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After The Fire

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"We," she pants, "are going to break this bed."

He hums his agreement against the side of her neck, arms and legs wrapped tightly around her. She bucks, hooking an ankle against his and rolls up into it, arm against his throat for leverage, crashing them against the wall the narrow bed is pushed up against.

"I'd – I'd rather not," she chuckles. Beds are a precious luxury. If you break one, you better hope it can be repaired.

Max ducked his head just in time before she’d leveraged her arm, creating some space, and re-maneuvers his foot around hers. The slide of his ankle distracts her for a crucial half-moment as he rolls them back towards the precarious edge.

"You could just stop," Max says, muffled, his open mouth against her pulse. There was a considering hum that follows in where she heard, 'We' could stop.

She snaked her left arm in at that, and shoves at his jugular with her nub. "And just let you on top?" Furiosa's eyebrows rise.

"When you put it like that," he nips at the skin under her chin, uncaring of her threat at his throat, "Mmm, it doesn't sound as fun."

Max seems to almost relax into her hits, like every time she outmaneuvers him he unwinds, like every time she bests him he grows a little more drunk with it. She slides her leg against his brace and in an explosive movement hooks his leg downwards and gets his brace caught against the bedframe. Then its easy to slip free of his grasp and loom over his half-tangled form.

He looks up at her, shoulders un-tensing, eyes glittering with some mix of pride and relief and revelation. He jerks his brace free of the frame.

The bed creaks warningly, like an engine running hot.

She glances out the narrow window. The moon’s already set – it's deep enough into the night that only the sentries will be around. She doesn't, right now, much care what her sentries will think.

"Come on," she says, rising, and when he doesn't move, pushes her thumb into the pressure point on his thigh to make him.

 

 

“Furiosa!" one of her sentries had cried, over three hundred days ago. It was fifteen days after they were first lifted up into the Citadel, the water rushing and the Wretched cheering and the War Pups chanting her name.

"Furiosa, an Imperator has come back!"

They were preparing for this, for at least some of the War Parties to skirt around the mountains and head towards the Citadel. They’d actually expected them sooner. Capable and Toast nodded at her, making motions for her to remain sitting, before striding towards their attending War Boys and giving them messages to run to their garages and defenses. They left the room still discussing their options.

“How many are with him?" Furiosa asked.

“He’s alone," returned the sentry, confused. Furiosa was confused as well, given that the other Imperators generally liked keeping Boys around as cannon fodder unless they were attending the Immortan himself. "He… He’s not responding to our questions."

Furiosa felt her brow furrow as she strode to the nearest opening that would give her a view of the wasteland floor. She ignored War Boy’s protests that she sit. There was a bubble of space around the base of one of the towers, and she opened her spyglass to look on it.

She’d closed her glass immediately. “That’s an ally; tell Tribunes Capable and Toast to stand down.”

The Fool was still wearing the black scarf she’d given him before the Plains of Silence. Nux had stared as she dropped the loop of cloth over the man’s head as she told the Fool to use it to keep sand from his face. But he was no War Boy, and he didn’t know she was giving him an Imperator’s scarf. It was not like she would have had the chance to promote any of her own crew. Or protect them.

It’d looked good on him, Furiosa thought as she was lowered with the lift. As she dropped down level by level the echo’d whispers bouncing around the Citadel’s halls chased in front of her like a scouting party.

"An ally" “A friend?" “Furiosa’s word" “Another gone rogue on Joe?" “Are we supposed to salute him?" "Furiosa doesn’t like it."

The Masked Gatekeepers, once the lift had settled, saluted automatically at the man with the black neck-scarf. Heads bowed over interlaced fingers.

The Fool squinted at them, perplexed, but shifted to Furiosa’s gaze before she could even move towards him.

“War Party incoming." He’d turned to point at the horizon, “There. Had maybe two, three, days headstart."

Furiosa had known that blocking the pass might’ve only taken out a fourth of the vehicles, if they were lucky. They had, between them, destroyed maybe another fourth. That still left perhaps fifty war machines from the three allied towns. She looked at the Fool, however, and then reconsidered. He smelled a bit like burnt guzzoline and old blood. He was standing without pain.

“Numbers?"

“Thirty." A headtilt.

“Thirty vehicles?" It was far better than she expected.

But Max (that’s his name, she thought) shook his head, “War boys."

Furiosa blinked. That meant around fifteen to ten vehicles, which they could manage with ease. “You must be tired, Max.”

He flinched and shrugged, eyeing her, and declined to get on the lift. So Furiosa instead walked him and his bike to one of the ground level garages and called for rations and aqua-cola to be delivered. The fool walked slowly and she wondered if it was something to do with his brace.

She examined his bike, instead of the way he twitched away from the walls, and suggested some improvements. It stilled him and he approached and pointed out a pipe that’d been giving him trouble.

Furiosa picked up a wrench. She started asking him about the vehicles they should expect in the approaching siege. She watched him watch her work at the machine and he seemed easier for it. The fool seemed to understand what she was doing without much prompting and handed her what she needed before she even asked.

Eventually, a protein biscuit landed in her hand instead of pliers. Furiosa looked further up to see Capable’s amused face. Then around to realize they’d been surrounded by War Pups. Max jolted badly next to her, and stood up.

Capable watched him, and reached forward, slow. She held out another biscuit, beans and mealworm mash, until the fool took it from her.

