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Six-String Soldier

Chapter Text

And all along the way I'll find you
I'll find you and lay you down
Even though you can't touch me
I'm right there under your skin
And I've fallen in love before
But with no one with a name anymore
- "Lay You Down” by Matt Corby

-- 

Capable was almost done with her set when the bar door opened - They were loud enough that her audience swiveled around to look too, and then returned to their drinks with nervous murmurs. Damn, she thought as she strummed louder. Just what she needed - War Boys. She knew about War Boys. With their shaved heads and leather jackets, there was no mistaking them for any other gang. Four Boys slid into a booth while a fifth went to the bar, and despite the dim lighting, she could see how unhappy Miss Giddy was with it all.

Giddy’s bar was her favorite gig: she usually sold a few CDs to the students and professors who drifted in from the university, and she could walk to the bus without too much trouble, and in Citadel City that counted for something. Trying and singing and coming out into the night on her own, and here were the War Boys. She’d gotten away from that life. Or thought she had - But here was a remnant of it, following at her heels like a shadow.

If only her sisters were with her.

Or maybe it was better that they weren’t, she thought suddenly and her fingers skidded over the G string, nearly messing up the chord. She didn’t want her sisters to have to deal with the sudden influx of Boys, of the memories they dragged in with them.

Without her guitar, Capable wouldn’t have had the courage to get in front of so many watching eyes. The guitar was a shield and the music… Capable lifted her voice again and it filled her like a breath of air. Each time she dragged her pick over the strings, each chord, each note emboldened her and she raised her voice for the chorus, filling the whole bar with her song. If she was loud enough, if she was noisy enough, she hoped she could chase them out - Maybe they’d rather take their dealings somewhere else. But the War Boys were huddled with their beers, busy with whatever they were doing and ignoring the rest of the bar. That’s what she thought, but then as she finished her song and leaned away from the old microphone, raucous applause erupted over the last fading chord. She looked up with a jolt - One of the War Boys was practically standing on his table, whistling and cheering like he was at a game. She silenced her guitar and tried to stop a grin from spreading across her face.

“Thanks to my mates in the back. So I’m Capable and I hope you liked my songs. I’ll be at the Clearwater Fundraiser next Thursday - Come by if you like folk or protests or being able to drink clean water.”

Her fingers ached a bit when she uncurled them from around the neck of the guitar, but that was nothing compared to that burst of surprised happiness that kept her smiling as she tucked her acoustic 79 Swaisey away into its case. She hopped down from the little stage and went over to the bar. A drink was waiting for her already and she nodded gratefully to Giddy as she pressed her palms around the cool glass.

“You were good tonight, my girl,” Giddy said. “Sold three CDs during the last song. Fuzzy navel, on the house.”

“Thanks, Miss Giddy,” Capable said with a thankful smile. But even with Giddy’s praise and the one-person ovation, there was still an a tenseness in her stomach, an unease not helped by the drink sloshing around in it. She motioned behind her and then added in a low voice, “I think I’m going to skip out early. I don’t really want to do that second set.”

Giddy nodded. Her hand was warm, worn when she wrapped it around Capable’s. “I can call Furiosa.”

“No, I’m ok.” She met Giddy’s skeptical look and then added, with a reassuring smile, “Really. Just surprised.”

The older woman withdrew her hand and was about to reply when there was a sudden chaos of noise behind Capable.

“You were amazing! Can I buy you a drink?”

A War Boy - her fan - slid bodily over a table and landed next to her, whatever he kept in his pockets jangling an echo punctuating every one of his exuberant movements. He was tall, in the usual uniform of black pants and leather jacket, and shaved completely except for his eyebrows so he look more like a skeleton than a man. But when he smiled, Capable returned it. Somehow he seemed too young to be a War Boy, despite the scars on his face - Maybe it was his startlingly blue eyes, big and wide and excited.

Too startled to speak, Capable just motioned to her drink. The War Boy’s eyes filled with such disappointment that she added quickly, “Thanks, though. Glad you liked the set! I didn’t think War Boys would be into folk music.”

“That’s what you sing? I really liked it. It was like - “ he paused and frowned, and Capable had to drag her gaze away from the scars on his pursed lips. “They weren’t just songs. Or they were more than songs. Never heard music like that before. It’s shine. And your voice. And you.”

A compliment like that was rare enough, and here it was coming from a War Boy. Of all the people she’d played she’d played for, she never thought a War Boy would be the most receptive. Capable giggled over the rim of her glass. War Boys had always been a bullet point on her list of things to avoid, but she found herself leaning closer to him. “Wow, thanks. Wow, probably the best response I’ve ever gotten.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Hey,” she said as she ducked her head, hoping he wouldn’t see her blush, “can I get you a drink instead?”

“Yeah? Yeah! Thanks, Capable.” He paused and then added with a shy expression that she didn’t think War Boys could ever have, “Can I call you that?”

“Sure. What’s your name?”

“It’s Nux.”

“Nice to meet you, Nux.” It was a reflexive response, but as the words left her, she realized that they were genuine. “Want to have what I’m having? It’s really good."

“A mixed drink?” he guessed and she nodded. “Yeah, thanks. Never had one before.”

“Miss Giddy, can you make him a Max? Just take it out of the CD sales, please.” She explained as he slid onto the stool next to her, “It’s a fuzzy navel, but we call it Max after a… friend of ours. He’s a cop - The fuzz.”

It wasn’t really all that funny, but Nux grinned, a flash of white in the dim bar. “Nice.”

Giddy put his drink down - clanking the glass, even spilling a little over the side to show how little she approved of him - and they moved back on their stools.

“I really like them. The orange juice feels good after I’ve been singing for a while.” Capable said and at that he downed it like he’d spent his whole night dying in the desert. “So what do you think?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty -”

“Nux, the fuck are you doing?” Another War Boy yelled across the room and the whole damn bar fell silent for a moment, everyone holding their breath and maybe even praying.

Capable glanced over at the gang and then drained her drink. It wasn’t anything as dramatic as a shiver up her spine, but suddenly a clammy discomfort started working its way through her. She rubbed her cold hands on her arms, then climbed off her stool. She’d let her sentimentality get the best of her again, she berated herself. A single War Boy was one thing, but the whole horde of them was another. And she knew that well enough. She really knew that.

“Looks like your friends are getting restless,” she said and Nux swore under his breath. Capable caught Giddy’s eye. “Thanks, Miss Giddy. I’m heading out.”

“Hey, let me get this.” Nux reached into his pockets.

“Don’t worry about it,” Capable said as she collected the night’s earnings from Giddy. It wasn’t a lot, but it was still something - Sort of the Citadel City motto, she thought as she pocketed it. The earlier bravado she'd had was gone, and her thoughts went back to her sisters. If they had been with her, she would have had her own little gang. Angharad would’ve kept her back straight and she would’ve had the right thing to say, and she might’ve even bought a round for the Boys, just to show them. Instead Capable started for the door. But something tugged at her as she grabbed her guitar case - some stirring feeling, something wistful, something she hadn’t felt for a long time - and she looked over her shoulder at Nux.

His blue eyes weren’t as wide now. He was still standing there, even though his friends were hollering for him, and watching her with a contemplative expression of his own. “Thanks, Capable.”

He looked like he wanted to say something else to her, but before he could - and before she could - Capable walked out into the night. She replayed the conversation in her head on the bus ride home, but even by the time that she was back in her neighborhood, she hadn’t made any more sense of it. She’d texted her sisters when she left Giddy’s and as the bus drove away, she sent out another message letting them know where she was. A smile appeared on her face as she read the flurry of replies. Even though they hadn’t been at Giddy’s they’d all be supporting her.

She starting typing about Nux, then deleted each word. i met this guy, she tried again and then deleted it. so there were these war boys and maybe they arent all bad???, was another attempt. Her third got closer to what she was feeling, but she deleted it anyway: dont know if im normal or just pretending bc i met a war boy and if he hadnt been him and i hadnt been me it might have worked between us and i think ang was right and it wasnt their fault.

They lived at the edge of Citadel City, where there were more trees and fewer cars. But the poverty of the city had a long arm, and as Capable walked, she passed boarded-up store fronts and dark apartment buildings. She moved along briskly until she got to their street: Green Place. The empty houses here weren’t derelict - chaotic, definitely, but Capable felt safer on Green Place than any other part of the city.

These were Furiosa’s houses. And theirs. With what they’d taken from Joe, they had had more than enough to buy the foreclosed properties. She had moved them into the best house of the bunch - the one that still had most of its copper wiring. They’d had to live without hot water for the first two months, and any free time they had had to be dedicated to rebuilding, but since they started reclaiming the street, the five of them had fixed and painted their house, planted Dag’s garden in the tiny backyard, and cleared out the broken furniture from the other two houses.

Vuvalini Construction Co. signs were proudly displayed in the other lots and Capable smacked her hand against one for good luck. As she got closer to their house, the front door opened and Dag and Toast stepped out onto the porch - They’d been waiting for her. The light from the open door spilled down their yard and the graveled driveway, and glinted off the wind chimes that swayed in the gentle breeze.

“Hey Capable! We just got home and Cheedo’s making dinner. Hungry?” Dag called and Capable felt her stomach rumble in response.

“How it go?” Toast asked as Capable climbed up the stairs to them.

“I don’t know.” She paused on the top step and swung her guitar. “Good, I think.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said and then strode in behind her sisters and closed the door behind them. “I think I’m getting better.”

--

I have never known
The like of this I've been alone
And I have missed things
And kept out of sight
But other girls were never quite
Like this
- "I've Just Seen a Face" by the Beatles

Chapter Text

Pull the flag up from the ground and take it to a better town
Another jewel upon your crown
A place in space is to be found
Are you gonna, are you gonna come and set me free
If you don't make up your mind
You will find that you get left behind
- “Rock Over Water” by Woody Pitney

---

There were a couple of mantras that she repeated like well-loved lyrics - The best one was Angharad’s, of course: We are not things. They’d written whole songs based on that statement, long epics that sometimes they had sung like lullabies and other times were their marching tunes. Capable never performed those at any of her shows, however - Some things she wasn’t ready yet for. But she said it to herself, especially when she was alone, and imagined Angharad reciting it with her.

Walking down Miller Boulevard, she hummed along to a tune that she had recorded over the weekend. Take back what was stolen / Repair what was broken... Just the start of something that maybe could be coaxed into a song. She kept her earbuds loose and the volume on her phone turned low enough that she could still hear the rush of traffic around her. That had been one of Furiosa’s rules - that they couldn’t block out the world anymore, not if they wanted to survive in it. It was valuable advice but a hard lesson. There were mostly students and people in suits on the street, rushing home after work or maybe going to a second job - in Citadel City there was never enough to go around. Even with Joe’s death, the city was still fractured. Better, quieter, and there was a sort of shared hope that made the nights a little brighter, but still, as the sun started to disappear behind the taller buildings that made up the cityscape, Capable pulled out her keys and slid one between her pointer and middle finger. That was another instruction from Furiosa, and a compromise: Furiosa had wanted them to carry, but they’d all refused. Guns had been part of Joe’s world, not theirs.

A text beeped through her music and Capable slowed to pull out her phone. A series of messages came through from Dag:

yo my flame haired siren
going to work
cheedos rehearsal running late
salad in fridge this time dont pick out the almonds theyre good for u
text when youre done w class
stay safe <3 <3

She was about to reply when there was a sudden commotion ahead of her - voices rising in annoyance and fear, and heavy footsteps pounding closer - and before she could get out of the way, someone ran into her. Hard. Capable gasped at the impact and hugged her bag tighter but no one yanked at it, then forced her eyes open to see the rest of the group of War Boys thunder by.

“Hey!” she yelled in a strangled voice and one of them glanced over his shoulder at her, his bare face twisted in a grin.

Her campus was only at the end of the block - she was almost there, safe behind thick doors and security guards - but instead of keeping her head down like Furiosa instructed and before she could really think about what she was doing, Capable took off after them. Most people scattered when they saw the Boys coming, jumping aside and then right back into her way. With her heart banging along with her steps, she squeezed through the crowd, desperate to keep up. Was Nux with them? What would she do if he was?

And why did she care?

As they turned the corner, a car roared down the street and squealed to a smoking stop at the curb. When the door opened they jumped in and with another cloud of exhaust, the car sped away. She stopped and swore to herself, then bent over to catch her breath. She could almost hear Furiosa’s angry questions: what the hell was she thinking? Talking to a War Boy was bad enough, but at least that had been at Giddy’s, where she’d been protected. From a block or two away came the howl of a siren, which echoed down through the high rises.

“Smeg,” she said and slowly stood up. Dag would’ve had better insults to throw at the Boys and Toast might have actually found something to physically throw. Capable readjusted her bag and lifted her heavy braid off her neck, letting the cooling night air dry the sweat there. She was probably bright red, too. She took a few deep breaths in an attempt to get the adrenaline out of her system; she needed to focus on school and not spend her night wondering about War Boys. She pulled out her phone again to reply to her sisters and was typing a response when she heard more steps. There was a narrow alley to her left and there was a movement in the dark -

“Nux?”

“Capable?” came the astonished reply.

The moment was so perfectly strange that for a few seconds Capable couldn’t say anything at all. The world had tossed them together again - they’d never met when they were both in Joe’s, but now that she was out and free, they’d found each other. Maybe it was more than mystifying coincidence. She glanced around but didn’t spot any cops or War Boys, then took a step closer. “Your friends are gone - A car picked them up. Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” she replied and stifled an anxious giggle. “I have class. The university is right next door. What are you doing here?”

He took a tentative step forward, hunched over so his face was in shadow. She squinted trying to make it out - Was that blood? And then, when he finally stepped into the dimming light, she inhaled a sharp breath. There was a ragged cut on his cheek and blood smeared over his mouth, and he was holding his chest with one hand. But he smiled like they were in the bar again and when he saw her expression, said quickly, “It’s not that bad. And it’s my fault anyway.”

“Oh my god, Nux. What happened?”

He shrugged dismissively, then grimaced at the movement. “Just Buzzards. Should’ve stayed with the car. Stupid, fucking - Now Dred’ll be driving and he’s too hard on the clutch.”

“So they left you behind?”

“Fucking idiot, too soft. Why didn’t I stay with the car? Driver's got to stay with the car.”

That War Boys loved, worshipped, their cars wasn’t new to her - she’d learned that at Joe’s. But she hadn’t known that each Boy had a role in the gang. The War Boys had just been a mass, a sea of identical faces whenever she and her sisters had ever caught a glimpse of them. At Giddy’s she had been curious, even though she knew that she shouldn’t be, and now concern for him mixed in with her curiosity.

“Do you think you need to go to the hospital?”

“Hospital? For this? Slit’ll kick my ass out of the Boys.”

“So what do you want to do?”

When he frowned she found herself staring at his mouth again. “I’ll just wait. When it’s clear, someone’ll come. Buzzards won’t chase, probably.”

He was close enough that she could see a bruise starting to form under his left eye above the horrible gash; the skin was red and getting puffy. “We should at least get you cleaned up. There are bathrooms at the university.”

“I’m ok, really.”

“Nux, you’re dripping blood down your shirt.”

“Think it’ll scar?”

“I don’t know. Maybe, if it gets infected. Which is why we need to clean you up.” She reached up and caught his chin, intending to turn his face so she could have a better look, but when Nux's startlingly blue eyes focused on her own, Capable found herself riveted in place. His skin was smooth under her fingers, and warm and flushed from running. She stretched her fingers along the hard line of his jaw and he swallowed hard, his eyes darting away to stare at something over her shoulder. A War Boy, she thought wonderingly; nothing like she had ever seen, nothing like she had ever imagined. On the street a car horn suddenly blared, and she jerked her hand back and silently berated herself for acting so foolish. “Let me help.”

“Yeah, ok. Thanks, Capable.”

“Come on, you can lean on me.”

He sputtered at that suggestion. “I’ll get blood on you. I’m filthy and you’re too - I mean -”

Angharad had been the determined one, with enough tenacity to carry all of them. Capable had always felt lost: not as smart as Dag, not as kind as Cheedo, not as resilient as Toast, not as anything as Angharad. Adrift and astray, which was why Joe had been able to catch her. She hadn't been able to help herself and she had failed Angharad - if Nux needed someone, Capable was resolved to be there for him. “I’m stronger than you think,” she said aloud, as if it'd make it true. She fitted herself against his side and pulled his arm over her shoulder. He didn’t resist, but there was a stiffness to the way he held himself and Capable looked up at him, trying to gauge if she’d overstepped a boundary. She angled herself away and asked quietly, “Is this ok?”

“Yeah."

"I should've asked first. Do you want me to-"

"Stay," he replied immediately. "I mean, thanks. But are you sure?”

“I’m not going to leave you here to bleed to death in the alley while I go to class and pretend nothing happened.”

“Hardly fatal,” he said sounding pleased, and she caught a glimpse of one of his glorious smiles. “Just a scratch.”

“Well, what if the police come?”

“Police? They don’t care about us.”

“I heard sirens.”

He considered that. “There’s one feral cop - He has this crazy vendetta. Aw, smeg. I hope they got away. If I was driving, we’d be back at base already.”

“You’re that good, huh.”

“Best.” They both laughed a little at that boast, but then he shuddered and pressed his hand over his chest.

“Not broken,” she guessed hopefully and he shook his head.

“They’re just bruised.”

She wondered if she should call an ambulance, or maybe Furiosa, who would get to them faster. But if it was just bruised ribs and a few cuts, it was probably easier for him to just clean up at school. At the hospital there would be questions and there might be police. She trusted Max, but Max wasn’t like most of the other cops. Capable exhaled a sigh, blowing strands of hair out of her face. Nux wasn’t really heavy - instead of leaning on her, he was trying to keep as much of his weight off of her. She realized, and felt something in her stomach flip at it, that it was less like she was carrying him and more like they were embracing. His arm over her shoulder and her fingers around his wrist, and then her arm around his waist...

The other people on the sidewalk gave them a wide berth, which made it easier for them to pass, and Capable was relieved she wouldn’t have to fight through the crowd again. But Nux tensed; she expected him to pull away, but instead he leaned in closer and murmured, “Don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“You won’t, Nux,” she assured him. She glanced up at his face, her previous discomposure gone. “Don’t worry about it.”

“People are staring.”

And that was true. Nux was in the same War Boy uniform - black jeans, shirt, and leather jacket - and even if he hadn’t been bleeding, people would have noticed. They were almost at the main entrance of Entity Memorial Hall and there were students and teachers everywhere. It had been one of the things that had persuaded Furiosa to give her blessing for night classes; unlike a lot of downtown Citadel City, the campus was well lit at night and full of people. Capable pointed to a wide path that that ran along the side the building. “We can go through a side entrance, if you can walk a little farther. It’ll be less crowded.”

Entity was a big building; in addition to the classrooms and lecture halls, it held the library, a poorly-stocked coffee lounge, and professors’ offices. It’d been built was Citadel City had still been optimistic about its future, and when the city still had money. They made their way past thinning groups of students to one of the library’s side doors. She pulled away from him to open the door, inside the small lobby were a few students on cellphones who didn’t bother looking up, even the one at the service desk. When Capable slid her ID through the gate, she and Nux went through without any trouble.

“Wow,” he breathed as she led him through the stacks. She turned around and found him staring at the tall shelves of books, his eyes wide and delighted. “Pretty fucking official. You sure it’s ok for me to be here?”

“Yep. Come on, the bathrooms are down a bit.”

“What do you study? Music?” he asked and when she shook her head, he frowned. “How come? I never heard anyone as good as you.”

She laughed off the compliment, but the sincerity of it made her color. “I’m strictly amateur.”

“You’re amazing. Couldn’t stop thinking about you, all week. Slit said he’d shred me if I didn’t shut up.” There was that half-bashful, half-proud expression again. He looked like he was going to say more, but then his face twisted into a grimace and Capable’s heart clenched sympathetically. She promised she’d be quick, and then closed the bathroom door behind her.

---

Show me the prison, show me the jail
Show me the prisoner, whose life has gone stale
And I'll show you a young man
With so many reasons why
And there but for fortune, go you or I
- “There By For Fortune” by Phil Ochs

Chapter Text

Remember when our songs where just like prayers
Like gospel hymns that you called in the air
Come down come down sweet reverence
Unto my simple house and ring
And ring
- "The Stable Song" by Gregory Alan Isakov

---

There were no librarians at the front desk, so she tried the coffee lounge, which was open almost all night. As she waited in line, she listened to the chatter around her. The first time they’d gone out to coffee, they’d clung to Furiosa and spent twenty minutes trying to decipher the menu. Being able to order a coffee by herself had been a weird, but important achievement - Proof that they were still normal, no matter what had happened. When Toast and Dag’s schedules allowed it they’d all meet for coffee, but without her sisters, Capable never hung out alone in the lounge. Unless she had her guitar, crowded places made her feel too lonely, too vulnerable.

Joe’s legacy was the scars he left on them all, and Capable’s were invisible, inside, criss-crossing over lungs and heart and stomach and lower. She had to stop herself at grimacing at the memory of him and when it was her turn in line, asked about the first aid kit. After it was handed over (grudgingly, Capable thought), she ordered a small decaf, and then pointed to one of the school t-shirts hanging up behind the counter.

She knew exactly how much money she had in her wallet, and even though coffee and a shirt would demolish the few bills in there, Capable thought it was worth it. She could make it up quickly enough, anyway. Furiosa hated when she busked, but whenever they needed a little extra, it was the quickest way to get money. She and Dag worked part-time, too, but the laundromat’s steady paychecks went to household bills.

And not to surprisingly sweet War Boys.

With blue eyes.

That perfectly matched the shirt.

She snuck past the librarians, surreptitiously holding the t-shirt over her coffee, and got back to the bathroom as hastily as she could. “Nux?” she called as she rapped her knuckles on the door. “It’s me.”

When he opened the door, she slipped inside. Under the fluorescent light his skin was an unhealthy color, almost jaundiced. He’d cleaned his face off - scrubbed, really, and although the dried blood was gone, the cut on his face still looked bad. But he smiled at her anyway and then looked down at everything she was carrying.

“For you,” she said quickly and held out the shirt. “I thought you might feel better if you blended in more. If you want it, that is. If you don’t -”

“You bought me a shirt?” he asked incredulously and took it with such care that it was almost reverent. “Let me pay you back.”

“It’s ok. It’s a present.”

“Wow. No one’s ever - I mean, don’t know when the last time I got a present was.”

They both smiled and then both looked away. Concern, Capable thought to herself. Just concern and curiosity. There was the shuffle of clothes and Capable glanced over to see Nux shrugging out of his jacket. He dropped it in the sink and reached for the bottom of his t-shirt, pulling it up over his stomach - She snapped her head to the side, focusing on the not terribly clean toilet. The small bathroom was suddenly cramped, and the low ceiling and white walls were unnaturally bright and yet still dingy in the fluorescence.

“Don’t even need to wrap them.” Nux’s voice was pleased and her gaze flickered back to him. He was leaning over the sink, torso bare and pants low on his hips. Everything about him was lithe: long muscles under his pale skin, slender and strong as whipcord. He caught her eye in the mirror and smiled again. “Scars on my face are fine, but I don’t want them fucking up my tattoo. Slit'd kill me if it got ruined.”

He turned around when she didn’t reply, head tilted slightly as he frowned at her. But he didn’t come at her. His body was relaxed, shoulders back and arms loose at his sides. Hands not in fists. And when he spoke again, his voice was low and worried, “You ok? Capable?”

Heart pounding, face hot, knees locked, but it wasn’t fear, she realized. He wasn’t Joe. They weren’t in the Vault. She was not a thing. “Yeah,” she said at last. “Just… looking at your tattoo. It’s pretty.”

“Like it? V8 engine, best there is.”

It was massive, spanning almost his entire chest. Even after he’d told her what it is - car engine of some sort - Capable still couldn’t make sense of it. Or maybe it was just because her thoughts had revved themselves into utter chaos. It started right under his collar bone and Capable followed the lines of it down to where it spread over his chest proper, from nipple to nipple. It was indecent (no, it was her - she was indecent) but she couldn’t stop her eyes from trailing lower to where the tattoo ended over his flat stomach. He brushed his hand over his ribs again experimentally, and Capable stared - gawked really - at that movement, then mercifully reached for his new shirt. A breath she’d hadn’t realized she’d been holding finally escaped her lungs in a rush.

She’d been right about the color: a perfect match for his eyes. Once he was dressed again, Capable held out the first aid kit. She had to clear her throat before she said, “There’s tylenol in there. And antibiotic cream. And I got decaf. Oh, do you drink coffee?”

“Yeah, thanks. Never used to - weren’t supposed to - but now Ace makes it.”

They hadn’t been allowed to, either. Caffeine was a drug, according to Joe, and they had to remain pure. She wondered what else she and Nux shared, if they pulled out lists how many things would be checked off, but instead of pursuing it she asked, “Ace and Slit, they’re your mates?”

“Slit’s my partner. Ace is… not a boss, really, but close to it.”

“You live with them?”

“Yeah. And a bunch of Boys. How about you? Do you live in the city?”

“Sort of on the outskirts. Here.” She passed the coffee and Nux popped the pills. He swallowed and then coughed, scrunching up his face and then unsuccessfully trying to quell it. “Nux! Are you ok?”

“Smeg that’s bitter!”

“One cream, one sugar.”

“Needs four creams, four sugars. At least! Can’t believe you drink it like this - Tastebuds of steel, holy shit.”

A laugh worked its way free from Capable’s tight chest. “I’ll remember that next time. Come on, let’s get something on your cheek so we can get going.”

He took another brave sip, managing not to choke on it. “When’s your class?”

“Pretty soon.”

He rooted through the kit and pulled out the antibiotic cream, then passed it to her. She took it with a perplexed expression and unscrewed the top, and was about to hand it back to him when he bent down - he wanted her to apply it. He trusted her. He trusted her and she trusted him, this remarkable War Boy. She squeezed a cool dollop onto her finger and then passed it and the kit back to him so she could have her hands free. Like she had on the street, Capable gently rested her hand over his cheek, ring and pinky fingers under his jaw, thumb near his mouth. He was warm, smooth, and his pulse was like a drum beat. Nothing she had done with Joe was an intimate as this; it was just touching, and just barely at that, but it felt like more.

Luminous. That was the word that sprang into her mind as she looked at him. His eyes were luminous, not just startling, not just bright. His breath was warm against the curve of her hand, and maybe a little ragged, though that could have been her own. And with those panting breaths came another chaos of thoughts: what was she doing, how did this happen, what would happen if she…?

Before she could answer any of them, Capable gingerly smeared the cream over the cut, tore open a bandage with fingers that had become unusually clumsy, and pressed it over the cut. “There. Still think you should get it looked at, though.”

“Thanks, Capable.”

She’d never been a leader, never a fighter, never anything other than a wanderer who watched instead of doing. But with Nux looking at her like he was, Capable felt like maybe she could - could lead, could fight, could whatever she wanted.

A pounding on the door as loud and insistent as thunder startled them both and they jerked apart. Rescued from that whatever, just like that car horn had done. She jammed his shirt and the first aid kit into her bag and Nux grabbed his jacket, and he flung open the door to a surprised student, who mumbled something and stumbled aside as they burst out.

It wasn’t really all that funny, but when Nux flipped the guy off she couldn’t stifle it any more and started laughing. They had to hush each other when they went by the librarians, both of them slowing down and straightening their backs like they were prim and professional students and not completely crazy. He peered into the coffee lounge when she dropped off the first aid kit, and when Capable glanced around, she thought that he was getting fewer suspicious looks.

Everyone in Citadel City was scarred in their own way. Just like her, just like him.

