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Six-String Soldier

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Love is born in fire
It's planted like a seed.
Love can't give you everything
But it gives you what you need
And love comes when you're ready
Love comes when you're afraid
It'll be your greatest teacher
The best friend you have made
- “Give Yourself to Love” by Kate Wolf

---

They decided to meet in Angharad’s room before Cheedo’s show, giving them all a chance to prep Cheedo as she ran through her lines one final time and a place to change into their eveningwear. Her class was finally coming to an end, and the show that they had been preparing for was her glorious debut off-Broadway (off-off-so-far-off-Broadway, Cheedo had said as she nervously flipped through her dog-eared script).

Cheedo and Dag were already at the hospital when Toast and Capable got out of class. Dag waved as Capable pushed open the door to Angharad’s room and then tossed her long hair with a flourish: she’d dyed the underside of it a soft purple.

“You look great!” Capable exclaimed and Toast whistled appreciatively. “I like the purple! So maybe you’ll go with the blue next time?”

“Or green,” Dag mused. “Or maybe rainbow.”

“I think I want to try it too!” Cheedo said eagerly. “What do you guys think of hot pink tips?”

They talked more about possible hair dyeing colors as they shed their bags and sweaters, and then together the four of them started the tasks of caring for their sister. It was the nurses’ duty to care for Angharad’s hygiene, but from the first day of her admission into the hospital, the sisters had done it too. Back at Joe’s, they had been allowed them very little privacy - They were all intimately aware of each other’s bodies; and inspecting, washing, and dressing Angharad wasn't embarrassing. It was something that needed to be done, and so they did it - A regular, and necessary, labor of love. Capable appreciated the time they spent with Angharad; the routine of it was almost a ritual.

“You guys won’t disown me if I totally blow this tonight, right?” Cheedo asked nervously and they laughed as they reassured her. She ran through her lines a couple more times, then started mumbling them to herself as she brushed Angharad’s hair.

“Joe would probably die all over again if he saw your pits, Angharad,” Dag joked as she washed Angharad’s arm. “Maybe I’ll stop shaving, too. Cape, is your War Boy smooth all over?”

Capable could feel her cheeks pinken, and she replied with a laugh, “I haven’t found out yet.”

“Yet!” Dag echoed and Cheedo giggled.

That first night, when she’d taken him into the university to clean up and he’d pulled off his shirt… There was his gorgeous tattoo, his bellybutton, then trail of hair that led her eyes down to the low waistband of his pants.

“You’re thinking about something dirty, aren’t you?” Toast guessed. “You have the worst poker face when it comes to Nux.”

Capable groaned and buried her burning face in Angharad’s blankets. “I can’t help it. I don’t know why I blush so bad. I wasn’t like this with Joe.”

Dag stretched across Angharad to stoke Capable’s hair. “It’s because you’re happy now, sweetling. And you don’t need to hide any more.”

Not needing to hide, not needing to deny, not needing to pretend - It was a new way of living. Capable caught Dag’s hand and smiled. “Yeah, I am happy. Things are going pretty well. But I’m worried about Nux. Do you guys think he was… well, not hiding, but maybe distracted the other night at Giddy’s? He wouldn’t give me a straight reason for why he was late.”

Dag and Toast’s eyes were soft and their faces serious. “He was talking to Furiosa about something,” Dag began, then shook her head, making her long hair fan around her face.

“There are problems in the ranks,” Toast said. “It makes sense, right? Without Joe, there’s a power vacuum. They’ve been struggling along, but they can’t keep it up forever.”

“A War Boy civil war?” Dag asked wryly, but when she glanced at Capable, Dag’s face was tight.

“I don’t know if it’s that extreme.” Toast tapped her fingers on the bar going around Angharad’s bed, her nail clicking on the metal. After a moment of thought, she added, “I bet that someone - maybe Rictus or Scab - is going to try to make them back into ‘proper’ gang.”

“Nux doesn’t want that. He wants to be more than a War Boy. He wants to be something else.” Her voice had gotten louder as she defended him - She hadn’t realized until afterward; the room was silent except for the sound of Angharad’s machines blipping away.