“It’s good to see you again," she said, and gave his forearm a pat. Max nodded awkwardly. “Furiosa, I overhead his report. Toast’s already surveying the snipers and other vertical defenses. I’ll make sure the lower levels are cleared and we’ll find, or make, some bunkers for the Wretched." She paused, a twist to her lips, “We should give them another name."

Max looked hesitant, but with a hum ventured, "…’Refugees’?"

“Almost…” Capable looked off, and then her eyes cleared with a smile, “The Refuge."

“Suggest it to the others," Furiosa said, curt. Capable was starting to look at her in a way that meant she was about to suggest bedrest, and Furiosa had lost an arm with less grief. She caught the fool’s attention while shoving by him on her way to the garage’s entrance; a glance backwards had him follow.

She walked him around the corner until the Citadel was behind them.

They sat with their backs against the stone.

The horizon spilled in front of them, wide, while they silently worked on the biscuits. Furiosa saw how his shoulders eased the longer they sat out there. Hers lowered too.

She was unsurprised when he left when the siege ended.

 

(Her surprise was reserved for the handful of smokey, cracked seeds he’d upended carefully into her palm.

“Acacia," he’d muttered, “Thorntrees, they, ah," he looked past her at the horizon.

“They’re burned." Furiosa wondered if she was supposed to eat them.

“Yeah," Max darted his eyes over and held her gaze, “You’d think…” a swallow, “you’d think nothing can survive fire. But they’re strong.”

He folded her fingers around them.

“I’d forgotten but, when there’s a fire, the seeds crack." He shifted, and looked down, and stepped back.

“That’s a bad thing?”

“I’d thought.” Max shook his head, “No, the cracks… it’s easier for water to get in.”

“Easier for them to green," Furiosa said quietly.

Max nodded, and she nodded. And he made his way from her after a long glance, this man who’d once cut her open so that she could breathe.

She turned to go set the seeds in water, walking carefully so that they might not spill.)

 

“Are you going to stop running around now?" Toast bit at her. Furiosa stifled her first response; the women had all been hovering over her recovery but she knew what she could take. It was frustrating even though she knew that they did it out of concern.

It only hit her, as Cheedo also came up with concern writ all over her face, that she never felt stifled with Max there. She wondered if there’d really been anything wrong with his brace. He’d never brought it up, but he’d walked slower than was his usual except when they were fighting shoulder-to-shoulder. He’d covered for her in the moments where she was a step slow and it never felt like pity.

It was easy in a way she never expected anything to be. And made it no small moment of relief that she had the space, with Max gone, to have the realization settle in her.

 

 

The next few times Max came back he was able to go a bit up into the midlevels. Sometimes he reported of raids. Sometimes he brought people. Sometimes he pointed out locations of wrecks and never quite met anyone’s eyes when he did so.

The War Pups had stopped saluting him once they’d realized how confused it made him, though they still called him Furiosa’s Imperator when he was not around. They made him twitch badly at first, but Dag’s time was coming and he’d leave, circle the Citadel in a long loop and return within weeks almost despite himself.

“I, ah, want to make sure she’s," he broke off to sweep the Wasteland with his gaze, “that she’s okay." He was sitting on the hood of a Rig they were modifying for more speed. It was parked on a platform looking out to where the lifts lowered, the wall absent and the desert spread before them.

He had once brought back with him a wasteland woman who knew bodies, and fixing them. Those who knew how to fix such things were all at the Citadel heights this moment, laboring with the Tribune Dag herself.

“She’s strong,” Furiosa reminded him. “She's planted the thorntrees herself.” The seedlings were already half a meter tall, and they found the soil at its roots especially good for nursing other new growths.

“Yeah."

She nodded at Max giving the forward engine a last wipe and hopped down. She’d taken over the Citadel’s various garages from almost the moment they'd returned to it, knowing they’d have to be armed within two weeks.

Furiosa had left the diplomacy and fickle-work to the wives-now-Tribunes; they’d had their ideas and their ideas had merit, even if strange. Moreover they wished to do something she'd preferred not to, so Furiosa left them to it after ensuring that the Many Mothers (and many War Pups) would guard them thoroughly.

By contrast there’d been not enough hands and not enough peak-working engines; there were War Pups to train, and vehicles to build. Absently, she plucked one of the War Pups off the side of the Rig, where he'd been staring at the distant ground in dismay, and slid under to check engine two. Furiosa felt the fool’s eyes on her.

She heard Max step down beside the Rig, but didn’t immediate crowd in with her under the war machine. When she slid out to look up at the fool, he was still scanning the wastes.

“We have sentries."

Max scanned the horizon one last time and blinked slow.

He finally gave a short nod, and slipped in beside her. Furiosa’s new metal hand was useful but the fool’s fingers were faster at the more delicate work. And his shoulders were good for when they needed to wrench at a part that was stuck.

It was only halfway through the upgrades that she realized how close he was, not only their shoulders pressed together, but sometimes working around each other hip-to-hip or bracing against each other as they lowered the heavy engine block down. Max was already checking for leaks and cleaning filters and sediment as he went, like he was her second set of arms. She handed him a brush and he met her halfway. Time extended, languid and slow, as Furiosa watched them from almost outside of herself as they worked, as he held the smaller screws in place and she twisted them tight, as she pushed at the cleaned filter and he guided it in, as they rewound the cooling system in new patterns so as to let the engine run hotter.

They, together, heaved and slid the heavy engine back into its mounts, then tightened connections, checking and checking. Everything settled, secure, they braced against the struts of the Rig’s belly, hidden in the shadows of its undersides, breathing hard.