She paused by the door for a moment and watched him as he drifted around the hall. With his height, it was easy for her to keep track of him, but she felt like her gaze was drawn to him anyway. He was intently inspecting everything: the posters and notices on the wall, the groups of students, and the entrance to the library. He reached in one of his pockets and fished out his phone and with a start she realized she hadn’t replied to Dag’s text. When she pulled her own phone out from her bag, she almost groaned aloud: about ten thousand messages from all of her sisters, and even a few from Furiosa, were blaring up at her.

where are you
if you died ill be so mad
are you okay?????????
call me
call us
where are u?!?!?!
WHERE ARE YOU
did your phone die
are you ok plz call
Capable, you need to text us as soon as you get this.
i heard there were warboys r u ok
Police scanner said there was gang activity near the university.
omg omg omg call us
i swear to god you better be all right or else
Is your phone working?
where are you???

As soon as she sent a text back, another wave of messages came through. Guiltily she read through them and apologized as best as she could. As best as she could without explaining just what she had been doing.

“Everything all right?” Nux asked.

“Just my family checking in. How about you? Someone coming to pick you up?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, at some point.”

“Aren’t they worried that something could happen to you?”

“It was my fault for leaving the car,” he said again. “Served me right.”

“No, that’s bullshit.”

“My fault,” he said with another shrug. “I’m mediocre.”

The way he said it, sad but resigned to it, made her want to reach out and touch him again. Instead she shook her head. “Well, what are you going to do now?”

“Stay with you?” he asked hopefully.

“You want to come to my class?”

“Can I?”

History 101 was a required course and so the class was enormous, held in a lecture hall big enough to fit practically the entire population of freshmen; he could sit in without anyone caring, if they noticed him at all. And she’d have him a little bit longer. “Yeah, if you want. It’ll be boring though.”

“Nah, not if I’m with you.”

And that seemed to settle that. She probably blushed and she was definitely smiling. He followed her up to her classroom and even though they arrived later than she would’ve on any other night, they were easily able to find two seats together. The chairs were carved up with names and dates from other students who’d listened to the ever increasing history of the world, and as Capable pulled out her notebook and pen, she saw Nux trace one of the rough symbols with a long finger. Many students had computers, but not everyone - Too expensive to buy, too liable to be stolen. Citadel City couldn’t afford much in terms of luxury or luck.

Even as she took notes, her gaze was tugged back to him. He had almost delicate cheekbones, high and sharp, and without the jacket on, she could see the length of his neck and the angle where it met his shoulders. He started to scratch at his cheek and she bumped her shoulder against his to stop him. He bumped back, a War Boy apology, and stuffed his hands into his pockets to jingle whatever he kept in there. But his obedience didn’t last and as she flipped the page, she saw him start picking it again.

“Nux,” she whispered chidingly. She grabbed his hand and linked their fingers. “Leave it alone.”

For a moment he gaped at her, then twisted around in his seat to see if that one of the students would call them out for it. But other than the professor explaining about Batu Khan’s raids into eastern Europe, the hall was quiet. A light squeeze brought his attention back to her and Nux ducked his head but didn’t let go. She’d meant just to stop him, purest intentions, really - But a moment passed and then another, the lecture marching on and his fingers still pressed against hers.

His hand was big and warm, and for once she wished her fingers weren’t so callused. His thumb brushed over her knuckle - tentatively, with him looking up to make sure it was alright - and then he squeezed back. They held hands through the entire lecture as the Mongols drove further westward, not letting even when she had to turn a page. When the professor finished and dismissed them, she and Nux stood together and then finally parted with him coughing awkwardly and her suddenly finding a snarl in her hair that desperately needed to be untangled. But then they passed the student who’d chased them out of the bathroom and he glowered at them as they filed out of class, and they united again over a shared snicker.

Outside night had fallen in earnest, and even with the campus’ lights the city was gloomy in its darkness, and she shivered and rubbed at her arms. Nux checked his phone again, and then said apologetically, “Ace’s coming ‘round.”

“I need to get home, too.”

“Let me give you a lift!”

There was something about that that she wasn’t ready for. There would have to be explanations, to him and to Furiosa - and Capable wanted to keep some of that hidden, deep and repressed, for a little bit longer. It was selfish and probably short-sighted, but she’d never had the opportunity to be either before. “Maybe next time.”

His lips turned down in a pout. “And I owe you a drink. And coffee. And a shirt.”

“How about,” she started, and then before she lost her nerve said quickly, “I give you my number? Maybe we can meet up.”

“Yeah!” He practically pranced closer to her so they could trade phones, his an old flip-phone with scratches on its case. When she got hers back, she looked at his entry: NUX, he’d typed in all caps. She giggled a little and he explained with a grin of his own, “So you don’t forget me.”

“You don’t need to worry about that.”

“Good. I mean, cool. So guess I should go.”

“Yeah, me too. Night, Nux.”

“Night, Capable. And thanks. And I think the Mongolian invasion of Bulgaria was chrome. So, yeah. Night. Oh - Hey Capable! Good luck at that music fest!”

He turned back around four times as he walked away, smile bright enough that she swore she could see it even when he was halfway down the block. Before she got on the bus, she texted everyone again: all done, on the bus - love you guys!

All the ride home she practiced conversations with her sisters about Nux, but when she got back, she found a way to omit him completely from her summary of the day, just like deleting the texts she had tried to compose after Giddy’s. She couldn’t hide her happiness though, and after she finished her salad, complete with almonds, she was in a good enough mood that she promised Furiosa she’d wake up early to help with installing insulation. She dropped onto her bed with a sigh and the mattress groaned back under her weight. Half dreaming already she lay there until she suddenly sat up and grabbed at her bag that she’d left on the floor. There, under her books, some crumpled napkins, and her headphones was Nux’s shirt.

She shared a room with Toast, who was still puttering around downstairs. Capable held her breath as she listened for her sister’s footsteps and when she thought it was safe, she pulled the shirt out and jammed it under her pillow. She’d worry about it later, she told herself, and then unsuccessfully tried to go to sleep.

---

The floating boat is carrying me
And I can live my story differently
The greedy sirens are chewing all around me
While I sing oh
- "Sirens Call" by Cats on Trees

Chapter Text

Well I got a hammer
And I got a bell
And I got a song to sing
All over this land.
It's the hammer of Justice
It's the bell of Freedom
It's the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land
- "If I Had A Hammer" by Pete Seeger

---

The banners and flags had brought more color to Kennedy Park than it had probably ever seen before. Surrounded by major streets on all sides, most of its visitors had been pigeons and the homeless who were content to camp in the unpleasant midtown oasis, until the cops chased them back into the alleys or under the highway overpasses at the edge of the city. It’d been chosen as the location for the festival because it was in the middle of everything - so even the people speeding through Citadel City with their windows locked shut could see it, see them. That was the point, Seeds had explained to them when she’d ask them to play. Make some money at it, sure, to fund the cleanup of Citadel River, but more it was more about being seen and being heard, so the cops and City Hall couldn’t ignore them all anymore.

Start with an idea. Put it into words. Shout it out loud. Get other people to hear it. Get other people to say it.

Or sing it.

“Welcome to the first annual Clearwater Festival! We called it a festival to get the paperwork approved, but I think you all know why we’re here. This is about the river and it’s about protesting what the city wants to do to that poor bastard.” Valkyrie’s voice rang over the loudspeaker and a clamor of cheers answered. There were a few students who Capable recognized, and some sign-bearers who were clearly activists, but most of the people in Kennedy Park were in uniform and sunglasses, arms crossed or resting on their hips near their batons and holsters. The peaceful protest had riled the cops in a way that Joe never had - Even on the night he'd died, with the gunfire and the cars, and a whole highway blocked and burning, Max had been the first officer there, and the only one, until others finally crawled out from behind the EMTs and fire trucks.

Cheedo reached instinctively for Dag’s hand and Toast moved in a little closer. Furiosa’s face was already hard and Capable saw the tendons in her neck flex as the woman steered them away from the police and toward a group of friendly faces: most of the Vuvalini had come, and their patched leather jackets and bikes were a welcome sight. Capable let the noise and excitement push away the memories Joe’s death and the riots that took down the remains of his empire. It was a clear day, just breezy enough to keep the clouds moving and banners snapping in the wind like a snare drum's beat. The Vuvalini cheered together – in spite of the police or maybe because of them – and Capable put her fingers in her mouth to whistle along.

We are not things, Angharad had taught them. Things stayed silent. They would not.

Other women in homemade t-shirts – “Water is a human right!” “WWWGD: What would Woody Guthrie do?” “Fight like a girl!” - joined them and names were exchanged over the sounds of the growing crowd.

“Here we go, girls. You ready?” Seeds asked and Dag flashed her a grin.

“Born ready,” she said and beside her Cheedo nodded, though perhaps without Dag's enthusiasm. “Think Citadel City is ready for us?”

“So what do you think of your first protest so far? Like it?” Mari asked, and this time they all nodded. She laughed and clapped Furiosa on the shoulder. “See? This is good for you. You're part of the city – It needs all of us.”

Furiosa grunted at that, but then a ghost of a smile flickered over her face. Her eyes followed Seeds as the woman moved up to the small wooden stage, then moved back to the police along the street, looking for trouble or maybe looking for Max. She wondered what Furiosa was thinking, and wished she could read more in her expression. There was no way she could demand anything from Furiosa, especially not the answers to questions that Capable could barely articulate herself. And there was no point thinking about Nux - The War Boys wouldn’t be caught dead with so many hippies out in full force. And police. So instead she rested her guitar case on the ground so she could clap along with everyone as Seeds joined Valkyrie at the microphone.

“The river should be clean,” she started without preamble, voice ringing over the crinkling speakers, and silence answered her; the whole crowd, from the stoners to the students to the previously unimpressed cops, were listening with an intensity that made the air feel pregnant with expectation. Her silver hair was loose around her face, like a cloud or a cowl – Or a crown, Capable thought suddenly. “What is City Hall going to do about it? Maybe pave it over, bury it under cement and forget it, like City Hall would like to do with me. The water in this river can be more than sewage run-off. It can connect the neighborhoods, and it can connect us. We can clean it and we can save it. We are all citizens of this city, whether we live in midtown in this square or we’re out in Gastown. Don’t turn away! Don’t leave it for someone else! Be that someone.

“The river is a disgrace, you can’t deny it. The filth from the whole damn city runs into it. And this city is dirty! It’s bloated with it.”

Beside her, Capable heard Furiosa inhale sharply and then chuckle a curse.

Seeds’ voice rose over the sounds of traffic. “We got to clean this river, but it won’t be clean until the whole city has been cleaned. Let’s start at City Hall! You know why we call him the People Eater? Because to him, we’re something to be chewed on. But we’re more than that, aren’t we? I ask you, do you want to be more than that fat cat’s next meal? Do you want to clean this city? The river won’t be clean until the city is clean!”

Toast jumped as she applauded and Cheedo and Dag lifted their hands together. “Give ‘em hell, Seeds!” a woman yelled.

“Get up there before the police pull her down,” Furiosa said to Capable, but the command was softened by her grin. “I knew she wouldn't stick to the script.”

Capable grabbed Toast and Dag and Cheedo were quick to follow. Valkyrie hopped back up to Seeds' side, their heads together, and then Seeds turned back to the mic. “Come on up, girls. You young people are the ones who'll inherit whatever's left of Citadel City.”

Dag caught Seeds in a tight embrace and Capable grinned over Seeds’ head. She pulled out her guitar and as she slid the strap over her shoulder, the last bit of uncertain nervousness disappeared, washed away by Seeds' river. The guitar strings were warm already under her fingers like they were waiting for her. The stage wasn't much of one – just some boards they're nailed together in the yard the night before – but it was tall enough for her to feel like she was seeing the whole city. When she glanced at her sisters, their faces were radiant in the afternoon sun. She asked, already knowing the answer, “Ready?”

“Fuck yeah,” Toast breathed.

Capable stepped up to the microphone and inhaled a breath that seemed to fill her up from the toes. “I'm Capable and these are my sisters Toast, Cheedo, and Dag, and we're going to do a few songs for you.”

Dag leaned over to the mic. “Sing along if you know them – Music is meant to be shared. And it’s meant to be loud, right Seeds? Maybe even City Hall will hear us.”

“Anyway, this one's for Angharad.” Capable said as she moved her hands over the frets. “Wish you were here with us.”

Just three songs but they were fucking glorious songs: Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Pete Seeger, comrades-in-arms. They drowned out the thin wail of a police siren and when a some car’s horn blared, they blasted right back. Altogether they were like a choir, and even though they only had Cheedo's tambourine as accompaniment, that was enough. Capable tilted her head back, eyes closed so there was nothing but the sound of them and the tremor of the strings.

We visited a land of a thousand songs
Every garden many shades of green
Still they told us, after peace will come
Such colors then as you have never seen

The songs' lyrics gave her the words she could never seem to find on her own. When she sang them, her sisters strove to meet her, each of their voices strengthening the lines. The applause that followed startled her - she’d forgotten somehow just where they were - and she took a step backward, then Dag’s hand was warm on her back, gently pushing her forward again to take a bow.

“We did it!” Cheedo squealed. She jumped down from the little stage and then caught Dag as she followed, and the crowd parted enough for the two of them to make a loopy spin. Capable kept her guitar on her back, hand on the neck as she hopped down too, case knocking on her knees.

“You were all amazing,” she said to them and the four of them pressed together again.

“Who’d ever think we’d do something like this?” Cheedo asked with quiet awe. Her dark eyes were wide and still dancing with excitement. They laughed and jumbled their answers together between their hugs. Furiosa appeared and was sucked into their dance, but she laughed along, too, for once. They finally moved away from the stage to let the other Vuvalini climb up - Mari, then Stega, then Seeds and Valkyrie again. They shouted themselves hoarse, and as evening finally dimmed the sky, they almost collapsed against each other in exhaustion. They had to take apart the stage and haul trash away, but with the other women helping, it didn’t take long. Most of the police had finally retreated and the few that loitered around stayed on the other side of the street. Capable watched them as she untied balloons from a scraggly tree. Her fingers froze with the strings tangled around and she only just grabbed them before the balloons escaped and floated away - She thought she saw Max in a group of cops, a flash of his face, the shadow of his stocky body. She didn’t call out but she hoped he had come, if only to check on them.

Next time they’d drag him along, she decided. Maybe he’d get up on stage with them. Furiosa could manage it, and probably without holding a gun at his back.

They still managed to sing all the way home in Furiosa’s pick-up truck, Toast in the front at the radio dial while Dag and Cheedo hung out of the windows. Capable was in the middle - her favorite seat, surrounding on both sides by her sisters - and strummed along to a ridiculous pop song older even than Furiosa and hollered about fine looking boys and summer romances. When they finally got back to Green Place, there was a rush and a fight for the shower. Capable went to her room to wait it out; it was convenient distraction and she was going to take advantage of it.

She huddled under her blanket with her phone. The screen lit up her face as she scrolled down to Nux’s number.

hey nux its capable

There. Sent. Couldn’t be retracted. She exhaled a giggling breath and kicked her feet like she was a kid, but she couldn’t help it. It was probably left over energy from the festival, she rationalized. Nothing to it. It was just a text, just four words that barely said anything at all. But looking at them still made her heart swoop around in her ribs and she rolled over to bury her face in her pillow. Under which, she remembered belatedly, was still Nux’s shirt.

Capable groaned, but that turned into a giggle too. She flipped around again and went back to the text screen. Looking at her message, she suddenly was struck by how stupid it was an opener. Of course it was her. He had her contact info already. She should’ve thought of something funny to write - but she’d never been quick at that like Toast - or something bolder.

She had to write more.

hope youre doing better!
let me know next time youre in the city
maybe we can get coffee

She debated between “coffee” and “drinks” for a good two minutes, deleting one word to replace it with the other. Finally, swearing to herself as she did it, she decided on coffee - safer - and sent the text. She went diligently through all the smiley faces to find the perfect one then flung her phone away in disgust. And then grabbed it and pulled it back under the blanket with her.

And waited for him to reply.

In the morning she woke up before her alarm. Without even having to look her hand found her phone on the dresser next to her bed. He probably hadn’t gotten back to her, she tried to convince herself. But her heart was still doing the same goofy cartwheels despite the warning.

“Come on,” she whispered to herself and she didn’t quite cross her fingers, but her toes did curl a little in anticipation.

But nothing was waiting for her. No new messages, no missed calls, nothing but an icon for her alarm. When she opened up the text screen, there were just her four lines, a partial poem that looked more inane the more she looked at it. She dropped the phone back on the dresser and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands.

She kept checking through her shower, getting the phone dangerously wet. And then breakfast, shoveling eggs toward her mouth while her eyes stayed riveted to the black screen. And then on the bus, turning it on every thirty seconds in case a text came in and she missed the sound of it somehow. And then at work, folding a shirt, checking her phone, matching socks, checking her phone. She almost called Dag to ask what she thought - Dag would be the most sympathetic, but Cheedo would probably get the most excited. Toast would roll her eyes. Angharad would’ve had the best advice of course. Capable’s phone slid out from her fingers and she rested her head in her hands, the messy tendrils of her hair curling around arms like bangles. Or cuffs. The washers and driers whirled along, and Capable pressed her cheek to the cool counter as she listened to them humming to themselves as they worked.

The laundromat wasn’t a bad place to work. The boring repetition of it could be soothing, especially when it was empty and she had time to tackle for homework. But everyone apparently decided to do their laundry at the same time and her afternoon was busy, but it kept her from brooding. W hen her shift ended, she glanced at the clock in surprise and wondered where her day had gone. She collected her books and shoved them in her bag along with her phone, which she didn’t bother checking, then waved at her replacement. Arriving at school she sat at the front of the class, right in front of her professor, and filled each page of her notebook determined not to get distracted.

Even without a second cup of coffee - she was still budgeting her money - Capable felt jumpy and out of sorts. There was a mixture of feelings bubbling around in her, a brew that she couldn’t quite identify.

“Play for a while,” Furiosa suggested after dinner and Capable crawled onto the roof with her electric guitar plugged into her duct-taped amp, and felt better with its cool weight on her lap.

If she played loud enough, maybe Angharad would hear her.

And maybe Nux would, too.

---

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
- “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell

Chapter Text

Well sometimes you can't change and you can't choose
And sometimes it seems you gain less than you lose
Now we've got holes in our hearts
Yeah we got holes in our lives
Well we've got holes, we got holes
But we carry on
- “Hole” by Passenger

---

It felt like it took an eternity for her voice to recover from the festival. That hoarseness was bad enough, but her unanswered texts to Nux were a buzzing disappointment that she couldn’t banish. Maybe separately they were issues that she could manage, but together they were a dual torture. Her thoughts and feelings were muddled, a mangled mess that she couldn’t untangle. It was a relief to everyone in the house when she could sing well enough to bring her guitar with her to school; Furiosa didn’t even try to stop her from busking.

“I’m leaving!” Capable called out as she stood on the porch. She’d been too impatient to do much with her hair, so it was already escaping her messy bun. She batted at it inefficiently, unwilling to spend any more time on it. Or on anything that wasn’t music. “I’ll text when I’m on the bus!”

“Hey, wait for me; I’m coming too.” Toast appeared on the other side of the door. “We have class tonight anyway.”

Some of her agitation dissipated at that. She’d only been mugged once in the city, and it hadn’t been when busking, but it was nice to have someone there with her. “You sure?”

“Yeah. And I’m in the mood to make some money.”

Toast’s casual insistence coaxed a smile back to Capable’s face. On the bus they said little to each other, but just sitting together was comfort enough. Capable looked absently out the window at the street. The buildings grew and the spaces between them shrunk, and there were more cars honking along side the bus as they got closer to the city. At one bus stop a group of women with strollers climbed aboard with slow chaos, and Toast and Capable gave up their seats to one harried mother who closed her eyes as soon as she dropped onto the bench.

There were no War Boys running around outside of Entity Memorial, though a pair of Rock Riders on motorcycles screamed down the street. Toast made a disgusted noise and shook her head while Capable waited at the top of the stairs of the subway to see if any cars gave chase, but nothing followed them other than a few angry curses from pedestrians who had to jump back on the curb.

Nothing, no one. Which was easier to deal with, she thought and swallowed hard against the lump in her throat.

“You coming?” Toast asked curiously and Capable stepped down the stairs behind her.

The acoustics in the subway were more grand than they had any right to be. It was a concert hall of broken tiles and spilled garbage cans, with an audience in blurry constant motion, and a percussion produced for free by the trains that passed by on their rusting rails. She was singing an old Dylan song, relishing the low echo of it as the tune slipped away through the corridor. It’d been a very deliberate choice; once again she was relying on someone else’s words, but she told herself that that was one of folk music’s purposes: to share and find strength in that sharing. So Capable did, and Toast must have picked up on it, because for once she didn’t complain about him.

I don't want to fake you out
Take or shake or forsake you out
I ain't lookin' for you to feel like me
See like me or be like me
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

Toast’s voice, strong and sweet, rose with hers, and Capable’s old guitar vibrated with the song’s mellow melody, and when the three of them reached the end, they turned the last lines into a plea. They got some coins and even a couple of bills for their performance, and some smiles that Capable always counted as earnings. She thought they had made enough to pay off Nux’s shirt and coffee, but that was if she claimed all the money for herself. Whenever any of her sisters busked with her, they always split what they earned. She wasn’t done singing anyway, the music calming - or maybe just drowning out - the tumult in her chest. Her fingers continued to strum the chords of the song, a canorous autopilot, while she debated what song to play.

“Joan Baez?” she suggested, and Toast nodded. “Which one...”

Her question faltered and faded. A tall figure in black had appeared on the stairs to the subway. But almost instantly Capable knew that he wasn’t Nux. It was something she felt, a blossoming of heat that then went cold - War Boy.

The War Boy who stared at them would have been intimidating even without the Glasgow grin that twisted across his face. Each of his heavy steps reverberating and his expression grew darker the closer he got, changing from surprise to irritation. A college kid busy with his phone almost walked into him but looked up at the last second and practically plastered himself back against the wall as the War Boy strode by.

He stopped in front of them, arms crossed over his massive chest. And he was massive - Nux was tall, but this War Boy big. Hulking. And angry.

“You’re that girl,” he said accusingly. Capable silenced her guitar and glanced at Toast, whose hand was already reaching into her bag for her pepper spray. He didn’t wait for her to reply, just jammed a finger in her direction. “Stay away from Nux.”

“Nux!” His name came out unbidden, almost a yelp of surprise. She clenched the guitar’s neck and the strings dug into her palm, but the pain of it cut through her bewilderment. “Is he ok?”

“Just leave him the fuck alone.”

“Why? Is he here? What’s going on?”

“He’s not supposed to fuck around with street trash.”

“Fuck off, War Boy,” Toast snapped. She stood up and moved in front of Capable, and Capable could see the canister of pepper spray bulging in her back pocket, but the War Boy just scoffed. His gaze drifted between them and then he chuckled, and the scars lifted his grin up until it was a sneer.

“Yeah? Think you can take me, kid? You gonna shoot me or what? Better have something stronger than mace in your purse.”

“It’s ok. Just give me a second.” Capable whispered as she grabbed the hem of Toast’s shirt. “You’re Slit,” Capable said to the Boy, and naming him made his dark brows lower even more. At his glare she knew that she was right - This was Nux’s Slit, and now she had two of them named, two faces out of that mass of anonymity. There was a sort of power in knowing, in naming, at least according to Dag. It wasn’t quite intimate - they were standing in a subway station, with commuters gawking and cockroaches by the trash - but it was important. Meaningful. She stifled her urge to be polite and introduce Toast - If Toast wanted to give him her name, that was her choice, not Capable’s.

“What’s it to you?”

“I thought Nux was your friend.”

“Friend,” he repeated, trying out the word. “Nah. You don’t know shit about War Boys.”

“You don’t know shit about us!” Toast hurled back.

“Partner,” Capable amended and this time he grudgingly nodded. “So why’d you leave him behind the other night?”

Slit frowned, but it seemed to Capable that it was more out of confusion than anger. He hadn’t made any moves toward them, which she supposed was a small miracle, though she softened that thought with another: that if he was Nux’s friend, he couldn’t be all that bad. And even though he was scary as hell, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him - empathy and sympathy together. Nux’s scars were nothing compared to Slit’s, and it had to be close to impossible for him to have any semblance of normalcy with his face a physical testament to the War Boy brutality. But it was brutality inflicted on him.

When he didn’t answer, she tried again, “We just talked for a while. Why do you care?”

“Look, just go back to wherever the hell you came from and leave us alone.” Slit growled.

“You leave us alone, War Boy.” Toast said and then turned toward Capable. “Let’s go. You know you can’t reason with them.”

“They aren’t all bad,” she said to both of them. Seeds’ words came back to her then, the woman’s voice ringing through her thoughts: The river wouldn’t be clean until the city was clean. No one would be free until everyone was free. She looked away from Slit’s face, dropping her gaze to the CDs she was selling, which were in a short tower by her guitar case. She swooped down and grabbed one and then held it out to him. “Here. Give this to him, will you?”

“No.”

“I want him to have it. He can toss it if he wants. Will you give it to him?”

“I’m not paying for-”

“It’s a present. Please, Slit.”

“Come on.” Toast’s voice was sharp with irritation. “This is pointless. Can we just leave and pretend we never ran into this asshole?”

At that he snatched the CD out of her hand and stuffed into one of his pockets. With another murderous glance at her he turned and stalked off. Capable wanted to call him back, but like Toast said, it was pointless. Maybe she didn’t understand Nux as well as she thought. Maybe she didn’t understand War Boys at all.

Capable plucked a few notes but then her hand sagged away from her guitar. She couldn’t summon the energy to start singing again. “I know, I know,” she said; she didn’t need to look up to know that Toast was staring intently at her. “It’s… complicated. Or maybe just weird.”

“So you met a War Boy.”

“Nux.” It was important for him to have a name.

“And he didn’t hurt you? Scare you?”

She shook her head. “He’s actually really nice. He was at Giddy’s the other week and we talked a little. And then I ran into him at school.”

“The night you didn’t text us back. We all knew something had happened.” She scrubbed her hands through her short hair then cursed a little, something that might’ve even shocked Slit. Without looking at Capable, Toast collected the money they’d earned and stuffed it into a pocket in her bag. Finally she sighed and asked in a low voice, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Capable had been lowering her guitar back into its case but at that she paused. Like the guitar itself, the case was old and worn, imprinted with faded remnants of stickers that the previous owner had plastered pell-mell along the sides. After Furiosa had gotten Capable and her sisters out, she’d given them money and they’d divided it five ways. Cheedo used hers for acting lessons, Dag had gone on a spree at the city’s one nursery, Toast bought a bike, and Capable had gone back to the music store that she had loved as a kid and bought the two cheapest, working, used guitars and new strings. The owner hadn’t remembered her, but he’d tossed in the old case for free, the first kindness that a stranger had showed them. They’d teased each other about their purchases until Cheedo had asked what they were going to do with Angharad’s money. In the end they’d opened a savings account, where it sat untouched, making her a tiny percentage of a cent as the months rolled by.

She snapped the case shut and heaved it up, and Toast grabbed her little chair and her bag. “Do we have enough for coffee?” she asked in a forced cheerful voice as she collected the rest of the CDs and Toast nodded.

“We’d have more if you didn’t give your CDs away,” Toast replied, a joke that didn’t quite make her smile, but Capable almost sagged in relief at it anyway.

They went into the university to the coffee lounge, but instead of sitting inside, they drifted around until they found an empty bench near the library. Having a drink in her hand was comforting somehow, maybe because it gave her something else to look at, and Capable finally started to search for the words that had been evading her since Giddy’s. She got tea for once, as though she’d find an answer in the leaves like Dag pretended to do. She told Toast the whole story, or at least most of it, stumbling over the part where he had taken off his shirt and how she’d reacted.

