's trying to apologize. “Better then what they call dogs,” he adds to himself.
He holds out his hand again like he wants to coax her back, but Furiosa makes no move to leave her position, the tip of her tail still twitching in irritation. Max shakes his head a little and retracts his hand.
She's a bit surprised when he keeps talking to her anyway, no longer apologizing but like they're having a conversation.
“Missing arm, green eyes... you've even got her grease on y'r forehead,” he says, and snorts out an amused breath. “Got her temper, too.”
Furiosa flicks her ears at his words, and realizes that he's talking about her. The real her, that is, though by the sounds of it he's comparing the cat she is now with the human she should be, which is a dizzying thought. She wonders if there's any way to get him to even entertain the thought that she's herself rather than just a cat. Opening her mouth to say something only results in a meow, of course.
“It's a compliment,” Max says as if her meow was a complaint, and the corner of his mouth hitches up into a small smile. “Not many get so lucky.”
Talking is out, and the fire's already burning down to embers which means writing is probably not going to work tonight... she tries to think about what she can do that might be human enough to get his attention and maybe make him wonder if it's more than a coincidence that she apparently resembles her human self even being covered in fur, but can't come up with anything.
He flicks something in her direction, startling her out of her thoughts. It didn't sound like it was a rock, and she can't imagine why he'd start chasing her off now- unless he didn't want to be reminded of the real her at all, even just by a cat, which seems rather unlikely. Her eyes and nose pick out the object clearly in the dim glow from the dying fire, and she relaxes. It's a piece of dried mealworm cake, road rations from the Citadel.
She sniffs it carefully because one single nest of mice isn't much to fill her belly, and wonders if he rations the bricks out with any sort of intent to make it last, or if it's a constant surprise of what he finds to eat. The off-white crumbs taste only marginally better to her cat's tongue than it did to her as a human, which isn't much of a surprise- mealworms are edible and good protein, but not the type of fare anyone asks for seconds of.
Max is smiling still when she looks up at him, eyes soft and far-away looking, unfocused. He tosses her another chunk and then packs the rest away, and when he moves to stomp out the remains of the fire she slips back restlessly into the night.
When she returns it's hours later and he's curled up on the ground, wrapped in a blanket outside the car to sleep instead of staying inside. Furiosa watches his sleeping face for a little while after she's buried the only other thing she's managed to catch, a skinny lizard more bone than anything. She's wondered what he does when he isn't at the Citadel, but she never really expected to get much of an answer. It's interesting to see him in his element, almost relaxed without any more responsibility than staying alive, untethered from anything that might make demands on his time.
It's dangerous out on the road, of course, but not having an obvious agenda seems to suit him.
She curls up on the edge of the blanket he's draped over himself, letting herself press up against his leg, warm against the chill of night. She wouldn't if she was human- the air isn't so cold tonight that they'd need to share warmth- but she lets herself indulge in the contact anyway.
Max doesn't wake during the night with nightmares, and in the morning when he finishes packing up to leave he calls to her, one hand on the open car door.
She feels like smiling, though a cat's face isn't built for the same kind of emoting as a humans', and surprises herself by letting out a short roll of purring as she settles onto the leather of the passenger seat, pleased that he's decided she can stay.
When they make camp she hunts for her dinner- and her breakfast- rather than relying on Max to feed her. It's tedious in a way, but the reward of freshly killed meat and the knowledge that she's still self-sufficient at least in this way is enough to keep her pushing to improve her technique.
A shadow passing over the ground with no obvious source barely registers even as movement while she's stalking a possum carefully, mindful of the lack of cover to hide her approach. Furiosa creeps up on the small animal, but just as she readies herself to pounce, back end wiggling as she adjusts her legs for the best angle and most power, something falls out of the sky right in front of her.
She freezes in place until her brain tells her that it's a hawk, and that it's just stolen her kill from her, the possum now pinned and dying under its talons. She hisses at it, eyeing up its size and wondering if she can chase it away- it's too large for her to think she has a decent chance at killing it outright, and that also means it's large enough that she's wary of it attacking her.
The hawk mantles its wings and stares at her; she bares her teeth in return. The possum gives one last weak thrash and then falls completely still.
Furiosa lashes her tail behind her and then uses the fact that she was already prepared to pounce to do just that, leaping forward with claws extended. The hawk flaps its wings, and when she makes contact she has a bare second to get a mouthful of feathers before it's slamming those wings against her, stronger than she would have expected.
She leaps back, the bird doing the same. The possum isn't even something she strictly speaking needs- if she doesn't have luck hunting, she can always root through Max's supplies until she finds something to gnaw on- but the fact that the hawk is just a dumb animal has her hackles raising.
She hisses again, and the bird lets out a strange rasping noise of its own, pointed sharp beak hanging open. Every rush she makes on it the hawk answers, pushing back or retreating a step or two, neither getting close enough to actually do any damage to the other.
She should leave it well enough alone but she's frustrated beyond belief at her current limits, that she's being bullied away from the meal she hunted down by a rusting bird. Furiosa pulls out two of the long flight feathers and the hawk screams, high-pitched and loud, before rushing in to stab at her with its beak.
Somehow she dodges and strikes out herself, but the thing is covered in feathers- every bit of contact she makes is deflected by the damn things, doing little if any damage. She leaps back away, contemplating her next move, the empty animal eyes of the bird following her every movement.
At the sudden loud crack of a gunshot Furiosa flinches while the hawk explodes into the air in a flurry of feathers, but makes it only a few lopsided meters before collapsing back to the ground. She whips her head around to the direction the shot must have come from and sees Max standing there with pistol in hand. She hisses at him because it was her fight, damn him, but also because he just illustrated the fact that she was so caught-up in it she wasn't looking for outside dangers. If it had been someone else, some other predator attracted by the noise of their scuffle...
He snorts a breath like he can't decide whether to be amused or offended over her reaction, and heads towards the twitching hawk to finish it off.
She turns her back on him disdainfully and collects her possum as if she'd defeated the bird herself, carrying it out of sight of him before tearing into it vindictively. When she heads back to the car after stalking around some more the hawk's carcass is roasting over a small fire, Max poking at it with a stick now and again.
“Guts for you,” he says, gesturing loosely to the discarded offal he himself is reluctant to eat when there's better food to be had. It smells enticing to her, fresh and bloody, but Furiosa turn her nose away peevishly.
He huffs, the noise definitely amused now, and she flicks her tail. “Sorry, oh mighty hunter,” Max says with sarcasm, “I'll let it carry you off next time.”
The bird certainly wasn't large enough to carry her off, and she doesn't think he really will leave her in supposed mortal peril if it happens again, but she's still frustrated that he intervened this time that she tries to give voice to a sarcastic reply, only for a goddess-damned meow to come out. It only makes her growing foul mood worse, and Furiosa jumps up into the car so she doesn't have to deal with him or anything else for the next few hours at least.
When she returns from a dawn hunt she thinks at first that Max is having another nightmare- he's moving restlessly in his seat and letting out quiet noises, little groans and gasps. But there's a scent in the air that she doesn't recognize, and when she jumps up onto the ledge of the window to get a better look at him she realizes that he's hard in his leathers, skin flushed.
Furiosa goes completely still, caught off guard and unsure how to react.
It's just something that happens sometimes, she knows, but despite sharing her room with him on occasion she's never seen Max like this. He's still asleep she thinks, his eyes shut and head tipped back against the seat, but his hips twitch up every now and again, making the state of his body obvious.
She should leave and give him privacy, but it's just such an unexpected image that she keeps staring for a while longer, taking in the flickers of pleasure across his otherwise lax face, the sounds he's making, the heavy note to his smell. His shirt's ridden up and she can see the taut muscles of his abdomen shifting under his skin as his hips move, can see the trail of dark hair that leads down below his waistband. Furiosa has seen him undressed before, in the middle of patching a wound or sponging off grit or finally being wrestled into clean clothes, but never in this context, never in any state to make her feel really tempted to move closer, to reach out and touch.
She swishes her tail indecisively, aware that she shouldn't be looking but captivated by the sight. He looks... if she wasn't in a cat's body with a cat's responses, she'd say he looks enticing, but as it is she's going to settle on intriguing.
He licks his lips and moans a little and she adjusts her stance on the windowsill, ready to leave if he so much as twitches his eyelids open, but what has her actually scrabbling down from the window and bolting away from the car is the fact that the noise he makes next is unmistakably her name.
Furiosa's heart pounds in her chest, ears flattened back and tail stiff as she rounds the corner of a rock well out of sight. The memory of it plays over and over even when she shakes her head to clear it away, his voice breathing out her name while he's so obviously given over to pleasure.
It's not the first time she's been confronted with someone wanting her like that, but for some reason she's far more unsettled than she has been any of those other times. No one can control their dreams, and just because he'd said her name didn't mean he actually wants her- she doesn't want to see the things she sees in her nightmares, but they're still there.
She's out of earshot but the smell lingers on the breeze, heavy and salty.
The surprise of it is the worst part, how unexpected it was to hear. Furiosa attempts to reign in her reaction to it, to slow her racing pulse and steady her breathing. She wraps her tail around her legs as she sits and grooms her fur restlessly until the shaky feeling of adrenaline leaves her.
It's nothing he's done on purpose, and she deserves the unsettled feeling for not leaving as soon as she realized what she was seeing.
Even knowing this she doesn't know how to feel, truthfully. It's not like she wasn't looking just now herself, isn't like she's innocent of getting worked up thinking about him as recently as the last time she wasn't stuck in a rusting cat's body. But she has never seen any signs that he returns the interest, not with the way he'd politely ignored her when she was practically throwing herself at him only a few hundred days past their time on the Fury Road and hadn't accepted that he might not ever feel that way about anyone.
She shakes her head because whatever it is, it's nothing she wants to delve into here and now, not when she's a cat and might be for the rest of her life.
At least like this she won't have to worry about being able to keep the knowledge off her face, which is hardly a comfort.
Furiosa waits until the thread of musk in the air is cleared away, then waits a while more to be safe. When she returns to the car Max is awake and moving around, no obvious sign of the dream he'd been having, whether he was unsettled by it or not. He smiles at her a little when he sees her, lazy and contented, and asks if she's caught anything for breakfast. She ignores the question and hops up onto the bonnet of the car to wait for him to be ready to leave, pushing the memory out of her mind.
Not even taking into account the fur, she's still never lived quite like this. The Vuvalini had been fairly mobile, but rarely did they let her go off on her own when she was young enough to have been living with them, and she's camped out on long expeditions for the Citadel often enough, alone or with a crew, but there was always an objective to it.
Max by contrast meanders, driving with no destination that she can figure out, cruising slow enough to save fuel until there's trouble on the horizon. He scratches away on a map some days, long since broken of his habit of using his own blood for ink, but it doesn't seem as if he's doing it for any other reason than to help remember where he's been.
Days pass like this- avoiding anyone who seems the slightest bit hostile, having cautious interactions with those who might have something worth trading, and Furiosa feels the itch to get back to the Citadel wax and wane by the hour. She likes the quietness of driving when there's no one on their tail and nothing to rush towards, when it's just the road and their engine and Max humming to himself. There's a great deal of freedom to it, deciding the day's path on a whim instead of a schedule or a web of responsibilities. But then the restfulness of it will turn to tedium and she'll be itching to do something, be going somewhere, and she has no way to vent that frustration except through hunting if they already happen to be parked, which grows equally tedious.
She's sure the girls have marked her absence by now- the trip was meant to take ten days and it's getting close to twice that already- but she's beholden to Max's choice of direction, and what hints she tries to drop he doesn't seem to pick up on.
They'll be sending a search party for her soon if they haven't already, and she's not sure how she feels about it. Because she knows where she is, it seems a waste of resources- but of course the Sisters don't know anything more than that she hasn't returned when she should have, and they're entitled to their worry.
In the morning before packing up for a day of driving Max teases her into chasing a bit of rope that he's tied a few of that fucking hawk's feathers to, a contented smile on his face as she acts the part of dumb animal, and she wonders what will happen to him if she's declared dead. It's not anything she wants to think about, but she knows a little of his past, knows that people dying was what pushed him out into the wastes in the first place.
Furiosa is not so egotistical to think her assumed death will have near the same effect, but she's not sure if the Sisters alone will be enough to uphold his already tenuous tether to the relative safety of the Citadel. She won't ever have to find out his reaction if he never returns in the first place to hear the news, but he's been circling back around far too regularly in the nearly two thousand days since the Road for her to really think he'll stay away entirely.
“Y' ever been near the Citadel?” Max asks conversationally, as if there's any real way for her to communicate back. She glances at him anyway, lifting her head up from where it's hanging off the edge of the passenger seat she's lazily sprawled across to soak up the sun. He's mostly looking out the windows, but his hand leaves the wheel to ruffle through her fur carefully enough that she knows he's paying attention to where she is.
“They got, hm, green. Might be a few mice.”
Furiosa lets her head drop back down and stretches out a little more when his fingers slide back away. If she was a human she would never lay out like this on the road, but she's a fucking cat and there isn't anything more for her to do than prompt Max if he starts reacting to one of his mirages. He talks more when she isn't looking at him directly anyway, and she likes hearing his voice, likes the little bits of himself he reveals.
It's somewhat dishonest to listen in when she isn't the dumb animal he assumes her to be, but her attempts to convince him otherwise have so far failed, and she isn't keen on taking off on foot or spending all her time coughing up dust out in the car boot just to preserve his privacy if he's talking freely.
“She lives there, you know, with the girls,” he says, and her ear twitches, unsure if he means her or- and this sends an unpleasant twist through her gut- if he means some other 'she'. “Never thought it'd work, turning that warlord's heap to something... better, but-” he breaks off to sigh- “she did it. They did,” he says a little bit sternly, like he's reminding himself of a lesson.
Max downshifts as the rocky terrain gives way to softer sand, engine more a growl than a purr with how long he's been running it rough.
“They'll let you stay,” he says, glancing down at her, “Have'ta earn your keep like the others, but... they've a soft spot for strays.” The suggestion of a smile that was shadowing his face turns a little bittersweet, and she doesn't think it's because he's hinting at leaving her behind. “She's the worst of 'em, make no mistake. Far too lenient about that sort of thing.”
Furiosa still isn't sure what 'she' he's talking about- the girls do tend to try and find jobs and housing for any wastelanders that wash up on their shores, but she herself rarely deals with them unless they're assigned to pull shifts in the garage or try their hand on a driving crew, can't imagine that counts as being 'the worst of them'.
“Just like you should've cleared out and left me,” he continues, and his fingers stroke through her fur again, “Furi doesn't know when to quit on lost causes.”
The confirmation that he's talking about her sends a jolt through her, even if the context takes her a moment to muddle through before it clicks together- Max doesn't mean that she takes in strays the way the girls do, he means how she cares about him. She wants to tell him that he isn't a lost cause, that she's never thought that about him- even back on the Fury Road there was humanity in him, waiting to be brought to the surface.
“You should see her work on something she's got her mind set on fixing,” he says, voice a little wistful, hand returning to the wheel. “Don't know if they'll let cats in the garage, though.”
She's not entirely sure why the sight of her working in the garage is one to recommend to a cat, let alone another person- it's messy unglamorous work, leaves her covered in grease and grime and sweat, and far too often foul-tempered when things go too far sideways. He sounds honest about it though, voice rumbling out a fairly pointless account of her struggling with an ornery engine that she only remembers because it'd ended up coughing burned oil all over the floor before she subdued it, the small smile on his face evident in his words.
Furiosa thinks about the way she sometimes watches him when he's tinkering on his car or helping with one of the garage's projects, and then thinks about that dream of his she'd stumbled on, and thinks- oh.
It hadn't taken her long after the Road to realize that she wanted him, and even less time after that to realize that he didn't want her back, that he might not even be capable of it. So hearing him talk now with a soft affection in his voice, casual like it's nothing new to him, is disorienting enough that she's sure she's misinterpreting.
Just because she hasn't been able to entirely give up on wanting him doesn't mean she should try to project that onto his talking of her like a friend, Furiosa decides. He's close with the girls but he spends a decent chunk of his time with her so of course he has stories to tell, and that's all.
Furiosa watches from atop the roof of the car with every muscle in her body tense and quivering as Max squares off against another wastelander over an already-picked-over car carcass. It had been a trap, and he has his shotgun but the scav has a revolver, and she can't do anything. She hasn't felt truly useless like this in a long stretch of days, and it's no more tolerable now than it was then.
She can't remember if he'd reloaded the shotgun after using it the other day, and she knows how well he can bluff but it's entirely different when there's another gun on him.
The scav is demanding he turn over his car; Max answers only by waggling the gun aimed at their chest.
Furiosa eyes up the state of the scav's raggedy clothes and wonders if she can do any real damage with her claws. She'll have the element of surprise certainly, but she's not sure the scav won't fire off a shot on reflex and hit Max anyway, if not herself. She creeps a little closer to the edge of the roof but doesn't jump yet.
A gunshot rings out, a second right on its heels, and she freezes in place.
The scav crumples to the ground in a spray of red blood and Max lowers the shotgun. It was loaded after all then, and relief sweeps through her. She jumps off the roof of the car to check on him and feels her heart speed back up when she sees him clamp a hand to his side, a trickle of blood seeping through to stain his shirt.
Furiosa can't do anything in this situation either and her frustrated, concerned shout translates poorly through a cat's vocal cords. Max glances down at her and frowns, expression a little bit confused. She can't see how bad the wound is at the angle she's standing, but he's upright and not screaming in agony, which she has to take as a good sign.
He walks over to the dead scav and taps them almost gingerly with his boot, as if the bloody hole eating away their chest isn't enough to be certain that they're dead. She paces behind him, anxious and frustrated, as he digs through the stash accumulated inside the car. The bottom's been knocked away and the ground dug out beneath, making a cozy little hole for the scav to hide in for their ambushes.
He leaves it all, dismissed as not being worth picking up.
Shot for a pile of useless junk; the thought makes her tail lash angrily, and she hisses at the scav's body when she passes it on the way back to the car.
Furiosa watches from the passenger seat as Max gingerly peels up the hem of his shirt, assessing the damage. It's high enough to have missed the completely unprotected organs of his abdomen, and she keeps her distance to not crowd him but leans closer, thinks she sees a flash of bone-white rib.
He swears under his breath and lets the shirt fall back down. It's not bad enough that she can hear air being sucked in as he breathes, but any wound out in the wasteland is bad enough to have her seriously concerned. Damn fool; if his gun was been loaded after all why hadn't he shot straight away?
Max groans in pain as he forces himself to turn around, one hand pressed against the wound and the other scrabbling around in the piles of things in the back of his car. She doesn't know what precisely he has for medical supplies but this, she realizes, this she can help with.
She jumps to the back of the seat and then into the back, trying to remember where she'd seen a bundle of gauze. It was stuff they'd given him back at the Citadel, bleached clean at one point and far better than whatever else he was planning to pack around the wound. She finds it and carries it over to him, gets his attention with a swipe from her stump when he ignores her.
“Not now cat,” he mumbles, but then does a double-take. He holds out his hand and she drops the gauze into it, staring steadily into his confused eyes until he blinks and looks away. He finds a dark brown glass bottle carefully wrapped up in a layer of rags a minute later, and turns back to his seat again.
Furiosa steps back up front and watches as he uncorks the bottle. The astringent smell of alcohol hits the air and he swallows a swig of it, then tears off a piece of gauze and wets that. He shouts in pain when he presses the gauze against the wound and she shrinks back, hating that he's so badly wounded and she can't do anything.
Max counts to thirty out loud before peeling the gauze away, now a bright red with the blood that's flowing out of him, and replaces it with a fresh dry chunk. There isn't enough to wind around his ribs to hold it in place, but from the size of the hole in his skin she knows he'll need the pressure if he doesn't want to bleed out.
He leaves one hand holding down the gauze and runs the other around the curve of his chest, pulling his lips back into a feral smile at whatever he finds. Not a gaping exit wound, she would wager, though if that was the case he'd have collapsed already anyway.
He flounders to get out of his jacket and pull up his shirt, grunting and hissing in pain, apparently satisfied when they're hanging off the arm holding pressure against his wound. She can see now that there's no blood at all on the back of his chest, which means whatever the bullet did, it didn't leave. Furiosa tries not to think about shrapnel tumbling around inside chest cavities, lungs frothing up pink foam as they drown from within, people falling over dead because they bled out without spilling a drop. Her ears are sensitive enough even in the wake of the gunshots to pick up on the nuances of his breathing and she can't hear anything wrong, but that can change in an instant. And if it does, she has even less of a chance of doing anything to fix it than if she at least had her hand.
Max fumbles his free hand around his pockets until he pulls out a knife, small but sharp, and pulls his shirt up again. There's a slight lump under his skin up by his shoulder-blade, and she can't do anything but watch as he grits his teeth and cuts a slice into his skin, yelling a low drawn-out note. He makes the slash worse as he digs for the bullet, but for all that it's messy it looks shallow, only a centimeter or two deep. Maybe not a through-and-through then, but she doesn't want to believe that their luck is that good.
He doesn't stop right away after she sees the bullet slip free and she meows at him, startling him out of his concentration. He fishes around the trail of blood smeared down his back until his fingers land on the bullet and he holds it up triumphantly.
Its tip is flattened like it hit something hard, and Furiosa refuses to let herself believe that he's gotten shot at just the place and right angle for it to skate along his ribs instead of penetrating his chest cavity, because he's had more than his share of dumb luck before but the wasteland is never merciful.
He leaves that cut to bleed freely while he grabs behind him for one of the ragged blankets, tears off a long strip with a muffled groan of pain. He doesn't bother to disinfect the wound he cut into himself, only pads it with the rest of the gauze and wraps the fabric around his chest, holding them both in place. Then Max collapses into his seat, breathing hard.
She waits a moment before stepping over the gap between the seats. His eyes are closed but he doesn't flinch when she brushes up against him; after a minute of deliberation she climbs up to sit in his lap, close enough to clearly hear the beat of his heart through his chest.
His hand lands heavily against her, but instead of pushing her away he rubs at her fur clumsily, like he's petting her for his own sake.
“Need to... away,” he says, barely a step away from panting. She still can't hear anything wrong with his lungs aside from how hard he's breathing, and unless that changes her biggest concern is shock and the amount of blood he's losing. His hand leaves tacky smears of blood against her fur as he strokes her, and she lets herself press against his chest, worst case scenarios playing out behind her eyelids.
Max whimpers, there's really no other word for it, as he reaches past her to the switches set into his dash. He drives away from the trap car with her still in his lap, listening for changes to his breathing and watching the pallor in his face. As soon as he finds a place they're more or less unlikely to be stumbled on he parks, and mumbles something about keeping watch as he moves to lie down across both the seats.
Furiosa curls up on a sliver of the seat next to him and keeps half her attention on him and the other half tuned to the outside, feeling something not too far off from terrified. She's used to her people dying and being maimed- after all, it had been the singular glory of a War Boy to have a death worth remembering- but Max isn't a War Boy, isn't someone she thinks of as expendable. He's shown up at their doorstop roughed up before and she hasn't ever been much use those times either, but there are medics at the Citadel, and medicine far better than just a bottle of alcohol. She's not completely sure how far away they are right now but it's certainly much too far for her to run for help, and she isn't like the Dag, she doesn't believe there's any real power in asking the heavens for help.
All Furiosa can do is sit and wait.
He doesn't ever pass out completely, his hands rubbing and petting over her fur with slow clumsy motions, but he doesn't otherwise move for a few hours.
When he does finally stir to sit back upright she can't help making a quiet inquisitive meow, and he rubs over the top of her head with more strength and coordination that he'd previously shown. “Sorry I bled on you,” he says, words slurring together a little but mostly understandable.
She presses her head against him again, not caring about the mess, and he musters up a twitch of a smile.
They spend a tense night parked there, Max poking at his injuries periodically before with a resigned sigh he fishes around for a sewing kit. The cuts he'd made himself to get the bullet out have mostly stopped bleeding, but the larger wound on the front of his chest keeps up a trickling flow that spreads a dark stain across his shirt even through the bandages. Just before they lose the light of the sun he pushes her out of his lap and stitches the wound closed after taking another swig of liquor, the edges of his skin ragged and sickening as they're tugged back together.
Furiosa washes the crusted blood out of her fur, the tang of iron on her tongue unwelcome for the first time since she woke up as a cat. She doesn't want to leave the car to hunt and he hasn't eaten anything either, so she digs through the sack he keeps most of his food in and drags out chunks of jerky for the both of them.
He looks surprised and amused when she drops the meat into his lap, but he eats it.
She doesn't get much sleep that night, but Max nods off readily once he stretches back out over the seats, breathing shallow and a little strained but steady. If he was going to have his heart burst or collapse a lung she'd fairly certain he would have by now, but she doesn't know enough about the mechanics of injuries to be sure, and she can still smell fresh blood when he moves too much the wrong way.
When he wakes up he moves like he's still in a considerable amount of pain, arm wrapped around his chest and shoulders hunched, but he isn't quite so gray and strained looking. Furiosa doesn't want to let him out of her sight, a superstitious fear that the moment she does he'll keel over buzzing through her, but he's moving around well enough that she shoves it aside.
He tries to flick the kill-switches to start the engine once he settles back in the car and she jumps to her feet, hissing loudly. Max sends her a bewildered look and then glances out the windows, like she's reacting to danger outside. His hand move to turn over the key and she growls, fur puffing up to stand on end.
“What?” he asks flatly, as if she has the ability to answer. She jumps across the gap to land in his seat and bats his hands away from the wheel, with force but with her claws sheathed.
“Hey!” he protests, and she turns to face him, deliberately stepping onto his chest so her paw lands just far enough away from his wound that if he's cracked a rib she isn't pressing on it. He winces and shoves her down, but she keeps staring at him, tail twitching. He's in no condition to drive and she's sure he knows it, and with a silent car the area will be safe until it isn't, which is more than can be said if they get back on the road.