But instead of disagreeing, her sisters nodded.

“He was nice when we were hanging out.” Cheedo said. “And he didn’t even hit on me once.”

“If he’d bothered you at all...” Dag began her threat, but then she grinned. “Anyway, he really liked that Dylan rendition. He’s less like a War Boy every time I see him.”

“He’s not doing himself any favors,” Toast said darkly. When they looked at her, Toast’s brows lowered and her eyes darted back and forth between them, and when she spoke again, her voice was defensive. “I ran into Slit the other day. He says that Nux is causing trouble.”

“Slit? That’s Nux’s partner, right?” Dag asked.

Capable had her own questions. “You met him again? When? Where? With other Boys? Are you ok?”

“He’s just one asshole, Capable. I can handle him.”

Of course she could. Of all of them, Toast was the most independent, the most resilient. So instead of pressing for details about how such a meeting had occurred, Capable asked, “What did he say about Nux?”

Toast rubbed her hand through her short hair, making it stick up in spikes. “It’s not easy getting anything out of him, you know. I think… I think that he needs to be careful. Slit and Nux. Gang culture can’t have much patience for outliers.”

“Didn’t Nux say something about Furiosa’s crew?” Dag asked.

Capable nodded. “He lives with them in Gas Town.”

“If they worked with Furiosa, they can’t be all bad, right?” Cheedo said hopefully.

Whether it was because of shame or pain, Furiosa never really discussed her life in the War Boys. They’d trusted her regardless, back when they’d been at Joe’s, and now that they were living together, it seemed disrespectful to pry. Furiosa didn’t owe them any explanations, but Capable wondered anyway about the woman’s life.

There was a shuffling noise that made them pause and turn toward Angharad. Her thin fingers clenched into a fist and then jerked up. Instantly they were on their feet, reaching to Angharad to touch her shoulders.

“Angharad,” Capable breathed her name quietly but urgently, and the muscles in Angharad’s arms tensed, the skinny bicep flexing. “Come on. You can do it.”

Dag was whispering something, too low and too fast for Capable to make it out. Cheedo was clenching the bed’s bar, her knuckles nearly white, and beside her Toast was silent and still. Their breaths burning in their lungs, they waited for her to wake. When Angharad moved her arms, rolling them against the mattress, someone croaked her name again.

The seconds ticked into minutes - Angharad’s eyes stayed closed.

It wasn’t a fluke, Capable thought with fierce certainty. That was progress - Real progress. Dag, Cheedo, and Toast sagged back into their seats but Capable remained standing and staring at her sister. Come on, Angharad, she repeated as a mantra. Come on, come on. She was going to wake up. She had to.

Toast pulled a textbook and notebook out of her backpack and Dag gently patted Angharad’s head before she let her hands fall into her lap. Capable’s eyes stung with the tears that were building there and she swiped at them before they could fall. There was no point in crying - Angharad needed them to be strong.

“Hey, Cape,” Cheedo called softly, “want me to do your hair? I have a little more time before I have to go back to the theater.”

Capable nodded and then cleared her throat. “Yeah, that’d be great. Sure you don’t mind?”

“I need to do something or I’ll go insane. I’m so nervous!”

Out in the hallway nurses responded to beeping alarms and the voices of doctors and patients. Angharad’s small room was quiet, but with none of the earlier peace. As Capable’s thoughts ran themselves down, she thought about Furiosa and wondered if someone should call her. Or maybe they should have called a nurse in, in case there was something else that they could have taken advantage of. As Cheedo combed out and then started to braid her hair, Capable felt her anxiety ebb. Again she told herself that there was nothing that she could do. It was bitter medicine to swallow, but it was the truth.

Dag’s eyebrows scrunched as she studied her phone. “So you guys remember that empty lot by the bus stop, yeah? Valkyrie said to look it up at the City Register website. Looks like the last time anyone did anything with it was over twenty years ago.”