“He doesn’t know who I am, Toast. I’m just some girl he met. We talked about random stuff and it was so easy, like… like… It wasn’t lying and it wasn’t pretending. Joe just never came up and it was fine. I was fine. He was fine - I can’t believe how sweet he was. He has to be our age, but you should’ve seen him in the library. It was like I’d taken him to - I don’t know, where do War Boys go for fun? And he takes his coffee with four sugars and four milks. They weren’t allowed coffee either, you know. Angharad was right. I think she was right.”

The words had spilled out in a hurry but once she’d said Angharad’s name, Capable slowed down and then stopped. There weren’t many trees on campus, but she thought she could still hear the wind in the leaves, the rustle of branches reaching up for the bit of sunlight that made it through the skyline. Voices and traffic made up most of the university’s soundtrack, and then there were footsteps on the pavement, the slam of the library’s doors, someone’s too loud stereo in a nearby apartment. Not quite music, but not a cacophony. Just life. A world that she was part of again, with everything that came with it.

Toast tapped her heels against Capable’s guitar case. She said quietly, but with her usual firmness, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yeah,” Capable said, and the word came out like a sigh. “I don’t know why. I tried to tell you guys, but I didn’t know how.”

“Worried about Furiosa?”

“No, not really. I guess a little bit; I don’t want her to feel like she wasted all this time and put herself in so much danger and here I am going back to that life. But it was more… It was - Smeg.”

Toast rested her coffee on the guitar case and then slapped her hands on her thighs. “All right, turn around,” she commanded. “Sideways.”

Capable obeyed and then felt Toast’s hands on her hair, pulling out the tie and then combing her fingers through Capable’s long, loose curls. She rested her forehead against her knees and closed her eyes for a moment, then reached into her bag to find her brush. “Thanks,” she said as she passed it to Toast, who hummed in response.

“You don’t need to explain, Capable. I shouldn’t have asked. Not my business.”

“No, I want you guys to know. And it is your business, sort of, since he’s a War Boy.” She tried again, fumbling towards an explanation, “And that’s sort of part of the reason I liked talking to him.”

“Why?”

She’d been mulling over the enigma of it. “Because we’re coming from sort of the same place, there are things that don’t need to be explained, you know?”

“I guess.”

“Oh my god, what if I brought him home? How would I explain that? ‘Hey everybody, meet my kamicrazy gangster boyfriend: he has a chest tattoo, enjoys long walks on the beach and shivving strangers in bars, and hopes to one day die in a car crash. Furiosa, please don’t punch his face in.’”

Toast snorted but didn’t say anything to that. The pressure and scratch of the brush was almost unbearably soothing and some of the tension finally eased out of Capable shoulders. She might have been able to fall asleep right on the bench, but the unspoken words still haunted her, practically banging in her ears. Her fingers itched for her guitar but she laced them over her legs instead.

“I’m so lucky to have you guys. You’re so important to me. It wasn’t that I was trying to forget about you or that I didn’t want Nux to know. I just… it was just nice to have someone who wanted to talk to me and Joe never figured into it.”

“Listen, you can have your own life. You do have your own life. And you can do whatever you want.” Toast paused, stuck on a particularly bad tangle, then added in a sharper tone, “Just keep yourself out of trouble.”

“You and Slit are reading way too much into this. He hasn’t even texted me back. I’ll probably never see him again.”

“Which is a good thing.”

“Yeah. I know. I just… I love you all, you know that? If I didn’t have you, I don’t know what would’ve happened. Who do you think the Nux has?”

Toast finished putting Capable’s hair into a neat braid and sat back. “War Boys don’t need anyone.”

“You think so?”

“I don’t know. I try not to think about them.”

The sun had moved behind one of Citadel City’s skyscrapers and its shadow sliced down the street and across the library’s courtyard. There was still time before class, but Capable didn’t want to be productive and go inside to study. She looked up at the sky, still blue and unclouded, then back down at her tea and popped off the top of the cup. The dregs of tea leaves unsurprisingly gave her no advice. “I can’t stop thinking about him. If he needs help, then I want him to know that he can get it.”

“Tall sad boys in black are your aesthetic, are they?”

Toast’s reply was flippant, but Capable smiled and replied in the same snarky tone, “My next song is going to be about saving humanity by undressing boys and feeling up their broken ribs.”

“I smell a number one hit.”

She chuckled and swallowed the last bitter mouthful of cold tea. She felt better, or at least quieter. “Thanks for listening, Toast.”

“Probably would have been better if you’d had Cheedo or Dag. But you and Slit got stuck with me today.”

She reached over and gently touched Toast’s knee. “Are you ok?”

“Me? Yeah. Why?”

“He didn’t scare you, did he? Slit?” Capable pressed. Toast shook her head and Capable exhaled a breath of relief. She said, returning to their teasing tone, “Poor guy probably doesn’t know what hit him.”

“If I was taller I would’ve.”

She snorted a laugh. After a while Toast pulled out a book and Capable leaned on her shoulder to read along. They complained about homework and then about their professor’s slides and how useless they were as study aids, careful to keep the topic light and safely on school. But Capable’s thoughts kept returning to Nux. For once class was unbearably long but she somehow found the willpower to keep from checking her phone until she was back in bed.

There was still no reply to her messages.

“Go to sleep,” Toast commanded from her side of the room. “I can hear you worrying from here.”

Capable groaned into her pillow but tried to obey. It was a long time before she finally fell asleep.

---

Time for me has very far to go
I will go if you would take me
I have never had a lover
I am young but I am so alone
We spent the whole night talking
But in the gold of morning…
- “A Long Time Ago” by Jim Croce

Chapter Text

And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but the grace of you go I
- “Kathy's Song” by Simon & Garfunkel

---

She brought Nux’s tshirt with her to work. It was an overabundance of caution but Capable couldn’t talk herself into just tossing into the hamper with the rest of their dirty clothes. So rather than washing it at home, it came with her again, once more stuffed into her bag. On the bus her hand snaked down until she closed around it, the material worn soft and the loose threads along the hems tickling her knuckles.

When she started a load of darks, she pulled his shirt out of her bag, intending to add it surreptitiously. Standing in front of the open washing machine, Capable turned the shirt over in her hands and then drew it close. There was the faint smell of smoke, gasoline, the metallic tang of blood, and under those scents was something warm, something dark - if scents could have a color. She stood for a moment, breathing him in, and then dropped it in. It was an unsatisfying ending.

After she was finally done with work for the day, she took the bus uptown to St. George’s Hospital and found a spot to sit on the low wall outside the emergency room entrance. Ambulances yowled as they sped in and out, a similarly steady stream of doctors and nurses poured in and out, rushing for a cigarette break by the doors before hurriedly following the EMTs back inside.

She wasn’t there long, maybe five minutes, when she heard someone call her name. Cheedo ran down the sidewalk with her hair streaming behind her. “Sorry - sorry! Rehearsal went late and then I couldn’t get a bus.”

Capable caught her with a laugh. “You’re still in costume!”

“I didn’t want to be even more late. I don’t look crazy, do I? I mean, at least this skirt is sort of normal, right?”

She was dressed as a 1940s gal Friday, in a pencil skirt, bright red lipstick, and hair pulled back in a not-quite period appropriate ponytail. She looked older, mature, and radiantly happy. “Gorgeous,” Capable said and Cheedo winked a smoky eye at her.

They went past the trauma center, through oncology, up to the long-term care ward, Cheedo’s heels clicking as they walked down the long halls to Angharad’s room. The disinfectant covered the scent of blood and urine, but it was a mask that kept slipping. The hospital was like a sickly patient itself, with groans and alarms that resounded in a constant hum of noise. She, her sisters, and Furiosa bore it; there wasn’t ever any other option. They couldn’t leave Angharad in a new prison alone.

Cheedo tapped on the door before they entered. Angharad was as still as she had been the night they’d brought her in. The machines monitoring her lifesigns beeped tonelessly as each second blipped by, and if she strained her ears, Capable could hear Angharad’s steady breaths. The small clock radio on the bedside table quietly played some violin piece, and the thin strains of the strings mercifully covered up the other sounds of the hospital.

“Hey, Angharad. Sorry we’re late. Don’t blame Capable - It’s all my fault.” She kissed Angharad’s waxy forehead and then turned off the music so that Angharad could focus on them.

“Hi, Angharad,” Capable said softly as she picked up Angharad’s hand. Her sister’s fingers twitched in response - a good sign, Angharad’s team of doctors had assured them. “We didn’t mean to keep you waiting.”

A nurse had said, casually and meant to be comforting, how peacefully Angharad was sleeping. The offhand comment had made Capable lurch up from her chair and if Furiosa hadn’t held her back, she might have hit something - or someone. It wasn’t sleep, it was a limbo that Joe had put Angharad in. Put them all in, waiting endlessly for Angharad to wake from her coma, but as the seasons came and went outside the small window, Angharad was the only thing in their lives that didn’t change.

“Dag and Seeds were here already, right?” Cheedo asked she pulled her chair closer..

Capable nodded. There was always a vase of flowers by Angharad’s bed, and Dag brought new blossoms every time she came, switching the faded flowers with new cuts. “Yeah, but it’s about time to move her again. You practice though. We haven’t heard you in costume.”

“It’ll sound exactly the same.”

“Go on.” She urged with a smile.

“Ok. Hold on, give me a second to get ready.”

Capable squeezed Angharad’s fingers and then slowly, gingerly, bent Angharad’s arm, bringing her hand up to touch her shoulder. One time, two times, three, four, all the way to ten. With an ease perfected through countless repetitions, she flipped up the blanket and sheet, put one hand under Angharad’s knee and one hand on Angharad’s thin thigh, then drew her leg up, two, three, repeating the exercises that would keep Angharad’s muscles from atrophying. Afterward she turned Angharad onto her side, all while watching Cheedo’s flickering expressions as she recited her lines.

Gone was Cheedo’s hesitancy. She marched across the room, hands on her hips or crossed haughtily over her chest, and snapped her lines. When she finished, she smiled hopefully, much younger once again, and asked breathlessly, “So, how was it?”

“You’ve made so much progress, Cheedo. The way you move, the way you change your voice - You’re becoming a real actor.”

She hopped up and down a little, heels tapping, then sat again and took Angharad’s other hand. “It is better in costume,” she admitted. “Angharad, you need to wake up so you can see me.”

They talked about Cheedo’s director and his ongoing divorce woes, then about what sort of floors they wanted to put in the living room in Furiosa’s third renovation. The houses were coming along well, and Furiosa was hoping to start renting one out to students by the start of the next school year; they were looking forward to having more neighbors. The empty houses had almost seemed haunted at first, weird shells that creaked and moaned in the wind, and Dag freaked them out with her stories about spirits and monsters who lived under old porches. Furiosa's approach to it was pragmatic, of course: more people meant more lights on at night. They were debating the cost of solar panels when Cheedo’s phone buzzed and she reached for it with an apologetic smile.

“It’s my director,” she explained quickly before she picked it up.

Capable tried not to listen in to Cheedo’s murmured conversation, busying herself with rearranging Angharad’s gown and blankets, but then Cheedo waved at her to get her attention. “They got a camera, and they want to do a run-through and record it. Something about us seeing ourselves from the outside. Anyway, can I go?”

“If you need to go, then yeah, of course, Cheedo. You don’t need to ask my permission.”

“You don’t think I’m ditching you two?”

“Of course not!”

She flashed a smile and then said excitedly into her phone, “Ok, I’ll be there.” After she hung up, Cheedo took Angharad’s hand again. “I’m the worst but I need to go. I promise I’ll be back tomorrow. And I’ll do your nails. Night, Angharad. Love you.”

“Text when you get there.”

“I always do.” She dropped a kiss on Capable’s forehead before she left the room.

Capable slid her chair in closer to the bed. “It’s been awhile since we’ve had any time alone together,” she said as she combed her fingers through Angharad’s hair. Oily and short, nothing like it had been at Joe’s. “You heard all about the festival - It was amazing, but it would have been better with you there. Other than that, things have been… There are so many things I want to talk to you about. And I need your advice. I really need it.”

Angharad’s chest rose, but the beeps and blips of her machines were the only noises in the room.

“Come on. Please wake up. I need you so badly,” she whispered, clenching Angharad’s hand tightly, maybe even painfully so. Capable’s fingers were rough, with scraped knuckles and house paint under her nails, ink smudged on the tips and a hangnail she’d been picking on; Angharad’s were skeletal, so pale that Capable could see the delicate network of Angharad’s veins.

“It’s ok. When you’re ready, I’ll be here.” Blinking a few times cleared her eyes, and Capable sighed and relaxed her grip. Keep it upbeat, that had been one of the many instructions from the doctors, so Capable plastered a smile on her face and forced a lightness into her tone. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to you about Nux. I should have told you as soon as I met him - at this point, it’s probably moot. I have his shirt. I know, that sounds weird. And it is. I’m not sure what to do with it. I washed it at work and now it’s in my bag. I shouldn’t have taken it and I definitely shouldn’t have kept it. I haven’t been able to get in touch with him, though. He’s a War Boy, Angharad. But maybe that’s ok, right? You gave Furiosa a chance. You gave us all a chance.

“Last time I saw him, I really thought that maybe… When we held hands - I know! I didn’t tell Toast about that part because I thought she’d probably gag herself to death - it felt like… Like Mimi and Joan sound, you know that part: ‘There is no choir like their song...’ He has eyes like the ocean, Angharad. Or the sky as the sun rises, that blue after the pinks fade. Cerulean. Or azure.”

She leaned back in her chair, a real smile on her lips. “I sound like I’m sixteen, don’t I? Well, anyway, I have some reading to do. Time to be an adult. Want to hear about the social basis of democracy? I started reading on the bus and here’s a shocker: not the most exciting thing I’ve ever read. I still like the class though. And Seeds is coming in to talk when we do social roles. Maybe she’ll let us sing a song or two.”

Her textbook was used and the cover white around the edges; it’d been considerably cheaper than buying new and had the added bonus of previous students’ helpful underlining and notes. She turned to her assigned reading (“Damn the Man Save the Citadel!” said the note in the margin) and started to read it aloud. She’d just finished the first chapter when her phone beeped. And then beeped. And beeped. “Hold on, Angharad. I want to make sure something didn’t happen. I hope Cheedo’s…” Capable trailed off and then let out a squeak of excitement. “Angharad - It’s Nux!”

hey its nux how r u new number!!
old phon got
busted shit neway
how ws ur thing
music thing? for water? were u awesome
ur cds shine as fuck!!!
so thnks!!

Giggling through her grin, Capable read each text aloud. “So maybe he didn’t get my texts at all. That makes me feel ridiculously better. And Slit did give him the CD; Toast didn’t think he would. Ok, replying!”

nux! hey! good to hear from you! :)
i’m great and the music fest was fun
glad slit gave you the cd
tell him thanks!
are you ok? are you feeling better?

“That sounded ok, right? Oh wow, I can’t believe he got back to me! Ok, ok. Maybe I should’ve been more enthusiastic. More smiley faces? So should I ask him out? Oh wait, here’s another text.” He must have been waiting for her reply, because he responded almost instantly.

im good now!!
u in th city?
want to get coffe
or dinner or see a movie or jst drive i can drive u newhere
watevr u want

For days she’d been staring at her unacknowledged texts to him and now she had more messages than Furiosa had sent her in all the months they’d lived together. She laughed and shook her head in a combination of joy and utter disbelief. Her fingers moved swiftly over the displayed keyboard, but then she stopped and looked into Angharad’s face. “Can I go? I don’t think it’ll be long. In fact, I promise that it won’t be. But I want to see him. I want to see him so badly that I can’t think about anything else. Is that ok?”

She’d never been tempted before. Temptation required more than what she’d always had - it needed freedom, it needed something to gamble. That was a dark thought: maybe she only wanted him because now she had things to lose, maybe she was self-destructing in a death drive. But it didn’t feel like she was in danger of losing anything. On the contrary, the world was opening up. Again she stroked Angharad’s placid forehead and then, after a quiet moment, she reached for her phone.

yeah it’d be great to see you!
there’s a good coffee place by st george hospital
corner of sixel and mccarthy
i think its called marcy’s mug
that sound alright?

yeh!! ill be there in 20
or less

She laughed again and sent him one more text: stick to the speed limit!

“I’m going to get ready. I wish he’d given me some warning - Shit, I look like I just woke up!” She popped into the tiny bathroom and quickly looked at her reflection. Her hair was still mostly contained in its two long braids. She was in Dag’s tank top, a flower print that was faded but still nice, and when she rolled up the sleeves of her sweater, she could hide its stretched-out cuffs. Her jeans were mostly clean and the tears in both knees were still pretty small. She washed her face and then darted back out to grab her bag; there was cover-up and lipstick in the pockets somewhere, and after rummaging through everything she found them and applied both more quickly than correctly, but at least she didn’t have lipstick on her teeth.

“I’m going to text Toast,” she said, and then read her message aloud as she typed it. “‘Getting coffee with Nux. Wish me luck!’ Oh, and Cheedo: ‘Are you at rehearsal yet?’ There, ok I’m all set. Ok. All set. So set.”

She had already made it to the door when she came back and put her arms around her sister. “This is a real date; I never thought I’d go on one. When I come back, I’ll tell you all about it. See you soon, Angharad. I love you.”

There was no point in hurrying - she had more than enough time to beat Nux there - but Capable couldn’t slow herself down. Once she was out of the hospital she strode down the sidewalk, barely registering the faces of the other people around her. Her thoughts flew along at the same speed as her feet. A date! With Nux!

Because it served the ever thirsty legion of doctors and nurses, Marcy’s Mug had enough money to lift it up from coffee joint to cafe. There were tables outside with umbrellas and flowers, and inside they sold artwork along with their drinks, strange modern art pieces that Dag and Toast always snickered over. Capable stood outside, phone in hand, and debated where she should wait. By the curb? She decided that might be too desperate and went inside just as a couple left their table - right by the door. It was a small miracle, a good sign for things to come she hoped, and she claimed it, not bothering to hide her triumphant smile.

And then she was waiting again, tapping her fingers on the table, then on her knees in a sort of rhythm that would wreck havoc on a song. Cheedo replied at long last - there at rehearsal again, safe and sound - and the distraction of her text was a relief, but one that didn’t last long and then she was back to the sweet torture of waiting. Approximately thousand years had passed before she saw him, but there he was on the sidewalk - it felt like another miracle. He had his jacket under his arm, but was otherwise in his black War Boy gear. The smile grew until her cheeks hurt from it and when he opened the door, the little bell in the frame chiming for his arrival, she got up without thinking.

“Capable!”

“Hey! Nux!”

There was an exhilaration in her happiness, a plucked string vibrating clear and clarion, and she was at the door so quickly that he had to stop in the frame or risk running into her. They stood in the doorway, close enough that with one movement they’d be touching, but instead they grinned at each other.

“You look a lot better,” she said. The bruise around his eye was just a faded smudge of purple and the cut had closed; his eyes were as bright as ever. “That’s good. I’m glad.”

“You look shine. You always look shine.”

“You look shine,” she said back. The compliment made him blush, and if possible, his smile grew larger. When they moved inside, he stood by her shoulder, tall without towering, and they stared at the menu.

“I’ve never actually been out for coffee,” he admitted.

She grinned up at him and thought again of the first time Furiosa had taken them out for coffee - at this place, after visiting Angharad. “This is your lucky day. I think this place makes more kinds of coffee than anywhere else in the city.”

“My lucky day,” he repeated. “So what are you thinking?”

“It’s too late for caffeine for me,” she said as she read through the menu. Herbal tea of some sort, she decided, and one of the cheaper options. “Chamomile tea. How about you?”

“Damn, don’t know what half these things are.”

Nux’s eyes followed her finger as she pointed and explained, “Espresso is small but very strong. You might like a latte; it’s light and has a lot of milk in it. Or a cappuccino, which is different from a latte but I don’t really know how. Something to do with how much milk is in it. Oh, mochas are good. They’re coffee and chocolate. I get those sometimes.”

“Sweet?”

“Yep, just the way you like it.”

“Cool. And I’m getting this, ok, Capable?”

“You sure?” she asked and his nod was emphatic. She slid back into her seat and let herself bask in the sunshine of that smile, warm as though she already had her hot tea. The barista recoiled at Nux’s approach and Capable half rose again to go to him - She wasn’t sure what she would do, either comfort him or the barista, but he didn’t notice or didn’t care, because he turned around his smile was wide and easy as ever.

“You want sugar? Milk?” he called.

“No, I’m good.”

He sauntered back with their order, and Capable chuckled at how pleased with himself he was. First time in a coffee shop was so far a success. They both leaned forward when he pulled off the lid to his mocha and their eyes met over the steam. The real test had begun: would Nux like his order?

“Ready?” she asked and he put on an exaggerated brave face. “Come on; you can do this.”

“If I die, you can have my wrenches.” A cautious sip, Capable’s bated breath, and then his verdict: “Wow. Damn. Good.”

She sat back in relief and curled her hands around the warmth of her tea. He propped his chin up on one hand and looked back at her, eyes tracing the messy curls of her braids then down her unraveling sweater. She wondered if he was nervous being seen with her, like he’d been at the university, and then realized that she wasn’t - wasn’t nervous, wasn’t anxious, and while she had waited, she hadn’t even remembered how much she disliked being in crowded places. For a few moments they were content to sit and drink, but only for a little while - They both wanted to talk to each other, wanted to hear.

Nux tilted his head as he looked at her and gave her another smile, a soft one that made her almost wiggle in her seat. “It’s really good to see you again. I’ve been thinking about you all week. And listening to your CD. The song about blackbirds? I don’t know how many times I listened to that one. A shit ton.”

“I’m really glad you like it.”

“Are you in a band? How’d you even do it?”

“I plug my guitar and a mic into my computer.” Nothing fancy, though Nux looked impressed. She leaned forward again and confided, “I really want to record in a studio, with a full band and engineers and producers and everything. And a bass drum with my band name on it.”

It was a silly daydream and Nux breathed a chuckle, but then he nodded and said with a firmness that seemed to settle it, “You will. Capable and the... Hex Keys. Wish I could’ve seen you play again. You going back to Giddy’s soon?”

“Mm, maybe. I play there once a month or so. I’ll let you know.”

“Could you play in a place like this?”

“Coffee shops are good places for shows,” she said as she looked around. Giddy had a bulletin board for help-wanted ads, lost pet notices, and for Capable to hang her hand-made flyers. Other than the pieces of confusing art for sale, Marcy’s Mug’s walls were bare. “Maybe I’ll see if the one at school lets people play.”

“Couldn’t see you there,” he complained. “How about the next time you’re in the subway?”

“Ah yes, the most exclusive venue in town,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll try to save you a ticket. So what have you been up to?”

He sank back in his seat and his pockets clanked against the chair. “Nothing interesting.”

“What happened to your phone?”

“It was just a burner. Wasn’t supposed to keep it so long anyway.”

“A burner?”

“Burners are meant to be tossed, so they can’t be traced,” he explained and she couldn’t help but furrow her brows. “But I have this one now. Bought it myself so they can’t say shit about it.”

She was frowning now. It was a hell of a statement for her to unpack and he’d said it so casually. She asked tentatively, hoping that her train of thought had led her astray, “You got in trouble, didn’t you? The night at school? That’s why Slit was so angry with me.”

Rules. She knew about rules.

“I should’ve stayed with the car,” he said, the same excuse he’d given her before.

She reached across the table to cover his hand with her own. Angharad would have known what to say to him, but Capable couldn’t think of a rousing speech. Angharad had been their champion, not her. She sighed and instead asked gently, “Can’t you leave? Joe’s dead, why are there still even War Boys?”

“Leave? That’s… I don’t know. There’s always been War Boys.”

“What about before Joe?”

It was his turn to be confounded. Nux shook his head but didn’t try to argue against her questions. Instead he stared at their hands, then turned his over under hers so that her fingertips rested against his wide palm. “Meant to ask you about this before,” he said, tapping his thumb on the tattoo on her finger. “I like it.”

She had wanted to press on about the War Boys, but there was also part of her that was relieved that he’d changed the subject. “Thanks. It’s not as impressive as yours, but it means a lot to me. My sister did it. She got her hands on a tattoo machine for my birthday. It’s my astrological sign: Gemini. I was born right on the cusp; apparently I’m more like a Cancer. She’s into that sort of stuff.”

It had been a shitty birthday, but Dag had salvaged it with just four lines. Under Angharad’s flashlight Dag’s hair was as white a full moon; she had bent down, cooling the bleeding marks with her breath, and when she’d released Capable’s hand, there was a symbol from the stars on Capable's skin. A ward.

He stroked her knuckles, sending shivers of pleasure up her arm. “Slit used to do tattoos, too.” He added dolefully, “We had needles and ink at Joe’s. Gone now, and we can’t afford a new machine. All our stuff is gone - Cops took it all when they closed down the Pits.”

She could have jumped in then, but Capable kept her mouth closed and any words - to change the subject, to set him straight, to stop the whole conversation - died in her throat. After a moment Nux continued, and when he did the tone of his voice was different: hard, razor-edged, a War Boy’s voice.

“If I catch the bastards that did that to him - Left him on the street… We almost did, me and Slit. Came up route four, got ahead of the car. We were so close. If I’d smashed it like I was supposed it, taken out that boss, then I would’ve saved him.”

“He deserved it.”

“Die on the pavement like roadkill? He owned this city; it’s gone to rust without him. He was glorious, best of us. ”

“He was just a dirty old man.”

“You don’t know-”

“I was there. I know what happened.” She lifted her eyes, meeting his. Toast would have made it into a challenge, and maybe Dag would have too, but all Capable felt was a well of sadness pooling in her. She’d known at some point she’d have to say it out loud, but until that moment, Capable had underestimated how much it needed to be said. She inhaled a sharp breath and then said, “I was one of his girls. We left him. He came after us. The cars crashed.”

The staccato speech was met with silence.

“At first it was fine - I’d never had so many clothes or food like that or anyone who listened, cared, wanted me. At first… And then…”

“He took care of us,” Nux insisted. “Made us shine. Made the city shine.”

“He used us.” She focused on her tea intently, intensely, but couldn’t fight back the sensation that everyone in the cafe had stopped to stare at her. She pulled her hand out from his and then, lurching out of her seat, she grabbed her bag and moved blindly to the door. “I need to get out of here.”

If he said something to that, she didn’t hear it. She ran across the road heedless of the lights and kept going up Sixel Street, back to the hospital, where she never should have left.

---

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone
- “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

Chapter Text

Oh my mind is like an old tilt-a-whirl
It never seems to stop not even for this girl
And I'd like to think that my life could be
A whole lot better off if you were here with me
- "Tilt a Whirl" by The Railsplitters

---

The hospital’s sliding doors opened obediently, sweeping aside as she moved jerkily through them. She hurried through the trauma center and then her feet slowed, slowed, stopped. Capable leaned against the wall and covered her face; under her fingers her forehead was hot and slippery with sweat. “Shit.”

She shifted her bag onto her other shoulder and then remembered with a pang that she still had Nux’s shirt tucked inside. She opened her bag and looked down at it, folded still somewhat neatly between her psychology and sociology textbooks. If she turned around and went back, would he still be there? What would she say to him? Maybe she’d just open the door and fling it at him.

Her feelings were jumbled again, twisted around themselves. She was angry, but mostly she was sad, and the two emotions were too tangled for her to unravel and set right. And she hated it all, those feelings that had muddled themselves into a morass, her inability to do anything but run, her helpless, hapless failings and flailings in the face of any adversity. This time Angharad couldn’t save her, she thought darkly, even as she hurried back to her sister.

