The first time Nux grabs hold of the platform and is hoisted up, he remembers as leaving home. Barely steady enough on his legs to dash for it, uncomfortably thin even for the circumstances and trembling at the loss he could feel but couldn’t place. They try to push him off, the brutes with the leather bags over their heads, but his little fingers have wriggled themselves into a split in the wood and he remains dangling, tiny feet suspended in the air.
He doesn’t remember all of it, he was only a toddler after all, but there are snippets of things that come back to him sometimes. Of his mother - he knows he had one - and his father, feeding him something long, squiggly and slimy. He prefers dry food, even though it sometimes bites his tongue before he can pulverize it with his teeth. Still, he has the memory and he cherishes it, in secret, because the Immortan Joe is, was, his new father. He was.
Because in the end, they pulled him up, preventing him from being killed like a bug between boot and sand. They made him feel special, a toddler, managing to get into their inner circle; he must have deserved to be there. He was given Mother’s Milk and oh how he treasured the moment that he got to taste it again on the War Rig. There is nothing quite like it.
Not all the War Pups he grew up with got to taste it, it was a privilege, or so he was told. They weren’t treated equally. From the start it was a battle, a test of wit and strength, cunning and speed, quality and health. Nux was a healthy pup, for Barry and Larry didn’t show until he was already driving a vehicle. In truth, most of the War Pups he knew didn’t even make it to that stage. They either had their own friends that made them succumb, or they fell when making repairs at places that were too remote, small or dangerous for War Boys to attend to.
Slit though, Slit made it through. Slit and he shared a sleeping spot, three hallways down from the area where they patched and upgraded the vehicles. It was an honour, another privilege that Nux was granted, sleeping so close to the machines that brought you valour and passage to Valhalla. Slit often joked that it was he who earned them this spot and they’d get into arguments, because Nux was certain that it was the Immortan himself, his father, who had gifted it to him. To Nux, a hard nut to crack.
Arguments with Slit never ended with an agreement because the War Boy was just too stubborn to agree with Nux on even the simplest of things. Instead, it often ended in a fight, which in itself often ended in one of them knocking the other out, or in knocking each other off. Either way, it was a messy affair and a perfect way for them to let off some steam. There were never any real harsh feelings because things like jealousy and betrayal didn’t exist in their vocabulary. Not because they weren’t capable of it, but because the fear of repercussion did enough to distress them at the mere thought.
The time before Imperator Furiosa escaped with the Wives and the War Rig, was messy. Dirt, chrome, grease, bolts, chains, blood, scars, haphazardly thrown together at the best of times. But that was the state Nux grew up in, that’s the state of affairs he knew. He had no image of cleanliness, order, justice, freedom, so when he met Capable, he was terrified. He felt as if someone turned him inside-out and exposed his disease-ridden body to hungry rats.
But there she was, kind and soft, gentle and shiny, capable and fierce, caressing him in a way that he had never happen to him before. With Slit and the War Boys it was always harsh, fast, and practical, but this, this was so different that he did not know how to respond. Fear ran rampant; he did not deserve this, not after what had just happened. But deep down he knew, he knew that this was the best privilege that he had ever been granted.
When they went back, he knew his time for privilege was over, and the time for atonement had come. For the fleeting moments he had known her and the others, he had felt something that he only rarely felt. He felt it when he dreamed of his mother, and it felt warm, fuzzy, protected. It had never been like that with Immortan Joe, Slit, or any of the others. With them it had been cold, adrenaline-filled, a competition at all times. Nux knew that this status-quo was not a privilege, but a torment.
“Witness me,” he spoke softly as he watched dread settle in Capable’s eyes. It was time. Rictus ripped the War Rig apart and though Nux looked passive, it felt as if the rats of fear had finally eaten his heart. It wasn’t a slow-motion affair, it went too fast, and before Nux realised that he was doing it, he turned the steering wheel and flipped the Rig. Capable’s face appeared before him, an image of cleanliness, order, justice, but most of all, freedom.
There was a long stretch of memories after that. Dirt, chrome, grease, bolts, chains, blood, scars, haphazardly thrown together, like a dream. His mother, his father, Slit, Joe, Capable. This is it, he thinks, he is in Valhalla. But he’s seeing Capable; that does not make sense. Valhalla is for the Immortal Warriors of All Time and they, they have all died. Died to live again. The fear is back, gnawing its way throughout his body, eating away at his friends. He feels it, and it feels real. It is stinging. Is Capable dead? He can see her, after all.
But nothing soft caresses him. The things that he felt when he was with her on that night, it was peace. She tried to explain it to him, the feeling of peace. It comes with fulfilment, she said. But if Valhalla was his destination, and if this place, this state he is in, is Valhalla, should he not feel peace?
Days pass where the only thing he feels is agony. His bones ache, his insides hurt and his vision is dark; there is no peace. Valhalla is a lie, he begins to think. And after too many dreams that might as well be memories, or worse, visions, he opens his eyes. It is not Valhalla, it is sand, a bloody arm, wreckage. He’s outside of the War Rig, presumably thrown out, and he’s alive. He can feel the presence of Barry and Larry and nothing has ever motivated him more than to know that he is alive.
An engine roars and this time, he knows it’s not a dream. The rats are gone, there is a breeze that strokes his face, and it’s her. He sees red, flowing, and the mechanical arm of the Imperator. It’s them, it’s cleanliness, order, justice, freedom. It’s peace.
The return to the Citadel is swift, but the only reason Nux knows that, is because he can make out how fast they’re going by listening to the sounds coming from the engine. If he were to look at Capable’s face and describe the situation, he’d say that they were in grave danger. But Nux cannot help to smile, he cannot mirror the uneasiness clear on Capable’s face. He feels peace.
Furiosa drives the vehicle onto the platform at the Citadel, ready to be hoisted up. As they go, Nux feels Capable’s soft hand and sees her lips form easeful words that he does not hear, too lost in the moment. Because this time, going up finally feels like coming home.