Furiosa slid her gaze to the shoulder barely leaning against her’s. Max, as if feeling her, opened his eyes, and they looked amazed and fond.

Her forehead fell to his without her permission. He hummed and shut his eyes again. Furiosa let her weight fall against his more and they rested there for long, long moments almost dozing, until there was a sharp cry from outside.

“BOSS! Tribune Dag— it’s a girl!"

They broke from their temporary cover beneath the Rig and scrambled out, Furiosa leading the way to the stairs.

But Max paused at the bottom and Furiosa felt it, like she’d slammed into a wall. She looked back.

Max’s jaw worked.

“A little bit of fire," she asked.

And Max nodded and set his shoulders and they climbed up to the birthing room. They were a level below the Vault but the floor still benefited from the curve of windows. The room pooled golden. Dag was tired, but triumphant, and she had in her arms a bundle. Cheedo and Toast was flipping through some books and a whisk of red hair disappeared around the corner as Capable left to dispose of a bundle of soiled cloth.

Those who healed gave Dag some last words, touched her shoulder, and moved aside for her visitors.

“May we see?" Furiosa edged forward.

Dag nodded and her smile was like bared teeth, “She’s none of what old Joe would have wanted." When she lifted the blanket, they could see that one half of the baby’s face was twisted and mottled.

“She’s perfect," the Dag hummed, “water in the wastes."

Furiosa would agree: half of the baby’s face looked as if distorted by a mirage.

Cheedo walked up to them, and held out the book to Dag, “Look, it’s like I remembered. We should name her after this one."

" 'Hela'," the Dag read out-loud.

“Ruler of the unknown dead," everyone looked at Max and he squinted against their gaze, shoulders hunching.

"…‘Ruler of those who died unheroic,’ yes." Cheedo said slowly. “How did you know that?"

The fool slid his eyes away and walked up to the new mother like he was being dragged backwards. Max looked down at the infant. There was something in his face that reminded Furiosa of screaming.

His fingers twitched and the Dag measured him and before anyone in the room could move she pushed the newborn at him. The fool caught at the baby almost stumbling, but adjusted quickly before anyone could correct him. He supported the neck. Folded up the tiny body like his arms knew the memory of it.

Nobody breathed.

"…hey," Max finally said down at the infant. “Hey, did. Did you hear?"

He was blinking a lot.

“Your mum, ah, she named you Hela… ’S a good name." Max nodded. “Yeah."

He nodded again, “Yeah."

“Max?” Cheedo asked.

He jolted, shaking even as he carefully handed the newborn back to her mother, and strode out.

Furiosa exchanged a quick glance with Toast who raised her chin, I’ll take care of things here. The Dag already wiped the salty drop off Hela’s forehead.

She left, followed the slightly uneven drag of Max’s footsteps. Furiosa caught up to him and pivoted him by the elbow to haul him into a dark corner. He turned towards her, and she backed them up until her back hit wall as her arms came up, as his fists clutched her belts, as he pressed his mouth into her shoulder, and he screamed. It shook her ribcage.

She glared away everyone who would approach.

When he left the next day, she was unsurprised.

 

(What surprised her was the piece of cloth he’d pressed into her hand. There were pictures, carefully pricked with blood-ink, and when she looked she saw they were hands. She wondered where he made himself bleed to make this.

Max read them out-loud, as his hands formed the shapes. "'Yes', 'no…'Eat', 'drink'… 'more', 'no more'."

A way for the speechless to speak, Furiosa realized. Useful for the Wretched but perhaps—

"‘Happy’, ‘afraid’." Max paused. "‘Mother’,” he gestured, hands stumbling.

perhaps also useful for the very young.

Furiosa knew there had been a baby from the automatic shift of the fool’s arms around Hela, knew there had been a mother, loved, from the way his hands just stumbled, read their deaths in the way Max’s gaze skittered, a little too wide and shocked, the way his hands now shook as he placed them here, there, uncertain.

“It’s a little early yet, for the baby, but," he turned to his ride, “his— her mum notices things quick."

Furiosa matched his topic, voice soft. “How soon can she start learning?"

“Mmm, maybe 180 days?"

And Furiosa knew from this that he’d had a son just old enough to start being itself before he’d lost them, probably at a very young age from how he still remembered such a nearly useless thing. Furiosa folded his blood-stained cloth into her palm, this thing he’d wounded himself to give her, looking at the fool. He said 180 days like he wasn’t sure if he’d be here at the end of them, “And if I’ve forgotten these by then?”

“I think you can work it out." Max replied and got on his bike. He paused, and said over his shoulder, “There are more signs but. Ah.”

When she was entirely sure that he was waiting for her to continue she said, almost to herself, “Remembering is hard."

Max just looked at her, relieved, and grunted.

“I might be," he searched her face, “getting okay, with remembering."

Furiosa thought of the way he’d leaned against her, her back to the wall, and how she didn’t feel the slightest echo of being caged. And like swinging out over rushing sands, she agreed, “I might be, too."

Max paused, and looked at her, “Oh."

Furiosa hummed.

Then he nodded, looking at her for as long as he could as he started up the bike, and left. She kept watching for long after.)

 

She should give the cloth to Toast, who would like to know, or Cheedo, who would like to remember, or to Dag, who would put it to the most use. She should give it to Capable who would find the ones in most need of it, or to those of the Milking Mothers who’d become teachers or those of the Refuge who kept their histories. Furiosa kept it, instead, and thought hard about things that were difficult to remember.

She’d give them the fool’s directions if it came to 180 days, or when Max returned to teach them himself.