It hadn’t been his fault, not really, and that was another remorseful rumination. Hadn’t she said that much to Toast? Capable groaned another curse and rubbed the heels of her palms against her eyes. Even if she didn’t go back to the coffee shop, she could send him a text. But what would she say?

“Capable! Hey, Capable - Wait!”

Nux. He’d come after her.

Another voice, gruff and surly blared over Nux’s. “Whoa, kid, where do you think you’re going?”

“Come on - I’m not doing anything.”

“I don’t think so, Boy.”

“I just need to talk to that girl right there. Five fucking minutes. It’s important.”

“Do I need to call for backup?”

“Look, there’s this girl and I have to talk to her. I’m not carrying. You want to frisk me?” Nux’s voice was growing louder and she could hear the anger edging into it.

“I want you to get the hell out of my hospital.”

“This is bullshit!”

Capable spun on her heel and marched swiftly back toward the trauma center. Over the guard’s shoulder she saw Nux, teeth bared as he growled. The two of them were blocking the hall; orderlies wheeled their patients awkwardly by, murmuring apologies that neither Nux nor the guard acknowledged. Capable felt her own irritation flare at them and their eager foray into violence, especially a place supposedly for healing. She slipped around the guard and took Nux’s arm firmly in her own. “He’s with me. We’re here to see my sister.”

“Yeah, I’m with her,” he repeated smugly, motioning at her with the cup in his hand.

Nux had been tense, the muscles in his arm hard, but she felt him relax under her hand. The guard’s eyes darted back and forth between them but before he had a chance to argue, she dragged Nux along behind her, down the hall until they turned safely around a corner.

Once it was clear that the guard hadn’t followed, she dropped Nux’s arm and stepped away. “What do you want, Nux?”

“You left your tea. Didn’t want it to go to waste. And, look. I’m sorry.” He shuffled his feet - they were both looking at his boots, staring as if in fascination - and then said in a low but urgent voice, “I said something stupid and pissed you off.”

There was a light, hesitant touch on her shoulder and she looked up into his earnest face.

“Want to hit me? You can.”

“I’m not going to hit you, Nux.” Joke or not, the suggestion of it made Capable weary and forlorn. She could feel his fingers move and there was a gentle tug on the wisps of her hair that had escaped from her braids. “Do you even know what you’re apologizing for?”

His hand slid away. “For making you upset.”

“It’s not just that.”

There was a long pause, pregnant with both of their anxiety and disappointment. He was waiting for her to explain but instead she pulled out his shirt. “Here, before I forget: I have your shirt. I washed it.”

“Thanks. I was hoping you’d have it. So… Are you ok? You’re not sick, right? Or hurt?”

She shook her head and a relieved smile spread across his face. When she started walking again, he fell in beside her, shortening his long strides to keep pace with her. He shrugged off his jacket, but like at the university, but there were still curious looks from patients and their families. Maybe the attention made him nervous, or else it was the hospital itself, because he walked so close to her that they brushed against each other’s arms with every few steps. She explained as they reached the elevators, “My sister's here.”

“Thought maybe you made that up. Is she alright?”

“She’s here because of Joe.”

“Shit,” he breathed. “So it’s true.”

The look she gave him must have been withering because he almost retreated back down the hallway to the guard. “You didn’t believe me?”

“No! It’s just… A lot to take in. What was it like? You know, with Joe?” When she sighed, he quickly added, “You don’t have to tell me.”

For a moment they waited in silence, listening to the old elevator creak slowly toward their floor. There were only two other people waiting, busy with their own sorrows, but she still kept her voice quiet when she said, “He kept wanting more.”

She pressed the down arrow again, as if that would summon the elevator faster. “I’d been in foster care; he knew no one would miss me. No one would rescue me. We moved in, dropped out of school, quit our jobs. He took our phones - why did we need to talk to anyone else? And our money - he’d buy us what we needed.

“When Angharad got pregnant, he wouldn’t let her get an abortion. It was his, he said, like some piece of property.”

She heard the things in his pockets clink as he shifted. When the elevator finally dinged its arrival and open the doors, she stepped inside and Nux stayed rooted in place.

“But you owed him. He gave you stuff -”

The doors started to close but Capable shoved them open again and the elevator chirped sadly. “He took, Nux! It was never about giving.”

Nux’s eyebrows were drawn low and his jaw set stubbornly. “But it all belonged to him - the phone, the money, the baby. You were his -”

“I am not a thing!” she snapped and saw his eyes widened in surprise before he ducked his head down. She wondered if he was expecting her to hit him, even after she said she wouldn’t, and she added in a softer tone, “And neither are you. We’re… stardust.”

She’d recited the lyric because nothing else had come to mind, and it came out lame and limping. “We are golden. We are billion years old carbon.” But then, as she finished the line, Capable felt something inside of her lighten. If she had her guitar…

Again the elevator tried to close its doors; Nux stuck his foot in and pushed them back open. “Stardust?”

She heaved a sigh that blew her loose hair out of her face. She said slowly, musing through it, “We didn’t think it was that bad at first. We didn’t know because Joe wouldn’t let us know. He took so much from us that we couldn’t even tell how much we’d lost.”

“So that’s what stardust means?”

“No,” she said with a gentle smile. “It’s part of a song: ‘We are stardust.’ We’re made out of particles that were created when the universe was born. You’re made from the same things that stars are made of, Nux.”

“No shit?” His eyes were still wide and bewildered, but a smile was already being coaxed back to his face.

“Pretty shiny, right?” This time when the elevator doors tried to close, they both put their hands up to push them back. “Come with me; maybe you should meet Angharad.”

Soon enough they were back where Capable had started, inside the small room where Angharad had waited motionless and silent. Nux exhaled quiet exclamation of disbelief when he saw her, a curse under his breath that Capable felt on the back of her neck more than heard. She said as she moved inside, “This is Angharad. When the cars crashed, she got thrown out, too. Joe died but the EMTs got to her in time.”

Nothing had changed, Capable knew that - Angharad was still in the same position in her bed, and the same symphony of machine blips and beeps played in the background. But having Nux with her made everything feel different. She glanced over her shoulder at him, he was frozen in the doorway. If only he had met Angharad before, she thought, and ached for that impossible reality.

“She’s in a coma?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah. Hi, Angharad. I’m back, just like I promised. Sorry it took me so long. And I brought Nux with me.”

“She can hear you?”

Capable nodded. “She’s going to wake up someday,” she said fiercely. “Until she does, we take care of her. She saved me, Nux. Joe called her ‘Splendid,’ and coming from him it was gross, but she was. She was splendid. Is.”

“You said she was pregnant, right? Did she…”

“Lost it.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, the simple words soft and low. “I didn’t know. That night, we were just going after the guy that stole from Joe. I didn’t know,” he repeated helplessly, then added in a harder voice, “I should’ve.”

“Now you do.”

“Yeah. You weren’t hurt that night, were you?”

The distress was clear in his voice and as he waited for her to reply, she could feel tension radiate from him. Did War Boys have regrets? Toast and Furiosa would probably argue against it, but when she turned to look over her shoulder at him, his face was tight, pale with worry. Did War Boys have regrets about being War Boys? She caught his eye, shook her head. “No, not really.”

“And there were more of you, right? We heard that Joe had a lot of girls.”

“A harem?” she asked, and the word twisted in her mouth like a snake, venomous and cold. She picked up Angharad’s hand and squeezed it. “Yeah, there were others.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “You don’t want to talk about it, do you? And I’m asking questions like an asshole. I just never knew about… A lot of fucking things.” He stepped closer to Angharad, leaning against the bar on her bed, and studied her placid face. “You don’t really look alike for sisters.”

“We aren’t really. At least, we’re not actually blood-related. But we went through so much that it made us closer than friends. We’re family now.”

“Got bashed up together, right? Mix your blood together, that makes you blood brothers. Sisters.”

Maybe War Boys were family, too. Slit had objected to being referred to as Nux’s “friend,” she recalled, and wondered how much of their lives the War Boys had given to their gang.

“I’ve never been in a room like this. Brought Boys to the ER a couple of times, but never stuck around. We had a doctor, sort of; not that he did us much good.” He drifted around the bed over to the table and gingerly touched Dag’s flowers, his long fingers following the length of the leaves and lingering on the curves of the petals. Glancing out the window, he said, “Hey, it’s getting dark out. You want a ride home?”

“No, I’m going to stay here a little longer. Thanks for coming up, though. And listening. Want me to show you the way out?”

“Come on, you don’t need to thank me.” He snorted a disbelieving laugh, dismissing her offer and gratitude with a shake of his head. “I’ll wait for you, Capable. Whenever you’re ready.”

“I don’t usually stay that late.” She pulled out her phone to check on the time and read her sisters’ updates. She should tell them, she thought to herself, but instead she stood up. Her anger had faded, leaving her tired and empty. “I’m going to go heat this tea back up - I’ll be right back.”

“Want me to stay with her?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, Capable. I should talk to her, right? Do you want me to hold her hand, too, like you were?”

Warmth spread through her chest, filling up those empty parts, and she nodded mutely for a moment before she was able to speak. “Yeah. Thanks, Nux. That’d be sweet of you.”

She heard his voice before she closed the door behind her. “Hi, Angharad. My name’s Nux. Hey, want to hear about the time I drove a Dodge Monaco through a mall?”

---

When they left, the sky was dark and the street lights were mostly on. The ER hadn’t slowed at all, and ambulances with their sirens blaring sped in and out of the hospital. They walked side by side, close enough that she could have caught his hand in her own, but instead she crossed her arms over her chest.

“So, what kind of car do you have?” she asked, looking at him with a grin. “Something with flames painted on the side, right? With monster-truck wheels? Or maybe hydraulics?”

“Nah, it’s a minivan for me. That spacious interior is perfect for toting Boys, sliding doors so nothing gets slammed, and who can beat that reliable transmission.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Fuck yeah! Wait until you see her, Capable - Built her myself. A Monte Carlo SS, 1983, V8 engine, 425 hp at 5,800 and max torque of 440 at 4,600 rpm. No flames on the side.”

“What was I thinking! Too tacky, obviously.”

“Obviously! Racing stripes are way fucking better. And there she is. A beaut, right?”

The car was red with two black stripes along its body. Nux ran up to it and practically hugged it, long arms stretched over the roof, and grinned when Capable laughed. “You should’ve seen her before,” he said with a sigh. “Had to make a lot of changes to get her street legal. Used to race her down Route 91.”

He opened her door with a flourish. There were a couple of cigarette burns on the seat and the carpeting under her feet were worn through in places, but the car still managed to glow somehow. Suddenly she thought about her guitar, and all the hours she’d spent replacing the neck, how often she polished the old wood of its body. He waited intently for her judgment and she put her hands on her hips and nodded.

“A beaut,” she proclaimed and Nux was positively jubilant.

“What is it with War Boys and cars?” she teased once they were inside and he leaned against the steering wheel as he thought.

“They’re glorious. They can run forever, if you treat them right. Anything can be fixed, you know, just need to work on it. When I sit here, it feels like me and her, we can go wherever we want. Best driver, you know. No one can catch us.”

He rubbed at the back of his neck, hiding his face from her with his arm, and then started the car. It purred to life and then they were grinning at each other again, bashfulness forgotten.

“Seat belts?” she asked as she skimmed over the seat to find it. “Please tell me your death car has seat belts.”

“You’re safe with me, promise.”

She didn’t have a response to that other than blushing, so Capable just pulled her bag onto her lap and tried to convince herself that the car had airbags in it somewhere. Once they were moving she opened her window and let the wind pull her hair out of her face. “Nice ride!” she told him as they glided through the traffic, nothing like Furiosa’s grumbling truck, and Nux’s wide grin was bright in the dark.

On the way she told him about Green Place and the houses. It impressed him that she’d learned how to hang drywall and install sinks, and when they stopped at a light she flexed her arms and he whistled appreciatively, even though he probably couldn’t see much of anything through her sweater. As they got closer to her part of town, Capable took out her phone. She texted Toast first: nux is giving me a ride home. what are you guys up to?

When Toast didn’t reply, Capable opened her list of contacts and stared at the numbers, then tapped Furiosa’s name and held the phone to her ear. As the phone rang, she contemplated what she’d say and how she’d say it. Casual? Apologetic? But no one picked up and after a number of rings, it went to Furiosa’s voice mail. She hung up without leaving a message and went back to the text screen.

hey furiosa
i’m getting a ride home from nux
do you know him? from before?
he’s a war boy
but maybe not so much anymore

It’s a quick ride in a car, nothing like her labyrinthian bus commute. Nux hadn’t been boasting - well, boasting yes, but lying no - that he was a good driver and his car was as responsive and smooth as he’d said. They zoomed across town, potholes barely registering and traffic nonexistent, and when they turned onto Green Place, something like disappointment that the night was over - as weird and wild as it had been - wound its way through her.

Her phone chirped. Toast had replied: maybe we can all go out for ice cream after dinner

The sarcasm dripped off every letter.

And then, in practically no time at all, she was home. When she pointed to their house, Nux stared and whistled again. The house was solid, dependable, and austere. They’d painted the exterior over the span of one long, hot weekend, all of them and the Vuvalini crew on ladders, exhausting hours of work that left them all paint-splattered and sunburned. Her hands had gotten so blistered that she couldn’t play for a tortuous week. They were supposed to do shutters too, but so far they hadn’t gotten around to it and so the windows were just white-lined eyes, wide and bare. More and more flowers were appearing along the steps and the porch thanks to Dag and her green thumb. There was no truck in the driveway - Furiosa was out somewhere - and Capable was relieved that she had a little more time to think of what she’d say to Furiosa’s stoic face.

“Thanks for the ride,” she said as she climbed out. He came around the front and they stood together on the sidewalk, and again she thought about how close they were and how small a movement it would take to bridge the gap between them.

“Anytime. Anywhere you want to go.” He shuffled his feet and took a step closer - they were only inches apart now, and if she leaned forward and tilted up her chin she’d be close enough for a kiss.

“I should probably get going,” she said with a forced laugh and he nodded.

“Yeah, me too. Told my mates I was just getting coffee.”

“Oh, damn. Are you going to get in trouble?”

“Don’t care.”

“Nux.”

“Worth it.”

“For coffee?”

“And you. So, yeah. I’m gonna go.”

“Thanks again, Nux.”

“Thank you, Capable. I had a really good time.”

“Me too.”

“You sure? Took a few shitty turns back there.”

“Yeah.” There was no denying that. “Well, means the next date will have to be better, right?”

He looked as though he wanted to believe but didn’t quite dare to do so, those amazing eyes thoughtful and lips slowly parting to argue the point, but then he just grinned and shook his head. “Good. Shine. Well, good night.”

“Night.” She waved before she started the walk up to the house. On the steps she turned around and waved a second time to Nux, who was still on the sidewalk. They had replaced the bulbs in the lampposts themselves, but even with them and the porch light on, the street seemed to be swallowed by the darkness. In his black clothes, Nux looked like a shadow against the red backdrop of his car, a tall, thin slice of night.

“So that’s the illustrious War Boy himself.” Toast’s voice drifted from inside the house. “Not inviting him in?”

A pair of headlights appeared in the dark down the road, brightening as they came closer. Capable watched them and saw Nux do the same. “Maybe next…” she started to reply to Toast, but when the headlights came closer and she recognized Furiosa’s truck, she trailed off into silence.

It happened fast, a movie running at double time. Furiosa’s truck driving up onto the lawn, door opening, Furiosa charging out with a roar. “War Boy!”

Nux raised his fists, and then he was exactly what Furiosa had screamed: was a War Boy and not Nux at all. Furiosa ran shoulder-first into him and they crashed to the sidewalk, banging, swearing, scrambling together. Furiosa was up first, arm pulled back, but Nux got a knee up into her stomach and Furiosa grunted and slammed into the side of his car.

“What the fuck-” Toast’s voice snapped Capable back to reality - this wasn’t some film she was watching - and as her sister shoved past her, Capable started to move too.

But Nux and Furiosa were faster. Furiosa clocked him with her elbow and he smacked against the pavement again. Then she was reaching, racing, rushing towards something that Capable couldn’t see in the dark. Nux caught her around the middle and yanked her back and then stretched over her, Furiosa yelling under him, and he pulled something out from the underside his car.

And Capable still couldn’t see, couldn’t understand until -

BANG.

A gun. He had a gun.

Furiosa punched him again, Nux fell back, the gun skittered over the sidewalk. Toast dove for it and Capable started running again, Dag was suddenly at her side. They fumbled for Nux together, caught him, pulled him off Furiosa and he stumbled back with them, his leg legs jerking out from under Furiosa. Her hair was damp and wild around her face, in her eyes, in her mouth, getting pulled by Dag.The three of them crashed together and then he twisted - Dag swearing as she tried to get ahold of him again.

“Give me the gun!” Furiosa shouted the command.

Toast’s wild eyes met Capable’s. “No!” Toast yelled back and bolted backwards, shielding herself behind the truck.

But he wasn’t trying to escape. Nux was suddenly facing her. “You ok? Didn’t get hit? Capable -” He was dripping with blood, splattering it on her as he cupped her face, slid his hands over her shoulders, pressed his palms over her ribs.

“It’s ok,” she said to him, to Dag, to Furiosa, who had rolled to her side and was climbing back to her feet.

He flipped over again so that her arms were around his chest, his back against her breasts, and the top of his head under her chin. When Furiosa rose above them, he made a noise - a growl, low and wet, and Capable tightened her grip on him.

Dag scrambled to her feet and Toast walked cautiously over. Her eyes still on him, Furiosa held out her hand and Toast relinquished the gun, careful to keep the barrel pointed down. Furiosa ejected the magazine and then with another click, the bullet in the chamber popped out.

“Boss,” he said tentatively and Capable, Dag, and Toast stared at Furiosa who grunted.

“Not anymore,” Furiosa said, but her voice was tired, no longer menacing. Her steps back to her truck were deliberate, slow. As she climbed into the driver’s seat she added, “Get him inside. We’re not done.”

She backed the truck off the lawn, Dag clicking her tongue unhappily as the tires left even deeper grooves in the grass. Toast started up the stairs first without a look back at them and finally, after brushing leaves off her long skirt, Dag meandered behind her. Nux stood and pulled Capable up with him, but even as they clung together his attention was on Furiosa, riveted to her as she steered the truck into the driveway then walked into the house.

When Capable said his name he finally turned back to her. His grin was sharp and savage, but as she stared, it drooped into a timid smile. His nose was still bleeding, and the scarlet blood washing over his mouth, chin, and throat was a gruesome war paint. The sight of it made her queasy, stomach turning sour and jumping, and she took a step away from him.

War Boy.

What if he’d gotten to the gun sooner? What if Furiosa had? What if Toast hadn’t held onto it? What had she staked her sisters’ safety on?

“Furiosa. Can’t fucking believe it’s Furiosa. She stole - she rescued you that night. We thought she was doing a coup. Ace was pulling for her, always. He’s going to blow a gasket when he finds out where she is.”

She caught his sleeve. “No, Nux, you can’t tell him. Please don’t tell him - Or anyone.”

“What?” he asked incredulously. “Don’t know why, but if that’s what you want, then yeah, sure. Promise. Are you sure you’re ok?”

“Just a little shaken up. I didn’t think that would happen. Wow, that’s an understatement. Shit.” She laughed and leaned forward, hands on her knees, while blood rushed to her head. “Holy shit. Wow. Didn’t think I’d ever have to deal with this sort of stuff again. What about you? Are you ok? Is your nose broken?”

He sniffled and scrubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. “No, don’t think so. Punched in the face by Furiosa. Fucking chrome.”

Capable led him up the stairs and into the house; he hurriedly pulled his boots off at the door when he saw her kick off her shoes. No socks, she noticed but didn’t comment and brought him to the bathroom in the back of the house. She left him to clean up and hurried back outside to his car and reach through the open passenger side’s window and grabbed his spare tshirt off the back seat. Light glimmered off something on the sidewalk and she frowned at it for a second before she realized it was a shell. She left it there and ran back up the stairs.

He left his bloody shirt in the bathroom sink and pulled his clean one carefully over his face. She grabbed the box of tissues on the toilet for him, and still sniffing and wiping at his nose, he trailed after her as she brought him to the kitchen, where everyone else had gathered. Their kitchen table was really too small for all of them to sit at once. Capable liked their crowded dinners, with everyone huddled together, cups and forks being unintentionally shared. The walls had been cracked and lumpy with poor repairs when they had moved in, the entire first floor the same yellowing color, and every surface gray under dust, dirt, and dead insects. But they’d cleaned, fixed, painted, altogether while Seeds’ old transistor played in the background. There was still a long crack running through the molding in the living room, and the first-floor shower dripped no matter how matter how many times they tightened the head.

It was perfect. It was home.

Only Dag sat at the kitchen table now; Toast had hoisted herself onto the counter and Furiosa leaned against the sink, framed by the miniature jungle of Dag’s pots of herbs. Capable opened the freezer and grabbed a bag of frozen peas, their go-to icepack, and handed it to Nux. When she pulled out a chair, Nux hurriedly followed her, scooting closer until his knee bumped into her thigh.

“This is Nux. Nux, this is Toast and Dag, and we have another sister who’s out right now. And obviously you know Furiosa. They’re my family.”

There were no pleasantries from Furiosa. She asked without preamble, “You supposed to shoot on sight?”

“No orders from anyone. No one to give orders.”

“So why’d you do it?”

“You’re Furiosa,” he said, like that explained everything. “I was in the front when you took down Prime. You’d just gotten your arm and he thought it was your weak spot, right? Thought he had you then, but you hit him hard, fast, in the stomach - one two - and then when he dropped, you came up with the bolt cutters and bam! Champion, right there.”

When no one else joined his cheering, Nux sank back in his chair. He pressed the bag of peas against the side of his nose, covering most of his face. “You came at me, I was on your turf. Figured you’d blow off my head if I wasn’t quick.”

Furiosa nodded at that, unsurprised and uninsulted.

“Shoot first and asked questions later?” Dag asked archly, and both Nux and Furiosa looked back with bland acceptance of that judgement. Of course that’s what they’d do. That’s what War Boys did.

“Also figured,” Nux said, lowering the peas, eyes darting over to Capable before returning to Furiosa, “taking you down would be glorious. Wipe my old reputation.”

“So you’re a trophy hunter.”

“A driver.”

Furiosa finally moved her stare away and made a noise that was something between a snort and a sigh. “Where do you live?”

“Gas Town. One of Joe’s.”

“Garage?” Furiosa asked and Nux nodded. “You work there?”

“Yeah.”

“Legit?”

“Mostly. Under the table.”

“Course. With who?”

“No boss, just Ace.”

He’d said that name before, and Capable glanced at Furiosa, expecting to see a reaction, but Furiosa’s cool stare didn’t falter.

“And his crew?” Furiosa prompted.

“Your crew,” he replied and she glowered at that so he amended, “his crew: Morsov, Dred, Rotor, Mack. And Slit.”

Furiosa tilted her head towards Capable. “How much did you tell him?”

“Not much. A little about me and Angharad. I took him up to meet her.”

Dag made a humming noise at that and Toast tapped her heels on the cabinet.

Nux shifted in his seat, stretching and then trying to fold his long legs under the table. His bare feet were as pale as the tile under them. “You were all…You all escaped from Joe?”

“A delicate way to put it.” Toast murmured and glanced at Dag to check before answering, “Yeah.”

There were a few more questions as they all tested the water. Nothing deep, nothing that could pull up memories that they weren’t ready for yet. But there was still a tenseness in the air and when Capable, Dag, and Toast’s phone buzzed, they all jerked in surprise. Dag got to her phone first and chuckled as she read it. “Cheedo just left rehearsal. Won’t she be mad that she missed all this?” Before anyone could reply, she held the phone up to her ear. “Hey my brilliant baby Bergman. How did the taping go? Mm, I bet. Tell your bus driver to hurry up because we have something that defies expectation sitting at our kitchen table.”

“You want Cheedo to meet him?” Furiosa asked when she’d hung up and Dag shrugged.

“She’s a big girl; she can handle him.”

“You trust him?”

“I trust Capable. And Capable seems to trust him, or else she wouldn’t have brought him here.”

It had been foolish to think she could convert him with a few folk songs, that they could be wielded like they were magic spells instead of a few bars of old music. Optimistically foolish, and she have known better, especially considering her past and her experience with men. With War Boys. It had been so easy for her to justify Nux - his identity, his past, his loyalties that he had wrapped himself up in and etched permanently into him - and perhaps she should have been more perturbed at how quickly she had been the one to convert, to believe him and believe in him. But as Capable sat at their worn little table with four pairs of eyes weighing on her, none of the panic she’d felt at the coffee shop returned. There was guilt, yes, at scaring them and anger at herself for not preparing them, but no shame, and that was crucial. She wasn’t ashamed of her hope in him.

“I want to trust him,” Capable pronounced. So much time spent on surviving, on getting what she needed. Maybe there was room now for wanting, as flawed as that could be.

“Backfired.” Furiosa said pointedly. There was no sarcasm there, just a bare fact, but Dag clucked disapprovingly anyway.

“I told Capable I wouldn’t tell Ace or anyone about you. And I won’t - I swear it.” He looked plaintively at Capable. “I didn’t know you were Capable’s boss now - won’t do anything like that again.”

“Not a boss,” Furiosa repeated and Nux leaned forward eagerly, gripping the edge of the table with one of his blood-smudged hands.

“You can be. Should be. Ace thought you’d come back to take over. Everything’s gone to shit, but you could clean it up. Hell, even Slit would follow you. You’re the best, Boss, better than Rictus or Prime or the two of them together.”

“No.”

“But you could fix it!”

With one long stride Furiosa was at the table. She brought her fist down hard with a bang and Nux’s pile of bloody tissues rolled out of their pyramid and dropped onto the floor. His hand flew up, open, submissive, and he quickly averted his eyes.

“Right, right. Sure, course. Sorry, Boss.”

Furiosa rubbed at her forehead, and Capable could see wrinkles there. She reached forward and touched the wrist of Furiosa’s prosthesis. Furiosa’s gaze flickered down and then with a sigh, she said, “Long day. Here, your gun.”

She opened a drawer and took out Nux’s gun and magazine, laying them both on the table.

“You can keep them,” he said instantly.

“How’d you explain where you lost them?” Furiosa pressed and Nux reluctantly picked them up and shoved deep into his pockets. She turned around, a hand on the back of head, running through the short spikes of her hair. “Be next door for a bit,” she said as she walked out the back door and down the steps.

Toast and Dag looked back at Capable who sighed and slouched in her chair. “That went…”

“Shitty,” said Toast. “Are you really surprised? I told you so. You told me so. I think your exact words were ‘Furiosa, please don’t punch his face in.’”

“Very prophetic,” Dag murmured. “He’s making puppy-dog eyes at you, Cape. Black-dog eyes. A veritable Cwn Annwn and all the ill omens it entails.”

“I should go.” Nux surged to his feet and Toast and Dag both leaned back instinctively. He almost banged his head on the light hanging over the table, ducking quickly and then swooping down to collect all of the tissues on the floor. The package of peas went into his pocket, followed by the tissues. Boots on, out the door, down the steps all in silence with Capable behind him, but once they were back at his car, Nux came to a stop and titled his head back as he heaved a sigh.

“Fuck me,” he said and Capable knew exactly how he felt. “I should have apologized to your sisters. And said goodbye to them. And thanked them too, I guess.”

Capable ran her hands through her hair. Most of it was out of the braids now, she could feel it hanging limply around her face, and she probably looked as exhausted as she felt. She hadn’t bothered with her sneakers and under her feet the grass was cold. Even with her sweater she was chilly, the sweat from the day’s commotion drying into clamminess.