There were vacant lots across Citadel City, empty squares between buildings that didn’t do much beyond collect garbage and graffiti.

“Which means what? That no one will care if you take it over?” Toast asked and Dag nodded.

“Think of it as eminent domain,” Dag stated, her smile sharp. “Anyway, I’ve been doing research. There are community gardens in a few neighborhoods already. I’m thinking of taking a field trip to see them. Maybe we can make something bigger, yeah?”

If Cheedo hadn’t had such a firm grip on her hair, Capable would have nodded. They talked some more about it, tossing ideas back and forth about garden types and names. When Angharad shifted again, they instantly silenced and waited again, then eased back into another round of brainstorming. Cheedo’s deft hands made quick work of Capable’s locks, braiding them into a crown that circled her head.

“Done! Wow, perfect timing. I need to get down there or they won’t let me perform tonight. Capable, you look awesome. Dag, you look awesome. Toast, let me frost your tips. Bye Angharad.”

They stood up to squeeze her into a group embrace and a chorus of good lucks and goodbyes followed her out the door.

“My baby’s growing up so fast,” Dag said fondly, only half joking. “She did a great job on you hair, Cape. You look like the Queen of Boho. Ever think of growing yours out again, Toast?”

She shrugged. “Like it short. Maybe I’ll shave it all off like Furiosa. If I get a pair of stilts, we’ll be twins.”

Capable’s phone suddenly buzzed and she reached for it as she snorted a laugh. “Oh, it’s Nux!” she said in surprise. “Damn, I didn’t realize how late it was! He’s already here and I need to get ready. Do you guys mind if he comes up? I feel bad making him wait outside.”

Both women shook their heads, so she quickly typed a response. Homework and notes were scattered across the room and Capable lunged at them, trying to stuff everything away.

“Nux won’t mind waiting, Capable,” Toast said as she passed a pile of papers, and Capable took them gratefully and shoved them into her backpack.

Once she had reclaimed at least most of her stuff, Capable found her other bag with that night’s outfit and made a beeline for the tiny bathroom. “I wanted him to see me dressed up for once.”

Dag pulled her long hair into a bun and cracked her knuckles. “Take your time. I have some questions for our War Boy anyway.”

“Time for him to run the gamut?” Toast asked with a snicker.

“He has long legs, he’ll be fine.”

“Don’t scare him, Dag,” Capable insisted as she flung her bag into the bathroom. “He has enough shit to deal with.”

“Hey, look at my hair. I’m a witch now.”

“Nothing wrong with asking a few questions.” Toast flipped to a new page in her notebook. “I have a list all ready. I’d like to know a little about my new roommate before he actually moves in.”

Capable stuck out her tongue. “Well I think it’d be nice to share a room with somebody who doesn’t snore.”

“Hey! Slander!”

“Them’s fighting words!” Dag hooted.

As she closed the bathroom door, Capable heard a rapping outside and then Nux’s voice, “Hey, can I come in? Or are you guys taking this outside?”

Her sisters let him in and Capable peeked her head out of the bathroom to greet him too - he was wearing his blue t-shirt again - then ducked back. In the tiny bathroom there wasn’t much space to maneuver, but Capable still managed to get out of her jeans and then pulled her shirt over her head, careful not to disturb her hair. They planned to dress to the nines for Cheedo’s show, and after a shopping spree at their favorite thrift store, they’d all come away with new (for them) outfits. Her dress was dark blue with a white bird print, and Dag had found a skinny belt to cinch around her waist. The zipper in the back had been pulled almost completely off the fabric, which had been the reason she’d been able to afford it. Cheedo had brought it with her to her class and one of the people there, in charge of the costumes, had been able to repair it.

Joe had had endless boxes of designer gowns, tight, lacy, and more expensive than anything they’d ever seen before. They weren’t allowed out unless they passed his inspection, draped in jewels and with their hair in elaborate styles. It was exciting, even fun, for a while. But it made them into things, Angharad pointed out - Living treasures that he could parade around to impress his friends.

That had been the start.

