Max always comes and goes. It’s as sure as the fact that the world is sand and sweat and sun; he doesn’t stay, always just checks in and checks out, in and out, brings with him little things here and there, things he thinks the girls would like, and soon enough things he thinks the war pups would like. Furiosa had understood his way of life well enough that — when he wordlessly drove back out into the wastelands — she would simply stand atop the lift and watch until he was a black metal beetle skittering on the horizon. Honestly, she had been surprised he came back at all, much less with such a fond expression on his face. It wasn’t that she doubted his capability to care (he did, she knew he did, the moment he passed her a gun she saw he had the potential), but… he was Max. Max runs. Not from them, of course, but they are an unfortunate thing: stationary, permanent, a fixture.
Not something Max could handle for long.
A thousand more days pass this way, and Furiosa is always surprised to find herself still alive at the end of every single one of them. The Citadel thrives. Down below, the Wretched build their homes, and sometimes she can see a familiar backside of a jacket — old, weathered, sewn up time and time again. She sees Max, helping build homes… never for himself, but she thinks maybe there will be a day where he picks a room up top and keeps it. Maybe even drapes that old jacket over a chair in it, slid beside an old desk. Furiosa dares to dream of things like this. She supposes the hope is getting to her, fogging her head with foolish optimisms.
“He could, though,” Cheedo said quietly. They sit up top, looking down at the bustling world that they had all created upon their victorious return. She glances away from Max’s fading car to the young woman, now grown into something far less fragile. “He could get tired and decide to stop running. He could live here with us.”
Furiosa is silent at that, cursing herself for being so obvious.
Max did not owe them his life here. This place had dragged him from a wrecked car; this place had strapped him up and pricked heavy ink lines into his back; this place had muzzled him, drained his blood, sent him out to be a hood ornament. She and the Sisters had chosen this world for themselves to make into something far more precious — but that was their choice. Just as it was the fool’s choice to step away and into the hazy horizon.
One day after many, Max doesn’t come back.
Days and days pass. Hundreds.
“That crazy smeg doesn’t know how to die,” Dag tells them over a bowl of freshly peeled fruit. She looks grave as a wooden cross, staring down into the fresh, sweet goods. The topic had grown heavy at the mention of the man, when Dag comments that Max’ll have to try the harvest and Toast gives her a look, one that says Dag, he’s not coming back. She clears her throat and offers a piece of an apple to her Splendid Ang. “Don’t worry about dumb ol’ Max, little pup, he’s just drifting farther than usual.”
Ang smiles behind his snack, brows pinched. He’s growing like a weed. “Yeah. I know, ma.”
None of the Sisters have the heart to disagree.
Furiosa gets up and walks wordlessly away.
They see Max after two-hundred-and-fifty days, give or take. Furiosa drives out to see him because the bastard doesn’t immediately come back home, and it makes her want to throw his face into a heavy stone, or perhaps her metal fist — did he think she didn’t see him lingering on the horizon?? Did he mistake her as the fool? He should know his place as much as she does hers. And her place was to berate him for vanishing for so long, Max’s tendencies be damned. Granted it meant telling him they actually missed him and were sick with worry —
God, she hates him sometimes.
He’s got a new car when she comes to a stop on her motorcycle, and when she hops off and stomps toward him she takes note of two things: one, he has a wild head of hair and a beard, which looks very wrong on him when she’s so used to Toast and Capable settling him for frequent haircuts — and secondly, he looks at her as though he has no clue who she is, as though she’s a predator stalking after him, ready to scalp the flesh off his bones. He’s thinner. She’s rarely seen him even partially nude, but she knows his body inside and out, knows there is some fat missing on his face, his arms. He scrambles back, thudding against the side of his vehicle, panting hard.
“No,” he whispers, and she stops dead in her tracks. “Get away!”
“Max?” she asks, and the concern she had let fester with the anger suddenly felt like a jagged piece of metal scraping down her veins. He scrambles away from her and into the driver’s seat, and she can’t bring herself to lunge for him. “Max. It’s me — ”
The car is peeling out, whipping sand out from behind it as he drives away.
She stares after it, feeling disconnected — a character standing outside of her own tale, looking in. This isn’t how the pages are supposed to turn. This isn’t how she and Max meet again, not without touching the back of his head softly, scolding him for new scrapes and cuts left unchecked, sending him off to the infirmary to be whistled at by the last vuvalini left alive. Why? Why? Her stony expression betrays her, lets the fear and sickness show in her eyes as she once again watches Max drive into the distance.
When she returns, smiles fade into confused lines. Grimaces.