She thought about what she’d said to Furiosa, how she wanted to trust Nux. That had been an honest response, a real one, and it had stemmed from a true feeling. A true desire. “Hey, I want to ask you something. Can I…”

Nux jumped in when she trailed off. “Yeah, course.”

“You don’t even know what I was going to ask.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll do whatever you want.”

“No, Nux, you get to decide. You can say no.”

The concept of verbalizing what they wanted, of speaking it aloud, having it heard - He looked at her like she was speaking in some foreign tongue, his dark eyebrows scrunched and lips pressed and dipping down. “Ok, shoot.”

It was a good theory, of course. But actually saying it out loud… She flushed and had to force herself to meet his eyes. “Can I hug you?”

“Yeah.” He opened his arms and she sagged against his chest. Solid, strong, warm under her, and when she closed her eyes she focused on the scent of him: blood (again; they really needed to stop making that a part of their dates), car exhaust, the richness of clove smoke, and then him. Nux. He made a noise that she felt rumble in his chest and then his chin was on the top of her head; when he rubbed his cheek against her hair she hummed her approval and nuzzled into closer. HIs heartbeat, steady and thrumming, was as soothing as a song.

There was a roughness to his voice when he spoke. “I’m sorry, Capable. I knew I was a fuck-up, but didn’t know just how big of a one I am. This is nice. You’re nice. Better than that, better than chrome. And, look, I don’t think… Maybe I should leave you alone. I’m a War Boy.”

“You’re not.”

“Am though.”

“Well, you’re not just a War Boy. You bought me tea, you were sweet to Angharad, you’re holding me right now. You’re giving me reasons to think you as something more, do you see that?”

His response to that was a sigh. She let him go and he moved toward his car, dragging his fingers on the hood as he walked to the driver’s side. He sat behind the wheel for a moment and then looked out the window at her. “I want to see you again. Is that ok? You can say no.”

“Thanks for asking, Nux. Yeah, I want to see you again.”

The grin was back in full force. “Don’t deserve it. But I’ll fucking take it.”

She gave him a small wave as he drove away and then strolled slowly through the grass, over the grooves, over to the house where Furiosa was banging furiously away. Capable jumped over the broken steps onto the porch and then stuck her head through the open door. “Furiosa!” she yelled and finally the hammering stopped.

How was she going to apologize? She had joked about it with Toast, but maybe Capable had crossed a line. What words were enough to acknowledge that? To make up for it? She exhaled a puff of a breath and then said, “Thank you.”

Furiosa went back to hammering but after a few more pounds, she lowered her hand. “New windows come in tomorrow. I want them all in by the end of the week.”

“You got it,” Capable said and went back to their house to wait with Dag and Toast for Cheedo to come home.

--

You've got a fast car
I wanna ticket to anywhere
Maybe we can make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero, got nothing to lose
Maybe we'll make something
Me, myself, I've got nothing to prove
-"Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman

Chapter Text

Rye whiskey wraps your troubles up into a bright blue package
Ties a bow around it
Oh, boy!
Just throw it on the pile in the corner
See you're not alone in not being alone tonight but
Rye love isn't good love, boys
- “Rye Whiskey” by the Punch Brothers

---

Rows and rows of scrap yards and auto shops - only about half of them up and running - and then after that came warehouses, some empty, some full, all of them ugly as fuck, and then along the water were the oil refineries that had given Gas Town its name. There were no sewers, so whenever it rained, the streets turned into rainbow-colored oceans, and puddles stayed there, slick and reeking, way into the dry season. He turned off the highway toward Gas Town, nose burning and eyes leaking a bit, and whooped into the haze.

Slit and Dred were smoking by the curb and Nux blared the horn at them, just because, and grinned when his headlights caught on their annoyed expressions. “Glory of a night!” he yelled out the open window as he pulled up. In the rearview mirror Nux saw Slit jump onto the trunk - There was a heavy thunk and the back of the car dipped, then Slit’s boots banged on the roof.

“You fucker! Where’ve you been?”

Nux was barely moving, so when he stepped on the brakes Slit only slid down the windshield instead of flying off it. “Miss me?” Nux asked and Slit slapped his middle finger up against the glass. He pulled into the gravel and weeds that made up the shop’s front lawn and Slit hopped down, kicking stones up so they pattered against the hub caps.

“So where were you?” Slit pressed as Nux climbed out.

“With Capable, and it was the best night of my life.”

“This whole fucking time? Been trying to reach you all night.” Slit grunted and then narrowed his eyes. Even in the dark, even with Slit’s eye fucked up, Nux knew that Slit could see the evidence of his fight with Furiosa. Slit was a shine partner that way, taking notice of everything. When Slit lunged forward, Nux let him grab his chin to take inventory.

Banged up as he was - and the two fights he’d lost was nothing compared to the battles he survived with Joe - Nux’s face was damn near pristine compared to Slit’s. He’d been the one to drag Slit back to their codeine-addicted butcher the second time Slit had gotten carved. It had fucked both of them up for months afterward: the sight, the smell, the feel of squishy globs of cheek between Nux’s fingers as he held the wound closed long enough to get a needle and thread through it, him swearing and Slit drowning in blood, both of them shaking while Joe’s doctor pierced Slit back together.

Slit flicked Nux’s nose and ignored his hiss, and then more gently prodded the swollen skin around Nux’s eye. “What happened? Red do that?”

“Course not!”

“The short kid?”

“How’d she even reach me?” Nux shoved Slit away. It was a weak attempt to deflect and Slit only backed away for a second.

“Dunno. You’re the soft one. So what happened?”

“It was fucking chrome as fuck, mate. She washed my shirt. I knew she wouldn’t toss it. And we got coffee - Ace needs to make this kind: it’s called mocha and it tastes amazing. This place was nice and she’s got this tattoo on her finger that one of her sisters did herself. Think she has any more? She builds fucking houses and she’s got these arms, Slit, arms. She feels like… she smells like...”

“The fight, asshole. When you’d get in the fight? Or what, you fall on the stick?”

Nux shrugged and started walking inside, Slit close on his heels. He grabbed Nux’s shoulder and spun him around again; over Slit’s shoulder Nux saw Dred, who was staring out into the street. He rolled his eyes back to Slit, who was waiting impatiently for an explanation - Slit wasn’t going to let it go. “It was her… mum. Didn’t like the looks of me.”

“Nice right hook.”

He’d never lied to Slit before, which was probably why his partner bought it. Not that the truth would be more believable. If Nux told them that he’d found the supreme traitor Furiosa, stumbled on her and her hideaway, what would Slit do? Secrets were twitchy, touchy things, hard to hold onto. He’d never had to keep a secret from the War Boys, because he’d never had a secret. Eat, sleep, shit together, with no space or time for anything other than being a War Boy. That had been all that Nux had wanted, and it had been fine. Better than fine. It’d been glorious, right up to the night that Joe’s car had crashed.

“It was sort of amazing. Came out of fucking nowhere. Capable cleaned me up nice after though, just like before. And we need seatbelts in the car. I drove her home.”

“Interrupted their little suburban paradise, did you.”

“Wasn’t like that. I scared her. Her mum. Real bad. But she let me stay after that, you know. And then when that was all done, me and Capable -”

She had let him hold her. No more than just let - Capable had wanted him to hold her. Wanted. He might have blushed like some fresh pup; blood was rushing everywhere, all pumped and hot, so Nux turned away and looked again at Dred.

“What’s his deal? And where’s Rotor? Fuck, answered my own question didn’t I. Something happened to Rotor.”

Slit nodded. “Rotor got picked up by the bronze. Bullshit about him matching the description of some perp.” He crossed his arms over his chest, still irritated. “Thought maybe you’d been tossed in too.”

Joe’s dealings with the cops had kept the department off the Boys’ backs. For the most part. They’d all been picked up at some point, frisked so often that once Slit said they should be charging the police for the pleasure.

They joined him on the street. Dred was Slit’s age, both of them a little older than Nux, but he wasn’t as good as a shot as Slit and he drove like shit. Rotor never seemed to care about either of those flaws, but that was his problem.

“Don’t worry about him, mate. He’ll be fine.” Nux’s assurances didn’t seem to have much effect on Dred, who ground out the butt of his cigarette with the heel of his boot until the filter was just some white fluff caught in the pavement. Even though Nux wasn’t in his crew, not really, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for Dred. If Joe had been alive, Nux and Slit probably wouldn’t have joined in with Ace’s group. Ace wouldn’t have had a group of his own at all. Once Furiosa went awol, the crew would have been dismantled, stuffed into a crew led by another boss, a real boss. No more Dred and Rotor.

Nux tried to think of what Capable would have said. Tried and failed, and instead could only offer up a lame shrug. “Look, Dred, we’ve gotten through it before, yeah? It’ll be alright.”

Slit snorted again. “Unless he ‘resisted arrest.’”

“Soon as he calls, we’ll go pick him up,” Nux said over Slit’s list of justifications for the police beating the shit out of them. “Promise. Any time - You just let me know.”

Shitty as fuck. Joe would’ve made sure that Rotor was out even before the cell was locked. For the first time that night, Nux’s black eye started to sting and his ribs ached a little with every breath, injuries hurting like they were fresh and not already more than an hour old. He thought again of Capable - like he wasn’t always thinking about her, really - and how she was dealing with old wounds, ones still smarting instead of scarring over and being done.

Joe had fixed things, Nux had always known that.

But then another thought got in there, racing along with the first, and shit got confused real fast. Joe had fixed things. But Joe had caused them. That’s what Capable had been saying - that it wasn’t about giving, it was about taking. It wasn’t about fixing, it was about fucking it up in the first place. If Rotor hadn’t been a War Boy, the cops might’ve left him alone.

Nux didn’t say that aloud. But Slit was looking at him like maybe he had, so Nux plastered a smile on and clapped Dred on the shoulder.

“Yeah, thanks, mate.” Dred lit another cigarette without looking at either of them, but he sounded a little better at least. Maybe.

Nux jammed his hands in his pocket, pulled out something wet and lumpy - The peas. “These are from Capable too,” he explained to Slit, who was staring at them in disgust. “Mine, so don’t chuck them.”

Tossing the bag from hand to hand, Nux turned and retreated to the garage. Mack was doing pull-ups on the bar they’d fastened into a doorframe and nodded at Nux as he came in. “Ace’s been looking for you,” Mack said without pausing. “Didn’t think you’d be gone for so long.”

“Wasn’t long enough,” Nux said back. He stashed the peas safely in their freezer. “She thinks the car is a beauty. And her hair streams back like a nitro flame in the wind.”

He was going to gush some more but Ace appeared from the back. Maybe it was the lighting, which sucked, but Nux was struck at how shitty Ace looked: the lines on his face deeper than usual, shadows making them look like black gashes, and his shoulders curved in, like he was carrying some impossibly heavy weight on his back. Slit hated dealing with Ace, but Nux liked him, for the most part, and he wished that Furiosa would’ve let him tell Ace that his boss was well and safe, and the luckiest person in the world because she got to live in a house with Capable.

“You made it back.” Just like Furiosa, Ace didn’t waste words.

Nux nodded and Ace sighed and ran his hand up the back of his neck to the top of his head. “Don’t disappear again,” he said. “You stay here at night.”

“Boys weren’t doing anything important,” Nux argued. “Not like I missed anything.”

“What if Rictus came by? Or Prime? Or Scab?”

“Yeah, but they didn’t.”

“You didn’t know that. What if they did? You can’t disappear all night. You’re a War Boy, not a delinquent. You got to be on your best. No more distractions.”

Capable was not a distraction.

“I need your new number. They need it.”

Nux’s hand slid into his pocket and his touched his new phone. His phone, one that he’d bought himself. Once it stopped being clean, once he started using it for War Boy shit, it’d be on a limited timeline. It’d have to be tossed like all their burners, too risky to keep it. And then he’d lose Capable’s texts and the smiley face she’d sent him.

“Slit can text me if he needs to,” Nux replied, but for once Ace wasn’t willing to compromise.

“What if he’s gone, too? You know the rules, Nux.”

“Give me a couple of days to get some money. I’ll buy a new phone.”

“Give me your number,” he commanded, and he did it in a boss voice, betting that Nux wouldn’t refuse a direct order.

And he wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Nux frowned but he obeyed, sending a silent apology to Capable as he did.

“You’re not our boss, Ace.” Slit’s voice was hard and loud in the small garage, but Ace didn’t even look up from his phone. “You’re not a fucking boss, period.”

“Might as well be,” Ace replied. “Unless you think you can do it better, Slit.”

Slit strode up next to Nux. He hooked his thumbs through the belt loops on his pants. His knuckles were more scarred than Nux’s, a reminder to them all just how much Slit had survived, how fucking hard it would be to take him down. “Yeah. I know I can do better.”

“Come on, Slit,” Nux said quietly. “It doesn’t matter.”

Push come to shove, which it might, Morsov, Dred, and Mack would defend Ace, and Slit and Nux couldn’t take on all of them, even if Nux had wanted to. Slit leaned forward a bit and Ace watched him warily, each of them waiting for the other to make the first move. Nux beat them both to it and grabbed Slit’s arm to yank him back.

“It doesn’t matter,” he repeated firmly, meeting Slit’s eyes. He had a couple of inches on his partner and he straightened so Slit would have to look up at him.“There’s no point in us fucking each other up, not over a fucking phone.”

He shouldn’t have qualified it, but it was too late to take the words back. Slit grunted and shook off Nux’s grasp. Nux kept his hand up, in case he had to grab him again, but then Slit grinned, the wide one that showed his teeth, and backed away. “Sure, Nuxy. Just wanted to give Ace something to think about.”

Morsov appeared behind Ace, and Mack had dropped to the ground. But the tension had dissipated somewhat, and Ace let Slit go without making him apologize or making him submit. Nux wondered if it was because Ace wasn’t a boss and knew it, or if Ace wouldn’t have beat down Slit even if he had been a boss. Furiosa had let Nux go, maybe she’d learned that from Ace. Weird behavior for a boss, but Furiosa had always been special, shinier than the rest. Nux had known that, even though he’d never served under her. Everyone knew that. That was what had made her rebellion all the more traitorous. She’d been the best. Joe’s best.

Nux leaned against the workbench and sighed. Maybe Ace was right and staying out all night with Capable had fucked shit up. But if Ace was right, it wasn’t for the right reasons. Capable didn’t need War Boys and their shitty fights and all their chaos, not when she was trying to rebuild her life. She needed someone to help her, not start shit. She’d said she’d wanted to see him again, but maybe she was being nice, too polite to tell him to fuck off.

But then he dismissed that thought - she was kind, but she was no liar. He’d asked if he could see her again and she’d said yes, and he could trust that. Trust her. As soon as he had money, he’d take her out again. He was racing through his options for making more, and doing it regularly, so he could take her out whenever she wanted. He’d told Furiosa that the garage was legit - mostly - and that’d been true. If he could stick around the garage and work all the time instead of being on call for Rictus or Prime and their whims…

Sometimes they got their hands on money. Do someone a favor, beating the shit out of someone and then taking their wallet, some Boys even dared to skim a little off the top of a deal. Everything had gotten leaner when Joe died, but in the garage, Nux had found a way. He’d been a black thumb in the Pits and that reputation came with him, even out in the outskirts of Gas Town. Joe’s old friends, or friends of friends, or “friends” dropped off their cars; there hadn’t been one yet that Nux couldn’t fix.

Like the one that had netted him the cash to take Capable out with.

It had been an easy job - replacing the ignition coils and spark plugs, nothing exciting and nothing all that expensive, even though the car itself was both: a 2-door Mercedes-Benz C-Class, silver, leather interior, both original headlights and one original taillight, with one shitty replacement that had been jammed in. Nux and Slit had combed the city for hours until they found a better taillight, which Nux installed and then polished, and then polished the whole car. The owner had slid five extra bills into Nux’s pocket when he’d come to pick up his car. Fifty bucks for no reason - Nux didn’t have to do jack shit for the money - and if there were strings on the cash, he couldn’t see them. First thing he’d done was buy a new phone. And then the rest of the money was for Capable. But she hadn’t blown through the rest of his cash. She could’ve; Nux would’ve bought her anything she wanted, everything she wanted, but Capable had chosen the cheapest thing on the menu. Still expensive, or maybe it wasn’t, maybe he just didn’t know shit about coffee shops. Another thing to add to the list of stuff that he didn’t know. That he hadn’t even known he didn’t know.

Maybe she had known that he was light on cash. She probably realized it - she was so fucking smart and sweet, and he was so fucking stupid and shitty.

He brooded over than until Morsov joined him, glancing furtively at Slit’s back before asking quietly, “Hey Nux, did you get my stuff?”

“Course I did. I promised I would.”

With Morsov close on his heels, Nux went back to the car and opened the trunk. He’d stopped at a convenience store on the way back and spent everything that was left on Morsov: one big ass bag of dry cat food, one plastic bag full of cat food cans. What he should have done was bought a second phone. It was so obvious now, and Nux berated himself with a flurry of silent curses at being such an idiot. They’d never been allowed more than one phone at a time, but he should have thought of it somehow.

Morsov grinned as he took the food. “Shit, you got a lot. They’ll eat like fucking bosses tonight. Thanks, mate. I owe you.”

When he held out his hand, Nux took it and Morsov pulled him into a quick embrace.

“So you had fun, yeah?”

“She’s amazing,” Nux replied instantly and some of his irritability disappeared - mollified by just the memory of Capable. “She’s learning how to do wiring. She could fix this place up fast, maybe keep the basement fuse from blowing all the time.”

“Can’t believe it. Not afraid of you? Didn’t make you take off the blacks again?”

“She didn’t make me before. It was a present.”

Morsov lifted the bag of dry food over his shoulder. His gaze got a bit harder; he wasn’t as good at Slit, not when it came to seeing what was really there. “Yeah?” he asked.

“Yeah. Capable’s not like that. She washed my shirt, my first one. This one.”

“Wait - what?”

“She’s great, Morsov. Really fucking chrome.”

“Sounds shine. Pay you back soon, promise.” Morsov went off, calling for his feral cats. Slit came back inside eventually and he and Nux picked through the remains of someone’s McDonald fries for dinner. No call came from Rotor, and Nux finally went to bed, but Dred stayed out on the street, smoking through the pack of cigarettes in the dark.

He went to bed, but he didn’t go to sleep. He folded his arms behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. Even in the dark he could make out the water stains. They’d all taken a stab at patching the roof and it mostly didn’t leak, except for downpours when the gutters clogged and backed up. The mechanic’s shop was barely that - it’d just been used as storage before they’d moved - and it’d never been intended to house anyone other than roaches and rats. Electricity had taken a while to get up and water had taken even longer; first Ace had had to figure out which palms needed to be greased for shit like that, and then they’d had to find the money for it. When it got cold, it had been hell, but they’d survived, huddled up like pups on their beds.

Mattress, really. There was only one cot and Ace got that. The rest of them were on the ground. Against his leg Nux could feel the hard angles of Slit’s knees, who even slept like a fighter, with his legs drawn up and hands in fists. Nux gave him a half-hearted shove and then rolled over onto his side. He’d taped up the insert of Capable’s CD on the wall, where it was surrounded by engine diagrams and Slit’s sketches of tattoo ideas. For a moment the desire to see her was so strong that it was almost painful, a clench and a throb in his chest like he’d been lanced there. If he had a photograph of her... But no, even though Slit hadn’t recognized her, Ace might. If she didn’t want Ace to know, then that was that, full stop.

Joe’d dispensed it all: power, position, protection; cars, guns, food. Nux had never thought about how’d much he’d paid for it all. What Joe had taken in return. Everything Capable had said swished through his brain like motor oil, getting into old memories, turning black from all the filth in them.

Reactions he couldn’t anticipate. Engines were simple - he could see the whole thing, how it would work, what would happen, in all its clarity. He’d never had to worry about anything else - at Joe’s, things had always been uncomplicated. And he’d always liked that, that he could stick to the road ahead of him while someone else messed with the hard shit. Nux gingerly pressed a finger against the side of his nose, then dug it in harder under his eyes watered at the pain. Furiosa, the best boss the Boys had ever witnessed, would have killed him to keep Capable and her sisters safe. Bosses could kill, of course they could, a judge and executioner rolled up to keep them all in line and hard, no weak links in the chains.

“Shit.” Blood dripped down his chin and Nux sat up and squeezed his nostrils. The nosebleed wouldn’t be so bad if he had Capable there, stroking his cheek with her fingers.

Capable.

If he’d been a little quicker or a little slower, one of them would be dead. Nux gritted his teeth against that thought, wished he could bang it out of his brain. He failed and got the shit kicked out of him to add to that insult. And the worst part of all was that he was glad of it. Glad that he was a mediocre fighter.

He thought about that over and over, like he was one some looping race track, while his nosebleed finally tapered off. Finally he dozed a while, woke up again, couldn’t fall back asleep. Flipping open his phone, he opened up his messages and stared at all of her replies.

It was too early to text her, so he just read through their messages yet again, like maybe there was something more in her texts that he had missed before. But he’d already practically memorized them, each word imprinted like they’d been branded in his brain. That was some consolation - when he tossed the phone, or maybe when she got sick of him, he’d still remember everything she said. And the way she had looked when she asked him to hold her, her chin tilting up and eyes searching his like there was some treasure in there, something worth finding. She’d wanted him to touch her, Nux thought and marveled over it again, but in the hours since he’d held her, he hadn’t really been able to make sense of it. She’d pressed against him like he’d been meant to hold her, a perfect fit and finish.

Riled from the thoughts of her, Nux climbed over Slit and made his way quietly to the garage. Some of Morsov’s cats were there, he heard more than saw them scatter and skitter back outside through the holes in the walls that they hadn’t been able to block up. The friendliest of them - two that Morsov called Koshy and Kot - stayed perched on the pile of spare tiles, warily watching.

“Morning, guys,” he said as he skirted around them to get his tools. “Hey, can I pet you yet? No, you ran away. That’s fine. You get to do that.”

The car was nothing special: Ford Taurus, but built like shit and driven by an idiot - two of the worst crimes against humanity. Nux turned on the little stereo that Mack had filched and started up Capable’s CD. Again he thought about how to get money, how to keep it all and not have to cut out a share for Rictus or Prime. A big payout was unlikely, probably impossible, he reasoned as he slid under the car. It’d have to be steady work. A lifetime of Ford Tauruses. For Capable, he’d do it.

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

Someone else woke up and then there was the smell of coffee cutting through the gas and smoke. Nux stood up from the Ford’s hood and saw Dred pacing in the back. “Hey, what time is it?”

“Almost eleven.”

“Fuck yeah!” Nux frantically wiped his hands as clean as possible on his shirt. Capable had to be awake, he reasoned. He texted her, just a hi and not much else, and stared at the screen, holding his breath until her response came back. She was thinking of him too, wished she didn’t have class, told him to ice his eye and stay out of trouble so she wouldn’t have to worry about him. And then she sent him another smiley face and he could imagine her real smile, the soft redness of her lips and the way her eyes shined.

It was enough to get him through the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. After the Taurus he went to work on Slit’s motorcycle, fighting with the shovelhead engine, then to the practically new Bentley they’d fished out of the river, while Capable’s CD ended, started again, and her voice rang through the garage as loud as Joe’s had ever echoed through the Pits.

Sweet and glorious and chrome and right.

“You around tonight?”

The question was sudden and Nux, elbows deep in the crank shanks, jerked back and whacked the back of his head on the floor. He hissed a couple of swears and rubbed a greasy hand over his skull. The pain cleared up the mess of his thoughts, though - A question, he realized. Ace had phrased it like a question and not an order, and Nux recognized it as a sort of peace offering.

“Yeah,” he said. At Joe’s they had a few mechanic’s creepers, old and worn smooth by all the black thumbs’ backs, and Nux wished Ace would give him some money to spend on a creeper for the garage. He scooted back on the path of old newspapers until he was looking up at Ace. He knew it was antagonistic, but Nux added anyway, “She has class.”

Ace’s jaw shifted, maybe he was grinding his teeth or maybe he was stopping a smile. “Something might be happening tonight. I want you here.”

This time Nux grinned at him and nodded. “Sure, Ace. I’ll stick around.”

When the message came through, Nux’s phone buzzed along with everyone else’s and there was no way to escape it.

usual place
30 mins

“Come on,” Slit said and grabbed him in a headlock. “Time for some real fun!”

His hand slapped Nux’s bare head, rubbed over the dome, then cuffed him lightly on the jaw. Nux grinned and dug his elbow into Slit’s side as retaliation. Mack and Morsov whooped as they ran by, and even Dred was grinning. Capable’s words, about him being more than a War Boy, faded as the roar of the hunt filled him. Fueled him. Nux slid over the hood to the driver’s side and Slit dropped into the seat next to him, and they peeled out of the driveway and down the street before Ace had even started his truck - Onto the highway, flying past assholes in their SUVs and shitty taxi drivers who couldn’t find their way downtown even with a GPS blocking the whole windshield. They had time to spare, so they pulled into a McDonald’s for dinner and when they were done, found some lame ass Rock Riders and threw the wrappers at them.

A good sign. A good day. A good couple of days. This was it, Nux thought as they passed some other Boys, shit was back on track.

There were abandoned lots all over the city, plots where things could be stored, tossed; cars could be dumped, stripped; shit sold, traded. The “usual spot” was a big one, close enough to the Vault that they could see the light of the massive neon sign burning in pinks and greens over the roofs. He turned before he needed to and headed toward the club, and Slit glanced at him but didn’t question the detour. The sign was out now, dark and some of the letters look busted, and as they glided past it, the door was closed and the sidewalk empty.

“You know if it’s still open?” he asked Slit, and his partner shrugged.

“Not like it used to be,” he replied. Then he turned too, both of them inspecting the white facade, still free of graffiti - either no one dared to fuck with it, even with Joe so long cold in whatever grave the city had stuffed him in or someone was painting over it as soon as it went up - but there was trash in the gutters and a burnt-out shell of a sedan where there’d always been lines of sparkling people in their shiny finest, waiting for their chance to squeeze inside.

“We should break in, see what’s in there.” Slit said, voice quiet but Nux could hear the eagerness in it. “Bet all the good stuff is still around.”

They’d never been allowed in, weren’t even supposed to be nearby; War Boys too filthy to even be seen by Joe’s customers. They’d heard stories of course, of the parties and drinks and girls. Maybe Capable had been in there, in there with Joe while Nux was down the street looking up at the neon sign and getting blinded by it.

Nux asked, keeping his voice neutral, like he just idly curious with no real reason behind it, “His girls, Joe’s girls, what do you think happened to them?”

Slit shrugged. “Who cares? Probably getting fucked by Prime right now.”

His chest did something at that, hurt real bad like the words had punched him. She’d hate that, wouldn’t choose it. Nux pushed the pedal practically to the floor and whatever Slit had to say to that was lost in the squeal of the tires.

There were other Boys there already, not everyone, but enough that the street was noisy and all the curtains in the rows of houses were drawn. He pulled onto the sidewalk and Slit followed him as they went into the lot. In the back were groups, huddled around, passing cigarettes and bottles, and some waved at them and others jeered. When Ace and his crew pulled up, the taunting grew louder and Slit chuckled. They joined the other Boys anyway, though, milling around with Dred, Morsov, and Mack while Ace marched off.

Nux’s phone buzzed and for a second he thought it was Capable again, but then Slit took out his too. Instructions, then.

go collect
jedediah
tucker
ellen r

A shakedown. Nux and Slit glanced at each other, and Nux could read the annoyance clear on his partner’s face. It’d be hours of shitty work, driving around to find the assholes and then the song and dance routine to get maybe a portion of what was owed to the Boys. A portion. If they were lucky. Even Mack, who liked beating the piss out of whoever got in front of his fists, growled when he shoved his phone away.