Capable splashed water on her face and then leaned over the sink as it dripped down from her chin. Thinking about Joe always made something inside of her clench, but the tightness didn’t seem so bad anymore. And as she looked back up at her reflection, all she saw was a young woman. Two eyes, her nose, the oval of her face, and damp cheeks. And then her braided hair, still in Cheedo’s beautiful braid. No signs of anything else.

“I look pretty good tonight,” she murmured to herself. And she felt pretty good, too. “Shine as fuck.”

Humming to herself, she quickly put on her make-up, pausing when she heard Nux’s low laugh. The interrogation was apparently going well, she thought with a grin. When she opened the door, the conversation quieted, and she caught a glimpse of her sisters’ matching smirks before she met Nux’s eyes. He was sitting next to Angharad’s bed, his hand hovering over her foot with a nail polish brush clenched between his fingers.

“Capable,” he said and the way he pronounced her name - the roughness of his voice, the hitch at the end - told her everything she wanted to hear.

“Nux,” she said back, and bent down to place a kiss on his forehead. “Thanks for coming. Sorry I made you wait.”

“It’s fine. Worth it. Your hair… How’d you get it like that?”

“We’re magic,” Dag replied for her, wiggling her fingers.

---

They drove downtown to the theater district, circling the block a couple of times before they found a tiny space for Nux to expertly squeeze his car into.

“This was never anyone’s territory, not as far as I know,” he said as he joined her on the sidewalk. He looked around, eyes scanning the street. Midtown had the skyscrapers - The theater district was made up of mostly shorter buildings, with a few restaurants, bars, and eclectic stores scattered between the apartment buildings. More trees than midtown, too. There were still sex shops, and Capable took Nux’s arm as they went past one of them, trying to push the image of it out of her mind. He pulled her close and pressed a kiss against the top of her head, making her smile.

“Makes you wonder, you know?” he continued. “No one wanted this part, guess because it wouldn’t be good for anything. Anything gang-related,” he clarified.

His brows were drawn and his lips flattened as he thought. Capable watched him in silence, letting him work through it, and finally he shook his head with a sigh.

“Would never be here if it weren’t for you.”

She squeezed his arm. “Give yourself some credit, Nux. You decided to come with me.”

“Whole neighborhood, all this space, and we never even looked at it. Joe didn’t think it was important, so none of us did either. Lucky for the people here, I guess. So how’d you guys find it?”

“You haven’t met Mari yet, but she’s one of Seeds’ friends. She’ll be at the show tonight. When we were figuring out what we wanted to do - after Joe - Cheedo said she always wanted to be an actor. Mara brought here down here and they found this class. There are a lot of artists who live around here, actually, so it’s a pretty cool neighborhood. See - Check out that statue.”

She pointed to a statue that someone had made out of wood and set up next to the entrance to the apartment building. It was person, or at least person-esque. There were bits of art everywhere in the neighborhood: a townhouse painted bright pink, crochet in a chain-link fence, an abandoned storefront that had been covered with fake flowers, a plaque embedded in the street pavement. A guy with a cat sitting on his head marched by as they strolled toward the bar, and they ducked their heads together to laugh.

“This bar has an outside space,” she told Nux as they strolled. “And it’s pretty close to Cheedo’s theater.”

“Sounds good.”

“I wanted to at least have a little time alone with you. I promised that we would but instead you get my whole family again.”

“Hey, it’s ok, Capable. I like them.”

“Do you?” she asked hopefully. “They like you too.”

“No shit? Really? Even though I’m still a War Boy?”

“You did agree to go to amateur dramatics on a date. Toast says that makes you a hero.”

“It’ll be awesome! It’s about rhinoceroses or something, right?”

“Or something,” she agreed.

“Still sounds shine.” He pulled her tightly against him. “Besides, like being with you. Like being part of your crew.”

She liked him being part of her family, too. Again she wondered about his own home situation, and thinking back on what she and her sisters had been discussing in the hospital. “What’s it like living in with Ace and everyone else?”

“Ace is…” he paused, frowning. “Did Furiosa tell you anything about him?”