“He didn’t… know who I was…” she says, betraying nothing but a heavy numbness that sweeps through her, down into her marrow. Capable looks over Furiosa’s shoulder into the nothingness of orange, as if expecting Max to be there regardless. “He was afraid — he looked… thinner.”
Sick. Pale and sick and glassy-eyed.
She should have chased after him. Why did she not chase after him? She could have thrown him down, tried to wrangle him and bring him back. Everyone’s here. Everyone’s ready for Max to come home. They’re all getting too old to keep waiting on him; Ang’s already eight. Furiosa has stray gray hairs. The war pups Max entertained have become disaster-prone teenagers. She clenches her hands into fists.
For a while, people see Max wandering out there, in the wastelands. One of those overzealous war pups-turned-boys had returned at one point to tell her he’d seen Max in passing. “I tried t'call him over, y'know, boss? I said it was me, that it was lil’ Brutus — but he just kept mumblin’ and twitchin’. He looked in a bad way, with blood on his beard, an’ I just… I don’t know what’s wrong with ‘em, boss. I just don’ know. His face looked off. Looked like old Joe’s skull.”
The war boy wanders away, looking wrecked by the chance encounter.
Furiosa goes out sometimes to try and find him herself, but she never finds anything but old camps. Just rags.
“I saw this before,” Toast says quietly while they work on a car. She’s got oil up to her elbows, speaking in a real hesitant way when they fall onto the topic of Max one day. “One of the boys found a cat, let it wander around the town… One day it just… stopped coming for food and water. When they tried to coax it back, it just — looked at them like they were going to shred it apart. It was really sick, you know. Something got into it, ate it up and made it sick.”
Furiosa’s jaw tightens, and she takes a long time to reply. She thinks about Max’s faraway stares, or his panicked startle after nightmares, or how he would get into those silent moods where nobody could get him to say a word.
“What happened to the cat?”
Toast looks up, dark gaze softening, voice tight with something Furiosa now realizes is acceptance — the final stage of grief. “Guess it just crawled off and died.”
Furiosa waits until Toast is gone and the mechanic room is empty and dark before she smashes apart her new engine with a crowbar. She’s stepped out of denial and into anger, and she’s not so sure she’ll go any further than that. It’s only much later into the night that Capable wordlessly ushers her to go to bed, but she finds she mostly just stares at the ceiling and curses Max’s name over and over again, damns him for ever making her feel like she’s failed him, lost him when he had always been within arm’s reach.
She dreams that Max is hissing and spitting and yelling at her, all wild hair and bloodless lips, and he keeps trying to scramble into the brush — keeps scratching at the sand and kicking his legs, trying to find a place to crawl and die, and Furiosa’s got him by one ankle, jerking him back and screaming at him over and over and over. Where are you going?! What are you doing?! Just come with me —!
She wakes in a cold sweat, his voice echoing in her mind:
If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.
She curls on her side, looking at the small desk in her dwelling.
Hope is a mistake.
“Boss! Boss — ” Tack sweeps in, all gangly white limbs and smudged black stains. “He’s here. He’s here but he’s in bad shape, but he asked for you! He’s askin’ for you — ” And that is all it takes for her to rush to the lifts, not even glancing at the prosthetic arm she has yet to strap on for the day; there’s an old truck missing a door with a figure hunched inside it, the engine still running while it’s in park. Beside the lift, there is a gaggle of war boys, some nervously asking for medical folks, some backing away, unsure what to do. Brutus the war boy has his hand out peacefully, trying to coax the wild man inside to come out. The Splendid young Ang is standing with his back to the wall, and Dag — Dag has already pushed through the crowd, her scowl sour enough to curdle milk.
“Move over, move it!”
She shows no fear at all, slipping herself right beside Max. Furiosa storms through the crowd after her, unable to tell what is happening beyond Dag’s pale white shoulders until Dag slips her arms around the slouched body and pulls the remnants of Max from the car. “Furiosa,” she hears the huddled form choke out, exhaustion staining his rough voice. “Furiosa — ”
She hasn’t heard him say her name in so many days.
Clumsily, she collapses beside him as Dag pillows his lolling head against her thighs. The Sister’s pale fingers brush over the tangled mess of hair on the man’s head over and over. There are more footsteps, soft voices breathing out. Capable. Cheedo. Furiosa feels her vision tunnel as she takes in her fool’s state. His eyelids are bruised in sunken eye sockets, the sharp of his cheeks more pronounced. His breaths come raggedly beneath the palm she lays on his chest. He shudders, blinking away ghosts.
“Max,” she says, just as breathless as the girls.