“We’ll handle Tucker,” Slit said, laying claim to the easiest of the three. He slung his arm over Nux’s shoulders and started to steer him towards the car, but then someone called them - Ace was back.

“I’m taking the Monte Carlo, Boys.”

“What?” Nux spun to face Ace. “That’s my car. Ace, what the hell-”

“Rictus' orders.”

The afternoon’s camaraderie apparently had only been temporary. Bosses could do that, claim whatever they wanted. Again Nux recalled Capable’s words, that it was about taking. He tried again, voice coming out as a whine as he tried to save his car. “But the Bentley’s not ready. I just pulled out the suspension this afternoon. And you know that Chevy is a piece of shit.”

“Don’t go back to the garage. You’re taking the truck.”

“What about your crew -”

“All of you.”

“Me and Nux work as a pair. We’re not going to babysit your crew!” Slit spat out the insult.

A pair, him and Slit, that’s the way it had always been. Blood brothers, just like Capable and Angharad, killing and dying together.

A door to the neighboring building swung open and a tall figure ducked out. Taller even than Nux and heavier than Slit, practically two Boys stacked on top of each other. There was supposedly a third son - Rictus, Scabrous, then one more who Nux had never seen - both of Rictus and Scab were monster trucks, massive and mean, crunching over whoever got in their way. When Rictus stepped out into the lot, the afternoon sun caught on each of his rings, every one of his necklaces, on the silver-plated Colt at his hip. Shiny for fucking sure, but shit shine, chrome on a lemon. Some mourning get-up; however much of Joe’s money he still had after the police moved in Rictus had shot on whatever bullshit his beady eyes fell on.

Those beady eyes scanned the cluster of Boys, finally landing on Ace. “You taking care of something?”

“Taken care of already, Rictus,” Ace replied and Nux took a step forward, hands in fists at his side.

“We’re not going-”

He hadn’t been expecting it, so when Slit yanked him back, Nux almost fell over, caught by Slit who grabbed him in a headlock again, tighter than the one back at the garage, tight enough that it hurt. Hurt enough that Nux shut up real fast. Slit dragged him backwards a few steps until Nux dug his heels into the dirt and got an elbow into Slit’s side, between his pelvis and ribs where there were no bones to protect the soft bits.

They stumbled together back to the car, both of them panting through their grimaces. When he caught his breath, Nux shoved Slit and demanded, “What the fuck was that?”

“Look, you can bust Ace’s balls - he’s not even a boss. But fucking around with Rictus? The hell are you thinking?”

“Doesn’t matter if it’s a boss or Ace or Rictus. This is bullshit and you know it. I built it from the wheels up, took me ages to find the pads for it -”

“For fuck’s sake, Nux, don’t be an idiot. If Rictus wants your car, Rictus gets it. You’re lucky it wasn’t fucking Scab or he would’ve shot you right there. Shit, Nux!”

“He wouldn’t. You know how he treats his cars - No one else can get them up and running again. He needs me.”

“Like he even knows your name.” Slit jammed a finger into Nux’s chest, right where Furiosa had tried to shatter the ribcage, and then pressed harder when he saw Nux flinch. “All he saw was a weak ass War Boy who doesn’t know how to take an order. I knew it. I knew that girl was trouble. Red’s done something to you, messed you up.”

“Fuck off.”

The rest of the walk to the truck was done in silence. Nux swallowed the acidic sting of Slit’s comment and ignored the other Boys, all assholes who were still hollering about their bullshit.

“I’m driving,” Dred announced and Slit looked at Nux, expecting him to argue. Instead Nux leaned against the truck bed, meeting Slit’s eyes - expression expectant, turning to annoyed - before pulling out his phone to re-read Capable’s texts. He heard Slit growl and then the truck shook as Slit kicked it. An argument between Slit and Dred started, escalated, but instead of joining in, Nux swung up into the bed and sat down. Two by fours had been fitted in for them to brace themselves on; he wedged himself uncomfortably into a safe spot and opened his phone again. He started to type a message to Capable, then deleted each letter as he swore: can i come over, furiosa would fix this shit, can you talk to furiosa, can i crash with you. Nothing looked good, nothing sounded right, but he wanted to say something to her. Finally, as weak as it was, he typed: hey hope yr kicking ass today

“Fucking Morsov,” Slit said as he climbed over the side of the truck. “Fucking Dred. You should’ve put them in their place. This is what I’m talking about - You need to get your head on right.”

“Didn’t feel like it.”

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It’s not their fault Rictus took the Monte Carlo, is it?” Nux snapped and clicked the phone shut. “Rictus is the one who needs to have his teeth kicked in.”

“I told you - You can’t go up against him.” When Nux didn’t reply to that, Slit growled and looked away in disgust.

Dred started the truck and took off slowly, still managing to hit every fucking pothole in the road. They crept through the streets, heading downtown, though not close to the university. Nux kept an eye out for Capable anyway, staring idly over the side of the truck at the people on the sidewalk, but no one had her shock of red hair. No one else came close to matching her shine.

Slit nudged his boot against Nux’s leg. “What are you thinking about now?”

“Capable doesn’t have a car. She has to take the bus everywhere. What kind of car do you think she’d like? Shit - Remember that MGB GT? 1969? She’d look amazing in one of those. No room for her guitar and her sisters though, even with the sloping window. Damn, all her sisters need a car. Maybe I really should get a fucking minivan.”

“You are so weird sometimes,” Slit said with a shake of his head. His voice turned into a whine when he added, “Where’s my car? How come you aren’t making me one?”

“Was up to my ass in your chopper this morning, wasn’t I?”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Nux bumped his shoulder against Slit’s and his partner grinned.

“Guess you’re worth keeping around. Even if you are a fucking idiot.”

Nux only had time to kick Slit before he felt his phone buzz.

hi nux! :)
had a pop quiz today
unfair! but i did ok
not sure if i really kicked its ass tho

Of course she aced her quiz, Nux thought as he quickly typed a response.

yr the best!!!!!!
hey i listend to yor cd all moring
that song? about silence???
so cool
might b my new favorit

“I swear to fucking Valhalla, Nux, if you’re texting that girl I’m going to throw you off the truck.”

“You’re just jealous that no one texts you,” Nux replied absently as he typed. "Stop being such a dickwad and maybe you'll get something." Slit scowled and crossed his arms over his chest with a huff.

yeah? i really like that one too! :D
the line “people writing songs that voices never shared / no one dared / disturb the sound of silence” is so good
it meant a lot to me, back at j’s
sometimes you need to be loud
sing loud
and i can sing
you know?

u sing so chrome :DDDDDD
i listend to u so much
thats its like i can still hear u

The truck slowed and Dred turned a three-point park into a ten-point one, but at least he ended up parallel to the curb, even if the truck was about two feet away from it when they finally piled out. Nux sent Capable another message, telling her he’d talk to her later.

you can text me whenever nux!
doesn’t matter what time
:)

He smiled at that and tucked his phone safely away. As they walked toward the Bethesda Street projects, Jedediah’s home base, Dred sidled up to Nux and pulled him back a few steps away from Slit.

“Hey, finally heard from Rotor. They finally let him out.”

“See? Told you he was fine,” Nux said, and Dred smiled and nodded. “Let’s go get him after this.”

“Yeah? Mack doesn’t want to - says we’re too fucking slow already. Says Rotor’s got to find his own way home.”

“I’ll back you up,” Nux promised. A War Boy walking alone in Buzzard territory was just begging for trouble. “You’re the driver today, right? Fuck Mack.”

Dred nodded again, maybe even a little giddily, and jingled the keys in his pockets. His grin widened, his teeth bright against his dark skin. “Morsov will do whatever. If you can get Slit to agree, then we’ll outnumber Mack.”

“See?” Nux said again. “Things get better.”

“Yeah, guess you’re right.”

“Only because shit can’t get much worse,” Slit yelled from down the sidewalk. “Hurry the fuck up. Drivers aren’t supposed be so slow.”

They caught up to him, both Nux and Dred jostling him playfully, then joined Mack and Morsov. Suddenly Nux was glad they were just collecting cash and not doing something flashier, and maybe even a little glad that they were working as one crew. If Nux and Slit had gone off alone, Dred wouldn’t have had any support in getting Rotor. Weird coincidence. Good coincidence. And it didn’t matter how long it took them - He could text Capable whenever he wanted, break the silence between them.

Dred was still grinning and Nux grinned back.

---

Should have been a preacher man
Let the good book show me where to stand
In this earthly half-way home
Should have been a farming man
Teach my boy to plow the land
Leave this wicked winter just a couple acres greener when I go
- “A Couple Acres Greener” by Mipso

Chapter Text

There's another world
It's made for us
Trapped in bodies
They're made to rust
It's one that I can break right through
I am ready
How about you?
- “Wild Animals” by Trampled by Turtles

---

She glanced at the clock at the front of the classroom again, but the hands had barely inched forward. Determinedly, but with difficulty, she dragged her attention back to her professor and the whiteboard of notes, and added a few more bullet points to her notebook. At first in the hospital, and now in class, the day was stretching impossibly long. Without even thinking about it, she started reaching into her bag for her phone, but then she caught Dag’s eye - and her sister’s raised pale eyebrows - and sheepishly retreated. Nux had promised to meet her after class and it was tortuous knowing that he was out there while she was inside; each second crawled by so slowly that it seemed sadistic, and Capable, who’d been the good, quiet student since the start of the semester, contemplated just waltzing out, notes on social roles be damned.

Finally, finally, finally, their professor took pity on her and class was dismissed. “I’m sorry you’ll have to take the bus alone,” she said to Dag and her sister rolled her eyes, but grinned.

“Knock his socks off, Cape.” She waved, then turned down the corridor to the library, and Capable squeezed her way through the mass of people in the corridor toward the entrance.

“Hey, excuse me. You’re Capable, right? You play at the Giddy bar?”

Beside her appeared a young woman with messy curls that bounced as she tried to keep pace with Capable. She had a cane so Capable slowed down, trying not to do it grudgingly, and then nodded. “Yeah, that’s me. What’s up?”

“I’m Savannah; I do the show ‘Nightly Tells’ on CCUR. Have you heard it?”

CCUR was the university's radio station, but beyond that, Capable didn’t know much about it. Savannah’s merry smile didn’t falter when Capable shook her head.

“We just started this year. There was basically nothing on air for a crazy long time. It used to be low-power, you know? No one heard it. Not that there was anything to hear. We have the full force of FM now, though, and an internet feed! Moving on up, that’s what I always say. Anyway, anyway, I’m getting off track. So yeah, I’m the voice of ‘Nightly Tells’ and I want to talk to you about that.”

Capable shifted her bag as she hesitated. Part of her wished she had Toast’s ability to refuse favors. “I’m meeting someone,” she said with a glance toward the door. “Can we maybe talk about it later?”

“We can walk and talk,” Savannah insisted, raising her cane up. “This just keeps me steady. And it’s good for smacking away muggers. I got banged up pretty badly as a sprog, but that was years ago. So anyway, radio. I want you to come on ‘Nightly Tells.’ How’s that for straight to the point?”

“Me?” Capable said, too surprised to come up with snappier response. She looked over Savannah’s shoulder, hoping that for some reason Dag had changed her mind and was also walking out, but behind her were just other students. “Why?”

“I caught a show of yours at that bar and I saw you at the Clearwater Fest. Heard you, I should say. Well, both, I guess. But the hearing was important. And you were great! That fest was great! Biker grandmas are great. So I heard you and I said to myself, hot damn, this is the sort of stuff that CCUR needs to broadcast.”

They reached the stairs and Capable stepped down the first couple. When it was clear the Savannah was no longer at her elbow, Capable stopped and waited. “Want to hold onto my arm?”

“Yeah, thanks. The elevator is always broken. I complain and they change the service date on the sign, but then, bupkis. Anyway, so the show. Interested?”

“In playing on the radio? Wow, yeah. That’d be…” Exciting, interesting, a step closer to that silly dream she’d shared with Nux. “Just to play? Or could I talk about what it means, too? You were at the fest, you know what we were trying to do. The message is as important as the music.”

“That’d be the point! We could talk about how you got into folk and stuff, but what I really want to do is get down to the meat of it: what you’re doing for Citadel City and how you’re doing it.”

A road was opening up. It was a little dizzying, imagining the amount of people who could be listening. Savannah’s grip on her arm tightened and Capable realized that she was going so slowly that a traffic jam was starting behind her. She shook her head with a laugh. “My sisters were at the fest, too. Can they come on?”

“Well, the studio doesn’t have very many microphones. We’re working on getting more! I’m applying to all these grants… Not a lot of money around, you know. Or not for us, anyway. Funny how that works. Public radio stations get no respect. We’re working hard though, to change, to improve, to get better equipment. Someday!”

Capable nodded, though privately she was already planning on fitting all her sisters in with her. What was one microphone when they’d shared so much else together? They exchanged email addresses and Savannah shook her hand like they’d just made a particularly lucrative business deal. The young woman wanted to say more, but Capable kept glancing impatiently at the doors - Now she had another reason to get to Nux. He’d be happy for her, maybe even proud. And there he was, taller than everyone else even as he leaned on the bike rack.

“Thank you for asking me, Savannah. I’m really excited about this,” Capable assured her. She looked again through the glass doors. “But there’s this guy… My friend. He’s been waiting for me. I have to get going.”

“Oh yeah? Ok, but be careful. Looks like there’s a War Boy-wannabe out there. Or maybe he’s a skinhead? See, the cane’s great for stuff like this. A few whacks and I’ll clear him out.”

“That’s him. That’s my friend.” Capable flashed a grin over her shoulder at Savannah. “He’s working hard, too. ‘I'll sing about what I long to have, because the future holds a chance and you can never catch up to your past.’”

A quick wave and then Capable was hurrying out. This time as they stepped forward to meet each other, she didn’t stop short like she had at the cafe. Capable practically ran into his open arms, spread as wide as his grin, and Nux squeezed her tight against him, hard enough that he lifted her up to the tips of her toes.

The warmth of him, the hardness of his long body and the gentleness of his embrace, and then his smoky-dark scent. Capable closed her eyes and soaked in the sensation of him, almost melting against him. And then there was the fact that he'd been waiting for her, a promise sweetly kept, and that made her ache and burn all at once.

"Hey, how are you? Class good?"

Capable pulled away enough that she could look up at him. That morning she had dressed with unusual care, bothering all her sisters until the outfit had received unanimous approval (granted, in varying degrees of enthusiasm). Like most of their clothes, her skirt, shirt, and cardigan had been bought used at one of Citadel City’s many thrift stores, and the boots had been generously lent to her by Valkyrie, one of the items that the woman had brought to Green Place when their house had been barely more than a shell.

She kept her arms linked loosely around his waist, unwilling to fully break their contact, and Nux's hands settled on her shoulders, smoothing her hair. He was in the same black pants, but instead of the leather jacket and black shirt, he was wearing the blue t-shirt she had bought him - Maybe he’d tried to look his best, too. She snapped her eyes back up to his face and admitted sheepishly, "Well, actually, it sort of sucked today. I never thought I'd want to skip class, but today I seriously contemplated it."

"Yeah?" Nux said and that smile had reached his eyes, making them sparkle. He added, like he wasn't sure he was right in his guess, "Why's that?"

"I couldn't wait to see you again."

He almost buried her in his embrace. "I couldn't wait to see you! Been thinking about you all day. All week!"

"Since last time I saw you!" she added and they both laughed like idiots. "I’m really happy you’re here, Nux. But are you sure you want to come to work with me?"

"Yep."

Simple as that. Maybe it didn’t need to be any more complicated. She rubbed her face against his chest then reluctantly released him. "Well, it’ll only be a couple of hours, so maybe it won’t be that bad. And I want to tell you what just happened to me. Come on, let’s get going or we'll be late."

"Parked across the street.”

"Let's walk." She took his hand and tugged - Nux was so surprised that he was rooted in place.

"Walk? But I'm parked right here."

There was his car, glowing in the sunlight. "And it can stay there. That's all-day parking. Come on."

"But..."

"Walking's nice. And better for the environment."

He groaned but fell in next to her. "But my car..."

She chuckled and knocked her shoulder against his arm. "It's pretty safe here. The campus cops will make sure nothing happens to it. Think about all the students who'll be able to admire it."

"We can drive and be there in ten minutes."

"That's true. But it's not just about how fast we get some place. There are other things to keep in mind, like the gas it would take, or how it's good exercise to walk, or how walking lets us hold hands."

"I always drive.”

“This is only a little change. You don’t have to be a driver all of the time.”

“Mm, I’m a mechanic too.”

"You're more than cars," she said with a grin. He’d said before that he was just a War Boy; she wondered if it had been a deliberate choice to refer to himself as a mechanic. "You're a budding coffee connoisseur, for one. And I have you on the track to becoming a folkie."

"Folkies are pedestrian, I guess."

"Some think so," she replied, and her grin grew until her cheeks ached. “I happen to think it’s an exceptional genre. Chrome.”

"Chrome,” he repeated. They swung their hands as they walked; not hard, just like a metronome, keeping their pace as they strolled down the street. She’d always hurried to work from school: headphones in but turned down low, bag held close, each step brisk and decisive; but with Nux on her arm, there were a thousand reasons to meander. There were morning glories, mostly wilted in the afternoon light, but a few were still open, turning their purple faces toward the sky. In one window they saw the curious face of a cat, who stared at them as they passed by.

“And sort of on the same topic, guess what happened right after class?” She told him about Savannah and CCUR, and Nux beamed.

“Holy shit, that’s fucking awesome! You’re going to be shine, I know it. Can’t wait to hear it. When’s it going to happen?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m going to do it.”

“You should,” he urged. “Everyone needs to listen to you. You sound so… I don’t know. Shine. Chrome. Awesome. Can’t think of any other words. Wow, can’t wait to tell Slit! Did you tell your sisters? Furiosa? Bet she’ll think it’s amazing. And it is.”

“Thanks, Nux.”

He ran his hand over his head and then added in a low voice, “Hey, so you’ll be talking about stuff too, right? Think you’ll talk about Joe?”

That was another why she wanted her sisters there during the broadcast. She shook her head, and Nux said quickly, in that same, intimately quiet tone, “You don’t have to, Capable. That stuff doesn’t matter if you don’t want it to. You still sing like nothing I’ve ever heard.”

She leaned against his shoulder for a moment and he squeezed her fingers. The rest of the block they walked in silence, but it was companionable, not strained.

“Nice day, I guess,” he said as they turned off Miller Boulevard. “Could’ve been around the block a few times already in my car. But it’s good being out with you, you know? Didn’t before, but now I sort of like the idea of people knowing I’m with you.”

A journey, not a destination. It was a platitude, nothing earth-shattering like Angharad’s adages, but Capable liked it anyway, thinking about the present, the now, about the golden afternoon sunlight, warm on her face, and the golden boy beside her, hand warm in hers. Who are you, she thought to herself as she surreptitiously studied him. Maybe she was projecting too much, convincing herself of some fairy-tale fantasy. She thought again of what she had told Furiosa: she wanted to trust him.

And she wanted to be as open with him as he was with her. But she worried about what he’d say if she confessed everything. If she could even find the words for everything she’d been feeling. So instead of talking about herself, Capable turned the conversation to him.

"You have lovely hands, Nux. Long fingers. Have you ever tried playing guitar? Or piano?"

"No. Think I could?" He let her unfold his fingers and then she ran her own over each digits, pressing gently against his knuckles.

They really were lovely, slender like the rest of him. There were little scars, healed nicks and burns, and he had calluses, though not as hard as hers. As she caressed them, it was easy to imagine them on the neck of a guitar... Or on her neck, drifting down to her shoulder. Then lower, lingering where the rest of his body had briefly touched the night when she’d pulled him off Furiosa. Heat was stoked in her stomach, spreading through her until she was sure that she was bright red. So much for trying to suppressing those thoughts. Forcing her attention back to his question, she replied, "Sure, all it takes is practice. I could show you, on one of my guitars."

"Yeah? Really? You'd let me play one of yours? I wouldn’t break it or something?"

“Nux, of course you can play my guitars. I think you’d probably have more fun with the electric. Wait until you see it: Gretsch G5438T Electromatic Pro Jet, Bisgby B50 tailpieces, chambered basswood body, gold top. Want to see a picture? I have a ton on my phone. When we get to the mat, I’ll show you.”

The name and its stats rolled off her tongue with ease. The Gretsch had been a great find, even with its dents and dinges. She’d be able to fix the warping in the neck and once she’d replaced the tuning machines, the guitar was as good as new. Better than new.

She described it some more, she could practically feel it in her arms, and before long they were at the laundromat, where she was to cover the last two hours of one of her co-worker’s shifts.
The machines whirled their clothes in a colorful ballet, but other than that, the mat was quiet. There’d be about thirty minutes of havoc at rush hour, with everyone picking up their clothes as they got out of work, but until then, Nux and Capable would probably be alone. She squeezed her shoulders in to contain the little burst of joy at that thought.

They pulled the chairs close together so Nux could look over her shoulder at her phone. His breath was warm on her ear, every exhale was a tickle that went shivering down her spine. She ducked her head and her hair cascaded over her face but it was only a few seconds of hiding; Nux’s fingers gently pushed it back behind her ear. A light touch, a warm touch.

When she turned toward him, their faces were just inches apart. His hand drifted downward, long fingers ghosting over the the side of her jaw before falling back to his lap. “Sorry. I should have asked first.”

“It felt… good,” she breathed, settling on a word that gave little credit to the thrill of the sensation.

She ached to return the touch. She would trace the delicate shell of his ear, over the pulse in his throat, then flatten her palm as she pressed against the muscles in his shoulder. The memory of him in the school’s bathroom hovered on the edge of her mind, a taunting image that haunted her, a specter at night that kept her awake and heart pounding. That slender body of his, long and hard under her…

“Hey, are you hungry?” he asked, and the question was so sudden and unexpected that it took her a moment to process the words.

Hungry for something, she could almost hear Dag’s insinuation. Or maybe thirsty. Capable pulled away and fumbled with her bag as her thoughts raced. He’d let her touch him, but that was no guarantee that he’d agree to all the other desires. We are not things, Angharad had taught her; neither was Nux. He didn’t belong to Joe, but he also didn’t belong to her.

“I have some of my lunch left,” she said as she found the container. “Carrots and some crackers.”

He scrunched up his nose like a kid and Capable smiled in spite of herself. She pushed the open tupperware toward him and Nux reluctantly took a piece of carrot. He asked, almost mournfully, “You sure you don’t want McDonald’s? We can split fries.”

“Carrots are good for you. And cheaper.”

“Yeah, but they’re gross.”

“Blasphemy. Eat your carrots. What do you eat at home?”

“McDonald’s,” he said promptly.

She waited for the rest, but Nux munched on the carrot without answering. “And?” she finally asked.

“Red Rooster sometimes.”

“You got that tall on fast food? That’s amazing. And a little horrifying.”

“Mickey D’s makes crazy good chicken nuggets. Anyway ketchup’s a fruit.”

She groaned as she pushed the the container even closer. “Eat another carrot. Next time I’ll pack celery, too.”

They talked more about school; he wanted to know about her other classes, she asked about his car, both of them leaning in close, eager to hear every word and catch every smile. Somehow they’d both twisted in their chairs, turning sideways until their knees pressed against each other. The buzz of her phone was for once an unwelcome distraction, and she had to guiltily dismiss her annoyance at her sisters’ texts as they checked in on her and each other. She asked Nux to keep an eye on the shop while she went outside - She had an idea, a plan that she wanted to set in motion.

---

Well I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of dust
Which we've known
Will blow away with this new sun
- “I Will Wait” by Mumford & Sons

Chapter Text

My life is a candle and a wick
You can put it out
You can't break it down
In the end we are waiting to be lit
- “Hope in the Air” by Laura Marling

---

The afternoon was turning into evening when she stepped outside, the clouds tinged with oranges and pinks that glowed against the darkening blue sky. The beauty of it was striking, even though she knew that it was the city’s pollution that caused it. She called Furiosa first, but once again she didn’t pick up. She sent a group text to her sisters, hoping that Dag, who she knew had gotten home, would find Furiosa and pass on the message:

at work with nux
he’s helping :)
can i bring him home for dinner?
let me know
i won’t tell him until i get the ok from you, furiosa

Tapping her phone on her chin, she decided that Cheedo’s approval was even more important that Furiosa’s. Cheedo was the youngest, protected by them all as best as they could, even as she took her brave first steps into Citadel City by herself. There was a practical reason for getting her permission, too: Since it was Cheedo’s turn to choose the meal for their monthly get-together, she had the money. Maybe it was too soon to call it a tradition - they’d only been doing it for a few months - but the word felt right. Once every five weeks or so they’d order in, usually with some of the Vuvalini crew stopping by, too, and one time even Max joined them. They’d decided on taking turns, everyone getting a chance to decide on the fare for the night. At Joe’s they could have gourmet options of whatever struck his fancy. But these meals, bought cheap and then turned into left-overs for the rest of the week, were infinitely better.

Capable called Cheedo, knowing that she was still in class and intending to leave a voicemail, but her sister picked up. Cheedo was breathless to the point that she almost gasped out her greeting.

“Cheedo! Are you alright? What are you doing over there?”

“We’ve been doing these crazy exercises. I’m out in the hall getting some water. We were just running around, reciting our lines with corks in our mouths.”

Capable struggled to come up with a supportive reply. “Well, that sure does sound… inspired. Is it helping?”

“I think so!”

“Good! So, did you get my texts?”

“I was just about to check them when you called. What’s up?”

A car drove by fast enough that it blew her hair into her face, where long strands got caught in her eyelashes and mouth. At Joe’s it had been tamed with an arsenal of products: conditioners, sprays, gels, creams, serums, like their bathroom was some sort of laboratory. Now a wash and a braid was all she did to her hair, and the chaos of it was never as bad as those hours of chemical control. Capable pushed the loose locks back behind her ear and then asked, “Two questions. Nux is here with me and I’d like him to come over for dinner. Can he?”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Cheedo asked timidly. Her voice had softened - tone and volume. “What if he…”

“I know. I don’t think he will, Cheedo. But if you’re worried, then I won’t let him come.”

“Green Place is our home. It’s supposed to be safe.”

“I know,” she said again. She glanced through the window at him and swallowed a pang sympathy. If she could help him, even if it was an insubstantial amount, then she wanted to. He had come all the way from Gas Town to see her, just to waste his time in the little laundromat. He deserved more than that, and Capable, who attributed, even equated, her happiness to her family, wanted to share that with him. Enfold him in it.

There was a roughness to Cheedo voice when she sighed - Just tiredness, Capable hoped, and not anything more dire. “Dag said he trails right behind you like an afternoon shadow. She said it at least it wasn’t a bad date on the scale of Greek tragedy.”

“Sounds like our Dag. It’s ok, Cheedo. We can do this some other time. Or not at all."

"So he really came to work with you? Isn’t he bored?”

“We’ve been talking. He’s going to help with the clothes.”

“Really? That’s… sort of weird. Ok. Dinner’s ok.”

“Are you sure?” Capable couldn’t help but ask.

“Yeah.”

“Thank you,” Capable said with relief. “So question two: can Nux help pick out the food?”

Cheedo was even less enthusiastic about that. “I guess so. But next time it’s my turn to clean the bathrooms…”

“I’ll do it.” Capable finished. “And I’ll help Furiosa install those cabinets.”