Max glares at her, “Freeloaders don't get a say.”
She wishes it was possible to know if her unimpressed expression is coming across through the fur on her face. Furiosa is certain that he knows he should be resting, and going by the way he's acted when he's landed in their infirmary all banged up before, she's pretty sure he'll capitulate once he feels like he's put up enough of a fight.
He starts reaching for the key again and she stares him down, uncaring that he can't keep eye contact at the moment, growling low in her throat. It's not the most intimidating noise but it gets the point across because he falls back against the seat with a sigh.
“Taking orders from a cat,” he grumbles to himself, but doesn't attempt to start the car again.
Furiosa hops back off his lap once he's pulled the key back out, satisfied that he'll stay put at least for a little while longer. He gets out of the car and paces around a while, holding his ribs gingerly but otherwise moving okay. She's not thrilled that he's still being active and keeps a watchful eye on him, but he returns to the car after only a few revolutions with a groan.
He roots around until he comes up with the shotgun and a bare-bones gun cleaning kit, and it's a restful enough occupation for him that she lets her eyes slip shut to catch up on the sleep she didn't get the night before. Cats, she's discovered, are much fonder of sleeping than humans.
Max is improved enough by nightfall that she allows herself to leave his side to go hunting, rather than continuing to be a strain on his dwindling supply of food.
After a great deal of searching she finds a rabbit and instead of running when it spots her, it freezes. Furiosa almost feels bad about how easy it is to pounce on it, the rabbit's last-minute leap too late to save it, but takes the thought back almost immediately when she actually lands on it. It's big, nearly half her size, and despite being prey it puts up a hell of fight as she tries to get a hold on its neck.
She wins in the end, but makes a note to herself that rabbits may not be worth the effort.
Even as skinny as the animal is it's a huge chunk of protein, more than she can eat at once. More than she can eat even if she works at it all night, maybe.
She wraps her mouth around the rabbit's spine and half-drags it back to the car, pleased that she's at least able to do something. Max huffs a laugh when she drops it into his lap, but he scratches behind her ears like he's thanking her. It's better for him to have fresh food while he's healing anyway; though rabbit blood can't fill his veins the iron in it will do him good and he seems to know it, drinking down the still-warm liquid he drains from the body with only a mild grimace, and the half-digested greens in its stomach are at least fresher than the dried fare he has tucked away.
If they were at the Citadel, she's fairly certain that Edie would force Max to stay on bed rest another day, but she has no such illusions of that happening out here. In the morning he slants a look to her when he reaches to start the car but she make no protest, and they pull away from the temporary campsite.
He's not quite so meandering in his pace now, and when they come across a hard-packed roadway he turns onto it, rather than cutting across to continue on his own path. She doesn't know the terrain here very well, only rumors and speculation about the inhabitants. Max doesn't look concerned, so she assumes that whoever the people are that drive this path enough to compress it down like this, they're not openly hostile towards him.
She's a little surprised when the crags of the landscape part to reveal the spike of an old-world building, crumbling but intact. There's a handful of collapsed buildings splayed around it, far fewer than the few other Before towns she's visited.
Max rolls to a stop and keeps the engine running. “Stay,” he says to her, a flicker of worry in his eyes, and she props herself up to look out the windshield. He keeps his head low and hands raised, though she can't see any signs of people. The tower would be a good place to keep watch, she thinks, but the only movement comes from the wind fluttering loose scraps of fabric tied to the beams.
“Wanderer!” a voice calls out, startling her because it comes not from anywhere near the spire, but down near the ground. Of course, she thinks. Get people distracted by looking at the obvious option and sneak out from someplace more defensible while they're unawares. “You're back!”
Furiosa blinks at that because the speaker sounds far too welcoming for Max to have simply drifted through with trade, and she looks to him to gauge the situation. His posture's relaxed now, at ease considering how gingerly he's holding himself, and he hums in response.
“Come down, come down!”
He nods and waves a hand, and then walks back to the car. She looks at him in confusion because she hasn't heard of him having allies out here but of course he doesn't explain anything, only starts driving slowly along the road. What had looked like a half-collapsed building proves to be the entrance to a sort of cave, and he drives into it with only a deep breath and a tightening of his hands on the wheel.
It's definitely old-world construction rather than the spaces carved out at the Citadel, the lines smooth and straight where the pavement isn't cracked and warped. Max parks the car against one of the walls so it points back out the cave, a quick escape if he needs it.
“Handicap only,” he says to himself, “Hmm. Counts.”
When he opens the door to get out Furiosa wonders if she'll be told to stay put again, but he only looks at her in consideration. It's enough for her to decide to hop out. He's familiar enough with this place to be recognized and not flinch away at that recognition, and she's never been one for hiding out of fear of what might be.
She follows him further into the cave, the ground sloping slightly as they venture deeper. There's faint lines painted along the floor perpendicular to the walls and she wonders if it's decoration until they start passing cars and bikes parked up against the walls, and she realizes that they're to mark out spaces. The vehicles are a hodge-podge, some stripped to a bare frame and others virtually untouched, panels painted bright glossy colors. Few look road ready, but the pathway outside was well-trod so they must manage somehow.
The sloping floor turns abruptly twice, and as they round the second corner the vague noise she was hearing but unable to decipher resolves itself: people, and a considerable number. There's torches burning but most of the room is dim, deep enough underground that it's cut off from the sun. The air is cool and slightly damp, like the deepest chambers of the Citadel.
“Look who wandered back in!” the same voice who had greeted Max earlier calls out again, and a ripple of whispering gives way to a disjointed chorus of “hello”s.
He grunts in reply and waves a hand awkwardly. Furiosa sticks close to his legs, unsure of what her own welcome might be. She smells acrid smoke and mold, and just below the layer of general humanity there's something rotten and stinking of ammonia.
The shadows aren't as oppressive to her eyes as she imagines they are to Max, and from her low vantage she watches shapes shift and dart about low to the ground, crawling under and behind what few cars are parked this far in. It's unsettling, but she trusts that he wouldn't lead them someplace actively dangerous.
“Have you come with news?” The speaker finally reveals themselves, an elderly man blinking owlishly in the dim light, dressed in scraps of car upholstery. “Is it time?”
Furiosa glances up at Max curiously; he's not just an ally but he's playing messenger for these people she's never heard of?
He shakes his head, “You'll know.” His tone is slightly awkward, like he doesn't really want them to be asking him anything, let alone such cryptic questions. Before the man can respond he asks, “May still kicking?”
“And how!” the stranger replies. He waves a hand and starts leading Max even further into the cave, chattering about how this person or other is doing. They have children here, a live birth since whenever it was Max visited last, and she realizes that those children must be what are moving at the edges of the space and casting such strange shadows.
She can feel eyes on her as she trots alongside Max and it has her wanting to flatten herself to keep a lower profile as much as she wants to get as much height as she can to keep her senses open.
Their guide deposits them at the side of a firepit glowing with coals, raps his knuckles against a a hollow-sounding sheet of metal and instead of leaving keeps trying to get Max into conversation. He isn't saying much in response, only grunting vaguely when an answer is required.
“I recognize that voice,” an old woman's voice calls out, moments before the sheet of metal is pushed to the side with a loud scrape to reveal the speaker. She's older than Furiosa would have anticipated for a wastelander even in a settlement, skin deeply wrinkled and hair gray, one eye a hollow mass of scars and the other filmed over white.
“May,” Max says in reply, and she smiles to reveal a mouth without teeth.
“Let me guess- a knife?”
He shakes his head, though Furiosa doesn't think she can see much of anything. “Gunshot.”
May tuts in disapproval. Over her shoulder she calls to the dark space behind her, “Rach, get my kit?”
Furiosa can't see much beyond the entrance of whatever hole it is the old woman lives in, but she hears someone moving around, clattering glass and metal. A young girl emerges with a bundle of fabric in her arms, her skin pale and her eyes wide and a little blank.
“Here,” she says with deference, and the old woman takes the bundle with one hand, gesturing for Max to step closer with the other. The girl immediately vanishes back into the darkness of the shelter.
“You're not bleeding out are you?” May asks, and he grunts in the negative.
Furiosa wonders if there's anything these people could do if he was- the Citadel has the equipment and the knowing to sew up veins and transfer blood, but she looks around and doubts the people in this cave even know how to cauterize effectively.
“Well, take a seat,” she says, “Haven't had to mix this up in a while.” Her voice is reproaching, but Max doesn't seem particularly bothered by the scolding. “You never come by for anything nice anymore,” she continues, “Where's the romance gone?”
Furiosa watches the old woman pull out bundles of dried herbs and things she can't identify readily as she chatters, and she doesn't know very much about healing but it seems similar to the things the Vuvalini use. She sits next to Max and intends to watch, but the movement and noises just on the periphery of the fire's glow keep drawing her attention away.
It's safe enough for him to be left to May's care, she thinks. He wouldn't have come to these people and revealed that he was hurt if he didn't trust them, a thought that rankles as much as it reassures.
She gets back to her feet and slowly walks away from Max, waiting for him to call her back, trusting that even if all he sees is a cat, he'll attempt to warn her if there's danger. He keeps his eyes on her for a moment, but then turns back to look at what May is doing with her herbs, and she flicks her ears dismissively.
The cave is full of people- twenty at least, a sizable little settlement this far out in the wastes. They're pale like they don't go out into the sun very often, and the deeper she ventures the heavier the smell of mold and ammonia grows. She turns another sharp corner and finds herself passing through a narrow doorway to see racks and racks of what she eventually realizes are mushrooms, sprouting from heaps of refuse. The few people tending to the racks pay her little mind, focused on the task of tending their strange garden.
Furiosa pads over to one of the unattended racks and noses around the lowest shelf curiously. She's seen the occasional mushroom, knows there are types that can be eaten, but she's never seen them being grown like this. There are caverns deep inside the Citadel that aren't being used; she wonders if it would be worth it to start experimenting with fungus. After a lot of trial and error the gardens up top provide enough for slim but survivable meals, but if these are grown with waste already rotted past other usages...
She doesn't know very much about the details of farming but it seems possible. Then she wonders why, if Max is familiar enough with this place and its people that he's come looking for medical aid, he hasn't so much as mentioned this to her or the Sisters. The system she sees doesn't look new, the movements of the gardeners practiced, and it's clearly something they consider worth their time to tend to instead of scavenging or using their refuse for bait or maggot farms.
She's caught up in her thoughts enough that she has only a second of warning to realize that something is looming behind her. Furiosa whirls, but hands are already grabbing for her middle.
She hisses and spits and strikes out with her claws, but whoever grabbed her is wearing thick canvas gloves, and she doesn't think she's having any impact. They get a hold on the scruff of her neck so the skin there pulls tight across her throat, and though she thrashes to resist, they grab her hind legs together with their other hand.
“Hey Drun, looksie what I found!”
Furiosa twists and fights the hold as much as she can as she's held aloft, but she has only a single paw free and can't get it anywhere near the skin of the person holding her.
A second person appears from behind one of the mushroom racks, eyes widening when they see her. “That's not a rat,” they say.
“I dunno what it is,” the person holding her says, “Look at the meat on it though.”
Furiosa growls and hisses, kicking out as hard as she can. It's useless, the hands are too large and strong against the fucking cat's body she's currently inhabiting.
“How'd it get in?” the second person asks, stepping close enough enough that when Furiosa lashes out, her claws just barely graze their skin.
She can feel the person holding her shrug, and the hand around her neck is starting to cut off her airway; she can feel the veins in her neck pounding hard, her vision getting distorted by the pressure behind her eyes. It won't be enough to strangle her to death she doesn't think, which isn't much of a reassurance considering she's fairly certain these people do actually want to eat her.
Without seeing any other options Furiosa takes as deep a breath as she can and screams, the noise strange and distorted both by her cat vocal cords and the walls of the cave.
“That's rottin' loud,” the second person says, and clamps a hand around her mouth. She attempts to bite them but they're wearing thick gloves like the person holding her, and now she has both pressure on her throat and something blocking off her nose and mouth, and the panic ratchets up. She thrashes and screams again, muffled but hopefully still loud enough for Max to hear.
There's no telling how long they're going to take to kill her, but since they haven't done the job already she's hoping she still has a shot.
She fights harder at the sound of Max's voice, biting uselessly at the thick gloves around her face and screaming again.
“What'a you want?” one of the people asks, “We caught this vermin fair'n'square.”
“That's my cat,” Max growls at them. She can't see much of anything with her vision taken up by filthy canvas, but she can hear his boots on the cement floor as he stomps over.
“Cat?” the person holding her scoffs, “Looks like a 'shroom thief to me.”
Furiosa growls. The second person abruptly releases her mouth and she sucks in a grateful breath of air, regretful only that they're now too far away to keep trying to claw at.
“Give her here,” Max says, and her vision is gray and blurry around the edges from the hand still clamped to the back of her neck but she can easily make him out, glaring viciously at the person holding her.
“I found it thieving,” the person insists, but Max grabs their wrist. She's close enough to him now that she can reach out and she does, hooking her claws into the fabric of his shirt with a touch of desperation.
“Give it,” he repeats, and she can't see behind her to what he's doing with the person's wrist but the hand around her neck suddenly releases. Furiosa hauls herself as far from them as she can, back legs kicking out again until those too are freed.
She's sure her claws are sinking into Max's skin through his shirt but she doesn't care, climbs up his torso until she's up on his shoulder and then turns to hiss venomously at the person who'd grabbed her.
“Teg, leave them alone,” May's voice calls out serenely from further up the cave.
“What's the point of all that meat if you ain't even sharing?” the person asks, a whining tone in their voice, and Max uses the hand around their wrist to shove them back.
They stumble but don't fall, and their friend comes over to grab their arm. “Is it one of the signs?” they ask hopefully.
Max turns and walks away from them without so much as a grunt, and she watches them from atop his shoulders warily, but though they look angry they don't attempt to follow.
He returns to the coal-fire and the blind woman mixing herbs, now a pasty green-brown glob on the lid of an old jar. Furiosa jumps from his shoulders when he makes to sit on an overturned bucket, but settles in his lap as soon as he's down.
She doesn't expect to be so shaken, but the encounter's really driven home the fact that she's an animal in the eyes of every else. It's not someone wanting her dead, or having been in danger- she's used to those sensations, has grown up in danger and knowing that people are going to want her dead or worse- but how easily they overpowered her, how casual it was. If she hadn't made noise enough to get Max's attention she doesn't know that she would have been able to get free on her own.
“Y'okay?” he asks her quietly, running his hands over her body like he's checking for damage, firm but careful. Her neck aches but she hadn't managed to hurt herself in the struggle, and she pushes up into his touch as much to reassure him as for the comforting sensation of his fingers over her fur.
“You should keep a closer eye on her,” May tells him, and Furiosa bristles under the assumption that she needs a minder. She'd just forgotten to keep her guard up, lulled by the thought that if Max trusted these people enough to come when injured she wouldn't be in immediate danger either.
He grunts, and pulls his hands away from her to point at the mixture, though Furiosa is fairly sure the old woman can't see a thing through her milky cataracts. “That ready yet?”
“Impatient,” May tuts, but she holds up the jar lid. “Where am I putting it?”
“Ah,” Max says, “I'll do it myself.”
“Nonsense,” she replies, “When else do I get to feel up such a strapping young man? If you don't tell me I'll have to feel around until I find the right spot...”
He sighs, and gently nudges Furiosa aside to hike his shirt up, undoing the strap of bandaging holding the blood-crusted gauze in place. It should be replaced with something cleaner, she thinks, but there really isn't anything cleaner to be had.
The stitched wound is raw and red, looks like it'd be hot to the touch. Not a great sign, but he'd cleaned it again with alcohol before sewing it shut and there would be medicine on it in another moment. Max guides May's hand to it, wincing at the feel of her fingertips as she slathers on the salve she's made.
Furiosa can't smell anything distinct in the mixture, just dusty greens and the grease that's binding it together, not that she's familiar with what goes into such medicine in the first place.
The wound on his back starts bleeding sluggishly when he peels away the gauze, scabs growing into the fabric of the bandage itself so well he has to stifle a groan of pain as they're torn away, but the salve is thick enough to stop the flow. Max at least turns the wads of gauze over before pressing them back down, for what little good that will do.
“Mhmm,” May hums when she's finished spreading the last of the salve, patting against the skin of his abdomen as he ties off the bandaging despite the way he flinches at the contact. “They're feeding you good up in that tower, aren't they?”
Furiosa lays her ears flat; she doesn't like the casual way the old woman's touching him, ignoring the way he clearly doesn't want to be touched, and while it's possible that she doesn't mean the Citadel with that statement it seems the most reasonable guess. A roil of irritation going through her because he's talked about the Citadel here, but never mentioned this place back home? And to make it sound like that, like they're keeping him as a pet or he's taking advantage of what she knows is a fair trade...
Max grunts and moves her hand away, shoving his shirt back down to cover himself. May cackles a little at the uncomfortable noise he makes, but retreats out of his space readily, and Furiosa forces herself to stand down. He'd been fine with her earlier comments, and she doesn't think May being an ally or elderly would stop him from retaliating if he really wanted to get away from her.
“What's it cost?” he asks, and she realizes that he must have been actually worried about his injuries if he didn't set the price before accepting the medicine. He's stopped trying to trade for things like that at the Citadel only after having his every attempt thoroughly thwarted, but such an open deal is unheard of in the wasteland.
“Let me see your cat,” May says, and Furiosa reflexively shrinks back against his side. The old woman backed up Max in getting her away from those mushroom farmers, but that might just mean she wants her for her own purposes.
“Ahh,” Max hedges, his hand coming up to land against her side like he's as worried about May's intentions as she is.
“Cats are good luck for witches, you know,” she says, extending her hands and flexing her bony fingers in a grabbing motion. When no cat is forthcoming she sighs, “I won't hurt her. And you'll get her back. I haven't seen a cat in years.”
Furiosa doesn't particularly trust her, but she thinks she has better odds of getting away from May than from another farmer with gloved hands. Max frowns, obviously not pleased with the idea, but she thinks if maybe the old woman really is a witch...
She moves to step away from him and he tightens his hold a little, shooting her a confused look. Furiosa squirms away- if he really wanted to hold her in place, he wouldn't have had his hand so loose- and cautiously steps over to sniff at May's hands, more as a way to tell her she's there than because she actually has any desire to smell the remains of the salve on her fingers.
“Oh, hello kitty,” May croons, and carefully feels along her body. Furiosa stays tensed and ready to spring away, but her touch is light. Her single eye seems to focus on her despite being hazy white, and she smiles like she's delighted. “Oh, you've gone somewhere you weren't meant to,” she says. Her back creaks as she bends down low enough to be nearly eye-to-eye with Furiosa, hands coming up to cup her head. Her whiskers are crumpled and pulled out of place, just on the edge of uncomfortable. “Don't you know what they say about curiosity and cats?”
Furiosa stares at her with suspicion; it sounds like she's admonishing her for going too far into the cave, but there's a certain smugness in the old woman's face that suggests otherwise. She attempts to ask if she's really a witch and can help, but of course it comes out as nothing but a meow.
“What a pretty kitty you are, though,” May goes on to say, ignoring the noise entirely, “And a fine lad you've found... Might as well take advantage, hmm?”
Furiosa pulls away from her hands abruptly. If May is a witch and can tell that she's supposed to be human, she apparently isn't willing to do anything to help fix things. And if she isn't, then she's an old woman spouting nonsense. Either way she's gaining nothing from this, and she jumps down from Max's lap entirely, tail twitching in irritation.
May only laughs a little and straightens back up to face Max and his bewildered expression. “Keep an eye on that one,” she says. He glances down immediately, but Furiosa is only sitting placidly on the ground, waiting for him to want to leave.
They stay only long enough for him to trade a spool of wire only partway tangled for a clump of mushrooms, musty and sour to her nose. She keeps close to his side until they're back at the car and then she takes her accustomed place on the passenger seat, and starts washing every trace of the cave and its people out of her fur as he drives.
By the time she's satisfied that she can't feel phantom hands grabbing at her throat the sun is beginning to set, and they park under a precariously-balanced rock for the night. It looks like it'll tip over at any moment but Max seems to feel it's secure enough, and after she's sure he isn't just making a quick stop she starts off into the surrounding area to hunt.
If she's honest with herself, she's a little anxious to let him out of her sight for very long still. He doesn't seem to be in any less pain than he was in the morning, whatever effects May's salve had wearing off. If something goes wrong, if he gets an infection or throws a clot, there isn't much of anything she can do. They're days away from the Citadel or any tribe friendly enough to help at the sight of a flare, and even the distance between them and the mushroom farmers is too great now for her to run back for their help.
Furiosa tries to shove the thoughts out of her head and focus on hunting, feeling useless and unsettled.
Will she ever become human again? She doesn't know what happened in the first place- she hadn't gone anywhere she wasn't supposed to, if the old woman had been talking about more than just exploring the the cave too deeply- only knows that after an ordinary day of traveling she woke up trapped inside a suddenly-too-large blanket and had paws instead of hands and feet.
She thinks again about scratching out a message to try and tell Max who she is, what's happened. But there's something she likes about how he is when he's alone, a glimpse into his life she surely wouldn't be able to observe if he knew she was there. And he's hurt, which makes her reluctant to push something so new at him when it isn't strictly necessary.
When she's finally managed to catch something to fill her stomach and a spare to be buried next to the car for morning, she returns to the campsite. Max is concentrating on doing something with his hands, movements ginger as he tries not to jostle his wounds.
“Hey cat,” he calls when he catches sight of her, then holds out a hand and clucks his tongue as if she needs to be coaxed to move in his direction.
Furiosa rubs her head against his hand in greeting but keeps walking until she has her front legs balanced on his outstretched legs, curious about whatever it is he's working on. He twitches out a smile and pets her, his roughened hands gentle as they rub around her ears, run along the length of her spine. She relaxes into the touch, eyes blinking more and more slowly and a purr starting to build in her chest.
It's still strange to not just allow herself to be touched like this but to ask for it, to push up into his hands, but it's nice, simple. There's nothing more in it than contact for contact's sake, just because it feels nice for the both of them; she can't remember the last time she allowed someone to get close to her and touch when it didn't mean something else. Telling him that she's herself and not just a cat would mean an end to this, and it's a wholly selfish reason but she isn't ready to give it up just yet.
Max hums to himself, then says, “You shouldn't run off.”
Her ears swivel to his direction, and if she was able to speak she'd say something about how her running off is how she's so little strain on his supplies, and maybe remind him that he's only recently stopped trying to get her to not stay with him.
“Not when there's people,” he adds, like it's an important distinction. He holds out his other hand as if he wants her to look so she does; there's a scrap of reddish fabric, bright for something scavenged, braided into a circlet and tied off with a sloppy bow. Furiosa noses at it, confused, until she realizes that it's meant to be a collar.
She pulls away from it to look him in the face, confused.
“Won't help from a distance,” Max says like he's answering her questions, and shrugs a little. “Up close though...”
Up close people will see his collar around her neck, the same as they'd have seen her Citadel brand if she was human still. She doesn't think he means it the same, but the thought still has the tip of her tail flicking back and forth. He's worried about her being grabbed up again, she thinks, but is the risk of that happening again enough to wear a sign of ownership around her neck? She already plans to keep more aware of her surroundings when there are people around.
Furiosa thinks again about somehow telling him who she is- he wouldn't suggest putting a collar around her neck if he knew she was herself instead of just a random cat- but it isn't the worst idea in the world, and some part of her doesn't dislike not the implied ownership, but the thought that he's actually admitting to caring about her well-being to commit to a visible sign of that concern.
Not being privy to her internal conflict, Max takes the loop of fabric and gets ready to slide it over her head. She flattens her ears back apprehensively but lets him.
The fabric is soft and light, loose enough to not restrict her breathing at all. She shakes herself when he moves his fingers away, unsure of the feeling of it laying against her fur.
“There,” he says with satisfaction, and scratches under her chin.
Furiosa feels strange, exposed almost just by having a scrap of fabric he'd braided together around her neck. She gets back up to her feet and slinks off to the privacy of the shadows, the collar almost unnoticeable except as a slight brush as it disturbs her fur. Her ears twitch as she catches Max huff an amused breath, but she doesn't look back.
She stays away from the camp until after he's gone to sleep, breathing slow and even over the background noise of a quiet night. The collar is loose enough that if she twists and pulls just right, she can slide it back over her head herself. She'd looked at the circle of fabric lying on the sand and thought about leaving it there- Max wouldn't try a second time, she doesn't think- but in the end she'd wriggled her way back into it.
She dozes off next to the still-warm remains of the fire until she hears him having a nightmare, twitching and mumbling under his breath, and she wonders if it's worth waking him for. It's early enough that if he can't fall back asleep he'll be missing a decent chunk, and since he's injured sleep is what he needs. But if it's a bad enough nightmare then waking him might be kinder.
Furiosa pads up to his head, pillowed on his arm on the ground instead of curled up in the driving seat, and studies his expression. She doesn't get to decide whether to wake him or not because he lurches upwards with a growl, fists swinging through the air, eyes wide. He gasps in pain a moment later, hand dropping down to clutch at the wound on his chest.
She makes a quiet noise, unsure if he's alright or if he's strained his stitches, and he turns to her blindly. A second later his eyes focus on her and he relaxes, dropping back down to the blanket-covered ground.
“Don't cats, hmm, chase ghosts?” he mumbles, plucking at the edge of his jacket.
Furiosa steps closer now that she's pretty sure he isn't going to lash out at her. He reaches out a hand and, slowly enough not to startle her, tugs her closer to his side. His fingers bury themselves into her fur, not really petting so much as just feeling it, like he's trying to ground himself.
She lies down pressed up against him and listens to his breathing slowly smooth back out.