 

 

It was 86 days later when the fool returned, coming in hot, the Furies flying out with ecstatic whoops to clash against the riders chasing the lone car rattling its way towards the Citadel.

The remaining War Boys might have renamed themselves after their Citadel’s Imperator, with time split more between helping the Refuge and growing Green, but they still relished war like the best of meals. They’d swept by the car, with one glance inside confirming a black-scarved man, the call sweeping down their line.

It was a quick skirmish. The enemy riders with their sidecar artillery couldn’t catch the Citadel’s bikes and couldn’t out-gun their war machines.

The Furies managed to take down one of the riders before they’d scattered. They’d left one vehicle to salvage what they could and turned back to escort the limping car the rest of the way to the stone towers, like it was royalty.

It has a V8 engine, Furiosa thought, so perhaps it was.

The fool slid his body partially out the side window and waved, Furiosa ordered release of the lifts to the top-level garages. This one needed their best working on it.

This time he accepted the lift.

He rolled his car on and got out as it started to rise and Furiosa turned back towards the garage bay to call out tools and parts they might need. But when she looked over at the clank of the lift docking she—

She pulled up at the sight of Tribunes Capable and Dag speaking to a hard-eyed woman, hair severe and mouth pinched, whose hands twitched towards a brace of knives.

The woman’s body was pressed against the door, shielding the children peering out the side-windows. A set of twins, from what she could tell, though they would need a good wash for Furiosa to be certain.

Max came up to her, looking far more settled than she’d ever remembered seeing him, eyes a question.

Furiosa simply lifted a hand and went towards him, and he met her halfway; fingers curling around their brands. Foreheads resting together for one breath, two.

She made herself draw back and ask, “Who’s this?" Turned to look at the woman at his car. There was a small curl of unease in her stomach that she crushed down like so many other uneases. They’d made no promises and if Max found—

“She wouldn’t tell me her name," the fool chuckled, like rocks rolling playfully together.

“She wouldn’t…" Furiosa darted her gaze toward the fool.

“Tell me her name. Seemed awful familiar. Figure you’d have better luck.”

And a laugh startled out of her, that grew a little because Furiosa didn’t quite know why it was funny, this wasteland joke from a wasteland man. The motion was so strange on her lungs that it became a muscle tic. The fool laughed with her, like a helpless movement, like doing so was the same as breathing or following her. Of course he did, of course. And she found that funny as well.

She felt absurd.

The entire garage was staring.

Furiosa covered her eyes for a second, shoulders shaking, then breathed and moved towards the car. She should help welcome these visitors and see if they’re here for short or to stay. She felt Max fall in at her side like the Imperator he wasn’t and she found herself breathing easier for having someone strong at her back.

Furiosa was unsurprised at this feeling in her; the 86 days was a gift for them both.

 

(What had caught her off-guard was when she was giving the tour. When she led the children to the Commons: a converted story room with its glass dome, and library, and rooms set aside for their History People. The hard-eyed woman placed herself at Furiosa’s back; but with Max following even further, a wary eye guarding, she found she didn’t mind. The children ran past Furiosa once they cleared the circular tunnel, exclaiming over the pool of water, the piano, the chandelier.

Furiosa stopped at the entrance of the Commons, watching, throat tight, stomach roiling, then turned slow and difficult and saw Max looking at the wedges where before a great steel door had been attached to the rock.

Max," Furiosa said, voice hard.

The fool’s head popped up, meeting her eyes. He walked in, slow.

Furiosa started giving the tour to the family, but her voice was curt despite herself. And halfway through she paused, breathed, and turned to find Victory to take over for her, an ex-milking mother become Historian who’d been resting in the cool inner room of the vault.

“She knows more about this place," Furiosa apologized.

The fool gave her a side-ways look from behind their shoulders, doubtful.

Victory led the family off with her bell voice and her easy way, and Furiosa had to take a moment to collect herself in the room with its books and two beds. Max was eyeing the walls, and then looking at the posts of the beds where the feet touched the ground and there were scrapes against the floor. Ragged scrapes, like scars; dragged feet and the scream of metal.

He met her gaze after his examination.

“What do you need me to see?" he asked.

She’d known, fighting with him those many hundred days ago, how much he could read her movements and her face. She’d remembered, or so she thought, how conversations and negotiations could pass between them with a look, how easily trust came to them, how he knew when to load her gun and pass it to her, knew when to shoot out a window so her shot would be clear, knew how to cover her when she was in danger.

As she knew the same for him.

She thought she remembered how easily he understood her story, told to him in as many words as she could bear to say during that long morning drive past the swamp filled with as many nightmares for him as for her.

But Furiosa had forgotten. Or she’d let their time apart give her as much doubt as it did clarity. How could someone understand when every new Refuge that visited the Commons exclaimed over its beauty, its luxuries? When children arrive at that place of horrors and exclaim that they could live there forever? When sometimes still the Tribunes would get questions, wondering why they would give up such a marvelous thing for everybody.

“Furiosa," he asked.

Sometimes silences let you build up a person of your own imagining. That was how she got Immortan Joe to trust her. That was how she got her crew to trust her, how she got Ace. That’s how she got them killed.

Actions will always tell in the end, she thought, and the words that come out when caught off-guard. Because the War Pups somehow knew to let her up, the milking mothers knew to let the water fall, and Angharad somehow knew that if she kept asking… Furiosa would agree.

So, even knowing that what he wanted might wound her, she asked him, low and hollow, “What would you like to see?"