There wasn’t time to say more; Cheedo’s teacher called for her and she had to hang up quickly. Capable pushed her hair back and lifted her gaze from her phone to the mat’s large front windows. Inside Nux checking on a machine; when he pulled out some clothes, he held them for a second, studying the pair of jeans before tossing them back in. Her phone buzzed with a message from Dag, who replied with a series of winking smiley faces, and she promised to find Furiosa. She was good to her word, and after that, it didn’t take long for Furiosa to respond:

You make the decision.
Let me know.

When Capable went back in, he offered to help with folding and they sat close together again as they worked, which made it far more enjoyable. And much slower; they took turns choosing videos to watch on her phone (part of a concert, then a car race, then goats). Before long Cheedo peeked her head through the door and Capable smiled over the socks she was matching.

Sitting on either side of Capable, Nux and Cheedo gave each other a murmured greeting and a nod. Only Capable seemed to be happy with the arrangement; the first few minutes were stilted, awkward, and Cheedo's brief summary of her day was dry compared to her usual report. But when Capable came across a tiger-striped, one-piece jumpsuit, big enough that when she held it up the legs draped all the way down to the floor, both Cheedo and Nux almost jumped to grab it.

"Where do you even buy something like that?" Cheedo asked with a giggle.

"Damn, I want one," Nux said, and Capable couldn't tell if he was joking.

"Mm, I think you'd look better in leopard spots," she said and he grinned. "And you need a matching hat with cat ears."

"Does it have a tail?" Cheedo lifted it up and they were all disappointed that it didn't. “Ew, it’s silky and that makes it even weirder.”

United over a common ground - being amazed and amused by the fashion sense (or lack thereof) of their fellow Citadelers - the uncomfortable frostiness between Cheedo and Nux started to melt. None of the other clothes were as boggling as the onesie, though Nux seemed to linger over his pile of clothes, inspecting them like he had with the pair of jeans. She wondered if the War Boys had to wear their blacks all the time, or if when he was at home he had his own clothes, his own tastes. With Cheedo and Nux helping, all the clothes were ready with plenty of time to spare before the evening rush hour started.

Cheedo shook her head. "Want me to fix your hair, Cape?"

"Could you?" she replied gratefully. "I worked so hard on it this morning but it fell down."

Nux inched in even closer as Cheedo started to pull Capable's hair free. "Your hair's so shine," he said as Cheedo started to comb it out. "Haven’t seen it down before. It’s wild. Like a flame."

“Do you know how to braid hair?” Cheedo asked, and out of the corner of Capable’s eye she saw him shake his head. Cheedo hummed and said thoughtfully. “I suppose you wouldn’t, not if all of you have shaved heads. Ok, ready? I’ll teach you.”

“Here, I can help,” Capable said as she reached back, but Cheedo’s fingers flicked her away.

“We can manage, Cape. Oh, hey, so what did you want to tell me? Did something happen?”

“Yeah, something fucking awesome,” Nux put in and Capable laughed. “No, seriously. It’s really cool.”

As the two of them worked on her braids, Capable told Cheedo about CCUR and Savannah. Reciting the story gave her something to focus on, something other than Nux’s tugging fingers. Cheedo was effervescent in her praise, making Capable laugh again. Talking about it again let her ruminate more on it, about what it could be. What songs would she play? The famous, recognizable ones or some of her own? It depended on what her sisters voted for, of course. Cheedo liked the newer stadium folk, Dag preferred the fringe folkpunk, Toast loved to hate Bob Dylan. Nux’s question about Joe rose through those wonderings - Would she mention him? How would she?

But it was important. What Joe did - not just to her, not just to her sisters, and not just to the War Boys, but to the whole damn city - needed to be said. Acknowledged. And it didn’t end there. Like Seeds had declared at the festival, it was about the police and City Hall, too. She owed it to everyone still under those yokes to do whatever she could. Even if it was painful. Maybe because it was painful. She tossed and turned those thoughts, until Cheedo’s soft giggles and Nux’s exasperated groans brought her back to the present.

“You need to keep the sections separate. Here, try twisting them a little.”

“Hey, Capable, that doesn’t hurt, does it?”

“No, Nux,” she said quickly, breathlessly. “You’re fine. I’m fine.”

“Cape, you’re leaning over too much. Come back over here.”

“Mediocre. Don’t know why I can’t get this to work. Hard to manage, hair. Doesn’t act like wires or even string.”

Cheedo chuckled. “Don’t feel bad. I’ve been doing this for years.”

“You’re an actor, right? Don’t you have assistants to do your hair and stuff?” Nux asked, and Capable, who had unconsciously tensed, afraid that he would bring up Joe again, sunk back down in her seat.

“I am the assistants,” Cheedo scoffed. “But that’s ok for now. I like learning; I get to see how things are supposed to be done.”

“Sure, I get that. It’s hard, when you don’t even know how much you don’t know. Hard to think about yourself that way. But learning’s better than being wrong. Least that’s what I figure.”

Cheedo clapped her hands on her thighs and then reached for Capable’s tupperware of carrots. “Well, you learned braiding, so that’s something. All done! Hey, do you have anything to eat, Cape? I’m starving.”

“Crackers in my bag and I think there are some carrots left. So want to start thinking about dinner?”

With a finally gentle tug, Nux relinquished her hair, too, and sat back to judge his work. As Cheedo busied herself with foraging, Capable turned to him - to thank him, to tease him about dinner maybe, or just to look at him - and slid her knee against his, spreading his legs with her own. She hadn’t intended it to be a flirtatious gesture, hadn’t intended it to be a gesture at all, and realized only belatedly the intimacy of the movement - they were closer than ever now. And it felt... Good. There was that paltry word again. But it fit. Good: satisfying that urge, that need to accede to the pull between them. Good: pleasant, pleasing, pleasurable. Good: right, with none of the taint that had come with Joe. Not that she wanted to give that bastard any more time, any more effort, any thought at all. Especially not when Nux was right in front of her.

He opened his mouth to say something but shut it again before speaking; his usually wide eyes were heavy-lidded, soft, quiet in a way that she hadn’t observed before. When he leaned forward and pulled the two braids over her shoulders, a small sigh escaped her and at the sound he froze, his hands still hovering. All it took was a tilt of her chin and then her cheek was resting on his hand. He opened his palm, cupping her cheek, and she nuzzled into the warmth.

Good.

She forgot about Cheedo, about the laundromat, the rest of the whole city outside. But that moment was over quickly - Cheedo snapped the lid back on the tupperware container, a dryer buzzed, outside an ambulance wailed by. Capable moved away reluctantly, back to her sister, and Nux shifted in his seat, making the keys and tools in his pockets jangle.

“If I don’t get dinner soon I’m going to die,” Cheedo complained with a groan.

Capable met her sister’s eyes and Cheedo grinned and heaved an exaggerated sigh. Nux had passed muster! Capable smiled as she asked, “Nux, we’re going to get take-out tonight. Want to come over?”

“Chance to make a good second impression. Yeah, definitely!”

“Chinese food!” Cheedo announced, and pulled a menu out of her purse and slapped it on the counter. "I’ve been craving a spring roll all month.”

“Sounds good to me. So definitely getting spring rolls. What else?”

“Do you like spicy stuff?” Cheedo asked Nux. “Dag and Furiosa drench everything in hot sauce.”

“Yeah? I don’t know,” he said as he scanned the menu. “Never had any of this.”

Cheedo’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? I figured that you Boys… Well, anyway, do you like seafood? We can get something with shrimp in it. The fake duck is actually really good, if you’re a vegetarian. Are you? I think last time we got a dish or two with chicken, too.”

“Fake duck…” Nux mumbled. “And octopus. Squid. You guys really eat this?”

“Not the octopus or squid. Dag says they’re too intelligent to eat. And also they’re gross.” Cheedo told him and he wrinkled his nose again.

She and Cheedo agreed on a couple of blander dishes, and then once they settled on the basic order, Capable pulled a pad of paper out from one of the counter’s drawers and found a pen in her bag. With Cheedo reading the prices, Capable made a list, keeping a careful running tab so they wouldn’t exceed their budget. Nux tossed in some crumpled bills that he fished out of one of his pockets and Capable smiled at him as she added it to their fund; it was a sweet gesture, and a generous one, and she silently vowed to pay him back for his help with the clothes. They finished their list just as the first customers arrived to pick up their laundry, but with Cheedo and Nux helping, managing the crowded line was much easier than usual. Smoother. And even a little fun, with Nux tossing laundry bags and Cheedo doing the math faster than the register. There were a few worried looks - one woman even backed out of the door a step before gathering her courage and coming in - but no one said anything to Nux.

Capable’s coworker came in to replace her, and they gathered their things and excitedly left the mat. As Cheedo called in their order, Nux fell in step along side of Capable and they both reached for each, linking their hands together again. When Cheedo giggled at them, Capable felt her cheeks pinken and Nux looked away, pretending to be interested in an old VW Beetle, but he was still smiling and his hand stayed in hers. They debated getting his car first, but then decided to pick up the food first - And this time, Nux didn’t complain as much about walking. By the time they reached to the take-out place, night had settled over the city and the blinking neon light of the restaurant was a welcoming beacon. Their food was ready, and as Cheedo paid, Nux leaned over the bags, sniffing warily.

Capable’s stomach was rumbling and she knew that he had to be hungry too, unless somehow the carrots he’d eaten had been satiating. She opened the bags and slid the cartons around until she found one of their orders of vegetable dumplings, and pulled it out. When she took off the plastic lid, fragrant steam escaped in a cloud. “Here, try one.”

“What’s in it?” he asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

“Good stuff: cabbage, carrots, and mushrooms.” She grabbed one carefully with the tips of her fingers - left hand, hoping that the calluses would protect her from the heat but the dumpling was still hot to the touch. After blowing on it for a few seconds she took a bite. Steaming but amazingly good, worth burning her mouth on. She had to fan her face, but after she swallowed she managed to gasp, “Shine. Needs soy sauce. Want to try a bite?”

She was still holding the dumpling and lifted it closer for his inspection. He scrunched up his nose thoughtfully and then came to a decision, and with one smooth movement, leaned in and took a bite. The graze of his lips on her fingers had to be faint - the quickest and subtlest of touches - but it felt like a lightning bolt had struck her.

His mouth. Her fingers.

Her own mouth had to be hanging open. And he had to hear the thump of her heart as it gave its best attempt of launching itself through her ribcage. Was it hot in the restaurant? Because she felt like the whole place was on fire. Or maybe it was just her.

“Not bad,” he concluded thoughtfully, oblivious to her shock. Those big eyes were bright again and he grinned; he clearly wasn’t as affected by it as her, which was a sobering realization. He nodded to himself, “Yeah, that was pretty good. Fuck, I’m hungry.”

She acted as casually as she could as they gathered up their order and paid. Back on the street, they hurried to campus and to Nux’s car was patiently waiting. He almost ran to it when they got close, calling back to Capable, “Hey, look what I put in, just for you! See? Remembered what you said. Thought you’d feel better with them.”

Seatbelts! He pointed proudly at them and Capable grinned at him over the roof of the car. Cheedo climbed into the back and they packed the bags of food around her, her arms curved protectively over their cornucopia of noodles and rolls. Like the last time he’d given her a ride, Nux got them through the city traffic and out to the hinterlands with no problems at all, and they made it to Green Place in far less than half the time it would’ve taken her and Cheedo on the bus.

They each grabbed a couple of bags and headed in; Nux waiting for Cheedo and Capable to start up to the house before he trailed in behind them. Capable turned to search his face for any signs of anxiety - he looked nervous, maybe even a little shy, but he was at her heels, following her up the stairs.

“Hey,” he said, when he caught her staring, “you sure about this, Capable?”

“Yeah,” was her immediate response. But then she paused and asked him the same. “Is this ok?”

“I’m the one who fucked up last time. I won’t this time. Well, will try not to, anyway.”

“You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to, Nux.”

He shook his head and then contemplated her for a moment before a wry smile spread across his face. “No one’s ever been this worried about me. Even when we were going into trouble, no one asked me how I was. This is just dinner, yeah? Not an execution?”

“Just dinner,” she replied, smiling. It faded away as she considered what he’d said. She asked, serious again, “Don’t you want to be able to choose?”

“Choose what?”

“Anything. Everything.”

The smile sharpened and he looked older, cynical and jaded, “War Boys are about following orders, not arguing over them.”

She knew that well enough. “That’s why I ask you first. We never used to be able to choose, you know? You or me. I want to know that you’re ok with this. Not just ok, happy with it. With anything we do.”

“What about you?” he asked quietly. “Who makes sure that you’re happy?”

“I am,” she answered. “I’m ok.”

“But what about happy?”

She had her sisters, a home, a life of her own with her own space and her own things. That was happiness - security and safety.That was enough, she’d told herself. “I’m happy,” she asserted and hoisted the bag up, crinkling it noisily. “We should get this inside; everyone’s waiting. Oh, and I have your t-shirt. I washed it.”

As quickly as she turned away, it wasn’t fast enough to miss the look of dubiety on Nux’s face. But he followed her again without any other comment. They shucked their shoes at the front door - again he wasn’t wearing socks - and then walked to the kitchen. The radio was on the classical music station and the frantic strains of a Vivaldi violin piece worked through the noise of conversation. She could smell the food already, the spice of the sauces and the steaming noodles. Cheedo was already unpacking her bag, and Dag and Toast were pushing a card table up next to the kitchen table, with them and all the chairs, the small kitchen was even more cramped than usual; squeezed alongside the counters were Furiosa, Seeds, and Valkyrie. The room didn’t exactly silence at Nux’s appearance, but the voices hushed for a beat before Capable made quick introductions. Furiosa’s gaze slid from Capable to Nux, then back to the table.

“Thanks for letting me in, Boss,” Nux said promptly and Seeds cackled.

“A man in our cabal,” she said and nudged Furiosa’s arm. “You’re getting soft.”

“I’m getting hungry,” Furiosa said back with a smile so faint that Capable wondered if she imagined it. “Sit. Eat. Capable, Cheedo, we’ve got something to talk about tonight.”

Dishes revolved around the tables, gradually emptying. Whatever she piled onto her own plate Nux took too, including the vegetables, until Cheedo, on his other side, started giving him suggestions. Across the table Dag and Toast shared a look: Dag was amused, Toast leery, and Furiosa busy with Valkyrie, but still glancing down to ensure order. Capable showed him how to use the chopsticks and he duly struggled with them for a few aborted bites before a fork was passed down the line. Toast leaned backwards and retrieved beer from the fridge, and Valkyrie opened a bottle of red wine, ignoring Cheedo’s exaggerated pout when she was given a glass of water. Over mouthfuls Cheedo explained her exercises in class and when they finally stopped laughing at the image, she pointed at Capable with her chopsticks and ordered, "Cape, tell them about the show."

Nux nodded and the rest of the table murmured, all eyes swiveling to her. If they had been anyone other than her family, Capable would have been uncomfortable under the scrutiny of so many intense faces. She quickly swallowed her rice and explained, "The university has a radio station and there's a show on it called 'Nightly Tells.' And they want me to come on it, to sing and and talk about the festival. I said that we should all do it, though."

"That's great, Cape!" Dag exclaimed and Toast, her mouth full, gave her a thumbs-up.

Seeds' eyebrows rose until they disappeared into the gray cloud of her hair and she leaned forward in interest. "So are you going to do it?"

"Yeah. I think so. I want to. But only if everyone else does, too."

Toast shook her head. "You're the musician; it should be you."

Capable prodded her vegetable dumpling with her chopsticks. She wanted to argue that: she wasn't the only musician in their family. She wasn't even the only one who played an instrument; Angharad was a pianist, able to play everything from Beethoven to the Beach Boys.

"You should," Seeds said eagerly. "University radio is a great platform. Students can be one of the loudest voices there is - Don’t underestimate them or yourself."

The verses of Neil Young’s “Ohio” cut through her thoughts, but Capable kept those lines to herself.

Valkyrie nodded slowly and her dark eyes were serious when they met Capable’s. "Do you have ideas about what you'll talk about?"

"The sort of stuff you've been talking to me about," Nux suggested. "About choice and change and stuff."

That energized Seeds even more. "Well, that leads us right into what we wanted to talk to you about. Another rally - a bigger one than the Clearwater Festival. Things are changing, that’s for damn sure, but it’s not enough, not yet. That bastard Joe was only part of it. Important start, but there’s much more we need to do to rebuild this city.”

Beside her Nux shifted, sliding a little closer to her. He had stopped eating and was looking intently at Seeds; Furiosa had leaned back and stared down her nose at him, watching, waiting, but Nux stayed silent, despite the amount of vitriol that Seeds had injected into Joe's name.

“Yeah, but you don’t want to dilute the message.” Toast’s advice was practical, as always. Her eyes swept the table. “Pick your battles, right?”

"So would it be about the river again, Seeds?" Cheedo asked.

"Or are you just starting there?" Capable added with a glance at Toast, and Seeds smiled sharply.

"It'll be what we put on the paperwork," she answered and Valkyrie snorted. Seeds motioned with her fork. "Yep, that was the lawyer's idea. But you saw at the festival - it's not just about the water. You’re right, Toast, about keeping it focused. But it’s all connected, isn’t it?"

Dag rested her chin on her fist and asked with a smile, "Where will we be? In the front, leading the charge? Cape with a bullhorn, setting our pace?"

“Should be Angharad,” Capable said quickly and Dag stretched out a long leg and rubbed her foot on Capable’s shin.

"I want to be there." Nux's statement was firm. "I want to hear Capable with everyone else."

It roused Furiosa, who grunted as she leaned forward. "No War Boys. We don't need gang warfare. Cops can be bad enough."

"Wouldn't cause trouble," he insisted and pressed even closer to Capable, his thigh hard and warm against hers. "Besides, I know about the river, all the shit in it. And I know about the cops."

"What do War Boys know about the river?" Valkyrie asked, a hint of scorn giving her words a sharp edge.

"Live in Gas Town. Everything runs into it: trash, gas, oil... When it’s hot out, it turns into a haze and burns. Makes you cough. Hurts your eyes.” His own eyes, blue and clear like a river should be, flickered over Capable’s face and he added in a tone that was quieter, almost apologetic, “Good for dumping.”

Dumping more than just trash, Capable thought. She stretched her fingers out and rubbed her knuckles against his own.

“But might not be bad to have Boys there, Boss,” he continued. “Think about it: we’d keep Buzzards and Rock Riders out.”

“No.”

Nux wasn’t insulted by Furiosa’s shortness. “Then I wouldn’t wear the blacks. Capable got me this shirt, right? I can find other pants.”

Furiosa gaze was hard. “So what do you want to do?”

He frowned at Furiosa’s question. He’d straightened and was by far the tallest one at the table; he’d fit in so well that it almost felt strange that he now was standing out. “You give the order and I’ll back off.”

“Not a boss anymore.”

“And you can’t give me orders to follow if I’m not a War Boy.”

It was a tight piece of logic, and apparently unexpected; Furiosa snorted and shook her head. Everyone’s stare was riveted on her now, waiting for her mandate. She’d just reiterated her denial of being a boss, but Furiosa was still their leader of sorts. To Capable, Furiosa had become something close to a mother, though she’d never called the other woman that. Furiosa had done more than protect them - she’d saved them. What would Capable do if Furiosa changed her mind about Nux?

Furiosa’s prosthetic clicked against the table from she rested her arm between the cartons of rice and steamed vegetables. “You didn’t answer my question: What do you want to do?”

“Help if I can.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Furiosa. Look at how tall he is. He could paint the ceilings for us,” Dag chirped and the tension broke. The conversation returned to the march and what it could accomplish, and Seeds and Valkyrie both had advice for Capable and the CCUR broadcast.

Finally the stacks of the empty dishes had to be moved into the sink. Dag turned on the faucet and rinsed them off - the only cleaning anyone could find the energy to do. Capable reclined in her chair, full and exhausted, and watched with amusement as Nux scraped the last of the brown rice onto his plate and dumped sweet and sour sauce over it. So much for their leftovers, she thought, but she didn’t mind and everyone else was too food-tired to complain. Furiosa walked Seeds and Valkyrie out to their truck, and Cheedo made a dash for the shower. The night was coming to an end; somehow the day had felt shorter than usual and when Capable glanced at the clock by the fridge, she was surprised at how late it was.

“When do you need to go, Nux?”

He stretched his arms up, cracking his shoulders. He rubbed one bicep and as her eyes drifted over the curve of muscle something in Capable stirred, despite heavy sleepiness from the meal. “Soon probably. Don’t think I can even move now, though,” he groaned and she laughed.

They helped gather the rest of the dishes before Dag and Toast kicked them out of the kitchen. Capable mouthed a thank-you to them as she followed Nux out - She appreciated all of her sisters’ help and their blessing, of sorts, of her remarkable friendship with Nux.

She grabbed his clean black t-shirt for him as he stomped back into his boots and then there was nothing left to do but walk slowly out the front door and down the steps. Like they had the last time, they wrapped their arms around each other and stood quietly on the cool grass, unwilling to say goodbye.

“Hey,” he said suddenly. “What do you do for fun?”

Capable’s eyes flew open - She’d almost started to doze against him. “For fun? I don’t know. Play my guitar.”

“What about when you want to go wild?”

Her lips parted. Go wild? That was something Capable never did. Someone needed to keep watch. “I don’t know.”

Nux made a low hum, a noise almost like a purr that vibrated in her ear. Then he pulled her back so he could look into her face, and his big eyes searched hers. “I get it now, what you said in the hospital. You told me that Joe took a lot from you. I believed you, but I didn’t really understand - I didn’t know how much there was to lose. You worry a lot, right? About everyone. Do you ever get a chance to let it all go? You… You’re...” His voice trailed away for a moment before he cleared his throat, “I want to do something for you, too.”

“You don’t owe me anything, Nux.”

His brilliant smile lit up his face. “I know. But I didn’t mean it like that. You aren’t like Joe - we aren’t assets, or something to invest in. Right? Tonight’s dinner wasn’t a down payment; you aren’t trying to get something in return.”

He pressed a kiss on her forehead, so quick and soft that it took Capable a moment to realize what he had done. There was no chance to return it - Nux released her and was bounding down to his car.

“Thanks for dinner, Capable! I’ll text you tomorrow, alright?”

She stood there in mute stupor as he drove away, waving belatedly when her brain finally re-booted itself. The taillights were long gone when she finally climbed back up the stairs and into the house, where three smirking faces were waiting for her.

“So,” she started weakly, “what do you guys think?”

“Look at that blush!” Dag exclaimed and Cheedo giggled. “She’s practically blooming!”

“He ate out of her hand, you guys. I swear to god. Right out of her hand!”

“So I guess War Boys can be tamed,” Toast said with a snicker.

“You guys, listen. Listen you guys. Look, we’re just friends - Guys -”

“Friends!” they hooted together.

“He's completely smitten.” That was Dag, said with a grin and a roll of her eyes.

Cheedo was practically jumping up and down. “You should have seen him braiding her hair. I felt like the world’s thirdest wheel. It was like, any second now she’s going to push him right off his chair and I’ll have to hide in a washing machine until they’re done.”

“He was trying to climb into your lap all night.”

“I think he’s sweet. Those big eyes!”

“Can you even imagine him coming along on the march? Think he’ll actually do it?”

“An activist War Boy.”

“No gun this time.”

“Bet he has something in his pants for Capable, though!”

“You guys. You guys!” Capable laughed helplessly as they piled onto her. Dag pulled her into a hug and Cheedo rested her chin on Capable’s shoulder, and with an exasperated sigh, Toast wrapped her arms around all of them. “Thanks for letting me see him again. I love you guys.”

Later that night, after sanding with Furiosa for a while and even managing to do a bit of homework, she lay on her back on her bed with her acoustic in her arms. She stopped strumming when Toast came in and put the guitar carefully into its stand.

“Tonight was…” she grinned at Toast and her sister chuckled.

Toast dropped onto her bed and pulled the towel of her head, rubbing her short hair dry. “Better than last time,” she finished. “So I guess things are going well between you two.”

Capable reached down and plucked at the G string of the acoustic. It twanged quietly against the neck before she silenced it again. “He’s been so sweet. And he’s a good friend. I feel like…”

“What?”

The confession came out in a rush, “I think I’m reading too much into it. Into him. Into everything. What if he just wants to be friends?”

“That’s what you said you wanted, right? When we were at the library.” When Capable slowly nodded, Toast continued, “But you didn’t really mean it.”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Ok, I do know: I don’t want to be just friends.”

“Well, he stares at you like you hung the moon, so you’re probably fine on that front. Just take it step by step. You worry way too much.”

“Nux said almost the same thing.” Capable ran her hands over her hair; both her braids were still intact. That was important somehow, like it was testament to something. She collapsed on her bed and pulled her pillow up over her face to hide her grin. "Oh god, I'm ridiculous, Toast. What am I going to do?"

She heard Toast flop onto her own pillow. "You don't really want my advice."

"Toast..."

"And you don't really need it. I'm pretty sure you know what you're going to do."

Capable lowered the pillow. There were tons of songs about love, millions and millions of them probably, sung in every language, sung from every corner of the earth, sung since the dawn of humanity. She felt like she could sing them all, standing on the roof playing each and every song in an infinite serenade. She rolled over and again stroked her guitar strings. “Well,” she admitted with another goofy smile, “I think I know what I want to do.”

“Just give me some warning, ok? Hang a sock on the door knob. Or get Max to give you some Do Not Cross police tape.”

“Toast!”

“Pale white War Boy ass in the air -” Toast neatly dodged Capable’s flung pillow.

---

Stay, little star, steady and bright to guide me afar
Rush, little wind, over the deep for now I've begun
Hurry and take me straight into the arms of my dear someone
- “My Dear Someone” by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings

Chapter Text

And I'll be singing like an angel until I'm six feet deep
I found myself an omen and I tattooed on a sign
I set my mind to wandering and walk a broken line
You have a mind to keep me quiet and although you can try
Better men have hit their knees and bigger men have died
I'm gonna raise, raise hell
There's a story no one tells
That you gotta raise, raise hell
-"Raise Hell" by Brandi Carlile

---

It didn’t take long for them to establish a regular schedule, calling and texting when they knew the other one should be free. And so as her class wrapped up - projector off, lights on - her phone lit up too. As usual, Nux’s texts were sweet, with his exuberance coming through with every word. She read them as she made her way slowly through the seats and students. It took a few rings for him to pick up when she called, but then his voice was on the line - he was a little breathless, and the way he said her name made heat pool low in her stomach.

“Capable! Hey!”

“Hey Nux! I’m done with class.”

“Hold on one sec - fuck off, Slit!” There was some commotion on his side, and she grimaced at the sound of scuffling and then a few more curses from Nux and Slit. “Alright, sorry. What’s up? How was class?”

“It was good, thanks. We’re moving into the Age of Discovery, which will be interesting. I was just… I just wanted to talk to you, I guess. Nothing important.”

He huffed a laugh. “Hey, I think it’s important that you want to talk to me.”

They chatted as she walked toward the hospital - she told him about new strings that she’d bought and was excited to try out, he told her spark plugs - and somehow she’s found a way to warp the space-time continuum, because it seemed like she was in front of St. George in a ridiculously short amount of time. She explained, “I’m meeting Furiosa and Dag at the hospital now. I want to see Angharad for a couple of minutes before visiting hours are over.”

“How’s she doing? Angharad?”

Capable rubbed her forehead with a sigh. “Not any better. Not any worse, which is good. But I thought… I was hoping… By now…” The words refused to come out, and Capable fell silent for a moment.

“Hey, are you ok? Want me to come get you?”

His offer - and the quiet compassion in his voice - made some of the tightness in her chest relax away. “I’m fine. Really. Thanks, Nux. It’s just - I hate not being able to do anything for her, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. Hey,” he said suddenly, “what are you doing tonight? Later, I mean?”

“Probably homework and then bed. Why?”

