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on the sixth day

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It takes six long days before she can do more than strap a shitty old version of her arm back on and have the girls help drag her into appropriately reassuring positions around the Citadel. Deep down she knows that six days are nothing out of the seven thousand she's already clawed her way through here, but it doesn't seem to make any difference to the panic that the world will crumble again while she's out of it. It's not the pain; the pain was never the problem.

It's just that it was the absolute worst kind of strategy, launching an entirely unintended and impromptu coup whilst bled out and kitten-weak with two gaping holes in her side (and she knows exactly who to blame for that fool of an idea of how to save themselves). Six days laid out is six days too long with a power vacuum to consolidate.

Turns out, the girls - backed up by a couple of warily ruthless Vuvalini - are exactly in the right frame of mind for consolidating things all by themselves. It's just that it's not nearly as reassuring as she thought it would be, listening to them feed a little chaos into Joe's finely tuned machinery.

They take turns sitting with her through the first three days, when she's twitchy and feverish, curled up in her windowless room. They seem to think it's a good use of their time, keeping her company while she burns up. She wishes they wouldn't, but when they do leave, and she can't hear Toast recounting this is what's left and Capable humming between who came back and who did not, there's just the ringing in her ears and the barest edge of an infection to keep her awake. And the quiet is the worst part; the hive of industry has fallen silent as the grave and she can't help listening out for signs of life.

She opens her eyes on the first day, and Angharad is leaning over her, as cool and lovely as ever she was. The lamplight throws the scars on her forehead into subtle patterns and sets her hair to glowing. She leans closer and whispers

Plant one and watch something die.

There's a fever haze then that sets her teeth to rattling, and nobody there when she opens her eyes. Furiosa buries her face in the thin pillow and hunches back down against the shakes; flinches back again as the stitches catch. She can't even tell anymore if it's rigors or soundless laughter, crackling silently down her parched throat and pulling at the scars. But she does know it takes more than a dead girl to send her reeling these days; that she's always been good at making things die. There's a whole long line of dead girls in the sand, waiting their turn if ever she wants to start down that road.

It's just this one, churning to the surface of an overheated mind right now. All that water sending them a little more crazy.

The door opens - true/not true - and it's Dag with more water, frowning at her.

Part of her wants to point out that this was never the plan; she never set out to do anything more than survive it; never planned to be in charge of anything more than her original war party, and best not mention the part where she had screwed them over pretty comprehensively to begin with. She traded that long line of ghosts for the right to walk in the sun this far, and now she can't quite comprehend being responsible for all these other creatures for any more than the long night's run she had planned; can't quite parse how to protect anyone like this, without a war rig and all the guns she can carry. How do you do any of this with a Citadel of refugees and pups and mothers and girls (who have only helped carry her all the way here)?

She has an inkling he only saved her so that he wouldn't be the only one left looking out for them. She's not sure she wouldn't have done the same thing.

On the sixth day she leans against a wall high up on the terrace; tries to breathe, and watches Capable and Cheedo charm the crowd below. She thinks they're learning to look out for themselves pretty swiftly now, and far more elegantly than she ever did for herself, or anyone else.

She weighs up the blood on her hands - flesh or metal, they're both hers; both as dangerous in their way - on the fourth day, propped up in bed, watching Toast taking stock of weapons. The girl is alarmingly good at it (Angharad knew it; Angharad knew an alarming amount about many things, and it still didn't help her survive it). A part of her flinches now, at them walking around some days armed to the teeth (why should they have to), but the stronger, wiser, part wants them to at least know how to not be afraid of hurting people who are out for you and yours. They still live in the world they live in; that hasn't changed.

On the second day, there's a confusion of voices in the doorway to her room; quiet/not quiet. If they're trying not to wake her up, it's a lost cause already. She keeps her eyes half-closed against the lamplight and the noise, and Dag's indignant tone about how she needs to rest, and they will deal with this.

And that's the trouble with the resting; it's really not optional at this stage. The breath feels sticky in her lungs; catches every other inhalation until she's sure there's no air in the room and honestly she'd be panicking right now about suffocation, if only she had the strength for anything as pointless as panic.

The voices echo again, just past the point where she can make out the words, but she thinks she recognises a couple of recalcitrant warboys. She's the only thing left in the world that they ever knew how to trust, and even that trust should have been shattered, the second she yanked that steering wheel east.

It persists, though - they've spent their whole lives waiting to die as Joe's battle fodder; it would be hard for them to be as sharp as the girls are; not so aware of their own worth, or their own survival. And they all trusted her, in their own way. The smartest thing she ever did with that trust, it seems now, was use it to take a chance on some fool of a bloodbag.

(And he's not here now; he couldn't be. Being in the Citadel would have swallowed him up whole and he would have choked on it, clawing panic. She knows it like breathing, and she's having about the same amount of trouble with that.)

There's still a hole in her arm, on the second day, and it's barely even scabbed over by the seventh day; cannulas go deep like that. It still hurts when she moves her good arm, but then everything else he left her with hurts too; this whole mess of the blood in her veins and the air in her lungs. She thinks that he was generous to a fault, her bloodbag, and something in her might hate him for that. You only survive out there with what you can carry, and he had left something of himself here; weakened himself so that she could gasp for breath and burn with fever for it.

She's set down her gods now; let her hope of what the green place had been burn up in the midday sun. There are other green places now, cool and shady and hidden away, and they need scouring of memories before she can walk in them again.

There's a trail of more than dead girls behind her; power vacuums ripped open at the Bullet Farm and Gastown all of her own making that will have to be dealt with. You don't just tear apart an infrastructure like this and expect it not to pay in blood - and she has paid, and it will never be enough, but there's time.

It takes six days before she can take a breath that doesn't burn and ache and cost her everything, but it's enough she can start fending for herself; enough she starts to understand what it might feel like, to survive this. She hasn't been especially sure she wanted to, on occasion, now she doesn't have the green place left in her dreams. Now that the many mothers are so few, because she went looking for them again. She thinks Val would still be breathing, now, if she hadn't tried to go back. She has to make her own way, now, and it hurts as much as everything else does to realise that.

On the sixth day, she drags herself out into the sun, and thinks about starting again.


On the sixty-seventh day, she hears a commotion on the watch towers; down on the ground, and it's two words catching at her breath and humming in her veins.

He's back.