Max answered like someone who knew everything she wasn’t saying, the answer as obvious as desert and sky: “Your green." He cleared his throat, skimming his gaze away from her eyes, “Show me your green place."

She turned quickly, to leave these rooms. She nodded over her shoulder.

Her eyes were wet.

Furiosa felt like she was being lifted again, floating and with too little blood in her head.)

 

That first afternoon she walked him through their terraces and saw his eyes shift with some sort of memory, large hands palming thin shoots without bruising.

“I used to have—" he began, and lets go of the young things before he could crush them. “I’m glad there’s a place like this. Now.”

Ghosts ran across his eyes and Furiosa asked quietly, “The ones you brought, they’re more than welcome here.”

“Yeah,” Max said, eyes mid-distance, “Hard to protect… anything, on the road.”

Furiosa heard the word ‘anyone’, and she showed him the thorntrees clinging together and growing rabid, holding the dirt of the Citadel together more than they thought the saplings were able to. They were thinking of transplanting some down to the Citadel’s base to help the soil retain the slow steady trickle of water they were letting fall during dawns and dusks.

She mentioned how Toast had found instructions for cultivating the plants in a book, how the burning process can be replicated by nicking them. Cutting them open, just slightly.

“It’s called scarification," she said.

“Like the, ah, the Furies?”

“Yeah," she replied, “Toast said the thorntrees grow fast, but only for thirty years. The span of a half-life. Some have taken to marking themselves up with its leaves or branches." It was remarkable, seeing War Boys – Furies – with fresh scars of growing things sprouting from old healed engine blocks, branches twined around drive shafts, roots spanning through axels.

Max hummed.

They moved their way through terraces of all three towers, across the windfarms, into each of the hydroponics aisles. She mentioned what she knew and told him to ask the Dag for what she didn’t, and Max looked at her with such respect and fondness that sometimes she just looked back until he had to break away. He would turn to a plant or around a corner and sometimes she would follow. Sometimes they met up at the end of a bend or an aisle instead. He’d look at her like every time she looked better, and maybe she was.

Sometimes the fool would touch his head to hers, just briefly, like they’d parted for a long time and he was welcoming her. Furiosa felt it like the buzz of a splash of nitro, as he left each time, as she saw how he measured each plant and cupped it just gently enough for its strength. There was the faint memory of hands on her face.

They were in far corner of the last set of hydroponics rooms, mustard leaves mature and needing little tending, and something broke in her as she watched him thumb the broad frond back and forth. She grabbed his wrist with her metal hand until he let go, and turned to her. Two handfuls of jacket and a pivot and she could slam the fool up against a wall. Swallow his gasp when he made it, settle in when his hands came up around her like he knew just how much she could take.

Max hooked one leg around hers and switched their positions just as his lips closed around hers, sweetly, hand against the back of her head so that the jarring when her back hit the wall didn’t make them bite and rip off a lip. Furiosa bit at his mouth anyway and he chuckled and let her feel his erection pressed to her thigh and she moved that thigh and hooked it in so that she could feel him against the core of her where she felt electric. A sound came out of the both of them, animal, and she snarled, pushed at his leg until it slumped and they both fell to the ground.

Max’s hand pulled her towards him, palming her where ass met thigh, fingers at where fabric grew damp.

They’d eventually come in their pants.

It was a miracle they didn’t break anything.

 

 

A thirty-day later, they haven't yet calmed with each other. Max leaves for the most of daylight, but drifts back as the sun falls. The bed is in danger of giving up on them. They’re going to the Commons, a round patch of long grass on the West spire of the Citade. It’s eight paces across, with nothing tender-growing they might crush – just grass. In the daytime it's often used for story circles and lessons.

Max snatches her wrist to turn her to him, and when she lets herself swing around he steps in for a kiss, one hand still holding on to hers, the other cupped around her jaw. He holds her still and, oh, she doesn't think she will ever get used to the way he kisses her, the way his enjoyment rumbles deep and low in his chest.

She brings up their clasped hands and ducks under his arm, bringing his hand with her to his back and into an armlock that would have made her Initiate Mother proud. She forces him down and forward by that twisted arm, but rather than shoving him and making distance, she pivots his body around the anchor of her leg in a controlled spiral until he’s facedown on the ground and she is on him. The move is so smooth that he laughs in surprise, his cheek pressed against the grass, her hips straddling his.

His arm’s trapped between their bodies as she leans forward.

"Now what did you say about being on top?" she breathes into his ear. He's newly short-haired and shaven, and she licks his neck, enjoying the way he shivers and goes still, and how any words he might have been trying to line up scatter. Unable to resist, she puts her teeth to his neck, slowly increasing the pressure until his hips squirm in a way that's less about escaping and more about grinding himself against the grass.

If she'd been a little less into this she could probably have avoided the hand he hooks into the back of her top, but then -- if she'd been a little less into this she wouldn't be having this much fun. He yanks her sideways, hard enough to unbalance her, and then surges up. But she knows him enough now to know—

Max drags her closer by the ankle and she yelps at the speed of it but is already retaliating, and they're rolling, grappling for control, occasionally attempting to distract one another with a well-placed squeeze or stroke. Furiosa’s on her back in guard position, has his left leg pinned again, when he rears upwards, shoving backwards at her hipbones to create distance, hands braced against her belly. She slams her palm against his left wrist to unbalance the move and then catches and locks that wrist.

Yanks it towards her.

He comes down heavily on top, between her thighs, and she drags his arm forward and gets her thighs around his neck for a triangle choke.