“They're always,” he says quietly, “always there. Y'know? Always in my mirrors.”
She doesn't really know how to comfort someone with something like this, but as a cat it seems natural to rub her head up against his side, a reassurance but of what exactly she's not sure. She hasn't talked about any of the things that keep her up at night with anyone since she was only a girl and what plagued her were mostly hypotheticals. Any War Boy that dwells enough on the past to see it in their dreams tends to find a way to go historic (or mediocre, if that's all they can manage) not long after, and the thought of comforting any of them, of getting comforted by them in return, is absurd.
Max seems like he's just glad to have her there, a bit of living warmth against the weight of whatever he sees when he closes his eyes. She wonders what he does when he's alone, if he ever digs his nails into his skin hard enough to draw blood to remind himself that he, at least, is still alive.
He falls back asleep eventually, and she lets herself stay curled up against his warm side and feel the way his chest expands and contracts as he breathes, reassured herself by the steady rhythm.
When they stop at another settlement two days later, Furiosa does know where they are- it's a trading post just on the fringes of friendly territory, too far to risk sending official convoys out to but technically a place the Citadel is welcome.
Max parks the car a good klick away and rummages through the back for things to stuff into a pack, face creased in either concentration or pain as he jars his healing injuries. She attempts to help, and manages to find the Sig he'd claimed to have lost- loaded, but with the safety locked- and the battered gold ring he mutters about under his breath as he paws through the detritus that's filtered down onto the floor. His water tank is worryingly low, but he only grabs a much smaller empty jug to bring with him.
She also attempts to help when he spreads a canvas over the car to camouflage it against the sand, but he snaps at her for being a nuisance. She bares her teeth in annoyance- she was only holding down the edge the wind was about to pick up until he found a heavy enough rock- but obligingly steps away, sitting on top of his temporarily discarded pack to watch him struggle with it alone.
“You should stay here,” Max says when it's set, but without much conviction. She glances at him disdainfully, then starts off towards where she knows the trading post is with her tail held high. He sighs, then starts stomping along after her.
It's been a while since Furiosa has been to this outpost in particular, but it's familiar in feeling. With the sun beating down and the raucous noise of the crowd it's easy to remember to be on her guard, easy to remember that she's unsafe for a variety of reasons.
She stays close to Max for the most part, dodging feet and wheels easily. He's back to being entirely on the defensive, shoulders drawn in tight and face surly, eyes never resting on anything long.
His first stop is to a water vendor just inside the gates, claiming to have a direct line to the Citadel's supply though she knows they haven't trucked anything out this far in at least a thousand days. Max grunts and haggles until the vendor takes offense at his offers and sends him away with a hail of insults.
Furiosa isn't sure if this is a strategy, or if he's actually that bad at bartering. He must have enough skill at it to have survived so long, but the show she just saw was not confidence inspiring.
He wanders around without seeming to have a goal, and she's bored and frustrated enough by her inability to do anything on her own that when a flash of movement and whiff of something familiar-but-not catches her attention, she decides to split from Max's side, sure she won't be gone so long that he leaves without her.
She weaves through the crowd to follow the smell, able to nimbly jump right through the booths and tables set up unhindered, only a handful of the vendors cursing her as she goes.
The scent leads her up a pile of discarded boxes onto the roof of one of the more permanent looking stalls, where to her surprise the source reveals itself to be a cat.
The animal is crouched down, tail flicking back and forth, and she wonders if it can tell that she isn't a real cat or if it'll be as fooled as every human she's met. She takes a step closer curiously, unsurprised to see that it's thin and scarred beneath its patchy orange and white fur. Probably crawling with fleas and ticks too, she thinks with distaste.
It growls at her and she hisses back perfunctorily, and then she apparently takes one step too many because it launches up at her, ears pinned back and claws unsheathed.
Furiosa rolls with the impact and lashes out with her own claws, going for where weak points would be on a human. Cats however don't fight like humans, and though she's learned to take down prey and has an instinctual idea of how to move her limbs, she's taking more damage than she's giving. The second the other cat gives her an opening she springs away.
She hisses at it for real now, fur standing on end, hoping it decides it's had enough.
The cat makes a sort of yowling noise deep in its throat and charges again, and she manages to swat it across the face hard enough for it to back off momentarily. Furiosa turns and jumps for the boxes below, cursing mentally when she hears the other cat following.
It's one of the more ridiculous things to have happened to her, being chased through a trading outpost by a fucking cat of all things, but in her current form the other cat is a viable threat, and one that knows how to use its weapons fully already. She whirls and attempts to fight it off whenever a wrong turn leads to her getting cornered, but the thing is persistent.
Finally she spots Max in the crowd and dashes over to him, humiliated to have been driven away by a cat and a little glad that he doesn't know it's actually her so he won't say anything. She leaps up onto his pack and scrabbles up to his shoulders without warning, ignoring his surprised exclamations and the way her perch wobbles as he balances himself.
The other cat yowls and chitters menacingly from the ground, but she's noticed over the course of the chase that it's wary of humans. Furiosa hisses down at it, feeling fairly sure that Max won't let a second cat clamber all over him.
He jerks his head until he can get a look at her, as if there are so many cats that use him as a climbing post he needs to check which she is, and then looks back at the cat still glowering up at her from the ground.
“Scat,” he demands of the cat, “Shoo.” He stomps forward and it's the threat of a kick that sends the cat away, taking off with one last disdainful growl in her direction.
Furiosa takes her time making sure it's actually gone before letting herself start to relax. Max reaches up and clumsily pats over her, though whether he's checking for injuries or is attempting to reassure her she couldn't say.
“Making friends?” he asks, and she lets her tail flick into his face.
Whatever attention the sight of a cat fight had drawn, it dissolves away by the time Max starts walking again. The pack on his back makes for a good place to rest her back paws while her front balances on his shoulder, and it's not quite right still but at least she's seeing things from the height she's used to again. If she's careful about it she can balance well enough to lick the few scratches that seem worth cleaning; her ear is trickling a thin rivulet of blood that she can do nothing about but flick away every now and again irritably.
Max meanders his way through the crowd, and she can't track where his eyes land but his head tilts this way and that as things catch his attention. He passes by a table piled with serviceable-enough clothes as if his own aren't shot-open and caked in blood, but stoops to peer over assorted pieces of what looks like junk to her, spread out on a blanket on the ground.
She doesn't expect him to speak to himself with so many people around, but if she concentrates she can hear him mumbling under his breath. “Got Dag, mmm, Cheedo? Those beads. Ah, books, books.”
Furiosa realizes with a curl of warmth that he really does pick up gifts for the girls on purpose, instead of finding bits of junk by coincidence the way he pretends. It's the sort of lie that everyone is able to see through, but has just enough plausibility for the charade to be kept up, and she feels a little smug to finally have her suspicions confirmed.
He flips through two different stalls of moldering, half-burned books until he finds one he's willing to haggle over. Max shifts her so that he's holding her in the crook of his arm, so casually that she doesn't react with anything but mild consternation, in order to get access to his pack without setting her down on the ground.
“The hard part,” he mumbles into her fur before hoisting her back up to his shoulder.
He walks almost the entire length of the trading post's maze of sellers without taking a closer look at anything, and she's trying to reserve her judgment but she's curious about what it is he's looking for. And for whom, but if she's being completely honest with herself, she thinks she has some idea of that answer- there are only so many names he's mumbled to himself as he recited his list.
Max doesn't pick through any of the offerings except seemingly at random, his eye caught by something shiny now and again, but he doesn't seem to be focusing on it.
She's confused about what he's hoping to find, but it's not like she can ask him. Finally he seems to finds what he's looking for- a knife shop with an array of shining blades set out, and behind the table a whetstone standing still and ready to sharpen their edges. Furiosa leans over his shoulder to take a look at the knives, but he pays them little mind. Instead he reaches into his jacket and pulls out a knife in a leather sheath, and she wonders with a twitch of disappointment if he wasn't only planning to sell.
“You engrave?” he asks the man behind the booth, free hand tapping against a knife with a surprisingly well-rendered vision of the mark that's taken over from the screaming skull of the old Citadel. It's certainly not the sort of thing you'd find already on an old-world blade, even if the lines weren't still crisp enough to speak to their newness. She's a little unsure if she wants their mark to be used so freely by any and all wastelanders, but it's a small matter.
“Anything you want,” the guy replies. His eyes flick up to her and he quirks an eyebrow. “Name tag for the kitty?”
Max snorts, and unsheathes the knife he's holding. “Good enough?”
“Now, that's a fine blade,” the man says, showing real interest. Furiosa looks down at it and agrees; it's old-world made rather than poured at a scrap forge, double edged and long enough to get to a man's heart without being unwieldy, doesn't look as if it's ever been bent out of shape. The seller holds out his hand until Max gives the knife over to him, and then he turns it over, tests its balance. “Where'd you find something like this?” he asks.
“Around,” Max replies, shifting his weight like he's worried he'll have to grab the dagger back. “How much for a design?”
“Well,” the knife-seller says, “That depends on what you want! Your name, hmm? Got some clan mark maybe? I do a lovely nude if I say so myself.”
Max shakes his head, then starts patting down his pockets until he pulls out a scrap of paper. “Copy this?”
Furiosa can't make out what it is; she leans as far forward as she can without losing her balance, but the paper's facing the seller; all she can see is the faint shadow of lines.
“Yeah, I can do that,” the seller says, taking the paper and holding it up against the blade like he's trying to see how it'll look.
She can't help the quiet noise of surprise she makes when she sees what it is- a drawing of a flower, almost an exact copy of the one Mellita had given her when they finally deciphered which plant it was she was remembering from the Green Place that hadn't made it into the bags of seeds the Keeper carried. They had been her mother's favorites and Furiosa remembered letting her braid them into her hair as a girl, falling asleep with the sweet-smelling petals tucked around her. Her attempts to sketch the shape of them out had been miserable failures but Mell had known what she meant when she finally came to her, and drawn a picture for her to keep.
How Max came to have the same drawing she doesn't know- she hadn't talked about this with him, but it's far too close a match to be a coincidence.
Max hums in response to the seller, at the same time reaching his hand up to scratch at her ears. “How much?”
“Detail work like that on this quality steel...” the man says, “Not cheap.”
Max grunts, and slings her down into his arm again as he takes his pack off his shoulders. Furiosa is feeling an odd mix of surprise that she can't untangle, but she stays in the crook of his elbow willingly as he digs through the scrap in his bag.
The haggling seems to go on forever, and she half expects Max to demand the knife back and walk away but eventually they settle on a price. The battered gold ring, a second knife duller than the first but still plenty usable, and a little glass bottle of what looks mostly like ashy sand but the seller had gotten an excited gleam in his eye to see- some drug she's not familiar with, probably.
“Come back in three hours,” he says, waving them off with a smile. “You sure you don't want a tag for your cat? I could throw it in if the name's short...”
Max grunts and shakes his head, “No tag.”
He packs the payment away and moves to let Furiosa back up onto his shoulder, but she jumps down to the ground instead. He sends her a look but shrugs in acceptance, stepping away from the stall a moment later.
She keeps close to him as they walk, one eye looking out for that cat to reappear, but most of her mind is focused on the knife, and why he's going through the trouble of engraving it. Customizing something to mark it as his she would understand, but he isn't to her knowledge particularly fond of knives nor of flowers. And not just any flower but the same one Mell had drawn for her, the same one she sometimes thinks she catches whiffs of on late nights in the gardens when she can't sleep...
She knows it's meant for her to have the same way she knows that the book he'd decided on is for Toast and her voracious appetite for knowledge, but this is-
The knife by itself would be one thing. It's a fine blade, one she'd be happy to accept the way she's accepted all his other bits and pieces he passes off as trade when he comes to stay. But adding this image to it, going out of his way to make it something more than purely functional, something that she can only link to herself... She doesn't know why he's doing it, if there's any meaning to it.
Her mind returns to the morning she caught him in an altogether different sort of dream than his usual nightmares, the way he'd sighed out her name; she thinks also of his rambling conversations, the way he easily shared details about herself with what he assumes to be just a cat. It could be something to do with that, but she isn't ready to accept it all as anything more than happenstance yet and pushes the thoughts away.
Three hours in a busy trade post pass quickly and Furiosa noses around whatever catches her eye as she follows Max from a distance, sometimes chased away and a few times grabbed at, but she's wary enough to not get into the same sort of trouble as she had at the mushroom cave. He finally seals a deal to get water, which is a relief for her to see- she's been able to get the water she needs from licking dew and the juices of the animals she catches, but that's nowhere near enough for a human.
He trades some bullets that she doesn't think fit any of the guns he has for a few shotgun shells, and though she suspects it's a useless endeavor she sniffs at the cartridges to see if she can tell if the powder inside is any good.
By the time Max wanders back to the knife-seller he's done more trading than she thought he would, but he's dragging his feet a little as he walks and occasionally forgets to put on a strong facade and instead winces when something jars his side, movements slow. She doesn't think she's smelled any fresh blood on him since the day after the mushroom tribe, but it's almost impossible to tell anything specific in this riot of humanity anyway.
Furiosa jumps up onto the table directly to watch the exchange. The knife-seller looks at her in amusement but it's not particularly likely for a cat to steal things, she supposes, and he doesn't shoo her away. He presents the finished knife to Max and she's able to get a good look at it- the engraving has some false-starts and it isn't quite an exact copy, but in general it's well carved and obviously shows the same type of flower as the drawing.
The seller tries to push for a higher price now that the work is done, but Max at least knows how to handle that and gets his knife back at the price they agreed on, tucking it away securely under his jacket again.
He then scoops her up unto his arms before walking away from the stall, startling but not enough to protest too much. “Anywhere else?” he asks her, and close like this she can clearly see the tension and tiredness around his eyes, the way he's being very careful to keep her away from his wounded side.
She gives a little trill and rubs her head against the underside of his chin, and his mouth pulls up into a lopsided smile.
“C'mon then,” he says, and carries her most of the way back to the car, until she squirms out of his arms and finishes walking the rest of the way.
When they make camp later that night Max tries to get her to climb into his lap to cuddle, but she goes wandering instead, wanting some distance to think as much as because she doesn't want to keep depending on him for food. It's easy to accept the casual affection he has for her as a cat- she's already known he has a soft spot for animals he isn't interested in eating, and there's something simple about the feeling of his fingers moving over her fur. But she can't stop thinking about the knife and the flower, and the fact that she knows he plans to give it to her, and it's setting her on edge.
Furiosa tries to put it into perspective. She's used to him bringing back things with him after his journeys through the wasteland, trinkets and things he thinks might be useful, a little something for everyone who was on the Road with him all those days ago. If he'd given her the knife plain she wouldn't have thought much of it- it's a good blade, something she's sure she would use because he means nothing by it but it was given to her from him, but ultimately just a knife.
But then he'd added that design. Not his name or own mark as the seller proposed, not just some abstract patterning or a generic symbol of the new Citadel- they don't even grow those flowers in the gardens, and she recognized Mellita's hand in the drawing- but something specifically relating to her and her past. She's sure she hasn't spoken about this particular detail with him- the Green Place is as painful a subject for her to talk about now that she knows for sure what's become of it as his own past is for him- but she can't imagine it was a lucky guess.
Maybe, she thinks, and this thought has her fur settling back down from where she's ruffled it up, maybe it wasn't his initiative at all. They have artisans at the Citadel who are more than capable of engraving even something that delicate, but maybe Mell and Edie had asked Max to do this for them, the distance sure to keep things a secret. The thought of them arranging for something to give to her is strange- handing down gear and knowledge makes sense, not something like this- but it's not out of the realm of reason, she decides.
Furiosa lets this thought decide the matter for her, until she's feeling calm again. When she returns from hunting with a gut full of crickets and mice she lets Max coax her into being pet, relaxing into the contact. She kneads her front paw and stump against his legs as she settles down into his lap, her claws scratching tiny lines into the leather as if it's going to make the firm muscles underneath her any more comfortable to lie on.
“How do you feel about heights?” he asks as he runs his hands down her spine, scritching from her ears to the base of her tail until she can't help but start purring.
He's talking about the Citadel, she assumes; nowhere else remotely nearby is tall enough to ask about heights. As far as she can tell there's no pattern to his visits- he's gone sometimes for ten, twenty days before returning, or he disappears for so long that she starts to think he won't ever be back. It'll have been nearly seventy since he was at the Citadel last this time, and she idly wonders what else he's done during that time.
She blinks her eyes open slowly to look up at him, and he gives her a soft smile in return. “She'll probably have you on a fourth paw by the end of the day,” Max says, and carefully strokes down her front left leg. She pulls it away instinctively, though the touch doesn't hurt, and his lips twitch. “Not that three's bad.”
Furiosa stretches a little before resettling, her stump tucked under her. She misses her prosthesis, but adapting to not having it hasn't been much more of a challenge than adapting to being a cat in the first place. And what would an artificial paw even look like? Nothing truly functional surely, since she can't carry much weight like this, and she'd be dependent on someone to help her into and out of whatever harness she could design to strap it in place.
“Don't know how she feels about cats, anyway,” he says, and hums in consideration. She blinks drowsily under his hands and realizes with that same strange little jolt that he's talking about her again. What would it matter what she thinks about an animal he's taken in for a pet? It's his own business if he wants to risk fleas.
“You'd have to be nice,” Max says, “No scratching.”
She'd only scratched him that first day out of reflex, she wants to say, and besides- she won't be there to risk being scratched at because she's the cat.
And, oh. She won't be there as herself when he visits. It's surely been long enough for the Sisters to be worried about her absence, but will she be able to convince them that she's not really a cat and get help figuring out how to turn back?
Furiosa gets out of his lap abruptly and shakes herself out, hopping over to the passenger seat. What will Max say when he finds out? She hasn't made any serious effort to tell him that she isn't really a cat which means he's treated her like one, has been letting down his guard the entire time.
He snorts in amusement, “Too much to ask?” and she ignores him.
She hadn't planned on it, hadn't forced herself into his car in the hopes of spying on him, but she feels suddenly as if that's what she's been doing.
Maybe it would be better to tell him now, and that way he can reassure the girls when they reach the Citadel. Furiosa looks around the dark car and realizes that there's every chance he won't be able to see anything she tries to write until morning, which gives her the night to work on making her writing legible. Just her name should be enough, she thinks, because no animal she knows of even from the Before can manage to write.
She'd been planning to sleep but she jumps out of the car window instead, landing lightly on the sandy dirt below. It's a good thing cats can see so well in the dark because the moon is only a few days away from being new, and not giving out much light.
She picks an area not too far from the car and drags her paw through the dirt, writing as carefully as she can. Controlling her limbs like this is difficult and takes far more energy than she thinks it should. She had thought of adding some sort of message but doesn't think she'll be able to, just her name alone taking an unprecedented amount of time to write. She's also fairly certain that she's written the 'S' backwards, but figures it doesn't really matter.
Furiosa finishes the last letter and steps back to judge whether it's legible enough, only to stare in shock. The letters she so carefully scratched into the ground are just a hash of lopsided lines and smudged dirt that don't resemble letters in any way.
She growls to herself- had she mussed the lines with her other legs as she moved? Is she looking at it from the wrong angle?
After making sure that it's truly illegible she rolls across the area to wipe it clean, uncaring that she'll have to wash the sand out of her fur later. She begins again, this time watching each letter carefully as it forms- an 'F', just three straight lines, a lopsided attempt at a 'U'... She keeps her legs well clear of the area of the finished letters, giving enough space between them that she's sure she won't smudge them.
She continues down to the 'I' and looks back at what she has so far, sure she's fixed the problem.
Again the letters she was so careful to make are gone, smeared and rutted like she was digging haphazardly at the ground with no goal.
Furiosa digs her claws into the earth below her and lets the growl in her chest grow to something just short of a shout, teeth bared and fur on end.
From the car Max calls out a sleepy and concerned “Cat?”
She ignores him and starts slashing at the dirt angrily, carving out letters that dissolve the second she takes her eyes off them. It's confusing and absolutely infuriating, and the longer she tries to make sense of it the angrier she grows, until she tips her head back and yowls in utter frustration.
Why the hell can't she make so much as a simple letter? Her writing isn't the best but she knows how to write, and with effort she can control her paws well enough that it looks as if the right shape is forming, but as soon as she blinks or looks away it's as if it was never there at all.
She's startled by Max calling out for her again, closer. Furiosa turns away from the useless exercise and sees him standing bootless, gun in hand, turning his head this way and that to scan the area.
“You okay?” he asks when he spots her, the set of his shoulders relaxing as he registers the lack of danger.
Except for being stuck as a cat with no way to communicate, Furiosa thinks acidly at him, everything's perfectly fine. He sighs and tucks the gun into the waistband of his pants before crouching down, hand extended.
She thinks about ignoring him to walk further out into the night, but his expression is unguarded and worried, and he hadn't even bothered to put on boots before charging to her supposed aid. Her tail keeps flicking in irritation but she crosses the distance to him and rubs her head against his hand in reassurance.
“Thought a dingo got you,” he says quietly.
She does feel bad about making him worry, but she glances back at the scratched-up patch of ground and has to restrain another hiss of irritation. No dingo, she thinks, just more of whatever fuckery trapped her inside a cat's body to begin with.
He picks her up carefully and she lets him, though it's really only a few meters to the car and she hasn't hurt anything but her hopes.
Furiosa washes the dirt out of her fur angrily when she's deposited on the passenger seat again, trying to come up with another plan. If she can't write to tell him who she is, what are her other options? She was never very good at playing charades.
If she can't write now she doubts she'll be able to back at the Citadel either, which means she can't tell the Sisters, either. Tomorrow it'll be the twenty-seventh day since she set out to look for that patch of greenery, and even if Max drives straight and fast, they're another three away still.
They estimated it would take ten days at most so she's sure they're worried about her delayed return, and she knows they'll waste the resources to send out a crew to look for her if they haven't already. And at best when they do they'll find her abandoned camp with no clues as to where she's gone, at worst just empty sand and whatever baseless rumors can be had from wastelanders who know nothing but are willing to sell a story.
When he's returned the gun to its slot in the door Max reaches out to pet her but she shrinks away; he frowns but lets her be. He sinks down a little more into his seat and wraps his arms around himself, preparing to fall back asleep, and she resentfully beds down herself.
If she can get him back to the Citadel, maybe she can make something other than writing work. What would be unusual enough for a cat to do to attract attention? What could she possibly do to even spark off the idea, let alone confirm it? Furiosa knows that if she was in the position of being presented with the idea of an animal really being a human she wouldn't believe it for a second without very solid evidence, but she can't imagine what that evidence would be.
Eventually she exhausts herself turning it over in her mind and falls asleep, no closer to an answer than she was before.
In the morning she's not the only one out of sorts, Max's movements a little slower than usual, his posture defensive even though it's just the two of them. She thinks nothing much of it until it gets worse as the day wears on, his every gesture sluggish, his face beading with sweat even when it's no hotter a day than any other.
They come across the wreck of a car and he paws through it uninterrupted, the former owners rotting heaps of meat in their seats and nothing on the horizon as she keeps watch. He acts like it's a struggle to lift the spare tire stuffed into the rig when she's seen him lift heavier weights with ease before, grimaces every time he has to bend.
Furiosa waits patiently until he's stopped for a midday break, the engine baking hot under the sun, and then she steps into his lap and sniffs at the wound on his chest.
He grunts and pushes her away, but she stares him down and leans in again. The smell of dried blood and whatever salve May had put on it is still strong, a little rancid after being in the heat for so long, but underneath it is the unmistakable smell of rot. She hisses on reflex at how wrong it smells, and he pushes her away again.
“It's fine,” Max says, covering the area with his hand so she can't get at it again, though she doesn't need to. “Should'a let it breathe last night.” He winces under even his own touch, hardly a convincing performance.
They're on a meandering path that's somewhat in the right direction to reach the Citadel, but he's not taking a direct route nor driving like he has any pressing urge to be there. If it's more than a surface-level infection, which seems likely considering he wasn't just grazed but had actually dug a bullet out of his flesh, he could be in serious danger.
Furiosa can't drive the car herself like this, or else they would be on the road back already, and she's not entirely sure how to maneuver Max into taking it seriously enough to speed up. She stalks off to the back of the car to think, wondering if there's something in the junk she can use to prompt him. One of the things he was planning to give to the girls, maybe?
He resumes driving before she comes up with anything, and she watches from the back irritably as he keeps meandering, driving the casual pace of a scavenger with no one on their tail.
Max directs looks to her periodically through the rear mirror as he scans around for trouble, which she doesn't pay much attention to until he sighs. “It's fine,” he says like he's trying to convince the both of them, and she turns to meet the reflection of his eyes, unimpressed.
When they park for the night he unwraps his chest, bottle of alcohol and marginally clean rags at his side, and she nearly recoils from the sight. The wound itself is swollen reddish-black and weeping, crusted with pus and the salve May had put on. But now she can also clearly see the pathway the bullet took under his skin, a deeply bruised and swollen line tracing around the curve of his ribs to where he cut himself open to get the bullet out. There isn't any obvious sign of blood poisoning yet, but looking at the damage she thinks it's only a matter of time.
He looks actually concerned as he presses an alcohol-soaked rag against the stitches barely holding his swollen skin closed, face screwed up in pain at the burn.
“Okay,” he mutters to himself when he's done up the bandages again and she's pressing herself carefully against his uninjured side, “Okay.”
She forgoes hunting in favor of keeping close, alarmed by the sight of how bad the wounds have gotten. Without the salve covering it up the smell of infection fills the air of the car, overwhelming the scent of sweat and skin she's grown used to. Furiosa feels useless and hates it, hates that she's stuck as a fucking cat and can only really keep watch, curling up into his arms to comfort herself as much as because he seems to like petting her.