“No. I’m going to try to ask, but I don’t know if she wants to talk about it.”

“He’s not bad. In fact, he’s probably really good. I just didn’t know that before. He’s pretty old, older than any other Boy I can think of. Doesn’t happen to many of us, getting old. Makes him stand out, but it’s not just his age. He’s not a boss, you know? Not like Furiosa was. Even though he’s been around for fucking ever, they never made him a boss.”

“How come?”

Again his expressive lips turned down into a frown. “Don’t know. Been thinking about it. He’s too fair, maybe. Not like Prime or Rictus. Shitty, right? Better than them. Too good.” He laughed mirthlessly. “Too good to be a boss.”

They fell into a pensive silence as they walked to the bar. Even though the name was more than a little off-putting, the Hanged Man had pretty good reviews online and the garden had sealed the deal. It was still early, but there were already people congregating there when Nux and Capable reached the bar.

The bartender visibly froze when he saw Nux. Capable touched his arm and suggested, “Maybe want to find us somewhere to sit? I'll get a couple of beers - What do you want?”

Nux was staring back at the bartender, but then his eyes shifted down to her. “You sure? Thanks, Capable. Imperator IPA’s good.”

She watched him head out the back before she walked up to the counter. The guy shot another look at Nux’s back before he said to her, “Hey, he’s not -”

“A couple of Imperator IPAs, please,” she said before he could finish and slid the money toward him before he could refuse.

With the bottles in hand, Capable walked through the bar, ignoring looks from the other patrons. The backyard was empty except for him - Thankfully. His head was tilted up as he looked at the branches hanging over the garden. She followed the lines of his face in profile - the dark brows, long lashes, down his nose to the pout of his lips. Just the sight of him was enough to make her heart start to jump. Even though it was only for a little while, at least she had a chance to be with him. To talk.

To touch.

She slid in next to him and he lifted his arm for her to cuddle against him, and she closed her eyes for a moment, letting his warmth seep through her. Even though the material of his t-shirt was thin, she still felt she wasn’t close enough. Wiggling, pressing, it wasn’t enough. If she could just throw her leg around his waist and settle against him…

Instead she rested her head on his shoulder, turning her face so she could study him. “Is everything alright, Nux? You’re pretty quiet tonight.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking.”

“Anything I can help with?”

“Maybe. Yeah. Thinking about Ace. And Slit. Other night, I tried to get Slit to come with me. Wouldn’t even listen to me, though.” He sighed and shifted closer, and started to stroke his long fingers down her arm. “Got to make him.”

His voice was low, but Capable heard the distress in it and she reached out to him, wrapping her arm around his stomach. “I don’t think you can, Nux.”

“So what can I do?”

“You can’t make people do things, not really. Even if you think it’s right.”

Nux inhaled a sharp breath. Suddenly he was tugging on her, pulling her gently up and Capable climbed into his lap. He buried his face against the crook of her neck, his breath and lips soft against the sensitive skin there.

“Yeah, course,” he said at last.

“It’s hard sometimes, I know, getting your voice out there. Especially when it feels like you’re yelling into the void.” She rubbed her chin against his cheek. “I guess I’d try to keep talking to them. We can ask Furiosa, too; she might have some advice. We’ll figure something out together.”

He kissed her throat, a light, fluttering touch that still rocked her down to her core. She murmured in pleasure and he drew her even closer, holding her against the hard planes of his chest.

“Hey, don’t distract me. You. Us.” It was practically impossible to stay articulate with his tongue on her skin. With a valiant attempt to stay focused, she asked, “Is there something going on at the garage? Are you ok there?”

Nux made a low sound, something between a growl and a groan. “Later. Just want to kiss you now. Can I? This feel good?”

“Fuck yeah,” she gasped and he laughed in response.

She cupped his face with her hands, drawing him up so she could kiss his glorious mouth. Her beer was barely half empty so she couldn’t blame her dizzy drunkenness on that. As their mouths moved against each other, her mind reeled and spun, each kiss making her thoughts grow more and more wild. One of his hands glided up her thigh and then kneaded her muscle, his palm warm and calluses scratching lightly, sending shivers up her spine until she was nearly shaking with desire.