This is a position Max has always been happy to be put in, clamped between her thighs with his face practically ground against her; in fact he hums a little and she hears the smile in his hum as he breathes her in deeply. And rumbles with it. His knee slips a little, hands growing languid on her thighs.

For a moment she thinks he's going to let her put him out like this, with his smiling face pressed against the seam of her sleep shorts. So it catches her completely off-guard when he turns his head and bites at the soft inside of her thigh, hard enough to make her hiss and shove him away with a foot on his shoulder.

Max rumbles laughter at it, half-growls as he comes back in, and she can’t stop looking at his face. He looks like he is handing her a gun under fire, but with a wild delight around the eyes as if he was a War Boy and the barrel’s pressed at his chest. She isn't quite fast enough to get out of his grip.

They roll over and over, and then she is face-down in the grass, her right arm twisted behind her back, his full weight pressing her into the ground.

"There you go," he says, low and approving in a way that's a little smug, and she hisses. With his heavier weight on her she's not going to be able to escape from this unless he gets careless, and they both know it.

Not that she's not going to try. Furiosa tries to get a leg underneath herself only to get it taken back out with a twist from the fool’s ankle. Max rumbles a laugh at her breathlessly hissed, "Fuck you."

His breath at her neck like a brand.

 

(The position should have made her want to hurl. Almost did, in fact, three weeks ago.

She’d pulled the fool back in when he’d reared away and spent over an hour with him that night just there, muscles trembling as he draped over her back, as he mouthed kisses and bites over that scarred skin on her neck, erection growing soft and full in turns. She eventually shoved back at him, and he slotted into her, and she remembers how dazed she’d been at the feeling, how she gasped and watched her hand clench into the sheets, outside of herself, out of her mind with every time his hips drew back and—)

 

"That comes later," he promises, arranging himself over her, the position so familiar now.

His thighs brackets hers, pressing hers together, with his shins hooked over her calves. His torso is fully on her back, her right arm trapped between them, and he pushes his left arm forward to hook it around her neck, pinning her in place and letting her throat nestle in the crook of his elbow. It's not a choke, but it could easily become one, and he feels the way she responds to that, feels her become quiet.

“Mmm?” he asks.

“You fool,” she replies.

He nods and shifts his hips and nestles his erection against her ass, enjoying the hitch of her breath. She is already in sleep clothes – loose shorts from thin cloth and a similar sleeveless top. He is still wearing his trousers. It's not nearly enough to hide just how hard this is making him.

Furiosa’s already making him dig deeper into his memories, she's already found workarounds for most holds that had worked initially, and getting explosive enough to almost get past the rest. Max wants to show her more, show her everything, and it makes him leak to anticipate when. He rocks his hips at the thought and a tiny moan escapes her.

"You're gonna come for me," he tells her, low and close to her ear. "Just like this."

She bares her teeth and hisses like a desert cat, and something within him surges with wild joy, with how strong she is, how fierce, how undying. He gives in to the urge to lick her neck in return, taste her, feel the hitch in her laboured breathing when he scrapes his teeth over the burned skin. Max’s skin echoes with her shivering.

His right hand travels down her ribs, pushes under her stomach to follow the waist band to her navel. She growls in protest, angling her body so he can't easily get his hand where he wants it.

Max chuckles and curls his left arm tighter around her neck, for a moment compressing her carotid arteries. He lifts his weight off her back and gives her body the space to obey its instincts. She reflexively tries to pull in her knees and he has the space he needs to slip his hand into the front of her shorts. Then he bears her back down against the grass, relaxing the arm around her throat.

He presses his lips against her temple and gives her a moment, lets her ride out the jolt of adrenaline he just caused, hand cupping the damp heat of her mound.

Okay? He hums against her skin when she's stopped twitching, and she growls and gets in a punch to the side of his head with her nub. The angle is awkward and there's not a lot of strength to it, but it's as clear an answer as he's going to get.

"Ass," she hisses, and he chuckles against the nape of her neck, grinding his hips against her.

"Mm, yes," he murmurs.

He scoots down a little, gets his hand where he needs it, seeking wet heat with his fingers until the next grinding thrust of his hips— there, says her sharp intake of breath.

She fights, and she doesn't stop fighting, and he wouldn't have expected any different— this is never about surrender. This is about losing with no consequences, about the trust that is needed to not have to be in control. This is about enjoying the strength in one another, the intoxication of not having to hold back. This is about kneading at an ache, shoving at a knotted ball of muscle until the crystallized acid breaks loose.

She's keyed up from the fight and despite her resistance it doesn't, in truth, take much at all. His fingers in just the right place, his weight over her, his hips grinding down against her ass, his free arm around her neck, braced against her collarbones, keeping her pinned in place. His voice in her ear, goading her, taunting her. His thumb rubs small, across her belly, like taking the safety off.

"You're going to come for me," he repeats, knowingly. When she tries bucking up against him, hissing, it just pushes his palm more against her clit, "Right now. Just like this. Exactly how I want you." She growls, and he crooks his fingers, hard, firing.

She bites down on his forearm to muffle her shout when she comes. The sting of it’s nice, it keeps him focused. Furiosa is incredible in this moment, taut and intense and incoherent and he wants to remember each time he gets to see it, wants the particular flavor her sweat turns when she’s satisfied, wants the dense scent of her grounding him, wants the pace of her breath as it settles: smooth, slow, clear.

"Just like that, ah, just like that" he murmurs into her ear when he feels her shudders fade, all the coiled up tension flooding from her body. Then a little smugly, ”Well done."