The nightmares that night come fast and hard, Max thrashing himself awake every few hours until he gives up on sleeping altogether. She tries to persuade him otherwise- sleep is the only medicine he has access to at the moment- but he stares out into the darkness with his hands buried into her fur until the first blush of dawn hits the sky and then he's starting the car.
He finally drives with a purpose, but she can almost see him deteriorating with every minute that passes. It's as if acknowledging how bad things have gotten is making them worse; his skin is pale and sallow under red-flushed cheeks, his eyes sliding away into a lack of focus, his reflexes slow. He's obviously feverish and she doesn't know much about healing but she knows that it's a bad sign, that it might not be long before his blood is infected as well which is a much harder thing to treat.
Furiosa drags his canteen from out of his pack and drops it into his lap, and he drinks when she prompts him but only sparingly, like it's a chore he doesn't have the energy for.
There isn't much else she can do, other than keep a sharp eye out for danger he might miss in his current state. She keeps careful track of their position as he drives, noting each landmark they pass that means they're headed in the right direction to reach the Citadel with a shade of relief. Even with a fast car and a direct path, they're still another two days out.
He's shown up to their infirmary in rough shape before, but she's never been there to see the decline and it's far worse to watch than she might have thought it would be. It always seems unnatural when he's weakened by something, and trapped in the small space of his car it's inescapable, oppressive. She can't reassure herself that Edie is giving him what medicine they have to spare, can't distract herself by working in the garages or running drills until her mind is blank.
Furiosa has considered the possibility that he might not come back, or that the medicine they have to offer might not do enough, but she hasn't ever been faced with the possibility of watching from such an intimate and helpless perspective. It's intolerable.
When he falls into nightmares that night, he doesn't seem to really wake from them even when the sun crests the horizon.
Max has been talking to himself from the first day, but with few exceptions it hasn't been anything unusual- pointless comments and observations as he thinks out loud, singing a few lines of a song as he drives, telling her disjointed stories. Now the phantom conversations take center-stage; he isn't talking to her or the car or the road but to people and things that aren't even there.
His hands on the wheel shake every now and again, their path swerving and jerking out of the way of invisible dangers.
Furiosa splits her attention between keeping track of his health and scanning their surroundings, heart in mouth as she waits for someone to take notice of the erratic driving and decide that they'll be an easy target. She plies him with water until the canteen empties and then fails miserably to refill it herself; she ends up standing on the water tank in the back of the car and meowing louder and louder until she has his attention and he puts the dots together, grudgingly filling his bottle back up with water and setting out a capful for her to lap up.
Their luck holds out until the middle of the night, when Max is tossing and turning as he burns up with fever and she keeps watch, trying to calculate their odds of actually making it in time.
The sound of rocks crunching together has her instantly on alert- it's far too loud to have come from a light-footed animal, which makes it almost certainly a human and therefor a threat. She jumps up onto the roof of the car and peers through the darkness, ears swiveling this way and that as she tries to pinpoint what it is and where it's coming from.
The smell of sickly flesh and rust hits her nose, and she curses internally. Buzzards.
They're on foot, which means either they've lost their own ride in an earlier confrontation, or they're close enough to one of their lairs' entrances that they didn't feel the need to drive out. Furiosa waits until she can pick out the details of how many there are- only two, their ragged clothes blending in with the shadows but distinct enough for her sensitive eyes- and then she jumps directly from the roof of the car onto Max's stomach.
He shouts and throws her off, but she was expecting as much and rolls without much damage, glad for the protection of fur and loose joints. She meows at him as she rights herself and he rubs a hand over his face, already mumbling an apologetic “Cat?” She growls a little, weighing her options, and then dashes past him to run straight at the Buzzards, hoping neither is carrying a crossbow or at least has slow reflexes.
One of them shouts in surprise as she barrels into their legs, which is precisely what she was hoping for, and though a booted foot reflexively lashes out heavily against her side she keep running past them, since she doubts her claws will do much against the layers of rags they're wrapped up in. A crossbow bolt buries itself in the sand just behind her as she darts away, but she reaches the shelter of a rock unscathed.
Her rude wake-up and the Buzzard's shout is enough to have Max alerted to the threat, and she watches him lurch to his feet and grab for the nearest gun.
His aim is terrible in the dark and with a fever still burning him up and she flinches as bullets gone wide fly in her general direction, but he manages to drop one of the Buzzards before they reload their crossbow or the other gets close enough to swing their hand weapon. Furiosa holds herself in tense readiness as she watches, looking for an opening to help if she's able. Max fights like he did at their first meeting, eyes wild as he lashes out however he's able, weakened enough that she's seriously worried. Buzzards are sickly on their own and weak at fighting on foot, but right now so is he.
The Buzzard that was shot stirs from their place on the ground, and when she sees them reaching for their fallen crossbow she rushes over, attacking their hands with teeth and claws. It feels pathetic that this is all she can do but it keeps them from reloading, and they're weak enough that their attempts at fighting her off are all but useless.
With effort she manages to bite through the wrappings around their neck and then their blood gushes up hot and coppery, and the fight goes out of them entirely.
Furiosa check back in on Max and finds him pinning the second Buzzard to the ground and hitting his emptied gun against their head over and over, a freshly bleeding gash cutting across his arm. The Buzzard struggles weakly, but their weapon is out of reach on the sand.
Max keeps hitting after they've gone still, face snarled up in an unfocused sort of rage that makes her nervous that he's not really seeing the body before him, and she meows loudly to try and draw him out of it. He lifts his head up to look around and reminds her of nothing so much as a rabid dog looking for its next target, but with only herself to break up the stillness and silence around him he blinks it away.
He pushes himself up off the Buzzard and staggers to his feet, wrapping a hand around the cut on his arm absently. She can't tell how bad it is but he doesn't need any more injuries, and leaves the body of the first Buzzard to sprint over to him with an inquisitive meow falling from her mouth.
He grunts in reply, then studies the fallen Buzzards for a moment. He's swaying on his feet a little, just unsteady enough that she's worried about how hard he's going to crash when the adrenaline wears off. No one's been called to the area from the gunshots so she's slightly hopeful that they didn't come from a nearby nest after all.
Still, she meows at him and jumps up in through the window of the car, because staying here any longer is a dangerous idea. Max grunts again, but seems to come to the same conclusion.
He throws his sleeping blankets into the car haphazardly before getting in himself, not bothering to do anything to wrap up his bleeding arm before gunning the engine. Furiosa digs through the stuff in the rear of the car before coming up with a clean-enough length of fabric, and she drops it into his lap.
He shoves it away, but in doing so winces like he's finally noticing the injury to his arm. Max slows the car down to a crawl as he wraps up the gash, not bothering to clean it or even get his shirt out of the way, then resumes his reckless-for-night-travel pace. It's a sign of how well he knows the area around the Citadel that he steers clear of obstructions when they're still only suggestions in the dark, that he aims unerringly towards the spires still hours of travel away.
The burst of energy lasts for about an hour before he starts flagging, and Furiosa debates whether it would be better for him to try and get more sleep or keep moving. The fact that they've run into Buzzards already means they're close enough to reach the Citadel by nightfall if he drives from sun-up, but it also means that they're in the roughest patch before protected territory. Not just Buzzards but lone scavs and opportunistic tribes of all kinds linger at the edges here, circling just out of easy range to pick off whatever they can.
He needs the rest, but she watches him as he drives and wonders if keeping up momentum isn't more important.
When Max keeps driving, sloppy but at speed, she lets him. The faster they get to safer ground the better. She keeps harassing him about drinking water until he throws the canteen at her, empty enough to have been painless even if she hadn't dodged out of the way, and with a frustrated hiss she retreats to the back of the cab.
There's no official marker of where Citadel territory begins, but as the sun climbs higher it illuminates hard-packed roadways used for patrol circuits and trading, and she relaxes her watch because they're nearly there. His feverish ramblings get worse the hotter the day gets, and she discovers that if she stands in his lap and throws her weight into it she can yank the wheel around, keeping them aimed correctly when he drifts too far off course.
Furiosa is debating whether it would be worth it to dig out the flare gun she remembers strapping to the frame for him or not when the noise of distant engines break through the empty sound of the wind, and she bats at Max's cheeks until he's looking around, wide-eyed and wary.
The noise resolves itself the shape of a pair of Citadel vehicles, Toast's favored truck and an outriding bike, and she breathes out in relief.
“Max!” Toast calls out as soon as she's within range, not with the firm commander's voice that she's learned over the days but so that the relief at seeing him again shines through the single word.
Max waves his arm and then winces, hand clamping down over the fresh injury.
“You look like hell,” she observes dryly when she's pulled up besides his car, and Furiosa watches the calculations turning over in her head. “Come on, you're riding back with me. Tansy will drive your rustbucket.”
He makes a protesting noise, but she doesn't back down from the order and after a moment he capitulates. Furiosa hops up onto his shoulders as he exits the car, refusing to be left behind when it's not like she can drive his car herself and has no idea how the Boys will treat an unattended animal.
“Oh, what's that?” Toast asks, staring at her in surprise. It's a nice distraction from the way Max is clearly trying to pretend he isn't nearly incapacitated with pain and fever, moving slowly towards the truck with wavering footsteps.
“Cat,” he replies, rolling his head so it butts up against her side. Furiosa rubs back against his hair, then leaps onto the open truck seat before watching him contort himself getting in.
“Don't think we've had one of those here before,” she says, and he grunts a little.
Max collapses into the truck with a groan, eyes sliding shut almost instantly, secure enough in the knowledge that he's in safe territory that he can finally let down his guard. Furiosa climbs into his lap and curls up, reassured to be able to feel his hands moving over her fur repetitively. She keeps her eyes on Toast and the horizon, the spires of the Citadel growing larger and larger as they approach.
He's passed out entirely by the time the make it to the lift, and struggles only weakly as they pull him onto a stretcher to head straight to the infirmary. Furiosa keeps pace with the Boys carrying him, and resolutely refuses to be chased out of the infirmary once they reach it, perching herself on the empty cot next to him so she can watch.
Edie shakes her head over Max's condition, chiding him as she works to get his injuries properly cleaned out as if he's conscious enough to hear her. The gunshot is even more gruesome than when she saw it last, the stitches ripped out and red streaks emanating from the center, but watching Edie's efficient clinical movements is reassuring. It's bad, but it's not the worst she's seen walk back out of the infirmary.
Toast doesn't stay to watch the operation but Capable gets her hands dirty helping, and Cheedo hovers at the doorway until he's bandaged up again. Furiosa stays out of the way but as soon as the work is finished and Edie's coaxed a few more drops of one of her medicines down Max's throat, she plants herself on the cot next to his head with no intention of moving.
“Is he going to be okay?” Cheedo asks, wringing her hands in worry.
“He's not septic yet,” Edie replies, “But we'll have to wait and see.”
“I'm glad he got here in time,” Capable says, “I wish he'd stop doing this though.”
“You know we can't stop him going out,” Cheedo says wistfully, putting up an argument for form's sake rather than because she wants to admit that it's true. It's a conversation they've had before, typically right after he comes back and right after he leaves, and it's a relief at the moment to be a cat because usually they look to her like they're expecting her to do something to keep him.
“Well he's not going anywhere right now,” Edie says, “I'll send a runner when he wakes up if you want, but the excitement's over.”
“What's with the cat?” Capable asks, extending her hand out to Furiosa. She's starting to get tired of that being peoples' default way of greeting her, but dutifully answers with a touch of her nose.
“Toast said it came in with him,” Cheedo says, then turns to Edie and asks, “Should we take it out with us?”
Furiosa digs her claws into the fabric below her at the suggestion. She can't do anything to help Max but she can't do much of anything else, either, and she has no plans to leave until she's sure he'll be alright.
Edie hesitates, but then shakes her head. “I'll let you girls know if it becomes a nuisance.”
Furiosa relaxes her grip on the cot.
There's a routine for when Max comes in hurt, and her part in it usually involves following whichever of the girls was there to see him out of the door as they're ushered away. Now she's there to see Edie flick him on the forehead when they're alone in the curtained-off space- he doesn't react at all, not that she expects him to after the minor surgery he endured to get his wounds cleaned out- and sigh in exasperation. It's remarkably similar to what happens when she herself ends up in the infirmary.
Edie turns from Max to take a good long look down at her, and Furiosa tries not to be hopeful that she can somehow tell that she's herself underneath the fur. “You better behave,” she says, “And if anyone starts sneezing, you're out of here.”
Furiosa isn't disappointed, because she didn't have her hopes up in the first place. There had been some of the Many Mothers who called themselves witches, but neither Edie nor Mellita were one of them. She only sinks down a little further to reassure Edie that she doesn't plan to run amok, head lying against Max's shoulder as she kneads at the rough fabric of the cot under her.
It's several hours before he starts to stir; she dozes off for most of it, the strain of the past few days catching up with her. He doesn't wake up in a total panic at seeing the stone walls around him like he used to, but he still comes to with a jerk and an ineffectual flutter of his hands, too long a road warrior to let down his defenses even drugged out and safe.
Instead of calling the girls in as promised Edie tells him that he's a fool and forces a cup of broth laced with bitter-smelling medicine down his throat. “You can have visitors in the morning,” she says, and he frowns but doesn't have the strength to protest.
“Where's...” he mumbles, trying to look around without moving enough to incur her wrath.
“Your cat's right there,” Edie says, gesturing as if he isn't going to feel her pressed up close. Furiosa gives into the impulse to rub her head against the side of his face, but he doesn't react to it.
“No,” he says, frowning, “I thought-” He cuts himself off before finishing the thought with a shake of his head.
“Why don't you get some more sleep,” Edie suggests with a pat to the back of his hand.
He mumbles wordlessly, eyes already falling shut as the medicine he was given goes to work. Furiosa is only mildly surprised that he's been given one of their more powerful sedatives; she knows the formula is hard to make and the healers dislikes wasting any, but she also knows that it's almost impossible to keep Max in the infirmary unless he's knocked out somehow. She always lets him be moved into her room as soon as Edie and Capable decide he's not likely to drop dead any moment, the same as she insists on for herself.
She wonders which room he'll be moved to this time, because hers is locked up awaiting her return.
She gets up and stretches herself out, picking her way carefully down the cot until she can curl up in the hollow between his uninjured side and his arm, ear pressed against his ribcage so she can listen to the steady sound of his breathing and the thump of his heart.
Later, when the setting sun shades the infirmary in golden reds, Furiosa's woken out of her doze by a hand against her back and she makes an inquiring chirrup, blinking her eyes awake.
“Here, kitty,” Edie says, setting a saucer on the floor next to the cot. It's full of fresh meat, lizard from the kitchen's pens no doubt, and Furiosa drops down to eat eagerly. “My, you are a pretty one,” she says, reaching out a hand to stroke along her fur, “Where did he find you, hmm?”
It's even stranger to be treated like an animal by Edie, but of course when she tries to say anything all that comes out is a meow, and the old woman smiles at her like she's done a trick and scratches at the base of her ear. “I mean it about staying out of trouble,” she says, but her voice is about as stern as it is when she has to admonish the Dag's little sprout.
Edie packs up for the night shortly after, leaving the infirmary to be overseen by one of the other medics.
Furiosa has no plans to make a nuisance of herself, but she's slept for long enough that she's anxious to be moving again, and in the middle of the darkened clinic there aren't many potential outlets. She doesn't need to hunt but she needs to do something. With some reluctance she pads away from Max's cot, careful not to get in the way of any of the other patients, and heads out into the hallway.
She knows the layout of the Citadel intimately, but from this perspective everything is strangely distorted. The ceiling looms high overhead and noises echo, the air stinking with a hundred conflicting scents. She misses the open air of the outside and the quietness of Max's car, though returning to the Citadel was her goal from the start.
It's not so late that she thinks the girls will have bedded down for the night, especially if they think there's a chance of getting to see Max, so she heads to where they're likely to be gathering. Her experiment the other day proved that she can't write to show them her name, but maybe there will be some other way of convincing them who she is.
Furiosa noses her way into the room to see the four of them sitting on cushions as they talk, mugs of tea and a large sheet of paper spread out on the ground in between them.
“Oh, hello,” Cheedo says when she spots her, “Look, it's Max's cat!”
She's not sure she likes being called that, 'Max's cat' like she's a possession of his, but she walks over to sit on the cushion she usually claims when she joins them anyway.
“I thought it was staying with him?” Capable asks, frowning a little.
“You can't make cats do anything they don't want,” the Dag replies, “She probably got bored of watching him sleep.”
“Well how'd it manage to get all the way over here?” Toast says, and from her seat next to Furiosa reaches out a hand tentatively, forgoing the offer to let her sniff and instead going straight for her fur. “Oh, it's so soft!” She looks embarrassed to have said such out loud.
Cheedo reaches out next, and then Furiosa has the very strange experience of being pet by four people at once. It's overwhelming in a not entirely pleasant way, though they're careful to be gentle and their hands are soft enough, and she tries to hold herself still but her tail twitches and her ears fold back.
When she can't stand it any longer she stands abruptly and shakes off their hands. The girls pull back, looking a little disappointed, but she settles back down to the cushion rather than leave entirely and that seems to reassure them.
“What's Max going to say if he wakes up and the cat isn't there?” Capable says.
“What's he going to say when he finds out Furiosa isn't here?” Toast counters. “I mean, we'll say she's out scouting and hope she comes back, but...”
“We don't know that she won't be back any day,” Cheedo says firmly.
“Cheedo...” Capable says, but the girl shakes her head.
“Max leaves for months and he always comes back, Furiosa's a little late and you're all ready to go looking for her bones!”
Furiosa can't help but make a quiet noise at that, and Toast unthinkingly reaches out to run her fingers through her fur again.
“A day or two is one thing,” Toast says, “But there's nothing between here and where we sent her!” She jabs a finger down at the paper in between them; Furiosa looks and realizes that it's a map, the Citadel at the center and the major landmarks painstakingly detailed. “Furiosa's been gone a month for a trip that should have been less than half that, even with delays.”
It's one thing to have known that the girls would be concerned, and another to be confronted with it directly. Frustration wells up in her: she's right here, in the same room as them, and she can't do anything to let them know. She knows it's going to fail anyway but she tries to say as much- it's me, I'm here- and the only noise that comes out is a gods-forsaken meow.
“We don't know that anything's happened,” Capable says diplomatically, “But we don't know that anything hasn't, either. Look at Max- it's dangerous out there, and if Furiosa's hurt, we need to get help for her.”
Furiosa meows again, seething with frustration. She's not hurt but something has happened, and she can't even manage to tell them about it.
“What?” Toast snaps at her, turning away from the circle to glare down at her. Furiosa glowers back unhappily.
“Furiosa,” the Dag says, and Furiosa jerks her head to her direction, ears perked and hope suddenly kindling in her. She doesn't have any idea how the Dag could possibly have guessed- “I think she knows the name,” she says, which isn't quite what she'd been hoping for, but along the right track. She meows again, looking around at each of their faces.
There's a beat of silence, and then Toast asks, “Are you suggesting that Max named the cat Furiosa?”
“Well,” Capable says, “I can see the resemblance?”
Furiosa tries to think of something to do to suggest that she's really herself rather than a cat, but writing didn't work and she can't speak, and no other ideas are forthcoming.
Cheedo starts giggling, a little bit desperately. “Furiosa?” she says, and with a touch of reluctance- because this isn't the conclusion she wanted them to draw but maybe when Max wakes up and tells them he hasn't named her anything- Furiosa meows again.
Her giggling threatens to turn sour. “He has, hasn't he? What are we going to tell him?”
The Dag lays a hand on her arm, drawing her in for a hug. Cheedo nestles into it, not so much making a distinct noise anymore as just breathing raggedly.
“We still don't know anything,” Capable says, but it falls flat.
“Well I know I'm not calling it Furiosa,” Toast says, voice determinedly light, “That's too much even from Max.”
Furiosa lays herself down flat, tired suddenly. She's trapped as a cat and can't tell anyone, so the closest people she has to a family think she's likely dead or dying - and she might as well be, considering there isn't much of her life she can resume.
“Furry-osa?” the Dag suggests, “She could be an honorary Im-purr-ator.”
“Let's just call it Max's cat,” Capable says, “We'll ask him about names when he wakes up.”
“Sure,” the Dag says with a cheeky grin, “Max's pussy... cat.”
Toast snorts, and Furiosa flicks her tail in irritation at the joke. “Hey Max, keeping that pussy happy?” she says, grabbing the lighter topic with both hands, “Gee Max, your pussy sure is hairy.”
Capable looks slightly guilty but puts in, “How'd you get your puss to purr like that, Max?”
Muffled from where she's still hiding her face against the Dag's shoulder, Cheedo says, “You're all terrible people.”
“We're not the ones naming pussies after the woman we're in love with,” Toast quips back, then scrunches up her face in consideration, “Well, not pussies we found just lying around randomly, anyway.”
Furiosa decides she's had quite enough. She understands that it's joking meant to diffuse the tension of a serious situation, but it's definitely making her uncomfortable to be the focus of it, to say nothing of the assumptions they're making about Max. She gets up from the cushion and shakes herself off as if she can shake off the conversation, then deliberately steps all over their map in an ineffectually petty move as she heads for the door.
“Oh no, come back, cat!” Capable says, but Furiosa doesn't even look back. “You scared it off, Toast.”
“I scared it off?” The rest of Toast's mock-affronted reply is lost to her as she rounds the corner outside the door, trotting down the hallway with her head down and focus directed ahead of her.
Furiosa spends a few hours roaming the Citadel aimlessly, exploring some of the smaller nooks and crannies she hasn't before been able to get into. In one of them she finds the desiccated corpse of an animal that doesn't look too dissimilar from a cat; in another she stumbles on the lair of a very-much-alive littlie, who seems just as surprised to see her as she is to see them.
When she's not particularly tired but she's had enough, she returns to the infirmary and the cot Max hasn't stirred from, and curls back up next to him. She very well could find some other place to sleep- with word spread that she 'belongs' to Max the Citadel is safe enough for her if she keeps away from the always hungry ground-dwellers, and she's just gone and discovered a dozen additional private nooks too small for someone to disturb her in- but she can't shake the fear that always comes with seeing Max so sick, and if no one thinks she's anything but a cat, she might as well take advantage of it.
She grooms her fur and then starts in on cleaning his hair, still restless. The taste of it is heavy and unpleasant with how long it's been since it was washed last but she feels a little better knowing it's not entirely full of dust and salt from his sweat anymore, and the effort she puts into trying to get the unruly tufts to lie flat is just enough to let herself pretend that it's a real distraction from her thoughts.
The fever recedes but doesn't break, and come morning he's excused from the heavy sedatives on the condition that he stay in his cot until it does. He grouses about it but he's still too groggy and feverish to really protest, and Furiosa sets herself up in his lap to help make sure he stays put.
The girls come to visit, the Dag towing the daglet for only a few minutes, the kid apparently deciding she doesn't like cats very much after Furiosa hisses a warning for having her tail yanked on painfully.
Even without the sedatives Max tires rather quickly now that he's accepted that he's supposed to be healing and isn't forcing himself to be on his guard, but he's definitely sharp enough to ask “N, where's Furiosa?”
Toast sends Cheedo a look, but it's Capable who says evenly, “She's gone scouting, you just missed her!”
It's a little too bright, but he accepts it easily with only a disappointed frown. Furiosa tries to remember if she's ever been actually away on the occasions he visits- on a trade run, maybe, but nothing that lasted more than a day or two; she's only started going on longer scouting runs with any frequency in recent days.
“What's the cat's name?” Toast asks to change the subject.
Max shrugs, “Doesn't have one. 's just a cat.”
She raises an eyebrow, unimpressed with his answer, “You've just been calling it 'cat'?”
He shrugs again, fingers idly stroking through Furiosa's fur. She thinks back to his concern the night he gave her the collar, the panic he showed when he thought she was being attacked, and doubts that he's as unattached as he'd pretending to be.
Which is an odd thought to have, because she's herself but she's also a cat, and it's nice to have someone care for her in such a simple way but it's strange because it's Max, and if he knew who she really was she thinks he wouldn't care as much, certainly not in the same way.
Edie comes through with more medicine- not nearly as heavily sedative but still enough to keep him attached to the bed, and Furiosa spends most of the day in the infirmary with him, waiting for his fever to break.
They manage to keep Max in the infirmary for a second night before he stomps his way out, Furiosa following at his heels. The fever's gone but she can still smell a tang of infection clinging to his skin and it's worrisome, though she knows he's been up and about with injuries like this before. He checks on his car in the garage first, glaring at the Boys who know well enough by now to give it a wide berth and certainly haven't actually touched it, digs through the back until he comes up with the jumble of items he's collected for the girls to have.
He tracks them down next, greeting them properly now that he's on his feet, smiling pleased and a little shy when they accept their presents. The now-dried mushrooms he got from the cave settlement he gives to Edie, and Furiosa listens with no small amount of surprise as the healer excitedly speculates about the tinctures she can make from them. Not a food source after all, it seems, but perhaps still something worth looking into cultivating.
The daglet glares suspiciously at Furiosa every moment that she doesn't spend being enthralled with Max, but after the tail-pulling Furiosa is more than willing to accept the distance. They're not particularly good friends even when she's in her rightful body, but at least as a cat there doesn't need to be any pretense about it.
Max retreats back to the garage and pokes around under the hood of his car, aimless and slow as he tries to pretend he shouldn't still be resting. If she was herself she'd be right there next to him, brushing elbows and talking shop while assessing him to see if he really is fit to be on his feet.
As a cat she perches on the edge of the bodywall and watches, frustrated that she can't say anything, that she can't do much, either. Furiosa taps her paw against a hose that needs to be patched and he rubs over her ears absentmindedly in thanks, but then shoos her away from getting any further into the workings.
He isn't talking to himself out loud anymore, even though no one is around to overhear, but she sees his lips move with silent words as he catalogues the repairs he'll want to make.