“Don’t stop, please,” she whispered hoarsely.

He kissed her again as she nearly melted as his fingers trailed up her leg and pushed at the hem of her dress - higher, higher, until it was at her hips and his thumb traced the edge of her underwear. Half of her desperately wanted him to keep going, the other half was relieved when he didn’t.

“Capable,” he groaned. ”Want to touch you. Can I?”

“Can you - Can you just stay there?”

“Yeah, course. Anything you want.”

Her heart was pounding like a bass drum in her ears, banging so hard that she felt like she was vibrating. Like he promised, Nux didn’t move his hand any further - He just held her, tight and sweet, as her thoughts finally caught up with her body.

“You’re so fucking amazing,” he said into her ear. “Never felt like this before.”

She kissed him again on the mouth, feeling his smile under her lips. “Me either.”

She stayed on his lap as they finished their drinks, finally squirming away with a giggle when he tickled her knee with his cold hand. Back on the sidewalk she looped her arm around his waist and as they walked, he told her a little more about what had happened the night he was late to Giddy’s. She held onto him tighter then, like she could shield him from all of it. If she could just get him to stay with her instead...

But Angharad hadn’t raised her to be a hypocrite.

It was easy enough to find the building that housed Cheedo’s theater. Everyone was there already: no Max, but Furiosa brought along Seeds, Mari, and Valkyrie, and even Giddy had been invited and showed up decked to the nines. Nux slowed a little, but when Capable tugged on his arm he followed behind her.

“So this is the young man I’ve heard so much about,” Mari commented as she shook his hand. “They grow them big in Gas Town. Maybe I should head up there myself some time.”

“I can give you a lift,” he offered and Seeds cackled.

The group of them took up the whole sidewalk and blocked the door until Furiosa finally grabbed Seeds’ shoulders and guided her inside. Cheedo’s class was held in a third-floor walk-up, and the tiny staircase echoed with their laughing voices and footsteps. They crowded into the tiny converted theater, claiming all of the first two rows. Nux pushed his chair closer to Capable’s so their legs were touching.

“Now I’m nervous, too,” she confided.

Toast chuckled. “She’ll do fine. How many times have we heard her lines? FIfty thousand or so?”

Furiosa opened the program and scanned the neat, handwritten text there. “It’ll be interesting to hear the other side of that conversation.”

As the group continued to chat, Capable leaned back in her chair, smiling to herself as she half-listened to their voices. At some point she needed to talk to Furiosa - they had to let her know about Angharad - and her gaze drifted over to the woman, studying her as Furiosa nodded along as Toast explained the play to Nux.

That first time she’d brought Nux home, after the initial fight between him and Furiosa, he’d been deferential to the former boss. Which made sense, of course. But now he moved differently - he grinned at Furiosa instead of averting his eyes, and when Dag dug out a box of mints, he leaned over the back of his chair to get a couple. Capable tried to be scientific about it, to keep her optimism from clouding her observations, and kept reaching the same conclusion: Nux was fitting in. It was like they’d all adjusted, shifting around and realigning, and when they had, all of them - Nux, all of her sisters, even Furiosa - fit together.

“Here, want one?” he asked and dropped a mint into Capable’s open palm. She must have still looked ponderous, because he added, “Cheedo’s going to be bad-ass, don’t worry.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I don’t think I’m as worried anymore.”

They hushed when someone dimmed the lights. Capable clutched Nux’s hand as the play started, letting go when Cheedo made her grand entrance. When Cheedo recited her lines - absolutely perfectly - they all surged to their feet and gave her a standing ovation in the middle of the scene until the director stepped out and asked them to return to their seats.

---

I don't feel like I'm falling
I'm up against the sky
Let's grab the heart of the world
And turn into the light
Oh I cannot turn around
The angels hear me now
Go where I'm bound
You smile like you know the new world has been found
- “Gold” by Wake Owl


Art by Super-Chi