That gets her blood back up like he knew it would, and there's enough growl in her answering "Fuck you!" to make his erection twitch where it's pressed against her ass.

She pauses at the sensation. ”Fool," she adds, her lips twitching with breathless laughter she can't quite stifle, and he loves how she gets in this moment, all loose-limbed and languid.

"Really?" Max breathes against her nape. He moves his knees to slide in between hers, shoving her legs apart.

Furiosa collects her breath to pivot and twist under him but he jams the metal of his brace again a nerve in her thigh and his right knee pushes her thighs further apart.

Another three times maybe, Max thinks, with a wasteland grin, before she figures out a counter. But for now…

 

“You heard me," she sends a baleful eye over her shoulder. Pauses at the questioning tilt of his face, so near hers.

She freezes when she feels cool, sharp metal against the side of her neck. They'd worked their way to near where the tools were piled, she realizes, and one of the knives is missing.

"Keep breathing," he instructs, low and calm, and when she sucks in a breath, “Yeah."

"Fuck you," she spits again, her whole being focused on the fine line the knife point scrapes along her neck and shoulder.

"You keep saying that," he says with a hum, using the hand locking her arm by her upper back to push himself upright, sitting astride her hips. She makes a strangled noise as it pushes the air out of her lungs. Tries pivoting shoulders to the side, but that just made her breathless faster. ”Beginning to think you mean it..."

The knife is momentarily gone and she twists her hips, hard, but he recovers his balance easily. He tugs at her right arm, reminding her of the arm lock, and she feels the prickle of blade against her lower back where her shirt rucked up.

Furiosa swallows as the blade tip leaves the small of her back and moves southward until catches at the edge of her shorts.

"Attached to these?" Max wonders out loud, but a genuine question under all of that.

"Ruin the fabric and die," she threatens, an edge of hysterical laughter chasing her tone, and exhales raggedly when the knife draws through the seam of the shorts with a tug and a sting and suddenly cool air rushes at her wetness. Furiosa automatically tries to close her legs against it but Max just shifts his weight, unmovable. She feels the brief touch of the handle against her inner thigh, and a brief flare of—

Max."

The knife drops into her line of sight immediately.

She feels a finger hook into the split of her pants instead. Tugs the cut seam wider and his knuckle slips against her and she knows it comes away wet.

Max laughs too, almost rueful, leaning his weight back into her, his lips pressed against her temple. “Hey. Heyyy," a hidden question, 'are you okay,' and he thumbs her open with an infuriatingly light touch, “Think you’re wet enough. T’water the grass."

Furiosa squirms away from his fingers, it makes her itch, it makes her want to sit on his face. “If you think," she pants against the grass, “I am just going to let you—" not carry this promise out. She’s still trying to get her legs under her and flushed with the thought that there is a gape in her clothes large enough for him to fit through and move with it, making her touchable to him and not anyone else.

“Don’t think you’d let me…” and there is a rustle of cloth as her arm is pulled tight again as he rears back, “do anything you don’t want." And then the tension releases, dropping Furiosa down into the scent of crushed green as his smooth cockhead swipes across her drips. It doesn’t help. She can feel herself drip more. She tries to shove her hips and his into some more useful alignment, but Max has already lifted off of her.

She actually gives a short frustrated scream into the grass.

She's fast enough to kick his good leg out from under him, and snatch him by the back of his belt when he's still fighting for balance. A hard yank and a roll and she's sitting on his chest, his arms pinned under her knees. He chuckles and bucks, and she casually extends her right arm behind her and leans on the erection that's against his belly.

He stills, and she smiles down at him.

She closes her hand a little, watching the fine lines around his eyes to know where 'just short of pain' lands. Max's mouth falls open, breathless in a way that isn't just about the way she's sitting on his chest. She can feel her slickness slide against his skin. It smears against her upper thighs and the ragged edges of her shorts.

"Please," he mouths, and she knows what that cost him, knows it doesn't come any more easy for him than it does for her. But she doesn’t make it easy for him, rises up on her knees and watches his eyes grow dark, her short’s cut edges flutters weakly, sometimes stuck to her thighs. The night air tease her there, chilled and moving uncertainly. She shivers at the sensation, reaching down to ease the tickle between her legs, but Max surges up in a curl, head leading, shoulders following, sitting up from the abs. His arms struggle against her legs but her knees keep them pinned, until his face meets her thigh.

Furiosa’s dripping a wet line down that one and he turns his face into it with such an exhale of delight that she falters and he gets one hand out, and then the other. He slides them up to behind her knees as he uses them to lever her towards him, mouthing up her thigh and over her shorts until he finds the split he made. He nuzzles his way past, fingers tightening on her knees, face a newly-shaved bristle. She clutches at his hair as he licks a very gentle hello to her clit.

Kneeling’s become a very precarious position. Her legs are shaking as his tongue runs down to the source of her wetness, as he licks at her like trying to move her folds aside with mouth alone. She keeps getting more heated with it, more shivery, and Max grunts with his frustration and air and vibration hit her with a jolt.

His hands move up from behind her knees, rushing up the backs of her thighs. He’s returned his mouth to her clit, wet lips settled around the flushed skin, and he hums thoughtfully.

Furiosa’s never been so unconcerned with figuring out what his humming means.