Toast comes by to push food at him and gently make fun of all the work he hasn't been doing, and to remind him that if he doesn't stop back by the infirmary to get his bandages changed before nightfall it'll be his skull decorating the trade rig.
He hums a little, seeing the chastisements for the concern they really are, and around a mouthful of beans asks, “Furiosa still out?”
Furiosa meows because she's still right there, though she knows it'll be dismissed.
“Yeah,” Toast replies, going for casually unconcerned but not quite making it. “Probably be another few days, so you might as well rest up in the meantime.”
“What's, ah, what's she doing?”
“We think there's some quality dirt not too far away, she's checking it out,” she says, which is at least half true. She had been out there looking for the patch of living green at the start.
Max nods his head, spoon scraping against the bottom of his tin plate.
“You train the cat to do that?” Toast asks, reaching out to pet over Furiosa's back.
“It keeps making noise when it hears Furiosa's name,” she says, smiling a little. Furiosa deliberately keeps silent, which does nothing to dampen Toast's smile.
“Ah...” She knows that he hasn't actually said her name very much while they were together- except a few times as he endured nightmares, mixed in with other names, and she ducks her head at the memory of the one morning it wasn't a nightmare at all- but his face still flushes with embarrassment.
Toast is outright smirking now, “You're never going to hear the end of it when she finds out.” Her expression curdles even as the words leave her mouth, and she turns away before Max can see.
“'s not my fault,” he says with playful defensiveness, “It knows humans. Maybe someone else named it.”
“Sure,” Toast says dismissively, voice a little strained. “Hey, I just remembered a thing I've gotta do, you set here?”
Max nods with a slight frown, but doesn't question her rapid departure. He turns to Furiosa and stares at her for a bit, head cocked to the side as he assesses her.
Furiosa meows softly, knowing already that he isn't going to come to the conclusion that she's reacting to the name because it's hers but still thinking that maybe, just maybe...
“Furiosa...?” he says a little tentatively, and she meows at him again. He sighs, and reaches with his free hand to scratch her ears. “You didn't learn that from me,” he says sternly, like he's trying to reassure himself.
She deflates, but what else was she expecting? It's madness to see a cat react to a name and think they're really that person trapped into the wrong body, and Max has never been that particular shade of mad.
When Max curls up to sleep he locks the door of his borrowed room behind him, and Furiosa is faced with the reality of either being locked in, or locked out. As a human she would just sleep through the night, but being a cat has changed when she sleeps, and how much she needs.
She sleeps for an hour or two, then has to get up and move. Without a window the only light is a bare sliver leaking around the doorjamb, so little that everything is mostly shadows even to her eyes. She paces around the small room, nosing carefully at the few belongings that Max has brought out from his car, trying to dispel her energy without waking him from sleep she knows he needs.
His pack slides against the wall to the floor with a too-loud clatter as she accidentally unbalances it, and Furiosa freezes.
“Cat,” Max groans in annoyance, and she hears fabric rustling as he shifts in his nest of blankets.
She pads over and rubs against his shoulder in apology; he sighs and wraps her into his arms, tugging her to lie awkwardly against the unbandaged portion of his chest. Furiosa refuses to call the noise that gets surprised out of her at the action a squeak.
“Go to sleep,” he says firmly.
He gives her a pat with a hand that's heavy and clumsy from sleep, then starts rubbing his fingertips through her fur, and she's still full of restless energy but she relaxes into the touch until she's purring. When his movements slow down as he falls asleep again she doesn't follow him, but she stays curled up against him anyway.
A fourth day passes, and the smell of infection coming off Max grows weaker. It'll be a while before he's fully healed, but Furiosa is no longer worried about him dropping dead.
She leaves him in the gardens with the daglet and walks the halls, growing more frustrated with every step. The people she passes either don't even see her or else stare curiously, there's nothing she's able to do in the garages and she's chased out as soon as the Boys catch sight of her anyway, and she'd tried once again to figure out a way to communicate without success. She's starting to feel like turning back to her normal self truly is an if, not a when.
After hunting a suspiciously fat mouse through the halls Furiosa gets chased by a pair of overly-curious kids herself, and she's not entirely sure that they're not also planning to eat her should she be caught. She takes shelter in the Council room, banking on the fact that they'll remember littlies aren't allowed in without an adult to herd them.
They skid to a halt outside the door, but it's not until she hears Capable ask “Why are you chasing the cat?” that she realizes the room isn't empty.
Furiosa looks around at the pairs of legs she can see- only three, and wearing clothes that belong to the Sisters. She doesn't bother to listen to what the kids are saying, only walks out from under the table to jump up onto it, slightly more eye-level with the girls.
Capable gently scolds the kids until they apologize and run off, while Cheedo reaches out and pets over Furiosa's fur.
“But do you think he's healed enough?” she says when they're alone again, clearly already in the middle of a discussion.
“I don't think it's going to matter,” Toast says, “We all know he's going to run out the second he hears.”
“They really didn't find anything?” Capable asks, “Even bad news?”
Toast shakes her head. “They found someone who said they'd seen her, but nothing came of it.”
Furiosa realizes that they're talking about her again, and the fact that she hasn't returned. Well, not in any way that they can tell it's her, anyway. They must have already sent out a search party that didn't find any trace of her abandoned camp, and the 'he' they were talking about had to be Max. She'd been wondering how long they were going to keep up the pretense that nothing was wrong.
Capable sighs heavily, resignation written across her face. “We'll tell him tomorrow then,” she says, “He should get another night's sleep at least.”
Cheedo picks up Furiosa and hugs her to her chest, and she's getting annoyed at how often and how easily people manhandle her but she doesn't begrudge the girl the action when she's so clearly miserable. It's even worse than she thought it would be to be assumed dead; she didn't expect to ever get a front-row seat to watch their reactions up close.
“And what if he doesn't come back either?” Cheedo says, voice shaky, “What if they're both just gone?”
“That's the wasteland,” Toast replies frankly, but not unkindly. “You know it as well as we do.”
“It's not fair,” she insists, and looks down at Furiosa like she can't bear to look at the others any more, words resigned, “None of it's fair.”
Furiosa lets out a quiet chirrup and butts her head against Cheedo, hating how helpless she feels- she's right here but she can't do anything to fix the situation, can't raise her voice and wave her arms and make them see her.
“And we don't know that she isn't fine,” Capable says, “There's always hope, right?”
She makes sure she's in the room when they tell Max, and very nearly regrets it because the look on his face when he registers what they're saying- she can't even begin to identify all the emotions that swirl over him.
“How long?” he demands, hands clenched against the table.
“She left a little over a month ago,” Capable says, “It was only supposed to take about a week...”
Max sucks in a breath, and nods his head sharply. “Where.”
“It's not on any of our maps,” Toast says, unrolling the sheet of paper anyway, “But the place was supposed to be around here-” she taps against a spot marked out with the symbol for mountains- “and we figure she took a straight path.”
He stares at the map for a minute, then drags his finger along the surface of it. There's the few major tribe boundaries that are mostly static marked out on it in colored ink, none particularly close to where she had ventured.
“You looked?” Max says.
“The search party we sent out came back yesterday,” Toast confirms with a nod. “No signs of anything, but we couldn't send them very far.”
“It doesn't mean it has to be bad news,” Cheedo says faintly; her words are ignored.
His nostrils flare, expression darkening, “You should have told me.”
“You were practically dying!” Capable defends, “You're still not well enough to be going.”
“You. Should. Have. Told. Me,” Max repeats, each word heavy.
“Well we've told you now,” the Dag says, and folds her arms across her chest like she's challenging him.
Furiosa studies the map, tracing her route with her eyes. She did start out straight, curving to allow for the terrain and their best guess of territory lines, but there'd been a scav that drove her off to the west enough to add half a day to the trip. There's far less detail towards the edge of the map, but if the scale isn't too distorted she can guess at where she made camp.
“Will you even consider taking a crew along? Ace went out, he can tell you where they looked already,” Toast says.
No one is paying attention to Furiosa, and she thinks about her disastrous attempts to write her name earlier, how it had defied explanation for every letter to be erased as soon as she scratched them out- but she still has to try. They're in the Council Room though the other Council members are absent, and it's not too hard to find a bottle of ink, mixed up from soot.
She knocks the bottle over so the ink spills out, wincing internally at the waste, and smears her paw through it.
“Cat, no!” Cheedo was paying attention to her, apparently.
Furiosa darts back to the end of the table with the map and steps quite deliberately where to her best guess her abandoned camp is, hoping enough ink has stuck to her to make a mark, hoping that whatever it was that ruined her attempts at writing earlier doesn't strike again.
Max scoops her up and holds her firmly, body tense against hers. She looks down and sees a faint smear of ink on the paper, right where she'd meant to leave it, and feels a tiny spark of hope.
“Have the decency to say goodbye to the tyke before you go off and kill yourself,” the Dag says, “She'll appreciate it when she's older.”
Max stares at her a little bit wild-eyed, but he nods. He doesn't attempt to contradict the assumption that he likely won't be coming back, Furiosa notes with a measure of resignation. She knows he won't find her out on the sands, living or dead, because she's right the fuck in front of him already, and she knows with an equal amount of certainty that he'll drive himself to death looking anyway.
If she could just communicate with them- she opens her mouth to speak, but all that comes out is the same goddess-damned meow she's been hearing for nearly thirty days. No one pays her any mind anyway except for Max's arms tightening a little around her, just a dumb animal who hasn't become enough of a nuisance yet to need to be removed.
Furiosa installs herself into the passenger seat of his car when he finishes grabbing supplies and refuses to be budged, not that anyone other than Cheedo tries. Max stares at her for a moment like he isn't sure what she's doing in the car but doesn't protest, too caught up in his worry. The map gets handed to him and he doesn't even look at it but she watches to see where he throws it so she can retrieve it later.
When they hit the sand below the lift Max fangs it immediately, barely making sure that the ground-dwellers are out of the way first. The entire first day he says nothing, jaw set and eyes fixed on the horizon as he drives. At night Furiosa watches him wake from nightmares three times before he gives up on sleeping entirely, starting to drive again before it's even dawn.
His jaw works, soundlessly at first, and then he starts muttering loud enough for her to hear. “Not Gastown, Bullet Farm. Not Buzzards. Not Dynamos. Not... not... fucking any of them. Wouldn't resist bragging.”
Listing off the possibilities, she thinks to herself. He's probably right about the bragging- any of the hostile tribes a day or two's drive from the Citadel would likely try to ransom her off if they could, or they'd be shouting it from every rooftop that they'd taken her down.
His hands tighten on the wheel, knuckles bloodless white, and with a muted growl he falls silent again.
The third day, he slows down. Not because he wants to delay finding her, but because they're beyond the area the search party already covered. From this perspective Furiosa knows precisely where her camp is- she leans against the dashboard and can see the path she took- but she has no way to communicate that knowledge. And there's a lot of wasteland.
They encounter a lone wastelander and rather than avoiding them or signaling for a friendly meeting Max attacks, driving circles around them until they run afoul of a chunk of rock and their car sputters to a halt. Furiosa has no idea why- he's fully stocked-up, and for all that he's capable of violence she doesn't think he enjoys it enough to seek relief by killing- and then he puts a gun to the head of the driver and demands to know if they've been in this area long.
He's looking for anyone who might have seen her, she realizes as she listens to the interrogation. The scav blathers and blubbers and has nothing useful to say, even after encouragement, and Max stalks back to the car.
She thinks about the one driver she'd tangled with, and the slim odds of finding them again. She'd left them alive but with a nearly-disabled car, and if they find them... Then Max would hear that she was alive on the third day of her expedition, which leaves thirty more unaccounted for in their minds. It'll hardly be of much help, though she supposes following her veer west improves the odds of stumbling on her camp.
Max keeps driving past dark, eyes blank most of the time before twitching into furious motion as he scans out his windows, then falling blank again. Furiosa meows at him until he brakes hard with a snarl directed at her.
There's really no way to communicate without words that he needs a break before he crashes them, and that she needs a break unless he wants to smell her piss soaking into the interior, and that if he doesn't change his bandages the infection she can smell lurking in his wound still will come back with a vengeance and probably be what kills him.
She scratches at the door handle, as if she needs him to let her out despite the windows being wide open, and meows as pointedly as she can manage.
Max growls, and looks around at their surroundings. Dark and getting darker; she's not entirely sure what he can make out but she sees nothing unusual, flat sandy terrain with no sign of other vehicles. Safe enough for a pit stop, though she'd really prefer if he'd stopped a kilometer back where there was a nice hollow suitable for camping in.
He gets back into gear and drives a little further, and Furiosa is giving serious though to where she could piss that wouldn't leave her smelling it the entire rest of the time, before he stops again, this time cutting the engine entirely.
“Five minutes,” he says, as if a real cat would any sense of time.
She waits until he opens his own door before jumping out, and rather than test the theory that he might choose to stay and wait for her instead of driving off if she isn't back when he wants she walks over to the driver's side as soon as she's finished. He stands leaning against the side of the car, looking up at the sky.
Furiosa twines herself around his ankles and he twitches, but doesn't kick out. She doesn't know what to do, doesn't know how to handle the anger and grief he radiates, doesn't know how to pull him up out of the nose-dive he's in.
Max bends down and pets over her and she finds that it's easy to purr, though she's hardly feeling contented the way she usually is, the noise rumbling from her in hopes of it being even slightly reassuring. He picks her up and buries his face into the fur over her side and she doesn't know what to do, can't do anything, so she just keeps purring like a run-down engine.
She manages to bully him into eating by dropping a packet of dried bean paste into his lap with pointed looks, but can't do anything about the fact that when he's done he starts the car back up to keep driving. Furiosa bats at his hands and hisses but he's not weak from blood loss like he was the time before, and he grabs her by the scruff of her neck and hauls her out of the way.
So they drive through the night, slow and winding but without any of the casualness of the last time they were on the road, looking for signs of her presence or death that she knows he won't find. They're still a decent ways away from her camp and she doesn't know how to direct him there, doesn't know if once they get there she'll be able to somehow figure out a way to communicate that it's her, doesn't know if there will be any clues to how this happened to her and how to reverse it.
It's her best shot though, and if she can't fix it... It would be kinder for them to think they know for sure that she's dead. Furiosa doesn't think it will make much difference to Max, but the Sisters would like to have that certainty, false though it really is, and Mellita and Edie deserve to know not to hold onto hope like they had before.
They encounter no one and find nothing the next day, and Max falls asleep so deeply he doesn't wake even when nightmares shake him from within. He calls out her name again while he sleeps in such a pained way that she nuzzles against him for whatever comfort it will bring, careful not to trip his defenses.
They're headed too far east, and after a second scav he runs down babbles some nonsense about seeing her just the other day, no really he swears- Furiosa finally grabs the map from the back of the car. Max doesn't even look at it at first, but she's persistent, and finally when he's stopped to let her out he unfolds it against the wheel to study. The girls had circled the region that she was meant to be scouting out, but it's a wide area- the map is imprecise the further away from the Citadel the drawing goes, with no detail for what specific mountains and formations are where.
She jumps up into his lap and sees that the ink smear she'd left is still there, albeit even more smudged. But it's in the right place, unlike how her attempts at writing had been erased. Maybe being ink made it permanent enough that even whatever forces were at work couldn't change it, or maybe it's a vague enough type of communication that it doesn't count.
Whatever the reason, it's there, and Furiosa taps her paw at it.
Max pushes her away and she hisses, but he does bring the paper up a little closer to squint at it like it's a symbol that was supposed to be something but got smudged. She waits tensely, but of course he sets it down again a moment later, dismissing it entirely.
By some twist of wasteland luck, they run across the very same scav she'd encountered. Furiosa jumps to attention the second she realizes that she recognizes the badly-repaired car, chittering in its direction like Max needs her help to spot it.
He runs this scav down like he has the others, ruthless, teeth bared. She gets out of the car with him this time, wanting to make sure it's the same person, wanting to make sure they don't know anything about what's happened to her.
Max looks as close to truly feral as he has in more than a thousand days, and though he's limping so badly he's nearly dragging his leg and she can tell he's favoring the wound on his side, he still cuts a menacing figure. He gets his gun to the scav's head before they can wrestle out of the crumpled-in door pinning them, and they go still as they register the threat.
“Talk,” Max says.
“'bout what?” the scav replies, going for placating. It's definitely the same person she encountered earlier, but when their eyes dart to her now there's no recognition in them, no gloating like they'd had anything to do with her being a cat.
“Furiosa. Citadel. Seen her?”
“That one-armed bitch?” The scav looks as though they intend to spit on her name, but Max taps his gun against their skull, and they restrain themselves. “Saw her a few weeks ago. Nearly had her, but she fucked up my ride before running away like a coward.”
Max looks simultaneously like he wants to blow the scav's brains out for the insult and victorious with this seemingly honest account. “She hurt?”
“Fuck if I know,” the scav replies, “I was busy getting shot at myself.”
“Where,” he demands, “Think carefully.”
“I don't know!” the scav protests, and looks around like they're trying to jog their memory, or at least stall for time. “What's it to you anyway?”
Max reaches in through the window and wraps a hand around the scav's throat, pressing them up against the back of their seat. “Answer. The. Question.”
The scav makes choking noises, and Furiosa gives him a count of ten before meowing. A dead scav can't talk, and an unconscious one is nearly as bad.
“West!” the scav gasps out as the pressure diminishes, “By the Red House!”
Max removes his hand entirely, and the scav sucks in exaggeratedly grateful breaths. “The fuck do you care?” they cough out roughly, “That cunt is long gone, pal. Unless, hey-” the scav's face lights up proudly as the thought occurs to them- “do you think I took her out? Thought maybe I winged 'er, but oh man, killing the War Bitch-”
The shotgun fires, and the back of the scav's head paints the inside of their car. Max stuff his gun back into its holster and turns to walk away, his face once again a blank mask. Furiosa runs ahead and jumps up into the car before he gets there, just in case.
The name “Red House” means nothing to her, but apparently the same can't be said of Max. He wheels the car around to face west and drives with a purpose, chasing the setting sun until he comes to the place she remembers encountering the scav.
Furiosa leans up against the dash to stare out, though she doesn't know what she could possibly find. Her camp is further down, far enough that she was fairly confident the scav wouldn't follow even if they got their car running again within the hour.
A strange pressure builds in her ears though they're nowhere near any sort of elevation; she shakes her head to try and clear it and notices Max doing similar, jaw clenched and eyes darting this way and that, expression the same as when he's looking at things the rest of them aren't.
The Red House juts up from the earth suddenly, a halfway intact old-world building of bricks that stain the surrounding sand like spreading blood where they've crumbled to dust.
Furiosa recognizes the area around it, can see the place up ahead where she decided to turn back south once the scav was off her tail, but she has absolutely no memory of the building itself. She should, she thinks as she looks at it growing larger as Max slows the car to approach, it's certainly large and distinct enough that she can't fathom why if she'd passed anywhere near here she managed to miss seeing it.
The car rolls to a stop. The pressure in her ears spreads out across the rest of her body. Whatever the reason is she doesn't remember this place, doubts very much that there'll be anything she can use to return herself to her real body or convince Max to head to her abandoned campsite.
He cuts the engine and takes a deep breath, then steps out of the car. Furiosa follows with a measure of apprehension, though she couldn't say why she's feeling it. This is hardly the first abandoned building she's come across, and there aren't even any signs of someone taking up residence.
She's expecting something to happen when they cross the threshold, senses dialed up high despite the lack of anything to actually be suspicious of, but there's nothing. The Red House is just a decaying building, empty of anything but dry-rotted furniture and trash. She noses around carefully while Max takes a wary turn around the front room, reluctant to touch anything, and finds a pile of picked-clean bones in one of the corners between the wall and a heap that might have once been called a sofa.
There's a glimmer of something artificial and pink among the rotted mat of old fur, and Furiosa steps in close to see what it is. Some kind of plastic circlet, small and fastened with a buckle- a collar, she realizes, like she one she wears now. She takes another look at the pile of bones and sees thin, hooked claws that would have gone on the ends of the creature's feet, a curving spine and long tail, and despite the lack of a skull she knows it's a cat's skeleton. The memory hits her hard as she takes it in, slipped into her mind as if it was there all along.
She has seen the Red House before. The scav peeled away to give up the chase when they saw the building, and she'd pushed on further thinking only that it was a defensible spot if the wastelander wanted to keep coming at her, and worth checking out to see if there was anything salvageable. There hadn't been, the place well stripped of anything even passingly useful, but she had looked around the entire thing.
How could she have forgotten? With the memory once again in her mind it seems impossible that she hasn't always known it, but she knows with utter certainty that she's only remembering it now.
“Cat?” Max calls out, and she meows an unthinking answer, a little annoyed that she's apparently responding to the defacto name now.
He walks over and looks down at the skeleton she hasn't moved from, before patting his leg to call her over. “No meat on it,” he advises her.
Furiosa steps away from the carcass with reluctance. If she doesn't follow Max he'll drive off and leave her, but the strangeness of the atmosphere, of the memory and the way it reappeared, tells her there's something going on that she can't see the full shape of yet.
They park for the night with the Red House looming and bleeding into the sand half a kilometer away, the pressure still bearing down heavily. Max has one of his worst nights yet, thrashing in place and waking every hour or so with teary bloodshot eyes, calling out names and pleas and, once, just a long scream like he's being hurt beyond his endurance.
Furiosa doesn't want to leave him like that, and when she does make a halfhearted attempt to go out hunting there's no signs of anything living that she can find, anyway. So she watches over him and tries to piece together her memory, tries to figure out why she'd forgotten and why she'd remembered.
She doesn't get any answers that night, and when the sun rises and Max wakes up he doesn't go back near the Red House but instead keeps driving, west at first until he checks the map and cuts back south, towards the plot of land that had been her original destination.
After an hour or two of driving Furiosa abruptly recognizes the rock formations that were just next to where she'd camped, and starts meowing to get Max's attention. He ignores her at first, but she's figured out by now how to be annoying enough to get through to him, and before they're too far beyond the site he stops the car.
“Make it quick,” he says, but when he makes no move to get out of the car himself she sizes up the situation, and stands just outside his door and meows again. Taking his leg into account they can make it to her camp in a few hours if they walk; she doesn't trust that she'll be able to get him to drive in the direction she wants, but leading by foot should be easy enough.
Max leans out of the window and glares at her, but his eyes are tired, ringed with dark circles. “What,” he demands, flatly.
She meows again, as pitiful as she can make it. He's followed her before, it's surely not such a stretch to think that he'd do so again, is it?
He stares at her, expression dark, and when she meows again his face contorts for a split second. “Shut up,” he growls, which is enough of a change from his other reactions that Furiosa is indeed quiet for a moment in surprise.
She scratches at his door and plaintively meows yet again, unsure how to get him out of the car, frustrated beyond belief that she can't just say anything, can't even bodily drag him. The engine is still running, she realizes, and repeats herself with an edge of urgency.
“Shut up!” Max shouts, then at a more reasonable volume but no less haggard says, “Get in or stay out.”
Furiosa looks over her shoulder; her camp is so close she can practically see it. If she can't get him to follow her to it they'll most likely never come across it again and she'll have lost what is likely her last chance at telling him who she is. And he won't have anything to tell the girls, won't have any reason to go back to the Citadel- he's already wounded and running himself so ragged that she's not entirely sure he won't run out of fumes searching for signs of her that don't exist except at the camp she can't get him to follow her to.
She leans up against his door and stares at him imploringly, meowing once more, but instead of shutting off the engine or opening his door he says, with a terrible finality in his voice, “You're better off anyway.”
Before she can react the car is moving, and she has to leap out of the way of the wheels as they spray sand. Furiosa starts running as soon as she realizes what he's doing, chasing the car in hopes of jumping up into it, but he accelerates too fast for her to have a chance.
There's no way she can possible catch up once he's more than a few meters away and still gaining speed but she runs anyway, until her chest is heaving and the heat of the sun forces her to stop.
The shock of it keeps her rooted in place as she pants heavily, staring at where his car disappears from view. It doesn't make sense to her, until it does. He doesn't want to have someone there to witness him, doesn't want to allow himself whatever comfort her presence might have brought, doesn't want to think that anything might possibly need him. Whatever shred of hope Max was allowing himself to feel that she might still be alive is gone, and in its place is nothing.
He's going to kill himself, she realizes. Not directly, and he might not even be conscious of it himself, but she doesn't think he's going to survive this. She hadn't really believed the girls when they hinted at it but she could see it in his eyes just now, had watched the rage and despair build up to toxic amounts inside of him. And it's terrible to know, even more terrible to know that she can't do anything about it. She's fucking alive, was right next to him minutes ago, but without any way to communicate that fact it doesn't matter.
When she gets her breath back Furiosa tips her head back and yells in frustration, and it sounds like nothing so much as a cat's yowl.
Then she keeps moving. There's no hope of catching up to Max, not as slowly as a cat travels compared to his V8, and if he's gone off the rails entirely she doubts he'll be keeping to the zig-zag search pattern he'd been using the past few days which means she can't intercept his path either. Instead she'll go to her abandoned camp and, if it hasn't been looted by scavs, she'll stock up on food and water before heading back to the Citadel.
She doubts there's anything she'll be able to do to tell the girls, just as she hasn't been able to communicate this entire time, but her presence might at least give them some closure for Max's disappearance.
She has to sniff around to find her campsite- the tarp is completely buried under sand- but when she finds it, it's intact and exactly how she left it. A goanna's taken up residence under the shade of the canvas but it's small enough that she dispatches it swiftly, skilled by necessity now at hunting. The heat of the day is still bearing down on her and she curls up under the shelter of sand and canvas, body pressed up against the metal of her bike, and reluctantly sleeps.
When Furiosa wakes up she noses around her saddlebags, wondering if there's anything small enough that she can take with her that the girls could identify- her arm lays draped over the seat of the bike, empty and useless, taunting her.