He looks at her… and she can see lucidity there. His hand curls around hers. Capable’s red hair waves in the corner of her vision. Dag sweeps his bangs away. Cheedo brings a water-skin canteen, and Toast — Toast sits calmly beside them, her face as straight as Furiosa’s despite the miserable shimmer of withheld tears. Ang doesn’t move from the wall.
“Furiosa,” Max mumbles. “… bad… bad place. Voices’re so loud…”
She doesn’t imagine Max as the sickly cat. She imagines a dog. Tired old dog, sick with parvo, wretched creature that loses its mind as it loses its health. She rubs her hand over his chest in circles, the softest she’s been with someone in a very long time. Since she’d seen him last in the desert, actually. “You were supposed to come back and stay put for a while,” she says, voice just above a whisper. The water from Cheedo’s offering dribbles down the corner of his cracked lips, but some of it is swallowed. He looks relieved, sighing.
“Sorry,” he rasps. “Fixed it… Jessie said… come back.”
She leans in, stomach twisting. There’s no Gigahorse here. She can’t bleed the life back into him. She’s insufficient, incapable.
He smiles tiredly, adds: “… come home.”
That’s the last noise that resembles a real word. But he had looked at her. Not through her, but into her face. Stupid sick, miserable, wretched fool. Stupid, stupid idiot. She touches the side of his face, lost in a fog as his eyes slip shut and he stops breathing those awful, ragged noises. Her thumb catches cooling tears dripping down the laugh lines branching from his closed eye. He’s dead, she thinks. He’s gone. Dag kisses the top of his forehead. She always has been more physical, always so soft. Max is dead. Cheedo puts a hand over her mouth to stifle sobs. So kindhearted, that girl.
Furiosa holds Max’s hand, and Toast sits beside her, the woman’s hand on her back, nearly mirroring their place in the mechanic’s room. “He remembered to come back,” Toast tells her, sounding sure of herself. “It ate him up, but he remembered what was important. At the very end, he remembered us.”
Max deserves mourning. Furiosa drops her defenses and lets her own sparse but no less heartfelt tears fall.
The jacket is gone. She’s not sure where it could be now.
She keeps his bracelet instead.
“Someone fixed my car,” Ang tells his mom one day, looking unsure of himself. He holds up the scarred up old wooden car he had lovingly sculpted himself with one of his mom’s knives, showing Capable and Dag the wheels. “I swear 'pon my life, ma. I broke it before bed, and when I woke up for breakfast, it was fixed on my table!”
Dag takes the heavy block of a toy in her hand, pursing her lips.
“You probably have a war boy looking out for you lately,” Capable says with a smile. She’s rather fond of what they’ve all become; as it turns out, wipe away the white paint and ignore the foul language, they’re actually all quite sweethearts. Always ready to pad around and listen to reason, now that reason was in control here.
Ang looks unsure. “Dunno… I guess…”
Yes. A war boy.
Furiosa watches the exchange, thinks nothing of it. Nothing at all.
The hallways get colder than usual, sometimes. Furiosa figures it must be something with the pipes, making things worse off. She makes a mental note to have the construction crew look at everything, make sure it’s working good and proper.
“Someone keeps taking my tools! And if they don’t watch it, I’m going to nail them to the wall!” Toast growls over her shoulder. The small mechanic’s room, once buzzing with life, has now been stopped dead in its tracks by the small woman’s ire — Tack is practically sweating bullets at the foul mood, which had been persisting for weeks now with every mysterious disappearance of some other bolt, nut, wrench, screwdriver. Nobody knows where they go. Simply that they go.
Furiosa can’t help but feel a little proud, that Toast is growing into such a force. She always did have that about her, and without Joe’s rule to crush it beneath her thumb, she’s had years to practice it. And practice it well. As it turns out, whoever it is that is taking Toast’s tools begin to pilfer Furiosa’s as well.
Two angry women in the mechanical room leaves a lot to be desired.
“Can you believe the nerve of them?” Toast grouses one night, as they prepare to turn in. The week before there had been an attack on the newly renovated gates, and a lot of their war rigs and vehicles had needed repair. Furiosa’s shoulder aches from the use of her metal arm, having to work it so harshly under multiple hoods.
She’s about to say something in response when she hears the sound of whirring from the room ahead — a tool, power tool specifically. Toast looks utterly offended when she rushes ahead into the room, ready to unleash her wrath, but all they find is an assortment of their stolen goods on the rock floor. That, and a car with the hood open, the parts inside all put together and as chrome as anything gets these days.
“How the hell…” she mumbles.