She pulls his face harder against her. Max chuckles and his hands are at the curve of her ass so when her knees give away at that, he catches her, rolls them and lowers her down. He spreads her on the grass where she stares up at the indigo night while with careful fingers he spreads apart both shorts and skin until the most heated part of her hits chill. Furiosa arches with the feeling, has to look down, and Max is just staring at where she’s open and twitching for him, blissed out and hard and leaking.

She kicks at his ankle and he snaps his gaze to hers. Keeps her gaze, as he leans in to mouth at her, eyes closing at her taste. Furiosa slams her hand to her mouth and muffles her scream as he starts chasing at her wetness— as he reached his tongue in, straining into her as if to work the last of it out, and then pushed fingers in as if to pull out more, tongue moved to flick at her clit as if nudging a lever.

She widens her thighs to give him more room, but she’s at her limit and the sharp stretch of it breaks her, hips straining, crashing over the edge Max gave her, in rushing jolts, squirting, weakly, wet around his fingers. His pleased moan, as his mouth presses against her, gently eases her down.

Max chuckles a warm, self satisfied “yeah, mm, good" against her belly, and she doesn't want him to move, she wants him to stay there, but her limbs feel heavy and limp, and he ducks out of the triangle choke she hasn't quite reacquired her coordination for.

He pins her on her side and slides up behind her, chest plastered against her back, legs wrapped around hers. He slips an arm under her head, and she bites a kiss at the inside of his elbow; he wraps the other around to stroke idle lines down and up her belly and chest. His erection slides against the slick skin of her ass, and she makes a sound that's entirely undignified.

"All right?" he rumbles against her ear, and Furiosa laughs, silently and without breath, because she is, fought tired and safe and cradled and so far beyond all right that her mind feels floaty. She's a little drunk with it.

"Yeah, fuck… fang it," she chuckles against the skin of his arm.

She feels the fool grin against her neck. He moves his leg so that she can pull up her topmost knee, and then his erection slides against— and in and in

"That a good sound?" he murmurs, sounding a little smug, breathless himself. He knows it is.

She makes a breathless, formless noise at the next slow roll of his hips, the way he fills her up, the way he bottoms out and stays still for a long moment. Then he gives a little twitch with his hips that grinds him deeper and Furiosa gasps, "Chrome!"

"Mmm."

He is hot inside her, and thick, and endless; she feels the touch of him like it is endless.

His free hand trails down from where it was kneading her breast, palm flat against her belly for a few moments, slips between her legs. All the fool does is place two fingers against her clit, a flicker, letting the rolling thrusts of his hips against her move her against those fingers, and it doesn't start out like a lot but it builds and builds, until she turns her face against his arm again and he pushes a little closer into her, over her, rocks a little faster into her and—

She picks up his rhythm and shoves back against him, it manifolds the flares in her vision and the heat under her skin and they almost fall apart except it makes him thrust at wrongright angle, a flair of pain and a violent tease, and they’re both ragged with the sensation, realign and slam against each other, there. Furiosa tightens up all over, burning, and only distantly feels the short feral grinds as Max burns too, pulsing heat and wet up into her, his entire body a muffled, broken moan.

 

The quiet of the gardens seems loud as their pounding hearts gradually slow.

“That was…” Furiosa finally says, muffled against the skin of his bicep, “Definitely... a good sound..." It was, too— he's usually very silent.

"Mm," he agrees, his face tucked against the back of her neck, his body draped half over her, her body still pulsing around him with aftershocks. She clenches up around him, just to feel it, and they both shiver at the sensation, raw and cracked open.

They are surrounded by the scent of green, of crushed grass, and it feels like it ought to start raining, with thick, sweet droplets sinking into their skin.

They’ll need a bath soon, and before anyone else wakes, but they take a moment to breathe in the night, bodies cooling down.

 

Max’s hand drifts to her chest. It’s not exactly that he’s groping her, his palm is on the flat of her breastbone. He likes to place his hand there, feeling her lungs rise and fall, steady. The motion helps override the memory of her rattling, failing breath, searing the strength of her into his mind, at least for a while.

Sometimes he needs the reminder, but she doesn't seem to mind.

She’s strong, he knows, strong enough to guard this new piece of green and the children in it. Strong enough to be soft for him sometimes, to let him feel his own power over her.

Strong enough to subdue his ghosts and let him be soft for her in turn.

(Strong enough to live.

He’s startling less at the young faces, at their expectations and his crawling sense of failure and powerlessness. She’d held him here amoung them, with her presence, until he felt raw with it, until he fought against it. And lost. She’d let him scream into her shoulder that day, and many days after.

Max nestles his face against the crook of her neck and knows he would do the same for her and gladly.)

 

 

"I can’t believe you’re letting him sew," Toast mutters at her, “I’ve got plenty of both Brothers and Sisters who can stitch a line finer than his and—"

Max ties the last bit off and brings the grass-stained fabric up to his teeth. He snaps the thread like a taunt.

He holds her eyes through the whole thing, and Furiosa doesn't grow warm with it, she doesn't

"—are those your pants?!"

The Dag slumps in and gives them both a baleful eye. “The story group’s happening in Commons today.”

“Oh?” Furiosa asks mildly. Max hums, folding his morning’s work.

“Don’t think I don’t see your faces chirrup,” the Dag hisses. “Schlangers, both of you. The green’s all bruised and filthy.”

Toast makes a face.

Max’s forehead furrows as if he doesn’t understand her language. He rises and places Furiosa's bedclothes in front of her.

“Imperator.” The fool states politely, and turns to go.

Furiosa’s eyes narrow and she has to restrain herself from going after him and slamming him up against the nearest wall.

(She can always do it against the Rig tonight.)