As she pulls various things out to evaluate there's a strange wrapped bundle she can't really recall, unusual despite the fact that it has been several days since packing these bags, and she tugs at it until it falls onto the sand. The fabric slides away to reveal the skull of a small animal and her breath catches.
It's a cat's skull, and she remembers with a sudden spike what else had happened the day she stumbled on the Red House.
She'd found nothing of interest in the dilapidated old building except for the few small skeletons tucked here and there, and thinking only of how the girls might like to see proof that this type of animal had once existed, she took the skull of one with her.
Furiosa dips her head until she's nose-to-nose with the piece of bone, empty eye sockets staring at her, and lets the pieces slot into place. She'd taken the skull with her and thought nothing of it, and the morning after woke as a cat herself with no memory of any of it. It looks to her like nothing so much as ordinary bone but it's the source of the curse on her, it has to be.
But how can she reverse it? Taking the skull back seems the most likely option, though she doesn't know how she could possibly carry it in her jaws the entire way back to the Red House, but it's no guarantee. She knows nothing of curses and magic, only that such things lurk out in the deep wastes and are the subject of many a late-night fire story.
If she brings the skull back and nothing happens... Well, then she'll be precisely where she was five minutes ago: planning to return to the Citadel by whatever means possible to live out whatever is left of her cat's lifespan, hoping one day to manage to find a way to communicate.
The skull grins at her with cracked yellow teeth, and Furiosa bares her own at it and hisses in a useless expression of frustrated resentment. The thing was long dead, and just an animal besides- she'd seen far worse things done to far fresher corpses and never heard of any sort of curse being levied because of it.
Still, the Red House is only slightly out of her way if she's returning to the Citadel, and dry bones are light even to a cat.
She tests a few arrangements of how to carry it, and ends up gathering the corners of a rag in her mouth, the skull dangling below. It hits against her legs and chest with every step, swinging wildly if she so much as attempts to gain speed, the foul taste of the cloth inescapable.
Walking back to the Red House as a cat takes several more hours than driving had, but she reaches it not long after the sun's set.
There's the same pressure in her ears as last time, the same feeling of wrongness. She hadn't noticed it her first visit, the time she forgot, and she wonders if it's because whatever laid the curse on her wasn't awake yet. Furiosa steps lightly as she enters, ears twitching at every slight noise, eyes wide for danger of any sort in the lifeless room.
She finds the incomplete skeleton easily, the matted ring of fur and once-bright collar standing out against the drab background of everything else. The skull she lays very carefully in the right place, trying to remember just how it had looked.
When she steps back, nothing happens- no flash of light, no ghostly noises, no sudden pain as her body is turned human again. The pressure doesn't recede in her ears, and the room seems the same shade of dark, and Furiosa feels a wave of anger that she hasn't fixed this after all, that she probably just went out of her way and returned this skull for no reason whatsoever.
She meows at the cat skeleton mockingly, then turns tail and heads back out of the house.
There's nothing living around the Red House for a good half a klick, poisoned by the red dust that filters to the sand, maybe, or able to feel the pressure that dissipates slowly as she leaves the area. She hunts down a single thin lizard and then a few crickets, and contents herself with that. Following her prey has driven her back the way she came, south rather than north towards the Citadel, but she can make up the distance in the morning.
Aside from under the tarp earlier she hasn't slept more than a few yards away from Max since stowing away in his car that first day, and it's hard without his breathing and scent to focus on. She wonder if he'll die of the infection that she could still smell under his skin, or if he'll run out of water, or if whatever scav he runs into next will get lucky.
She's lived with the knowledge that he might not come back from the very start, from that night on the Road when he walked into the darkness of the bog and lit it up red behind him, but there's always been the hope of it, before. Now Furiosa is all but certain she won't ever see him again and she-
She knows why he put her flower on that knife, and why he was dreaming about her the way he was, and why her assumed death has sent him skittering around the bend. It's nothing she wants to put into words but the knowledge of it is inescapable.
It doesn't matter now that he feels the way she has for far too long despite there being no hope to it, because she's trapped as a rusting cat for presumably the rest of her life and Max is losing himself to the wasteland, but her mind won't stop imagining what might have been, all the ways she could have made the most of their time before this happened. She curls up in her fur and tries to shut out the thoughts eating at her with hardly any success.
Furiosa wakes up as a human.
She's wedged uncomfortably under the rock she sheltered beneath the night before, and before she even opens her eyes she knows. She moves cautiously at first, not daring to believe that she hasn't simply slipped into a dream despite the fact that she's never dreamed once while a cat, but her eyes look down and see the body she's been missing, her hand sending the sensation of fabric and leather and skin over familiar shapes back to her when she tests cautiously.
Her ears don't swivel to catch noises. There's no tail swinging out behind her. She doesn't have whiskers or fur or claws. There is however a familiar circle of red fabric tied around her wrist.
Furiosa stands on two legs for the first time in nearly forty days and the world looks right to her, no longer distorted and overly-large. It also looks dark; she woke when a cat would wake, and her human-again eyes are no longer adept at picking apart pre-dawn shadows with such ease.
She smiles to herself, and looks back in the direction where the Red House lies. “I am sorry,” she says in a voice she's surprised isn't hoarse from disuse, mostly to make sure that she can.
Walking back to her abandoned campsite as a human doesn't take as long as walking as a cat, but she feels the lack of water far more keenly once the sun rises.
It's still undisturbed by scavengers, and she heaves the sand-laden tarp off her bike, straps her prosthesis into place and feels the closest to complete that she has since becoming a cat. The engine needs to be brushed free of sand before she's willing to start it, but when everything is packed away she starts up her bike and smiles again at the familiar purr of it.
The question of whether to head back to the Citadel or to follow Max's tracks is an easy one to answer. It's been a day and a half since he kicked her out of the car; he won't have gotten far.
Furiosa is looking forward to catching up with him and it has her pushing her bike a little faster, trying to decide if he's still zig-zagging or if he's given up even the pretense of looking and is headed as far away as he can get. She aims for her original destination, the game-piece shaped pillar and the plot of green in the hopes of intercepting his path, and thinks about what to say if- when she comes across him.
She wants to yell at him for leaving her and so obviously giving up, she wants to explain what had happened and reassure him that it wasn't as bad as it seemed, she wants to say that she knows why this hit him as hard as it did and how she's not sure she would have fared any better.
The question of whether to keep riding when the sun sets and she can hardly see the rocks to dodge around them or whether to stop and lose that time is harder to answer, but the dark cloudy sky and the headlamp refusing to flicker to life settles it. Furiosa sets up camp with some measure of apprehension- what if she wakes and it's been a dream? What if she returns to being a cat again?- but she swallows it down forcefully.
She's still a human when the sun rises again, and she refuses to feel grateful for that fact.
Furiosa sees a dust-plume on the horizon a few hours in and she doesn't let herself think that it's Max, but she still heads towards it after double-checking that the gun holstered at her waist isn't sanded out. When she gets there it's not Max, but rather just some scav with an ailing car. She doesn't allow herself to feel disappointed.
The scav attempts to turn, clearly not feeling up to a match with even a solo biker, and if she hadn't spent the past few days watching Max brutalize cars in search of information she'd let them go easily, but she thinks it might be too much of a coincidence.
“Stop,” she calls out, which is of course ignored. She clamps her metal hand to the handlebars and aims her gun at their wheels, blowing one as a warning and further impedance. “I said, stop.”
It's not a single wastelander but a pair, and from the way the passenger is handling their gun, she'd be willing to wager that it's unloaded.
“I only want information,” Furiosa says, and neither gets any less tense.
“Fuck,” the passenger says after a few seconds of scrutiny, “You who I think you are?”
“Quiet,” the driver advises.
“Shut it Sue,” the passenger retorts, lowering their gun a fraction. “You are, aren't you? The Fury from up on that Citadel place?”
“I am,” Furiosa replies, ready to defend herself if need be but not thinking she's in any real danger. “Are you willing to talk to me, or not?”
“Gonna shoot any more tires?” the driver grouses quietly.
“What about?” the passenger says, but their eyes light up a split second later. “There was some mad bloke yelling about you the other day, damn near destroyed our car.”
Furiosa doesn't need to ask for any sort of description- how many men could there be right at this time in this area looking for her?- but she does anyway. “Black car, shotgun, bit feral?”
The passenger nods with a touch of eagerness. “Why's he looking for you? You cross him or something?”
“Tia,” the driver says with exasperation.
Furiosa ignores the questions to ask, “Where was he headed?”
“Away,” the driver says.
“South-west,” the passenger clarifies. “Hey, is it true that you ripped off someone's head with that arm? Are you gonna rip off this guy's head, too?”
“Sorry about the tire,” Furiosa says, and after a moment of consideration reaches into one of the pouches around her belt, coming up with a few small-caliber bullets that she guesses will fit the gun the passenger is holding like they've mostly forgotten it's there. “Try to pretend your gun's actually loaded next time.” She tosses the bullets through their open window and the driver squawks, but the passenger laughs like it's a hilarious joke, the noise lost to the rumble of her engine as she pulls back away.
So Max is still searching, or at least questioning the people he happens upon. South-west puts him still headed to the circled destination on the map, and if that was a day ago...
After another hour of riding Furiosa sees the game-piece pillar on the horizon and throttles up. He most likely won't be there, but if he's been by recently she stands a good chance at finding his tracks, and from there it's only a matter of time.
She spares a moment to think about the flare gun, but even if Max does happen to be close enough to see it there's plenty other less friendly people who will be able to say the same thing, and there's no reason for him to think it's her rather than some stranded Citadel scout or a decoy altogether.
She crests the tallest hill before the slope downwards that culminates in the thin oasis, and pauses to scan the area with her binoculars. There is, of course, no sign of any cars in the vicinity.
There aren't any signs of older tracks either when she reaches the base of the pillar, but she still parks her bike and dismounts. She can get the dirt samples the Dag wanted now, a trivial thought that still gives her a concrete task to do while she waits to see if she's wasting time on this hunch.
The growl of an engine cuts through the silence as she's twisting a ripened bush tomato off its stem, and for a second Furiosa thinks she can feel her ears perking up, despite their current non-mobile arrangement. The sound of the engine only grows more familiar as it draws closer, one she would know anywhere but especially so after spending nearly thirty days riding around listening to it.
The car cuts out fairly close, and she tosses the tomato she'd picked up into the air to catch it as it falls, the way it pings against her palm a reminder that she's human again.
When she turns around the corner of the protective bolder that keeps the tiny oasis safe from wheeled marauders she sees Max behind the wheel of his car, staring fixedly at where her bike is leaning against the rock, as distinct as his own car.
“Max,” she calls out to get his attention, something like a smile on her lips because she's herself again and she can say his name, and she's caught him in time before he's flamed out, and because they're right around the corner of where he was parked that first day and here she is again with a fruit she can offer up.
He startles violently, but rather than any of the emotions she might have expected to see on his face there's horror, and rage. Furiosa keeps walking closer and can see his mouth moving, but can't hear anything he's saying until he croaks out a hoarse “No!”
She pauses in place, confused by his reaction. “Max?” He looks worse than the last time she saw him but not feverish, not like the infection has come back full-force and he's having waking nightmares again. “It's me.”
Max makes a noise like a sob and shakes his head back and forth, and she sprints the rest of the distance, the tomato she'd been holding falling unnoticed to the ground. “No,” he says to himself, eyes not really focusing on her, “no, not her...”
“Max,” Furiosa says, pulling open his car door. He doesn't need to be feverish to hallucinate, but she'd hoped... “You're alright,” she says, though that's a debatable statement: up close she can see how he's deteriorated, how his eyes are glassy and bloodshot, how dark the circles around them are in his unnaturally pale face.
She reaches out to touch him and he recoils, then surges forwards out of the car so fiercely she can't do anything but dodge what her instincts tell her is an attack.
“Get,” he says, hands flailing defensively, shielding his eyes. “I don't, I can't...”
“Hey, hey.” She extends her arms open and soft-handed to show they're empty, tries to keep her voice soothing though she's unused to it. This is the worst episode she's seen, though she's heard him before confess that he sometimes loses entire days to it, and she doesn't know what to do, doesn't know what he's seeing or what could convince him it isn't real. “You're okay, Max.”
He staggers a bit as he tries to stand, and Furiosa reaches out carefully to his shoulder to steady him. He flinches away but she lands the touch anyway, and he grabs her wrist tightly before sinking down to his knees like he can't stand anymore, pulling her down to the ground as well.
“It can't be you,” Max says desperately, “You can't be dead.”
“Who are you seeing?” she asks, reaching out with her other hand as well, hoping there's something she can do to ground him. For a second she misses being a cat- it was so easy to curl up against him after a nightmare and let him take comfort in the contact, something that seems nearly impossible to manage now that she's really herself again and he's in so deep.
He shakes his head, face twisted up like he's in agony, and her heart aches for him. Like it's being torn from him he says, “Furiosa.”
She doesn't understand for a moment, thinks he's addressing her, but then it hits her. He isn't caught up in a hallucination, he only thinks he is- he thinks he's seeing her only in his mind, a ghost.
“Max, no,” she says, soft and sorrowful. “I'm here, I'm here. I'm okay.” Furiosa moves her hand from his shoulder up to his face, cupping his jaw and coaxing him to look directly at her. His eyes dart to her and away, frantic, and she leans forward until their foreheads are pressed together, his eyes shutting tight. “I'm really here, Max.”
There's no reply but his ragged breathing for a long moment, until cautiously he reaches out with the hand not already around her wrist. His hand shakes a little as he feels her prosthesis, her shoulder, the pulse beating in her neck. Max sucks in a shaky breath, “Can't be.”
“I'm here,” she repeats, but pitches it to be a command rather than a reassurance.
His eyes open, and focus on her for a split second before darting away again, then swing back. He looks wide-open, like if this turns out to be a trick after all he won't wait to find out which facet of the wastes wears him down the quickest.
Furiosa nods with her head still pressed against his, squeezes the hand on his shoulder.
His breathing is still labored, unsteady, but he's not on the edge of gasping in panic anymore. “You were gone,” he says, “They said... I was sure...”
She doesn't know which “they” he means- the girls, one of the scavs babbling lies with a gun in their face, the things he sees that are actual hallucinations- but she doesn't really care.
“I was lost for a while,” she says, rather than broach the topic of being turned into a cat while he's still so close to the edge. “But I'm here now.”
Max closes his eyes again but after a moment he nods his head, and she breathes out a sigh of relief.
Part of her wants to say something about his condition, wants to ask when the last time he'd eaten anything or slept was, but she doesn't know how to make the words not sound like accusations instead of concern. Instead Furiosa looks over at the fallen bush tomato, splattered against the ground where she dropped it, and says, “There's some forage just around the corner.”
He blinks his eyes open, confusion flitting across his face at the non sequitur before he sees it for the distraction it is. She pulls her forehead away from his and drops her flesh hand away from his face, giving a gentle tug with her metal one as she moves to stand back up.
He keeps his hand on her wrist either like he needs the support, or he's worried she'll disappear if he stops touching her. She finds that she's also reluctant to let go, though the fact that he's holding her right hand with his left means that when she turns to lead them the grip grows tenuous and twisted.
When she has Max installed on a sun-warmed rock, canteen of water and clump of slightly crushed warrigal greens in hand, it seems like he starts to lose some of the last bits of obvious uncertainty over her being real or not.
“What happened?” he asks, calmer now but still clearly upset. “There was nothing...”
Furiosa pops a tomato into her mouth- her tastes are once again what they used to be, and the tart fruit no longer repels her- and ponders how to answer. The truth is entirely unbelievable even to her despite having lived it, but she doesn't want to do him the disservice of lying.
“You might not believe me,” she cautions. He says nothing, only inclines his head to urge her on. “I was cursed,” she says, “I turned into a cat.”
Max's expression turns to frowning confusion, like he's not sure he's heard her correctly. She holds out her arm, hand flexed out of the way to show off the red braid around her wrist. “Into your cat, to be specific.”
His mouth parts slowly like he intends to say something, but can't find any words. Furiosa waits.
“That's not,” he says after a long pause, “That doesn't.”
She shrugs slightly in commiseration, and wonders what will convince him the fastest. “You were shot in your ribs and went to someone called May for help,” she says, “They grew mushrooms there, and one of them wanted to eat me.”
He rubs at his chest like he wants to make sure the injury is there.
“It's still infected,” Furiosa adds, “Before you dumped me on the curb I could smell it on you.”
He licks his lips, suspicion still in his eyes.
“I led you here the first day,” she says, nodding her head to indicate the patch of greenery, “And you called me a freeloader for it.”
Max looks down at the half-eaten greens in his hands, contemplative. “The cat was just a cat,” he says, but doesn't sound entirely convinced of it.
“The curse kept me from being able to communicate directly,” she says, “And no other way I tried to tell you worked either.”
“A curse,” he says, and then sighs heavily. “I thought- we all thought you were gone.”
“I know,” Furiosa says, regret coloring her voice even though she tried everything she could think of to let them know. “I never wanted that.”
“I thought I lost you,” he says, words quiet and more honestly hurt than she knows how to deal with. She steps close and reaches out to Max as unthinkingly as she did when she was a cat, and he lets out a noise a little bit like a sob and wraps his arms around her middle.
She doesn't say anything, somewhat surprised and unfamiliar with how to give comfort when she isn't an animal, just runs her hand through his sweat-stiff hair like he's the cat to be pet. The only thing that seems clear is that he should be back at the Citadel for a while longer, fully healing from his injuries and the way he'd been pushing himself the past few days.
“Come on,” Furiosa says after a minute of letting him just hold onto her the way he would ground himself with her fur, “The sooner we get back the better.”
He nods and pulls himself away, but his knee nearly crumples when he tries to stand. She casts an evaluative eye over him- he's in no state to drive, and she doubts he'd be much better at clinging to the back of her bike even if she could somehow persuade him to leave the car behind.
She takes as much of his weight as she can and helps him limp back to his car, but walks around the battered front despite his grumbling complaints to deposit him in the passenger seat.
“You're going to change your bandages,” she tells him, knowing without needing to check that he hasn't since the one time she was able to bully him into it days ago. “I'm securing my bike, and then I'm driving us back.”
Max attempts a scowl, but he's worn-out enough that the expression falls flat. “Should'a known it was you,” he mumbles, “Always so bossy.”
“Someone's got to keep you alive,” Furiosa replies, then turns away from him and strides over to her bike to start pulling the assorted bags off its frame.
She hates to leave it here, but she can't lift it to get it up onto the back of his car by herself, and Max won't be much help in his current condition. Nothing she's seen of this little patch of green suggests that it's well-known, but even so she feels uneasy just covering her bike up with a tarp again and camouflaging it.
There's a pile of filthy bandages at Max's feet when she returns to the car to start loading her things into it, and he's rubbing his leg above the brace like he wants to touch the part that actually hurts but has learned though experience to leave it alone. He hums when he sees her carrying bags, but isn't fool enough to actually offer up his help.
When the car is loaded and she's satisfied that her bike won't be found except by very lucky scavengers, Furiosa slides into the driver's seat and easily flips the sequence of kill-switches she's the only other person to know, then points the car back towards the Citadel.
They ride in silence for an hour or so, and she expects him to have fallen asleep but when she looks over he's awake still, staring contemplatively out the window less like he's looking for danger and more like he's lost in his own thoughts.
“You can sleep,” she tells him, and Max shrugs a shoulder without turning his head to look at her.
A while later he speaks unprompted. “How'd you break the curse?”
Furiosa sweeps her eyes over the horizon, the terrain slightly unfamiliar now that she isn't tracing her detour west to the Red House. “I returned something I didn't know I stole,” she says in reply.
He lets out a quiet “ah” as if that answer is perfectly illuminating, and maybe to him it is.
“It got inside my head,” she says, wanting to explain why she didn't fix things sooner, why things got as bad as they did, “I couldn't remember even taking anything in the first place.”
Max hums, the sympathetic noise almost lost to the sound of engine and the wind. “You remember everything else?”
“I remember your singing, if that's what you're asking,” she says with an attempt at a teasing lilt to her voice. She'd never heard him sing before, unless sing-song rhymes to the daglet counted, and it was unexpected to have encountered it, but not unpleasant. She doubts he means that, though she's not entirely sure what it is he's worried enough about to want to confirm, or if maybe he's merely looking for common ground with faulty memories and strange experiences.
He huffs a weakly amused breath, giving nothing away about his real intent. “Never liked the radio 'til it was gone.”
Furiosa has nothing to say in reply to that; there had been a radio among the Mothers, hand-cranked and ornery, but before the broadcasts had died out entirely and the radio was traded for more valuable items there had seldom been music playing through its speakers.
The drive only lasts another few hours before it's darker than she wants to make herself drive in after the fraught day they've had, and she pulls into the most likely-looking spot to rest for the night. With two of them they should in theory be able to switch off and keep going, but she looks over at Max hunched in on himself in the passenger seat and is loathe to push him. It's a risk either way- if only she drives they'll reach the Citadel slower, but he'll have rested more and maybe recovered from dragging his body through the wastes looking for her; if they switch off they'll reach the resources of the Citadel sooner, but his condition could easily deteriorate further.
“I'll drive,” he says when he realizes that she's planning to stop, and she shakes her head.
“It's my car,” Max points out, as if that will sway her.
“And you nearly drove yourself to death in it,” she says, turning to stare him down. Unlike when she was a cat he can't maintain the eye contact for long, even with the night folding down around them. Softer she adds, “I had to watch you do it.”
He frowns, but says nothing else.
Being a human with a store of supplies means there's no need to hunt down her dinner, but since she doesn't feel the need to set traps it also means there's only preserved food to be had. They sit side-by-side as they eat, trading a canteen back and forth to wash down the crumbly mealworm brick that tastes blandly unappealing again to her human tastebuds, comfortably silent in each others' presence.
“I'll keep watch,” Max says when she tucks away the leftovers. She doesn't argue; he was napping in the car earlier, and she expects he'll do the same tomorrow. It's early still but she rolls out her sleeping blanket while he settles onto the bonnet of the car, and her ears aren't as sensitive as they were the last time she slept near him but she can still make out the sound of his breathing, steady and regular.
The next day she's still unsure about his condition, but trades off the wheel for a few hours. Sitting in the passenger seat as a human is an entirely different thing than as a cat, and when they catch sight of a wastelander's bike in the distance she can grab for a gun, can actually prepare to fight and defend the both of them.
Max drives to evade, and the biker either hasn't noticed them or decides they're not worth it, because they melt back into the wastes without a confrontation at all.
“I thought you were bluffing the scav that shot you,” Furiosa says when the danger has passed, “But your rifle was loaded.”
He glances at her, and she doesn't need to say the question out loud for him to answer. “I was bluffing,” he says, “It, ah, was my last shell.”
Which has his reluctance to shoot making more sense. She doesn't remember watching to see if he'd reloaded after the incident, too caught up in worrying over the immediate danger of his wound.
“I went back for the cat,” Max says incongruously, after they've switched off the wheel again, “It- you weren't there.”
She hadn't thought of that possibility at all, but it's unexpectedly comforting to know that he wouldn't have abandoned her completely, even thinking she was nothing but a cat. “I didn't hear your car,” she says, “I was trying to lead you to my old camp.”
“Ah,” he replies, and is quiet for another few minutes before, “Seeing that... I don't think it would have been... good.”
“It was my last shot to convince you that the cat was me,” Furiosa says. She glances over at him and doesn't say that she'd hoped the false sense of closure if she failed at that might help, that she'd hoped he would return to the Citadel with the news and maybe be persuaded to stay until he healed at least bodily.
He hums, and frowns a little to himself. “You made a weird cat,” he says.
A breath of laughter is surprised out of her. “I was trying to convince you I wasn't one.”
“It didn't... seem odd, at the time,” Max says slowly.
“You weren't looking for it to,” she says, but he shakes his head.
“You said it was, hm, in your head?”
Furiosa nods, “I didn't remember anything until we visited the Red House.” She's still unsettled by it, the way her mind had so easily accepted the lie that there was nothing there. If Max hadn't driven them there she might never have remembered any of it, and been stuck a cat permanently.
He mulls over that for a while, then grunts. “'s uncanny, looking back,” he says. “Should'a known.”
She wonders if the curse could have extended far enough to gloss over other peoples' memories as well- it had somehow physically prevented her from writing, after all. The thought sends a shiver down her spine, and she wonders suddenly if there are other people similarly transformed who were not so lucky as her.
When they stop for the night she takes first watch, still unwilling to push him. Just a day and a half has him looking marginally better than the half-dead feral he very nearly was, but she can't track his infection anymore without peeling away the bandages and checking directly, which is hardly the best idea while out in the wasteland.
Furiosa doesn't expect to find any trouble; they're outside the rough zone around the Citadel's perimeter still, and not close to any tribe's land that she knows of. She watches Max sleeping as often as she watches the horizon, his face not completely relaxed even before the dreams start up.
When he isn't compromised by fever and desperation even the worst of his nightmares don't have him making much noise, but he still twitches and spasms violently on occasion, enough to make her remember how he'd settle again if she curled up besides him, unthreatening to his instincts as a cat in a way a human never could be.
After it's been a few hours and she's ready to hand off the watch she taps at his lower leg lightly with her foot and he starts awake, eyes wide and panicked until they land on her. The sound of fabric shifting as he sits upright and his ragged breathing are the only things to be heard, and when she glances at him his hands are covering his face.
“You were gone,” Max says quietly, his voice rough.
“It was a dream,” she replies easily, though she moves so that she can put her hand on his shoulder anyway. It was easier as a cat; even now she has the urge to curl up against his chest and purr to comfort him.
He shakes his head, and brings one of his hands up to cover hers. “You were gone, Furi,” he says, and in the dark finds it possible to meet her eyes.