How the hell, indeed.
Nobody was here.
For the next few weeks, people keep telling her they hear the distinct sounds of a man grumbling under his breath, brave enough to inform her even as her blood pressure rises. Max is dead. She doesn’t need to hear these childish bedtime stories about ghosts and hauntin’s and specterifed people.
Down the hall, Max turns and looks at her.
Then he’s gone.
And she’s frozen.
It couldn’t be him. It couldn’t be.
And yet, with her short-lived childhood as it was, she couldn’t help but wonder if she was just fooling herself. Others tell her (looking like they’re unsure of their own sanity) that they’ve seen a familiar figure lingering… wandering… vanishing into nothing. It doesn’t really talk to them, look at them — it just exists, wanders from one place to the next. Her heart patters in her chest quickly every time news of his pale visage reaches her.
Laying on her bed, she rolls Max’s bracelet back and forth on her wrist. It’s so worn and old, she wonders how it has lasted so long — but then, it’s fitting, isn’t it? Just like its owner. Dusty and weathered but had still managed to stay together. She bites her lip. It’s not him. It’s not real. But it is, god, it is. She sits up, one leg folded under the other as she looks tiredly at the adorned wrist.
“Max?” she finally asks. The name is heavy in her mouth, tumbles out with the weight.
A chill runs up her spine.
Max stands in front of her, faded out like dust mites in a beam of sunlight. His hair is trimmed down short, face smooth and shaven, his lost jacket firmly stretched over the broad lines of his shoulders. She stares in awe, and he stares back, looking… sheepish? Hesitant? She’s suddenly reminded of the first time he had eaten with her and the Sisters, bowl in his hands and a flustered look to his face. The ghost that is most certainly there and most certainly Max points down between them, at her wrist. His eyebrows raise. She can see through his head, see the walls of her room. His eyes are a vibrant blue-gray as he flickers in place.
“That’s mine,” he sulks pitifully.
Furiosa surprises herself with a clipped laugh.
Once the shock had worn off, Furiosa wasn’t quite sure what to make of Max’s quiet ghost breathing through the corridors sometimes. It was as unpredictable as her fool was prone to be during his fits of mostly harmless madness — there were days where the spirit wouldn’t even so much as look at anyone, caught up in old rituals. It — he, he liked to appear in the workshops at night and everyone had began to anticipate the phantom noises of tools clinking, or hacksaws moving. Sometimes nothing would be worked on in reality. Sometimes they’d walk in to find no sign of Max but something modified, fixed, shined up.
Furiosa doesn’t like these days, though. She feels like Max is trapped in a cycle, stuck like stone and unable to voice himself. In her old ways, Mary Jobassa would tell her very gravely that nobody was meant to stay on this earth; Furiosa wonders, her mind drifting back to the days of her innocence, if Max wasn’t just mute in his suffering. But why did he stay behind? It troubles her to think about.
“I dunno. I think it’s kind of soothing, in some weird way.” Dag tells her one day, soft white hair tucked into a sloppy bun, one that might as well not even be one. “He never looks scared or hurting, don’t you think? Bloke looks like he’s just carrying on in the day. And maybe he gets some peace, helping us. Even if he doesn’t realize he’s dead.”
Furiosa watches him, in those sparse moments. He does look content.
She thinks about the madness burning in his eyes right before he died, and that relieved but broken expression before his eyes slipped shut. He looked sane, really. He looked like he should have always looked, his rounded lips curled into a slight smile. She says softly, fondly, to him: “You look like you’re on top of the world.”
“Mm,” he says in a tinny voice, “because I’ve got everyone here. It’s nice.”
She’s thrown off kilter by the reply — so he’s 'back’, self-aware for the moment. She can’t help the way her heart clenches and then warms her over, because he’s gone so often despite being right in front of her; she misses his company. His companionship. They’ve never been romantic — and only sexual once, when both of them wanted it and needed it, but it was never something to simplify. There were no titles placed on their relationship. It simply was Max and Furiosa. Everyone knew.
“You’re back,” she says dumbly.
He looks at her, leaving the after-image of him working on a destroyed tire. “Never left.”
“Sure you did. When you died, you enormous fool.”
Max smiles thinly. “I came home.”
Her chest hurts. She rubs her knuckles against her collarbone.
“You did,” she manages. He did. “Would you like to… walk? I have time.”
Max fades out, a blur of pale colors, but soon he’s standing beside her. His legs aren’t really any sort of real shape, and his arms are cloudy, but his eyes are crystal clear. He hmmms deep in his throat, which she wonders about, and tells her in a matter-of-fact, slightly confused voice, “I don’t walk anymore. And I have plenty of time.”