Furiosa doesn't tug her hand away, though the impulse is there, just as the impulse to drop to her knees and wrap her arms around him is. “It'll happen eventually,” she says, because what else is there to say? She is no Immortan, claiming to live forever. One day the wasteland will pick her bones clean, just as it'll do to his. “You leave, and we never know if you'll be back.”
His fingers find the braid of the collar that she never took off her wrist and run over the fabric like he's comparing the feel of it with his memories. “It's different,” he says.
“It's exactly the same,” she retorts. “You'll just have the luxury of knowing for sure.”
Max makes a quiet noise, but he doesn't say anything other than, “It's my watch.”
She twists her hand so that she captures his wrist when he moves to stand, and holds onto it. His pulse beats below his skin, steady and strong, and despite how close to the edge he just was she can't imagine it falling still. “I don't know if I'll survive it any better,” Furiosa says.
“You will,” he replies without hesitation, making no move to pull away from her hand but looking past her.
“I don't want to find out,” she says quietly, a confession.
He has no answer for that, not that she's expecting one. Watching him get shot and recovering from that was terrifying in a way she didn't expect, and being able to see his deterioration in such intimate detail as he searched- he's pulled through his other brushes with death so far, but he won't always get so lucky. And when that happens there won't be any search because they won't know to go looking; her world will keep on moving in constant uncertainty and faint useless hope.
Furiosa lets go of his wrist and he searches her face for a moment, then steps past her to set up for his watch shift. She sinks down onto the blankets still warm from his body heat and curls up into herself loosely, unsurprised when sleep is a long time coming.
By unspoken agreement they drive through the next night, pushing to get back to the Citadel. A car from the Dynamo tribe buzzes them in the early morning and Furiosa once again falls into rhythm of shooting as Max drives, able now to defend them like she couldn't with paws. It takes her only thunderstick to completely dissuade the Dynamo but the car swerves off, dealing no permanent damage.
And then they're in Citadel territory again, though this time no patrol intercepts them before they arrive at the lift platform.
Capable and Mellita are on the lift when it lowers, Capable looking anxious and Mell resigned. Furiosa steps out of the car before Max drives it onto the platform and the both of them wear matching looks of disbelieving shock at her reappearance, before Capable rushes forward.
“You're alive!” she says, throwing her arms around her for a hug.
Furiosa doesn't answer but pats her on the back with her arms wrapped loosely around the girl, and smiles over her shoulder at Mellita, who's blinking rapidly as if there's sand in her eyes.
“What happened?” Capable asks, pulling away to look at her, “Where were you?”
“It's a long story,” she replies, “I'd rather tell everyone at once.”
Capable nods her head but doesn't look satisfied, and pulls her with a light tug towards the platform.
Furiosa steps away to greet Mell, touching foreheads for a moment.
“It'd better be a good story if we have to wait to hear it,” she says, but the relief is clear to hear in her voice.
“You should let me or Edie check you over,” Capable says.
She shakes her head. “I'm fine,” Furiosa replies, and glances over at where Max is sitting at the wheel of the car, still looking more ragged than she'd like. She doesn't say that he's the one who could do with a trip to the infirmary, but she plans to make sure he gets there before the end of the day.
“Should we get Ace and the others?” Capable asks as the lift finishes ascending, connecting with the floor of the raised carport with a loud clatter.
“No,” Furiosa says after a moment of thinking it over- she'll have to tell the Council members and her Boys something to explain her absence, but she's fine telling them a more believable lie rather than the truth. “Just you four.”
Capable nods, and while Max pulls his car through to the garage she sends an eager message-runner to go round up her sisters, the ones not picked for that task rushing off to spread the word that Furiosa is back.
“I'll fill Edie in later,” Mellita offers, “There's a surgery going on, last I heard.”
The Dag and her daughter are waiting in the room when they get there, Toast and Cheedo arriving only a few minutes later. Each of them exclaim over her return in their own way, the daglet unimpressed and a little confused.
“So what happened?” Toast asks when they're sitting on the circled cushions like it's any other night.
“I was under a curse,” Furiosa says, the words sounding no less ridiculous to her now than the first time she thought them. Cheedo frowns at her like she's trying to figure out the joke; Mellita only raises her eyebrows. “The cat that Max brought in with him? That was me.”
There's silence for a few beats, and then Toast says, “What the hell, Furiosa. We deserve to hear the truth.”
“That is the truth,” she replies evenly, looking around at their faces and finding only the Dag with an expression like she's considering the idea. “I was turned into a cat and couldn't do anything to communicate.”
“But that doesn't make any sense,” Capable says, “Stuff like that isn't real.”
Furiosa shrugs, because she would have thought the same thing if it hadn't happened to her, and glances at Max to see if he'll back her up.
It's Mellita however who speaks, “It's not entirely impossible.” The girls turn to her expectantly, and she continues, “I've never personally seen anything so complex, but stranger things have happened.”
“No way,” Toast says, shaking her head.
“The first night we came back, I found you four in here,” Furiosa says. “You were making pussy jokes.”
The Dag smirks a little at the memory, while Cheedo looks mildly embarrassed despite the fact that she hadn't joined in.
“But how?” Capable asks.
Furiosa almost doesn't want to answer, because it's no less ridiculous than the concept in general. “I disturbed a cat's skeleton, and in the morning I was a cat.”
“And you believe this?” Toast asks Max, who looks startled to be addressed directly.
He shrugs and then grunts an affirmative. “Convinced me.”
“Why didn't you fix it sooner?” Cheedo asks, “Was there a time limit? Something you had to do first?”
“I didn't know how,” she admits, “It messed with my memory.”
Toast chimes in with, “How come you didn't try and tell us?”
“I wasn't able to,” Furiosa says, “Nothing I tried worked.”
“So the cat got your tongue, eh?” the Dag says slyly, and she has to refrain from sighing as she imagines how many cat jokes she'll be enduring from now on.
“Well I'm just glad you're back now,” Capable says, smiling in honest relief, and the others nod in agreement.
“What was it like being a cat?” the Dag asks more sincerely, head cocked in curiosity.
Furiosa stretches out her legs on the cushion and doesn't even know where to begin to describe the experience, though she suspects she'll be answering questions for a while. “I was shorter.”
After Max has been checked out by Edie and had his injuries rebandaged, the day is mostly over. Furiosa eats a meal with the girls and they agree that telling anyone else the truth isn't a good idea, instead coming up with a plausible cover story to explain her whereabouts. It's still far-fetched, and she'll most likely end up telling Ace the truth if he doesn't buy it, but it should work for the majority.
She returns to her room gratefully, glad to finally sponge off the road dust she can no longer groom away and change into her soft clean sleep clothes. Max follows her in but then hovers awkwardly near the doorway, though they've shared her room plenty of times before.
Her bed is almost too soft when she sits down on it, the way it always seems when she first comes back from an extended trip. Furiosa thinks about offering to let him take it instead- he's the injured one, after all- but the mattress is large enough for two bodies, and it's only been a few days but she misses the freedom of contact she was allowed when she was a cat.
“You need to rest,” she tells him, and pats the mattress besides her.
Max ducks his head and looks like he might say something to refuse the implicit offer, but then he nods to himself and moves to lay his jacket across the bench at her work table, working off his boots and his knee brace next. He's refused every time she offers to get him a spare set of clothes that would be more comfortable to sleep in, though he's wearing a new-enough shirt now anyway, his last having been cut off him in the infirmary.
There's a rolled-up mat stored under the bed that one of them sleeps on when they share her room, but she makes no move to retrieve it. His eyes flick down to the bedroll and he shifts his weight almost uneasily.
She stares at him impassively, waiting for him to accept the offer of sharing or assert that he'd rather sleep on his own. After a long moment Max shuffles over to sit next to her, sitting down with a quiet sigh.
Furiosa leans into him until their shoulders touch, resisting the urge to rub herself against him like she did as a cat. He moves his hand rest on to the mattress next to hers, fingers overlapping, and she sinks into him a little more fully. It's safe in her room with the door locked securely and the lights turned off so everything is shadowed and insubstantial, safe in a way the the wastes never could be even with a quiet horizon.
There are too many things she wants to say to him, and so many more that she doesn't want to give voice to, that she can't; she turns her head away from the darkened room ahead of her to see an echo of her turmoil on his face as well.
“It's been a long day,” she tells him rather than any of the other things she might, and he bobs his head in a nod, eyes casting away from her again.
The night isn't particularly cold but when the both of them are lying on her mattress Furiosa curls up into him, laying her hand against his chest to feel the steady thump of his heartbeat. They don't touch like this as a general rule, haven't had a close enough brush with death in several hundred days to necessitate finding comfort and reassurance in each others' skin, but she misses the freedom of contact being a cat granted her and thinks that he needs it as much as she does.
He arranges himself so his head is lying on her chest, ear pressed to the skin close to her heart. She gives in to the impulse to nuzzle her face against the top of his head, the action not the same as when she was a cat but giving herself a measure of comfort anyway. When she takes an inhale she can't smell anything as strongly, but there's still the scent of his skin, clean now that he's washed off the wasteland.
Max makes a quiet noise and then his arm is wrapping around her middle, head butting against her skin like he's trying to burrow his way in. “You were gone,” he says, voice rough.
“I'm here now,” she says, and brushes the stump of her arm carefully over the side of his face, against his unruly hair and skin smooth where he'd shaved his beard away.
His arm tightens around her, his head titling up off her chest to look at her, eyes scanning over the planes of her face.
“I'm here, Max,” she repeats just above a whisper. Furiosa can feel his heartbeat under her hand, can feel the way his breathing hitches a little, and where he is she knows he can hear her own as well. It's a reassurance of life existing at least for now, which is all either can truly offer.
Max tucks his head down again and splays his hand out against her back, like he's trying to touch as much of her as she can, and she feels him take a deep inhale of her skin. She rubs her chin against the top of his head and strokes down his back with her own hand, as much to reassure him as herself.
After a stretch of minutes spent just lying like this he pulls himself up and stares at her with dark liquid eyes as if he's looking for something, then presses his forehead to hers. The space between them becomes mingled with air from both their lungs, breaths falling into a tandem rhythm in the dark and quiet of her room.
When he still hasn't closed his eyes Furiosa leans her forehead away from his and instead kisses the skin there, trying to reach for a tenderness she's not sure she possesses. He makes an indecipherable noise at the contact, gazed fixed on her wide and unsure, the hand not pressed against her spine moving to cup her cheek. His thumb sweeps over her skin, rough with callouses and tiny scars but cleaned of wasteland grit, and she turns her face into it to press a kiss to his palm, too.
He'd thought she was gone and that is its own hell but she watched him deteriorate, getting so close to the edge she wasn't sure he could be called back, and it's no easier to bear. It terrified her to think about how close she was to once more losing someone so important to her right in front of her eyes, and again being unable to do anything.
Max leans in next to follow her lead, his lips soft and careful on her forehead, the corner of her eye, her cheek. His gaze strays to her mouth and he hesitates, but she knows why he dreamed of her, why he commissioned that knife to be engraved, why he nearly ground himself to the dirt looking for her.
She kisses his lips like she's been holding back on doing since the first time he came back, because she's been content with the friendship between them and she would have been fine with this new uncertainty slowly untangling in its own time under other circumstances, but they nearly lost each other and she doesn't want to risk never knowing for sure.
For a moment there is no reaction, but when she moves to pull back, to apologize, to cover it with another gesture, he curls his fingers a little against the back of her head and chases her lips. At first it's just a gentle press, chaste enough that it could almost still be written off, but Furiosa parts her lips against his on a sigh and his tongue swipes out, and then it is suddenly frantic and consuming.
Max pulls her in close and she wraps her left arm around his shoulders, anchoring herself and letting the solid warmth of him reassure her that she hasn't lost him yet. There are emotions swirling at the edge of the room waiting to be addressed, but she pushes them aside and focuses on his lips against hers, his hands sliding over the tops of her clothes, wanting only to feel undeniable proof that they're both alive.
She's the one to slide her leg between his, tangling them closer, the one to slide her hand underneath the fabric of his shirt. Furiosa's waiting to be pushed away, for him to tense up or twitch back, but he only keeps pouring himself into the kiss, returns every exploratory touch of hers with one of his own.
When her fingers reach the bandage wrapped around his chest she breaks away from the kiss, unsure suddenly because he's still injured on top of how hard he'd pushed himself. They shouldn't be doing this, shouldn't be speeding towards even more- but at the same time she doesn't know if they will get another chance, and he must have some idea of his limits.
Max kisses her off-center, and darts his eyes to hers like he's checking that she's the one who's okay with it, his hands slowing.
She licks her lips and decides to hell with it, rolling herself up against him, careful not to press against his injuries. It's somehow a surprise to realize she can feel that he's growing hard, and she nips the soft skin at the crease of his jaw and thinks back to the morning she found him dreaming about her, wonders what he envisioned and wonders how long he's been thinking about it.
He makes a noise halfway between sigh and groan and then his hand is reaching between her legs, cupping her through her thin sleep shorts. Furiosa rocks her hips into the touch, and he flexes a finger up so she can feel it stroking along the seam of her cunt, a delicate sort of pressure that makes her aware of how rapidly she's growing wet and heated.
She curls up into him, nipping and kissing his neck, his shoulder, while her hips move against his hand until he rucks up one of the legs of her shorts, slipping a finger under the fabric to try and feel her skin directly.
Furiosa takes her hand off his chest to shove the waistband of her shorts down, not wanting to be teased or draw it out longer than it needs to, not tonight when she just wants to feel him. Max helps her tug them off the rest of the way when he catches onto what she's doing, then strips off his own shirt while he's temporarily disentangled from her.
It's far from the first time she's seen him shirtless, but now she has permission to look at him the way she hasn't dared to for fear of scaring him away, now she has permission to reach out and touch. And in turn she has never been bare like this in front of him- not just briefly, while changing or sharing a bucket of wash-water, but with intent, with his hand returning to the thin skin on the insides of her thighs to caress her.
The bandages cut a swath of muted white against his chest and she carefully traces the edge where it curves around the barrel of his ribs, fingers light enough to not cause pain. He's still injured, and should rest- but they're here now and there's no telling what will happen tomorrow or even an hour from now, whether there will be another chance. Furiosa hooks her leg over his thigh, opening herself up for his touch, and takes his lips in another kiss.
She lets out a breathy noise when his fingers swipe through the folds of her cunt, spreading slick wetness and brushing over her clit. Max circles around it, moving closer and away again like he's seeing how much contact she wants, and she reaches down to grab his hand and demonstrate the motions she uses when she's touching herself. Usually Furiosa is trying not to think about him when she does this, or at least not to imagine it with this agonizing sense of caring that underlies every flicker of emotion on his face as he takes her in. But she has permission to do so now and she sinks into it, kissing his lips until they're swollen against hers while he touches her like she's something precious to him.
Her hand leaves his to stroke over his skin again, feeling the living muscles under his skin as he moves, and when he slips a pair of fingers inside her cunt she gasps and jerks her hips into the touch. A breath later she pushes at his shoulder, rolling them so Max is flat on his back and she's crouched over him, his fingers still inside of her.
He blinks up at her and she smiles a little, leaning in to nuzzle at the pulse-point in his neck before sucking a kiss to the skin there. She pulls away and tugs her sleep shirt off before laying herself carefully over him, cradling his head in her arms and being mindful of his still-healing wounds but wanting to feel as much of his bare skin against hers as she can.
He groans softly and puts the hand not still pressed close to her cunt on one of her breasts, stroking the delicate skin, circling around a nipple already pulled tight and hard.
Furiosa rocks her hips down into him, only the hand between them stopping her from smearing herself all over his leathers. She reaches down to tug at the laces until he takes his hands off her skin to shove them down brusquely, hard cock freed to bob in the air.
With his hand out of the way she grinds down, landing directly against the hot length of his cock so it's nestled between the lips of her cunt. Max gasps sharply and then groans when she moves her hips, sliding against him so the head of his cock bumps against her clit and she lets out a noise of her own.
He reaches for the back of her neck and tugs her back down, kissing her the moment she's close enough. The angle of her hips changes, presses her clit against him more firmly, and she moans against his lips.
Furiosa takes a moment to think about what she wants, if she wants to take him inside when just grinding like this feels plenty delicious, and then twists her hips so that his cock skates over the opening of her cunt. His hips stutter up, a reaction she thinks is largely involuntary, and rather than twitch away she sinks down onto him.
It's an easy slide, his cock filling her like it's meant to be there, and she lets out a sighing moan when he bottoms out. Max runs his hand along her spine and she arches into it, the motion shifting him inside her cunt so he groans low in his chest, the noise vibrating between them. She sucks one of his swollen lips into her mouth and presses her teeth to it before pulling herself up, balancing with her hand on the bed and her stump against the undamaged part of his chest so she can get leverage to move the way she wants with still hardly any space between them.
She fucks herself down on his cock and then rocks back up, building up a rhythm that has her moaning all the harder when he starts moving his hips to meet hers. He slides his hand down to her cunt, fingers finding her clit again and rubbing as she'd shown him in tandem to their movements. Max's eyes stay open, darkened gaze flicking around her body as she rolls against him, locking with her own eyes with blistering intensity that has her glancing away from it as often as he does, the connection hard to maintain when she already feels so stripped bare.
Furiosa squeezes her muscles down around him and lets the heat and tension build, until she's moving jaggedly and her breathing is harsh as she chases after her orgasm. It sweeps through her in a wave, pleasure humming out through her entire body, warming her from within. She moans out Max's name before leaning down to kiss him again, sloppy and panting against his lips.
He thrusts up into her sharply, without rhythm, until he spills with a wordless shout that she swallows down. She lets herself collapse against him when he's stopped pulsing inside her, only remembering to shift her weight to his uninjured side when he lets out a pained grunt.
His hand is still pressed to her cunt, fingers rubbing idly in the general vicinity of her clit, smearing around the cum that's mixed with her own slick. She's still revved up enough to rock her hips into the touch, but she's not sure he intends for it to be anything.
Max hums contentedly and smooths his other hand over the back of her skull, brushing his nose and lips against her cheek as he nuzzles his face against hers. “Don't cats, hmm, lick themselves clean?” he asks, drawing his hand away from her cunt so she can see the mess clinging to his fingers.
“I'm not that flexible anymore,” Furiosa replies, but she darts her tongue out to lick his hand anyway, tasting the mixture of them over the salt of his skin.
His lips crook up at the corner and he sucks his fingers into his mouth. “My tongue'd reach.” It's said a little bit playfully, the desperate intensity that spurred them on dimmed in the aftermath, but his eyes when they meet hers are still soft and yearning, like he wants to make sure to learn as much of her body and responses as he can if this is going to be their only time together.
She presses their lips together and licks the mingled taste of their fluids out of his mouth, then with a nod rolls her hips so that her cunt presses up against the bony jut of his hipbone, shivering a little at the broad friction of it. Max twists them over with a poorly disguised wince at how it must pull his injuries until she's the one on her back. Then he starts kissing down her neck, her collarbone, her breasts- down and down, fingers soothing over the scars he finds along the way as carefully as if they're open wounds still, until he's between her legs. He presses kisses to the skin of her inner thigh, one and then the other, and inhales deeply before making any sort of contact with her actual cunt.
Furiosa finds herself gripping the sheets under her within seconds, arching her back and trying to press her hips up into his touch. His mouth is hot and wet against her and his movements enthusiastic but precise, barely keeping up the pretext that he's there to clean away his cum as he focuses eagerly on her clit with the rhythm she'd shown him.
She rocks up into him until he grips her hips and holds her down, his face leaving her cunt enough to flick his eyes up to her, like he wants to make sure she's okay with the hold. She attempts to widen the spread of her legs in answer and he returns to lavishing attention on her cunt, licking and sucking and nibbling like he can't get enough, like she's a feast and he's been starving.
He pulls an orgasm out of her that has her toes curling and muscles twitching, but hardly gives her time to recover her breath before he returns to working her over, until she's rolling right into another climax and grabbing blindly down for one of his hands to grab onto.
Max slips his other hand off her hipbone and brings it down to her cunt, fingers circling around her opening. She squeezes his hand and he hums with his lips still soft and lush against her, then slides his fingers inside. At first she thinks he's trying to scrape out whatever cum hasn't spilled out already, but then his fingers hone in on a spot somewhere on the front of her walls that has her gasping.
She pulls her head up to look down the length of her body at him, head buried between her thighs and back muscles flexing under the scrawl of his tattoo as he adjusts to the rolling of her hips that she can't seem to control. Furiosa can't stand to look for long and drops her head back, throwing her left arm over her eyes to shut out the sight as she moans.
She doesn't know how much more it takes, only that when she comes it's one of the best orgasms she can recall ever having, every nerve in her body sparking off like she's injected nitro into her veins, body moving entirely without her control as she rides it out.
When she's stopped twitching around his fingers Max slips them out and lifts his head up, tongue swiping out to lick his red swollen lips. She whimpers a little at the loss, even though her cunt is oversensitive enough that she's not sure she could handle any more. His eyes are dark and hooded, the skin around his mouth shining with her wetness, and she tugs at his hand until he crawls up the length of her body and she can kiss him. He settles against her and kisses back almost sweetly, mouth tender against hers.
Furiosa pulls her arms tight around his chest and tucks her face into the crook of his neck, sweaty and sated and so glad that she's had this, that they've done this.
One of his hands sweeps back and forth over her spine, the other settling against the buzz of her hair and scratching in a little, as if she's a cat again and he's petting her. It doesn't feel the same, doesn't have that indescribable animal pleasure behind it, but she still relaxes her eyes closed under the contact.
“Mhm, Furi...” Max says a bit apprehensively, “Are you, ah, purring?”
She pulls her face away to look him in the eye because she's not actually a cat anymore- and abruptly realizes that she is, indeed, making a low rolling noise that sounds not unlike a cat's purr and doesn't seem to take any effort to maintain as she breathes. Furiosa attempts to make the noise stop but can't quite manage it, and instead buries her face against his skin again, though it isn't muffled much at all.
He chuckles quietly, a vibration she feels through his chest more than a sound she hears.
“I can still scratch you,” she tells him, and gently presses her fingernails against the skin of his back.
Max hums but doesn't say anything, his fingers still caressing her lazily. She doesn't entirely mean to, but when his breathing starts to even out and slow down into the deep rhythm of impending sleep, she presses a soft kiss to his warm skin and shuts her eyes, drifting off herself.
She doesn't know which of them starts it, but too few hours later Furiosa is pressed with her back against the cold stone wall of her room, legs drawn up ready to kick again, while Max scrabbles off the edge of the bed.
The terror of- was it a dream, or was it waking up to a man on the attack?- keeps her heart pumping hard even as her vision clears and she meets Max's eyes, blinking in the dark room. She watches him relax at the lack of threat just the same as she's reining herself in, and scrubs her hand over her face.
Sleeping curled up against him as a cat was easy; cats don't dream, and a small furry body doesn't set off the same alarms as a human one.
“Sorry,” Max mumbles out, and she shakes her head.
“I'll take the mat,” she says, “You need the bed more.”
It's dark enough in her room that his expression is mostly shadow, but when she slides her discarded sleep shirt back over her head he nods, and gets up from his crouch with a wince. Furiosa hopes he hasn't hurt his knee in the scramble, but if he isn't yelling in pain it's something that can wait until morning. Her shorts take a bit of searching to find, tangled up in the blanket at the foot of the bed, but if she isn't going to be up on the mattress she wants to be covered for warmth as much as to provide a feeling of normality like the other nights she's shared her room with him.
Ordinarily the mat gets placed so there's a wide avenue between it and the bed, but tonight she shakes it out and lays the fabric down just to the side. The metal frame of her bed is too well welded to creak as Max adjusts himself on the mattress, but she can make out the sound of the fabric covers rustling easily.
With the side his injuries are on he should be sleeping facing away from her, but he instead settles so he's on his back and his arm hangs over the side of the bed.
Furiosa looks at it and knows it's an offer, and after a moment of hesitation she reaches the short distance up to thread their fingers together. He squeezes gently, a reassurance that her touch is what he was inviting after all, a point of contact the both of them might be able to live with.
It should be easy to fall back asleep, but she finds that she can't. Instead she holds Max's hand until his fingers go entirely limp and then she lets it slip away from her grasp, turning over onto her side to face the rest of the darkened room and track the progress of the faint moonlight across the walls.
She doesn't at all regret taking her chance to be with him while the opportunity was there, but unlike the few fantasies she's allowed herself to entertain since all those days ago when she realized that he would run if she pushed for anything more than the friendship they have, it wasn't just a physical release of tension between them, some meaningless rutting to work out battle-lust or huddling for warmth that slips into a different sort of creature comfort. She doesn't know what exactly this means for them but she doesn't think they can pretend that nothing has happened, that nothing has changed.
He was as close to burning out as she's ever seen him, and he'd thought she was already dead and gone, and now Furiosa is reluctant to even let him out of her sight, thinks he might feel the same way.
The room slowly lightens as the sun comes up, and there's nothing even remotely shiny about his jacket but as the morning light hits the heap of it sprawled over her workbench something glints from amid the dusty worn leather. She stares at it in puzzlement before remembering the knife that she'd last seen him tuck into the inside, rather than surrendered to the shuffle of things in the back of his car like the rest. Like he wanted to make sure it was safe instead of risking it getting lost or taken.
She glances at Max's sleeping form before getting to her feet and padding over to the jacket, careful to not make noise and trying to be respectful of the fact that it's his as she nudges the leather aside to expose the knife and scabbard. Furiosa picks it up and turns it over in her hand, moving to sit down on the bench by her small worktable.
The sheath is nothing fancy, just scuffed-up leather that's seen better days but is still intact enough to serve as protection for the blade. The handle is worn, but the sort of worn that speaks of it having been used well and cared for. She slides the knife out into the open and once again admires the make of the metal, able now to appreciate the heft and balance of it in her hand.
The flower on the blade that she watched him haggle to have engraved is still undeniably her flower. Furiosa traces a finger over the lines of the design, remembering the sweet smell of the real thing, how it felt to have petals brushing against her skin when her hair swung across her shoulders. She doesn't know if Max has any idea what the flower means to her, or if Mell had only copied the drawing for him because he saw the original among her things and thought it was nice.
But she knows that he thought it was important to do for her- watching at the market that day, he wasn't so inept at making deals that he couldn't have gotten a better rate than three valuables traded for a single bit of etching, except that she could tell he didn't want to push the knife-seller into turning him away entirely. She thinks about the others things he's given her, the little presents and bits of what he tries to insist are just trade for the space and supplies they give him, and wonders suddenly if this one thing is any different or if it's possible that he's been doing this without her notice for a while.
She owns a single book, tucked up high on one of the shelves carved into the wall lest anything from her workbench get onto the pages. It's filled not with words- she can read, though it's slow and she would rather just hear someone else tell the story given the chance- but with pictures, paintings and photographs from the Before that are a riot of greens even faded with age, bursting with so much life and colors they look like glimpses into a dream. He'd left it on her table the day before leaving and never said why he wanted her to have it, but his eyes sought it out the next time he returned.
There's a cascade of little glass shapes hanging from thin cord over Furiosa's single window, carefully spaced to not strike against one another in the wind. Some have swirls of color inside them that make them useless for melting down into windows if she had the inclination, others faceted to catch the light and send it across the wall as rainbows. There's no use for them, no purpose, but Max likes to spin them on their cords and send flashes of colored light skittering around her room when he's there in the mornings, and she keeps them around as much for that as any other reason.
Somewhere he found a set of tools not just in good repair but still sealed in brittle yellowed plastic with a faded advertisement of their specs and quality, untouched since the day they were packaged up to be sold in some old-world market. She hadn't even needed to scratch her mark into them to keep them from going on walks- even after having grease and char ground into them from working, the soft grips on the handles that hold perfectly inside her metal hand are a bright unmistakable yellow, easily identifiable from across even the largest of the garages.
A great many of his presents are practical like that in some way, but each is given over like it's precious, like he's glad he can give it to her, and Furiosa can't remember for how long that's been true but she thinks back, and back, and doesn't think it's anything new.
She watched him search through a few booths at the trading post to find the exact book he wanted to give to Toast, rather than picking up any old thing he happened across, listened to him recite his list to himself as he looked. His thinking isn't always clear, but he does put thought into his gifts.
Furiosa mulls over the knife, testing the cutting surfaces carefully, running the pad of her finger over the design so the slight edge left by the fresh carving catches at her skin. What exactly he was thinking when he got it engraved she doesn't know, but she knows he was thinking something.
She doesn't notice that Max is awake until he clears his throat, and her eyes flick over to see him sitting up on the edge of the bed, rubbing a hand through his hopelessly mussed hair.
“It's yours if you want it,” he says, voice still thick with sleep, and waves out a hand like he needs to clarify that he means the dagger she's holding. “Picked it up a while back.”
She looks down at the knife, holds it up like she wants to test its balance again. “Nice design on it,” Furiosa says casually, wondering how he plans to explain it.
He hums, ducks his head slightly. “Ah, didn't notice it at first...”
“Max,” she says flatly, interrupting whatever lie he was going to attempt, “I was there, remember? I saw you commission it.”
His eyes go a little wide, startled, and as she watches his face gains a red flush. Max licks his lips but doesn't say anything.
“I would have known anyway,” she says, “The carving's brand new, fool.”
“I, um,” he says, the red deepening across his skin.
Furiosa waits to see if he has any other explanation, if he'll own up to the truth of it, but he stays silent.
“This wasn't an accident,” she says, running her thumb over the flower one more time before slipping the knife back into its scabbard. She doesn't need him to say it in exact words but she thinks she needs to have him acknowledge the thing that's between them somehow, still too rattled from the near loss to rely on the silent understanding it's so easy to slip into with him.
“...No,” Max says reluctantly.
She nods to herself, though it's an answer she already knew. “Did Mell tell you what the flower means?”
“Just that it's... important, to you,” he says with a shake of his head. “Looked for the real thing, but...”
“They were my mother's favorite,” she says when he's trailed off, the slow smile of remembrance creeping onto her face, “The only way she could convince me to braid my hair was if she put a few in.”
Max is looking at her nervously like he's waiting to be scolded, like he thinks it was a mistake to have turned it into a present.
“Mary would have suggested putting it on the grip of a gun,” Furiosa continues, because it's true- any of the Mothers would have said that if you were close enough to use a knife, you were close enough to lose your life. The Vuvalini taught her how to snipe an enemy from a distance, but living at the Citadel had taught her how to survive in close quarters. “It suits the blade, I think.”
She sets the knife down on the work table behind her and crosses the room because the dagger is really just another token and not the thing itself, stopping half a pace before him, feet on the sleeping mat instead of bare stone. “Max,” she says softly, mindful of how unsure his eyes look, how brittle some of the repairs he's made to himself are. “I know it's not just the knife.”
He turns his head away, a thread of fear in his expression as she calls his bluff completely, and Furiosa lays her hand against his cheek to guide him to look at her again.
She wants to say that it's okay, that she knows the shape of his feelings and feels the same, but actually admitting to that sort of weakness, even in the safety of her room, feels like she's taunting the wasteland. He swallows heavily, throat bobbing.
“I can't,” Max says, voice rough and pleading as he struggles to get any words out at all, “I thought- I can't.”
His eyes skitter across her face, unable to look her directly in the eye but returning like he's determined to try anyway. She waits for him to complete his thought, to tell her what he can't do; if this one night was all he can give she'll take it and be glad it happened at all.
“If you're not, not... I can't. Not without you...” he tries, eyes blinking rapidly, more inarticulate than she's seen him be in a long stretch of days. "I can't just, like there isn't..."
Furiosa leans down and presses a kiss to his forehead, and he lets out a quiet strangled noise like a sob. “I can't lose you either,” she says, lips brushing over his skin, hoping she's interpreted his halting words correctly.
It's as close to a confession of how she feels as she thinks she's capable of- the wasteland is unkind to anything that could be a weakness, and emotions are no exception. But having had him for a night and without hearing that once is all she'll have she doesn't think she can return to pretending that there isn't anything more between them, that his presence in her life doesn't help keep her going as much as watching the Citadel change for the better, as much as seeing the Sisters grow into themselves has.
Max reaches out blindly until he has a fistful of her shirt in his hand, not tugging her closer but just holding on like it's his only anchor. “I just,” he says, “You saw. There'll be nothing left. But I can't, can't stop. I tried...”
She did see, and it terrified her because he gave up in a way she didn't know he was capable of, not after pulling through so many bad scrapes before through sheer will to survive. The thought that it's because of her, because of how important she is to him- it's almost too much for her to comprehend, that she could have had such an effect on him.
Watching him deteriorate, knowing that he would be lost to the sands forever before the moon changed over again... the pain of it flayed her to the core, but still she clung to the idea of living. Maybe it would have worn her down, maybe she would have gone mad with grief once it truly sank in that she would never see him again, but in the moment she had picked herself up and kept moving as she's always done.
But now... she truly doesn't know if she can manage it again, should it come to that. She already knows there's no way for her to stop caring for him like she does, not after nearly two thousand days of letting him settle under her skin, not after sharing as much of herself with him as she has. Acknowledging it sends a spark of fear through her, memories of how dangerous and painful such things are swirling over her, but it isn't anything she has a hope of denying.
Furiosa rests her forehead against his and breathes in deeply, steadily, until she hears his inhales start to match hers. His eyelids slide shut but she keeps hers open, watching the tension around his eyes smooth out like he's forcing himself to relax.
“There are no guarantees,” she says quietly, “But I can't keep watching you drive away, never knowing if you're coming back. I count the days you're gone, and if that number never ends...”
“I can't stay,” Max says in a burst, sharp in the quiet space between them. Gentler he says, “Not always, not like you deserve.”
She shakes her head. “The Citadel's outgrown me,” she says, “I don't know that I can stay forever, either.”
His eyes blink open and stare into hers from a breath away, bright and shining wet in the strengthening morning light. She can hear the click of his throat as he swallows. “I'm not, not good company,” he says after a stretch of seconds, and Furiosa can't help the breathy laugh that tumbles out of her, because of all the reasons to pick...
“I was your cat for days,” she reminds him, “I know how bad your singing is.”
His lips twitch like it's involuntary, a weak smile for a weak joke. “The girls need you,” he says, serious again.
She strokes her thumb against the morning's scruff along his jaw and then pulls away from the close embrace, moving to sit on the edge of the bed next to him, knees pressed together but with space between them.
“The girls haven't needed me in a very long time,” she tells him, and it's true. They're the ones who conceived and set up the Council, who delegated and worked and rebuilt, turning the Citadel into a haven rather than a prison with their own strength of will and shining visions. She has been their general, their war-leader and battle adviser for nearly two thousand days, but she isn't the only one capable of the office.
He exhales heavily and loosens his grip on her shirt, smoothing over the fabric he stretched out. “I want you with me,” Max confesses, “want to be with you.”
Furiosa leans in and kisses his lips, a thrill going though her that she's allowed to now, that he wants her to as much as she does. “I'll have your back if you have mine,” she says, which she thinks might be the only sort of promise she can make, and he sucks in a shaky breath before nodding in agreement.
When they've been back for three days and Capable's stopped personally overseeing Max's bandage changes to make sure they actually happen, Furiosa for the first time when she doesn't have some incapacitating injury declines to even accompany the trade rig on its run to Gastown.
“Are you sure you're feeling okay?” Toast asks, a little bit bewildered. She's driven the rig before, of course, and ridden shotgun or up top with the Boys or in one of the convoy vehicles numerous other times since she first showed interest in learning this part of Citadel operations. But aside from the trade runs that had taken place during her absence or when she's been laid up in the infirmary, Furiosa has always been there alongside her in some capacity.
“Are you saying you're not up for it?” she replies, just enough of a challenge in her voice to goad her on.
Toast scowls, but doesn't take the bait. “I'm good for it, but why are you staying behind?”
Furiosa pats her flesh hand against the side of the rig to feel the cold metal of it; it was salvaged from the wreck of the War Rig but it's an entirely different beast, all clean graceful lines instead of jagged anger and painted a sandy tan that does nothing for intimidation but, she has to admit, offers a fair amount of camouflage. It's never felt like her truck, not the way the War Rig did, even though she'd had her hands on nearly every part as soon as it was hauled in from the wastes.
“I thought I'd do some work up in the gardens today,” she says.
Toast crosses her arms and squints at her disbelievingly. “Did-” she glances around; none of the crew are in earshot- “did being a cat make you like, forget how to drive or something?”
Furiosa lets out an amused breath. “If you want me holding your hand forever, all you have to do is ask.”
“Fine,” Toast says, suspicion dripping from her voice, “but I find out you just wanted to stay in and trade paint with Max instead...”
It had only taken a few hours after leaving her room for the Sisters to realize that something had changed between them and though neither she nor Max have said anything outright, there are only so many guesses to be made. She looks over to where he's currently poking at his car's engine across the garage and sweeps her eyes over him exaggeratedly before turning back to Toast.
“Not a bad idea,” Furiosa replies, mostly to see the way her expression contorts as she processes the idea of her suspicions about their relationship being all-but-confirmed.
“Dag'll skin you if you crush her plants,” she says in warning, then shakes her head like she wishes she'd never opened that can of worms. “Whatever, just don't tell me any details.”
Toast waves her hands to shoo her away and Furiosa smirks a little as she leaves the side of the trade rig to collect Max. She doesn't actually intend to have sex with him at the moment- after the intensity of that first night, they haven't done more than trade kisses and tentative touches, learning each other and feeling out the idea that they really want to be together like this- but she does have plans in the gardens, and a second set of hands will be welcome.
He hums lightly when he sees her approach, raising his head from the greasy tangle of machinery underneath his car's raised bonnet.
Furiosa is fairly certain that Toast is watching, analyzing their interaction. She reaches out to one of Max's grease-covered hands and tugs it away, uncaring that her hand is now greasy as well. “Toast thinks we're sneaking off to fuck,” she tells him, and his eyes go wide and startled, glancing behind her to look at Toast.
“Ah,” he says, face going a bit red. They haven't talked about any of it really, and certainly not outside the privacy of her room.
“Come on,” Furiosa says without confirming or dispelling the thought, and gives his blackened hand a gentle tug, “There's a misbehaving turbine up top that could use some attention.”
Max swings his gaze back to her and he furrows his brow like he's trying to decide if it's some sort of innuendo, but after a moment he nods his head and puts aside the spanner he was holding. She slides a look over to Toast as they exit the garage; the girl is still staring at them like she's not sure if she should be retching or cooing.
There actually is a wind turbine that needs repairs, though it isn't the sort of thing that requires Furiosa to be the one to do it, nor is so pressing that today is the only day to do it. Not being on the trade run makes her feel restless and she's glad for the physical work to distract her, glad for the way Max brushes up against her as they reach for different areas and how he sometimes comes out with little unexpected comments that keep her grounded in the moment.
Work on the turbine is finished before the run is, and rather than find something else to do Furiosa washes her hands and takes up one of the watch positions, looking for proof of Toast's safety.
Max hums and stands next to her, resting one of his hands against her back high enough that the touch isn't obstructed by the thick layer of her belts but lets the warmth of his hand seep through the fabric of her shirt easily. She didn't tell him why she really skipped the trade run and she wonders if he's guessed by now.
It's not really a test, because she already knows that Toast can handle herself and her crew when left alone. And it's not because she doesn't want to leave Max's side so soon after they nearly lost each other either, though she is glad that she doesn't have to worry about him re-injuring himself after forcing his way into the rig as she's sure he would.
Furiosa has no plans to take off until Max is healed to her satisfaction, and she wants to ease the girls into the idea as much as she wants to try it out herself. The next run she'll be crew on most likely, maybe offering up Max's car as part of the convoy so the both of them can test out its latest repairs.
The shape of the trade rig and its outriding cars materializes on the long black stretch of road as the sun starts slanting down, and it is impossible to make out any details from this high up but she counts the same number of vehicles as they left with, and nothing belching smoke. A smooth enough trip, then, and she finally lets herself relax back into Max where he's standing close behind her.
He hums and his hand slides from her back to curl around her waist, loose enough that she's not even thinking of the ways it could turn into something to hold her in place, and she wonders if he was only keeping her company or if he too was watching for some of the same reasons she was.
When Max has his stitches out Furiosa comes with him to the infirmary, partly because he acts like a baby about pain if it isn't serious, partly because the only other times she's there are when she's distracted by some emergency or other.
It's not Edie who snips and pulls out the threads but Capable, and she does it with a deft hand and cheery demeanor. Max squirms and jerks away at every tug, making quiet melodramatic whining noises though having stitches out is nowhere as bad as having them put in.
“Hush,” Furiosa tells him unsympathetically, and he pouts up at her exaggeratedly. She fondly threads her fingers through his hair anyway, and he quiets at the touch.
Capable looks like she's holding back a smile, her gaze leaving the healing injury she's tending to watch the two of them now and again. “It's good to see you like this,” she says.
Max fidgets a little at the acknowledgment but Furiosa only shrugs. She hasn't wanted to flaunt their changing relationship but she also hasn't attempted to hide it, either. And from what she remembers overhearing them saying when she was a cat, she doesn't think the change has come as much surprise to any of the Sisters.
When Capable finishes tying on a length of bandages and dismisses them, Furiosa lingers in the infirmary for a few minutes. Right after the Fury Road whenshe had expressed an interest in healing, they all thought Capable was looking for her War Boy, hoping to find his face among those who came limping and defeated in from their wrecks. But even if that was her reason at first, she'd stayed with it and learned as much as anyone could teach her, not just the hands-on end but organizing supplies and shifts, finding places for those with an interest.
Furiosa watches her flit around now, how she's utterly at ease in the sometimes chaotic environment, and feels just as proud of her for making it her own as she is for seeing Toast step into more familiar shoes.
“Was there something else?” Capable asks, finally noticing that Furiosa hasn't left right away.
She shakes her head. “Nothing,” Furiosa says, “I just wanted to say thank you.”
Capable's expression turns from concerned to confused, but she smiles anyway. “You're welcome?”
After twenty days of Max healing that are spent with the two of them in turns exploring each other and reassuring the other that they're just alive and there, Furiosa finally feels the itch to go and retrieve her bike tip over the scales.
It won't gracefully fit anywhere onto Max's car to be hauled away but suggesting they take another vehicle instead is met with a flat refusal. Which means she'll be riding it back and the trip will take at least six days, since they won't be able to switch off and drive through the night on the way back.
“Bring back more dirt,” the Dag instructs as they load up for the journey.
“Don't turn into a cat again,” Toast says with a smirk.
“Don't get shot again,” Capable directs to Max, but with a quelling glance at Furiosa as well.
“Come back?” Cheedo asks, sounding nothing like the accomplished Councilwoman she's grown to be but rather the scared girl she had been on the Road all those days ago.
There's no way to make that sort of promise, but Furiosa has no intention of dying from this simple trip. She lets the girls hug her goodbye one by one, and makes no attempt to hide a smile as they swarm Max in a group because they've learned the only way to each get a shot at him is to overwhelm him at once, and then they're away.
Getting to the little oasis is simple, a straight shot on a path they've traveled a few times by now. Between the two of them it's easy to shake off the scavs that come sniffing around, and the tribes large enough to be a threat don't mark their presence at all.
Her bike is just as she left it, and there still aren't signs of anyone else having visited the little patch of green life. They stay overnight, sitting up against the windshield of the car and looking at the stars, shoulders pressed close together despite the way the blower jutting through the bonnet forces them awkwardly apart, fingers entwined.
The ride back is something novel because Furiosa doesn't think she's ever been on a bike while Max is in his car. She's driven the trade rig a few times with him circling around as a convoy driver, but it doesn't have nearly the same dynamic.
With two engines there's an increased risk of being heard, and on a bike she's far more exposed than if she was riding in a car, but Furiosa still finds that they fall into a weaving, circling pattern when the plains around them are flat enough for advance notice of danger, playing with the idea of their vehicles falling into sync and really, just playing. There's no urgency pushing them faster, no reason not to take an easy pace like Max would on his own when the coast is clear, and driving with him like this just feels good, makes her catch his eye and see a shadow of the same smile on his face.
It won't make any sense to bring along her bike the next time he feels the itch to leave, but she enjoys the dance while it unfolds, organic and spontaneous as they navigate the wastes. It's just another reason she'll want to keep circling back to the Citadel even if she strikes out with him, as if seeing the girls and having access to a safe place isn't incentive enough.
She drives some trade runs and sits out others, pokes her head into the infirmary and spends a little time in the gardens, but no one says anything until she finally sits in on one of the Council meetings. Some of them are open to the public and others private, and Furiosa has had a standing invitation since the first meeting to attend either sort, though she only makes use of it when forced by some pressing concern that actually requires her input.
She hasn't been to a meeting in nearly eight hundred days, and though she sits quietly in one of the corners and says very little, her presence is definitely marked.
“Furiosa, can you wait up a minute?” Cheedo asks as the rest of the Council files out of the room, a sheave of papers in her hands. She doesn't run the Council, the process by which things are decided being too democratic for such a position, but she's the one most often chosen as speaker, the one nominated to be a representative of the Citadel and its interests when one is needed.
None of the topics discussed had anything to do with Furiosa, and she wonders if it's instead something personal and the timing just happens to be convenient. She inclines her head in answer, and isn't much surprised when the other Sisters exchange looks and stay seated where they are.
When the room is cleared, Cheedo turns away from the organizing she was doing to look directly at her. “Do you know when you're leaving?” she asks.
Furiosa isn't entirely sure what she means; they hadn't discussed any missions for her during the meeting that she's aware of.
“When you and Max go wandering,” Cheedo clarifies.
“We all know you've been itching to take off for a while,” Toast says, and the girls nod.
“All your skulking around is starting to bother the plants,” the Dag puts in.
She shifts in her seat, slightly uncomfortable with the thought that they've so easily guessed the direction of her thoughts, though she supposes that unlike planning her escape under Joe, she wasn't actively trying to hide anything. “We don't have any plans,” Furiosa says.
Cheedo nods and looks sad, but resigned. “You'll be together, though? Going off on your own like that... Well, we all know how that ends up.”
“Yes,” she says, because it's still a bit terrifying to feel as if she's tempting fate with acknowledgments like these but it's the truth, “We'll be together.”
“Okay,” Cheedo says, like she wants to argue but doesn't think it'll accomplish much. "Just... look out for each other, okay? We want you back. Both of you."
Furiosa nods because looking out for one another is something she can promise, feeling the way even that statement of intent can so easily provoke the wasteland but still knowing that she wants to try, for their sakes as much as hers and Max's
“Now will you please stay out of the infirmary?” Capable says with forced joviality, “I can't take much more speculation about what poxes Max might have given you to be coming by so often.”
It takes nearly seventy days after that for Max to get that look in his eye that says he's going to go off chasing the horizon, but this time instead of resigning herself to the uncertainty of his return Furiosa feels a bit of excitement in herself at the thought that she'll be going with him, that she won't have to leave his fate to the wastes while burying herself in the busywork of keeping the Citadel running. They check over his car and pack in supplies elbow-to-elbow, and when the girls ask where they're going and when they'll be back the both of them can only shrug.
When it's been some number of days and the road is starting look less appealing than parking at the Citadel again, some of the bolts securing a few fairly vital engine components shear off. Luckily they're not too far from someplace to get replacements, though Max insists he has the right type already in the back of the car. He can't find them of course, and they make do with a tenuous repair that has them driving extremely carefully lest it fail altogether.
Furiosa somehow isn't entirely surprised to realize that the closest place to trade is the outpost she visited with Max when she was still a cat. It's gratifying to watch the water-peddler near the gate who's still crowing about having "genuine Citadel Aqua-Cola" go pale and quiet when they recognize her; she doesn't have to say anything, only stares at them with a flat expression until they meekly change their tune.
“Looking for another cat-fight?” Max asks as they walk away further into the maze of sellers.
She slants a look at him out of the corner of her eye and doesn't dignify it with an answer; he still chuckles to himself at the joke, another in a long line that everyone who knows about her mishap seems to delight in throwing at her.
The trading post is entirely different as a human than it was as a cat, even one perched up at eye-level; the sounds and smells are duller but considering the press of humanity it's still not anything close to comfortable. Max pokes aimlessly at the junk bins that they pass, mumbling questions about if she thinks Capable or Cheedo will like this or that trinket on occasion, while she eyes up anything that looks like it might have the right size bolts for the repair that saw them limping in to trade here in the first place.
He nudges her and indicates with a tilt of his head that he wants to check out something in the other direction, and Furiosa waves him off easily. She wanders around for a while, deliberately keeping her pace slow and trying to look casual despite the way she wants to scour the place in the most efficient way possible to find the parts they need. Half of bartering is putting on an act, one that says you'll take your business elsewhere if the price isn't right.
She's always hated that aspect of it, but it's a strategy that works.
An hour or so later with slightly greasy but sound enough bolts of the right size in hand, she realizes that she's lost Max entirely. Furiosa tucks the parts away and finally lets her pace grow brisk as she searches through the winding alleys of booths quickly for any sign of him. She isn't much worried about him getting into trouble- or at least, she isn't worried about his ability to hold his own when it happens.
She finds him near the swirling center where the one truly permanent building resides, a relic from the Before when guzzoline could be left undefended for anyone to drive up and buy. He's holding something in his arms but she can't tell what it is until she's up close, and then she can only stare in surprise.
“Look,” Max says, clearly pleased with himself, and holds out the kitten for her to see. It's small and fluffy and tabby-gray, and it opens its mouth to let out a squeaky meow at seeing her approach. “Friend of yours?”
Furiosa looks down at the kitten and then back up at Max's expectant face. There are several questions that come to mind for her to ask- where did it come from, why does he have it, what are the odds that it's really a cursed human, is it related to the cat who attacked her the last time she was here- but what she says is, “There's no room in the car.”
He pouts, and scritches a finger under the thing's chin. The kitten closes its eyes and starts purring, and she does not at all feel a spark of anything that could possibly be described as 'jealousy' at the attention he's paying it or at the memory of how uncomplicatedly pleasant it had been to be pet like that as a cat herself.
“Put it back,” she says, hoping he hasn't actually paid for the thing. Few are willing to take back deals once they're concluded, even with encouragement.
“There was room for you,” he mumbles, not making any move to put the kitten down.
Furiosa holds in a sigh and leans in to look at the cat; it's small, thin under the fluff but not entirely a skeleton. She can see fleas crawling through its fur and Max has been holding it for who knows how long, so now they'll have to delouse everything anyway. The kitten meows again and looks at her imploringly.
“We don't have room,” she says, but she can hear her tone softening. There really isn't a lot of room in the car, and assuming this kitten really is just an animal, it's as likely to go running as not.
“Bring it to the girls?” Max suggests, hiking it up in his arms a little higher so the kitten sniffs and butts its head against the underside of his jaw. “Heard there's a, hmm, a vacancy.”
She does sigh then, but reaches out with her flesh hand to pet through its fur. It's the first time in many thousands of days that she's actually felt a living cat, excluding the period she herself was one, and she's surprised all over again by how soft it is, how warm. “You're the one who's picking off the fleas,” Furiosa says in resignation.
He smiles, and looks down at the kitten with a soft expression that she remembers being sent her way when she was a cat. Then Max leans across the distance between them and brushes his lips against her cheek, there and gone again before anyone who might be watching them has the time to be sure of what he's doing, and she forgets to be jealous at all.
Somehow, the kitten never does quite manage to make it to the Citadel and stay there, even though the car really does become cramped with the three of them.