She nods, folding her arms. “Let’s go visit Cheedo and Ang in the gardens.”
“I like to visit the gardens. It’s got good energy there.”
She wonders if he knows that he’s good energy, too.
They walk. Or more specifically, she walks.
His ghost vanishes somewhere along the way, but when she sees the basket hovering around the garden, picking the fresher harvest, she’s put at ease again at Cheedo’s side.
“Do you…” She licks her lips, quiet. Her room feels full of life — death? — and she knows that he’s in the room, even if he isn’t visible. She always knows where he is now; dying isn’t particularly hindering her skill at reading him, funny that. “Do you want to be here, Max? I know you do, I suppose. What I mean is… wouldn’t it be better, to go — wherever it is you should go?”
“I belong here,” Max whispers, close to her ear. She shivers, frowning.
“I know. I know. Home, you said. But Max… you’re gone. And you could be at rest. You said you had a family before, didn’t you?” She glances over her shoulder, sees nothing, but wonders if he’s there. If he sees her sincerity. She hopes he does, won’t mistake it for her wanting to be rid of him. That’s not it at all. He has to know that. And he seems to. Something rests over her hand, cold to the touch; he’s not warm anymore, not heavy and solid.
He replies quietly, “They’re waiting for me, I think. But I want to… wait.”
“For what?” she asks. Then more firmly, when the silence is thick. “Max, for what?”
He never answers.
Later on, when the Citadel is hit by a large and overwhelming attack maestro’d by the new leader of Gas Town, a warrior inches away from Furiosa collapses onto the dirt with a broken neck. Nobody had laid a finger on him.
Max picks her up like she’s a doll, putting her back on her feet.
“It’s not your time,” He says gruffly.
Time goes by, and Furiosa loses track of the days. She follows time now by how tall Ang gets, how many wrinkles Capable or Toast accrues. Her own hair has gone a gray-white shade, and when she hobbles wearily beside Max’s young ghost, she wonders who the real ghost is. And she wonders how in the ungodly hell she’s managed to get this far. She supposes she knows why — supposes the broken neck of that warrior from Gas Town all those years ago was a perfectly reasonable answer. Sometimes when her joints feel too stiff, something picks her up a little, helps her walk.
Elder Furiosa. Who would have thought. Certainly not her. Never would she have envisioned looking over the land and seeing the green finally taking root down among the Wretched — the Wretched, who are happy, peaceful. Ang has children now. Capable has a grandchild; her red hair is slowly turning as gray as hers. Sometimes when she lays in bed, she can recall the very last time she ever sat behind the wheel of a rig; sometimes, she misses it. Sometimes she thinks of the Fury Road — and the times after it. Thinks about Angharad’s lovely and determined smile as they walked away from the vault, Capable smiling after her. She thinks about Toast, growing her hair long, braiding it into thick, heavy locks. She thinks of Dag humming as she combs through Ang’s fine white hair. Cheedo, still looking like a child in the middle of her life, meek but kind as she gives Furiosa an ear of corn.
… She remembers the sensation of Max’s bone against her knuckles as they fought in the sand, and the warm, calloused fingers pressing her neck and face in the back of the Gigahorse. Remembers the sweat and need to curl up in each other’s skin one night, when everything was too much for them to handle alone. She remembers coaxing Max from the darker recesses of his mind, remembers his pleasant surprise at the first bowl of fruit handed to him. She thinks about the heaviness of his corpse and the lightness of his spirit. It flutters in the room, leaves it feeling safe.
Lets her feel at ease. He doesn’t speak very much (as usual), but she hears him anyway, a wordless reply ofI’m right here seeping from the walls and curling around the bed.
Her last breath escapes her, a ghost, a whisper of life draining of color. She looks at Max, the world an echoing, blurry landscape all around them as he puts his hand out to take hers. She takes his with a hand that she had lost decades ago, curling her fingers around his and feeling something tether there.
“Was waiting for you,” he says, exasperated. “Got people to see. Was kind of nervous to go by myself, so I figured you’d be good company.”
Furiosa cocks her head to the side, smirking. “You expect an apology?”
His laugh is rich and crackles like tamed lightning.
She melts into him, and they ascend.
The next morning, Capable finds a half-finished car still hoisted in the air, engine removed, the task incomplete. It’s how she knows that Furiosa had quietly passed in the night, Max no doubt leading her home. One only hopes that someday they’ll all follow them home, too.
After all, the body, Capable thinks behind her glass of water, isn’t even the half of it.