“Just thought of something. Fuck yeah. This’ll be fun. Let’s go out!”

“What? Where? I don’t know, Nux.”

“I’m taking you out and it’s going to be fucking awesome. It’ll be late, ok?””

“But my paper…” she argued weakly and Nux laughed.

“Fuck it! You get to have fun sometimes too. No worrying tonight, ok?”

She was smiling when they hung up. It lasted as she walked through the hospital to Angharad’s room. Furiosa and Dag were there, watching intently, but although Angharad had tightened her hands into fists, she stayed in her silent coma. Capable felt like there was only so much waiting that she could do before she burst wide open and spilled out everything everywhere. Maybe Nux was right - Maybe she needed to get away from it all, if only for a little while. It gave her something to look forward to, even if she wasn’t exactly sure what it was he’d had in mind.

Whatever it was, it’d be with him.

All the way home from the hospital she thought about him, and then through dinner, and then through her study session with Toast and Dag. And then finally it time for bed. She lay her phone on her pillow and tried to go to sleep, but slumber was more than just evasive - it was impossible. Imaging all the things that she and Nux could do in the dark together somehow was not conducive to anything productive. Finally, moving quietly so as not to wake Toast, Capable grabbed her clothes and phone, and crept down the dark stairs to the living room. The house was a different creature at night, while its inhabitants were lost in their dreams and blankets. Even Furiosa was asleep, and with her room at the back of the house, it felt like she - and Capable’s sisters - were so far away that the house was empty.

When he texted, asking if she was awake, Capable replied instantly. She was awake all right, and ready and willing.

The street outside was dark and silent, a stillness waiting to be broken. Dutifully she pulled out one of her books to study, but then with a snort at herself, she dropped it on the couch. She roamed around their tiny living room, running her fingers of the rows of Toast’s books and their tiny collection of movies, then went into the kitchen to jot down a note, just in case someone awoke and found her missing. She felt silly even as she wrote it. After everything that had happened, everything that she’d done and been, here she was acting like a nervous teenager sneaking out from under her family’s noses.

But she wasn’t nervous. It was excitement that made her stand at the door, face practically pressed into the screen, jiggling on her toes and trying to keep herself from texting him.

If she hadn’t been waiting for it, watching for him, she might not have heard the car pull up outside. The headlights were out and the motor barely whispered in the dark. She eased the door shut behind her and stepped quietly down the steps. It wasn’t the same car - not the red Monte Carlo. It wasn’t painted. Or at least it wasn’t painted well. Despite that, it was impressive, a sporty two-door model that one of Joe’s friends might have brought around on a Saturday night. Fancy and expensive, it was the perfect vehicle to speed her into the night’s debauchery.

He was practically radiating excitement. “Wait until you see it in action, Capable - This baby’s amazing. Been working on it for weeks. Tomorrow it’ll have new plates and a coat of paint, but it’s ours tonight.”

The interior was sleek, almost sexy. She trailed her hand over the dashboard, down to the gear stick; the knob was warm from Nux’s hand. When she looked up she caught his eye and he cleared his throat before giving her a smile.

“You look great tonight,” he told her, and there was a huskiness to his voice that she could almost feel vibrating through her. Then he grinned and she returned it instantly.

Before they got on the highway, Nux drove up to a bar and honked. A tall figure strode out, dark except for the wide white grin that stretched across his face. With surprising grace, Slit climbed over Nux and slid his bulk between their seats and into the back, then leaned forward, draping his arms over the the headrests. With both of them in their blacks, they cut imposing figures, and the two of them filled the small car. Unlike in the subway, when Slit been irritated and impatient, he was relaxed, his long limbs loose. Close up, she could see the gouges of Slit’s scars, but she wasn’t scared of him. Maybe a little annoyed that it wasn’t just her and Nux, but that was just a flicker.

“It’s your lucky day, Red,” he said as a greeting. “Fucking beast of a car.”

“He wouldn’t let me take it unless he got to come along,” Nux explained apologetically.

“Hi Slit. Nice to see you again.”

At that he turned to look at her, expression sharp and eyes mocking. “I fucking bet. So where’s your little guard dog tonight?”

“Why?” she asked. “Did you want her to come?”

“What? No! Be a shit ride, stuck in the back with her. Shitty anyway back here. But least I get to keep an eye on you.”

“You can have shotgun.”

“Don’t listen to that jackass, Capable. Stay up front with me. You got to see what this car can do.”

Slit snorted but he was grinning again. He banged on their seats. “Then fang it!”

“Zero to sixty, less than seven fucking seconds! Ready, Capable?”

“What?”

The street stretched long and dark in front of them. Nux slammed his foot onto the gas pedal and the engine roared - second gear, third - Capable peeled her eyes off the of the blur outside her window to glance down at Nux’s pale knuckles on the gear stick - then right to fifth and the car really started to fly. The building lights were streaks in the dark.

It was crazy. it was insane. It was dangerous. They flew past another car, Nux not slowing down at all, just squealing into the other lane and zooming past it like it was standing still; he down-shifted but the car barely slowed as they careened around a corner. They were going to die. They’d crash into a thousand pieces, be a splatter on the pavement. It was completely crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy and so fucking fun that when Capable finally managed to pry her mouth open, the first thing came out what a whoop of her own. “Stop, stop!” she half shrieked, half laughed.

Obediently he slowed down, still going much faster than he had the other two times he’d given her a lift, but at least now she could see the city. The lights that were still on in the skyscrapers glittered in the darkness like stars, and she caught a glimpse of the moon over the tops of the buildings. It was a waning sliver, smiling down at them as they cruised across town. The seedy hotels, the dive bars, the strip joints, and porn shops - Their lights blinked and then faded as Nux sailed past them, and from her seat in his car, Capable didn’t mind them for once. She stretched her arm out the window and the air slipped over the curve of her hand, cool and silky, and when she closed her eyes, she could imagine she were flying for real.

At a stop light he pulled up aside a gang on bikes - Rock Riders, she recognized - and Slit growled and leaned forward again.

“The fuck are you driving, Boy?” One of them yelled and Nux flipped up his middle finger.

“Beats the shit out of whatever that is,” Slit shouted over her shoulder.

Nux ignored all of them and instead turned to her. His eyes were wide and bright, and the grin spreading across his face was wild. “What do you say, Capable?”

The car was in first, handbrake on. When he revved the engine, it sounded like a lion, a tiger, a bear, a fucking dragon getting ready to attack, and the wheels spun in place, clouds of smoke pluming up from where the tires burned against the pavement.

“You sure about this?” she asked and the grin sharpened.

“Want to show you what this car can do. Promise - this’ll be a hell of a ride.”

The Rock Riders started hollering back and forth, revving their engines loud enough that the sound reverberate down the street - challenge accepted.

“Nux, no,” Capable warned because someone had to. Someone had to be the voice of reason. Someone had to be responsible.

Over her protests, Slit chanted, “Come on, driver. Come on, come on.”

“No, no, Nux, I swear to-”

“Trust me, Capable, we can do this. And it’ll be fucking shine as fuck.”

“Come on!”

And then -

Green light, go.

Release the handbrake, shift up, fly down the street - Back up Fifth and then they were screaming down Broadway, the motorcycles in a swarm around them. There weren’t many other cars on the road, but there were enough - With a curse Nux slowed behind a taxi and the Rock Riders streamed by them in the narrow spaces between the cars.

She knew she shouldn’t have been disappointed. It was unreasonable. It was irresponsible. And she knew she shouldn’t cheer when a space opened up in the lane next to them. Knew she shouldn’t, but Capable did anyway, yelling as loud as Slit as Nux steered the car over, then shifted into fourth again and then it was all fucking over.

The car roared through the group of bikers, sliding between them until he’d caught up with the leader. For a second she could see the Rock Riders clear out her window and then another second went by and Nux had passed them all. Slit was howling in the back and Capable was bouncing her seat with a shout of her own . She leaned out the window to look back at them, waving at them as her hair was blown in a storm around her face, then dropped back into her seat with a gasping laugh. “Holy shit, Nux! That was incredible!”

With a smirk Nux shifted down and the car slowed back to something approaching a reasonable speed. Slit reached up and rubbed a hand over Nux’s head, and then added with a smirk of his own, “Course Riders are always shit. Practically on scooters.”

Nux swatted Slit’s hand away. “Saw at least a couple of straight-fours.”

“Those are the engines, right?” Capable asked and both nodded. She knew they were talking about the bikes - she’d picked up a bit of mechanic jargon from Nux.

“Yeah, probably ours. Must have taken them from the Pits, those mediocre fucks,” Slit growled. “Wasted on them. Riders are a shit gang.”

“Who cares?” Nux said with a shrug. “They can have them. Better them than the bronze. Or Buzzards. Riders will just use them for racing.” Ignoring Slit’s annoyed response to that, he flipped on the radio. “Think this is the university station, Capable.”

An old blues song came on, then a DJ whose voice was lost in the noise of wind rushing through the open windows. They left the city behind, driving along the river, and the air grew cooler as trees replaced streetlights. For the most part she stayed around a few key places: Green Place, school, and the hospital; it had been a long time she she’d done exploring of other neighborhoods, and so Capable stared as Nux drove through the other parts of Citadel City. After a few minutes, Slit pointed from between the seats. “Hey, turn in here.”

It was an empty parking lot. The mall behind it looked closed, and not just for the night. A few of the lampposts were still on, spilling dim yellow circles in sporadic spots across the span of pavement. They looped through it, driving much more slowly now, and Capable squashed a tiny pout at that. Racing had been… Fun. Just like Nux had said. She glanced curiously at him and he nodded as he scoped the premise, too.

“Yeah, this is a good place.”

“Good place for what?” she asked and Nux’s eyes almost shone in the dark.

“Your turn to drive!”

“Really?” she asked with delighted surprise. But quickly a frown settled on her face. “I don’t know how.”

“I’ll teach you.”

“What if I wreck your car?”

He shook his head. “You won’t. You’re smart and careful.”

“But…”

“No worrying tonight, remember? Do you want to try it?” When she slowly nodded, he slapped his palms on the steering wheel. “Then it’s settled. You should learn to drive and I want to show you, so let’s do it!”

His wide eyes were bright with hope, making Capable flush and bite her lip against a smile. Giving a complete novice the keys to a car costly in both time and money - that was a testament of his trust in her. He’d said, after the hospital, what his car meant to him. She knew that he didn’t have a lot to give, but to offer up his car…

“Yeah. Let’s do it!”

She hadn’t really realized just how close together she and Nux were until Slit pushed his way through them, climbing heavily over Nux and banging his way out of the car. “She melts the engine and Rictus will shred you,” he said grimly. “Pop the trunk.”

Nux hopped out behind him and Capable slid into his warm seat. She could barely reach the steering wheel - Nux had the seat as far back as it could go - and she was fumbling to find the seat adjustment when he got into the passenger’s seat beside her. “You and your long legs,” she teased and his eyebrows shot up.

“Oh yeah, sorry. Should have thought of that. It’s toward the back. No - here, I’ll show you.” He stretched over her, shoulder brushing by her breasts as he reached to the side of the seat for the lever. “Over here. See?”

If she moved forward, Nux would be in her lap. If she moved her arms, she could wrap them around his chest. If she moved her fingers, she could touch his neck, his face, his lips. “Right, yeah. Thanks,” she croaked and he sat back.

Somehow she managed to rein in those thoughts and pay attention as he pointed to the different parts of the car she’d need to control. Steering wheel, handbrake, gear stick, gas pedal, clutch, and brake, and it wasn’t just knowing them, but knowing their order. Nux scooted as close as he could as he guided her through the steps of starting the car, getting it to move, getting it to move without stalling.

“Oh, shit, sorry,” she said when it sputtered and died again.

“You’re getting better. Ready to try again?”

“You made it look so easy,” she complained as she turned the key in the ignition. “Ok, so clutch is in and I’m shifting into first… And accelerating. Shifting into second… Hey! I did it this time!”

The car was alive under her. With Nux cheering beside her, she made a slow, wobbling circle across the parking lot. It was nothing like Nux’s smooth glide - Stop, go, stop go, and the car shuddered when she downshifted; she cringed at a particular loud rattling noise, but instead of a rebuke, Nux nodded encouragingly.

“You’re already listening to the car; that’s good. Speed up a little, ok? Don’t want lugging.”

“What if I go too fast?”

“You won’t lose control, promise. You can do it, Capable.”

It had to be the same as someone over-tuning her guitar, but if Nux was wincing at her driving ability (or lack thereof), he was hiding it. Her second loop was better and by the time she started her third, she was going fast enough to blow her hair out of her face. She took her eyes off the pavement for a second, risking a glance at him: he was staring at her with a lopsided smile on his face, eyes heavy-lidded. When she gently said his name, he startled, banging his head on the roof of the car.

“Shit! Sorry - I was… Anyway, so want to try parking?”

Sweat broke out as she tried to focus on the painted lines of the parking spaces while downshifting without stalling. He hopped out as she turned off the engine and she saw him bound through the beams of the headlights. She hurried out behind him and he grabbed her hand to pull her over to the front of the car. She’d parked it right between the lines.

She done it. Successfully driving a manual. Furiosa would be impressed.

“Perfect!” he pronounced proudly. “See, knew you could do it! Hey Slit, told you she could do it! You driving my car… this is probably the best night of my life. So what do you think? Driving’s the fucking best, right? Next time I’ll show you fun shit, like drifting.” He turned toward her, those beautiful lips up in a grin. Suddenly he quieted, and at first his hand tightened around her own but then he released it. “What’s up?”

She’d been staring at him. Her gaze darted quickly away but it was only for a moment - She was drawn back to him, back to his face. Again they were close to each other, again close enough for a kiss, and again she couldn’t stop her thoughts from drifting in that direction.

Maybe this time she could do something about it.

“Nothing,” she said with a smile. “Thanks for the lesson, Nux. This was really fun. Best night of my life, too.”

“Yeah?”

It certainly could be, she thought to herself. Her fingers didn’t exactly tremble when she reach out and caught the hem of his shirt between them, but there was a twitchy giddiness in their movements, like she’d been playing guitar for hours - days - weeks - years. Or maybe it was the opposite - maybe they felt like she hadn’t played for years, and they were wasting away.

This was risky. This was daring. But she wasn’t supposed to worry.

Tugging on his shirt brought him closer, close enough that when she moved her hands under his jacket to his hips, and then up to his narrow waist, she could hear the quiet hitch in his breathing. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough any more just to be close to him, and her hands wanted to touch more of him - to discover if his skin was as silky as she’d been imaging, to trace his tattoo as she memorized its lines, to feel his muscles shift under her, to see how well his hard angles fit against her curves. But it wasn’t just what she wanted. Nux had to had want it too, or nothing else mattered.

“I feel so good when you touch me, Nux. Like when you were braiding my hair the other day. I can’t stop thinking about it… and I want to touch you, too. Do you like this? Is this ok?”

“Yeah! Yeah. Everything you do is chrome.”

“You’re so gorgeous.” He was - with his big eyes and dark lashes, the high arches of his cheekbones, and his mouth, lips which were parted slightly - and as she gazed up at him she added breathlessly, “Shine.”

It was the perfect word. There was a light in him, bright enough that his blacks couldn’t cover it. He was nothing like Joe. Something like a shiver ran through her at that thought and for the first time that night, she felt something akin to fear, something akin to dread. But she tossed her head against the memories - Tonight was her night.

Nux’s warm hands moved up to cup her face, those long fingers stretching over her cheeks to brush into her hair. He pressed his forehead against hers and she met his eyes - a blue deep enough that she felt like she was swimming in them. But even that wasn’t enough. It was time to take a plunge. Her voice was hoarse when she finally admitted it aloud, “I want to kiss you so badly.”

“Fuck, yeah, Capable. Please. Kiss me?”

He bent down to meet her. His lips were as soft as she imagined, soft and sweet, and so gentle against her own. She pushed herself up to the tips of her toes and deepened the kiss, pressing harder against him and making Nux murmur. Every inch of her was on fire - every millimeter, every molecule - stoked by the pressure of his fingertips as they dug deeper into her hair. Kissing, kissing, breaking apart for a gasping breath, only to kiss again. The sensation of it - the sensation of him - obliterated all other thoughts. It was like falling - no, like flying - no, maybe like singing - like everything at once.

“Wish it was just us,” he murmured against her ear. She shivered as his breath tickled there and he tightened his grip on her. “Me and you and the car and the night.”

“Our dates have been sort of crowded.” Maybe she’d been using her sisters as a shield, she realized; hiding behind them and that claim of platonic friendship. But all the indecision and anxiety was gone. “Next time,” she promised the both of them.

He made a pleased noise and brushed his lips over the shell of her ear, and as thrilling it had been to feel his breath there, the slide of his lips was enough to make her knees weakened. Leaning harder against him only increased that weakness - he was warm and firm and big enough that he curled around as he tightened the embrace. She was lucky, so ridiculously lucky. It was a word she’d never thought she’d use to describe herself, but it was true - She was. Lucky and happy, and absolutely crazy for extraordinary young man who was holding her just as tightly as she held him. She made fists in his shirt as she clung to him, crushing her breasts against the hard flatness of his chest, and even that felt fucking amazing.

“Hey asshole!”

Slit’s voice echoed across the empty lot. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him throw something, but her thoughts were too drunk on Nux to process it any more than that. Nux was slow on the uptake, too, looking up with a murmured question and then -

DONK.

“Ow, what the fuck, Slit?”

There was a clatter of metal and Capable looked down at their feet in complete befuddlement. A can of spray paint? Nux was rubbing the top of his head with a grimace. They both groaned and she smushed her face into his chest.

“Next date, it’s just us. Swear to fucking valhalla. Hey Slit! Fuck you!”

“Got to admit that was a hell of a throw!” Slit yelled back.

He kissed her swiftly on the forehead and squeezed her for a breathless moment before releasing her and taking off down the lot toward his partner. Capable pressed her hands to her face and groaned into them - part exasperation, sure, but also part giddiness, and part pleasure that still throbbed through her, and part total disbelief. It’d happened - she’d kissed him - and it was a thousand times better than she’d imagined in her wildest dreams. If she had her Gretsch, she’d play it hard enough to blow an amp. Giggling to herself she bent over, her hair wild and messy as it hung down, and then with a couple of choice curses of her own, took off after him.

He tackled Slit and the two of them collapsed onto the ground. Slit was laughing over Nux’s threats, so she just rolled her eyes as she strode past them. A bag with cans of spray paint

caught her attention and she walked over to it. It was dark enough that she didn’t notice it at first, but then as she got close to the concrete wall, her eyes widened: Slit had been just as busy as her and Nux.

“Nux sux,” she read aloud. The big blue letters were thickly outlined in black with colorful interiors - blue waves with circles inside so it looked like each letter was filled with water. - It actually was pretty good.

But that was only part of it. Beside it was a half-done mural. Even incomplete it was an impressive piece: a car in the center of the wall flew over smaller figures on motorcycles; the smoke and fire that poured out from the back was bold, bright, and curled in tight spirals. It was art.

“Slit, this is amazing,” she said when she heard them behind her. Turning around, she caught his eye. “This could be in a museum. The way you handle the colors - it doesn’t even look like spray paint. If you told me it was acrylics, I’d believe you. I can’t believe you did all this while me and Nux were...”

Slit sneered, his stare hard, but then he snorted and his expression softened, coming close to a smile. “Yeah, it’s a fucking masterpiece.”

“It is! Want me to take a picture of it for you? Hold on, let me get my phone.” She snapped a photograph of it and held it up for his inspection. “Do you have a smartphone? Or an email address? I can take another one - Want to get in it?”

“No. Forget it.” He rubbed at the back of his neck and looked back at Nux, who’d grabbed a can of black spray paint and was crossing out “sux.” Slit didn’t seem to know how to talk to her, unlike Nux, who’d been comfortable around her from the first time they spoke.

“So do you draw, too? Or do other kinds of painting?” she tried again, and when he shrugged and didn’t turn back to her, Capable fiddled with her phone and then slid it away. She swallowed the rest of her comments, sensing that the more she talked, the more uncomfortable he became. Or maybe she just didn’t have the right words. The awkward moment was finally broken by Nux - He’d covered the “sux” with “rules” and then called to her.

“Hey Capable, you do something, too. Catch.”

She caught the cannister with a laugh. “Like what?”

“Whatever you want! It’s like the song, right? ‘The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.’”

There was plenty of space on the wall. There were other tags there, but nothing big, nothing like Slit had done. She shook the can as she thought and then in large letters she added her own graffiti. It was messy - letters crowded and dripping, nothing like Slit’s - but at least it was still legible.

Nux stood behind her and she took a small step back, bumping into him. She felt him shift, but he didn’t move away.

“‘Who killed the world?’” he read aloud. “What does that mean? From a song?”

“No, it’s something Angharad said. It means… a lot of things. What happened? And who did it? That’s what it’s really asking.”

Nux’s voice was soft. “Killed…”

“Mediocre,” Slit grumbled. “Sounds chrome but that’s bullshit. World’s not killed.”

“Gangs, the police, the river’s pollution, all the sick and hungry people in the city - It’s not like these things happened all by themselves. They aren’t natural, you know? They’re the result of choices, deliberate choices. That’s what ‘Who killed the world’ means.”

Gently Nux touched her sides and when she leaned back into the embrace, he wrapped her tightly in his arms and buried his face in her hair. After a moment, she felt him sigh, and he rested his chin on the top of her head. “It’s not killed, though, right? Not really dead. Or else you wouldn’t be trying to fix it.”

“That’s true,” she admitted. She tilted her head back to look at him. “We’re trying to fix it up. Just like a car.”

“Fucking soft, both of you.” Slit grunted and grabbed another can from his bag. He shook and then, still grumbling profanity to himself, sprayed another tag onto the wall. Quick movements, steady and sure probably from hundreds of repetitions: a flaming skull in a circle with black eyes that stared directly at her. The war boy symbol. Joe’s symbol.

Under Angharad’s message.

“Come on, let’s go home,” Nux said quickly, turning her away from it.

They were all quiet as they piled into the car. Nux drove slower on the way back and it was easy for Capable to close her eyes, lulled by the soft rumble of the engine and the quiet radio chatter. She was roused by Nux pulling into the dark lot of an abandoned gas station.

Nux stepped out and then slid his seat forward. “Out,” he commanded Slit and his partner assented with a grunt.

“Better not keep me waiting as damn long this time,” Slit said as he walked away.

“Later, Slit,” she said to his back and he looked over his shoulder with an expression she couldn’t decipher. When Nux got back in, she asked him, “Did he get out so he wouldn’t see where we live?”

“Yeah. That’s what you wanted, right? No one else to know.”

She nodded slowly. “Maybe it’s fine if he does. It probably is. He’s your mate.”

“We’ve been together for ages, me and him. I trust him,” Nux replied. He frowned and shook his head as he added, “But he can be a real asshole. Sorry about the tag, Capable. He doesn’t know about what Joe did to you. You ok?”

She nodded and leaned over to rest her head against his shoulder. His leather jacket was cool under her cheek. She was ok. She was more than ok.

When he pulled up to the curb in front of her house, she reluctantly sat up and placed her hand on the door. “I should go to bed. Thank you for tonight, Nux. All of it.”

His smile was bashful. “Thank you for all of it.”

When she got out he followed her up to the front steps. Other than the steady chirp of insects, the night was quiet - even the distant traffic was hushed. She knew she needed to go to sleep, but instead of going inside, Capable stayed out, stayed next to him. Just looking at him made her heart turn cartwheels.

“Can I kiss you, Capable?”

“Yeah,” she replied, already tilting up toward him.

This kiss was lazy; Capable eased her lips over his with exploratory slowness. When he moved his mouth away, she almost groaned in desperation. She fumbled, caught the lapels of his jacket.

“Again?”

“Yes, please, Nux.”

He did, gathering her even closer against him, cradling, holding, but not imprisoning. He kissed her cheek, the bridge of her nose, the sensitive skin above her eye, and then back down to cover her mouth. “Again?” he asked, low and soft, and Capable nodded.

They had to say goodnight before was morning. With another kiss (or two, or three), Capable finally sent him on his way. For one completely insane moment she seriously contemplated plugging in her Gretsch, getting up on the roof, and waking up the whole damn neighborhood. But that was before she flopped onto her bed. Still in her clothes, Capable fell asleep, a smile on her kiss-swollen lips.

---

Father you of all gods ought to know
How little to expect from people
But I think you might be
Pleasantly surprised to see what this girl
Would bring out of me
- “This Girl” by the Punch Brothers

Chapter Text

Take me home
I want to go
Down the road that will take me
To the living oak
And Lord, I know
That I'm a weathered stone
But I owe it to my brothers
To carry them home
- “Lay Me Down” by The Oh Hellos

---

Rictus’ Fargo was almost done. Another hour or two of all of them working together and the boss would have his truck finished. But for once, Nux couldn’t lose himself in the familiar tasks.

He was sitting on his ass on the floor, not doing much other than warming the concrete. Outside was probably baking, but even in the afternoon heat, the garage stayed pretty cool, protected from everything outside by layers of cement and lead paint. Far fucking cry from being warm in Capable’s arms. Or the softness of her lips. Tools and the pieces of Rictus’ car were still spread out in lines around him, but every time he picked something up, Nux got distracted by another thought of her.

The two of them had been making lists of places to go - alone, without Slit tagging along or her sisters dropping by. It was weird to think about the city that way, in terms of dates and not turfs. Movies, restaurants, bars, museums, parking lots - There were a thousand places that they wanted to take each other. And shows - Just like she’d promised, she’d told him when she was playing at Giddy’s again. This time all her sisters would be there, practically a full band, just like she’d said she wanted.

He’d been saving up for it. But that morning, the dues came in, they had to cover what Ace couldn’t. And then, just like that, the money was gone. It wasn’t Ace’s fault. It wasn’t any of their faults. Morsov had to hand over the cash for his cat food too - Capable would understand, the cats wouldn’t, the poor bastards.

If he had more time to work… Instead it was Rictus’ truck and undoing all the time and miles of abuse that the boss had put it through. It was the reason Nux had had to hang around Gas Town instead of Green Place. And the reason he couldn’t work on anything else. Hours of work, pulling out parts, driving around to all the junkyards to find pads and fans and panels.

“Priority, Boys,” Ace had said. Nux guessed that it had to be said aloud, even though of course they all fucking knew it. Clapping Nux on the shoulder as he walked by had been Ace’s acknowledgement of and apology for all the work Nux was going to have to do.

At least he could talk to Capable almost whenever he wanted. He couldn’t get enough of that, get enough of her - she knew about everything and she was so damn interesting, and the way she talked, even when the conversations were hard ones. When she told him about Joe. Those stories came out at night, when they could find somewhere quiet, somewhere private. She didn’t mind if he asked questions, but Nux tried not to. Instead he just listened, pressing his phone as close to his ear as possible so he could hear every word, each breath, the whisper of her clothes, her hair as she moved. It was a piss-poor substitute for being there with her.

More than anything in the world he wanted to do something for her, do something - anything - to help her. What the fuck could he do, though? Other than teaching her to drive. That had been even more chrome than he’d imagined. And he had imagined it, over and over, and then after that night was over, he replayed the memories just as frequently. All of it, not just the driving. Made him fidget, thinking about her and the way she felt, everything inside vibrating like his axles were bent.

He had to talk to her again. He rolled onto his stomach and stared at the screen of his phone before he started typing.

hey capable!!!!
still fucking busy
im real sorry

He had a wait a while for her reply, but that was fine. He knew that she put her phone on silent when she was in class, and even that made him admire her more - she was so damn smart and worked so damn hard. Regardless, he kept checking his phone until finally the screen lit up with her reply. He called her back instantly.

“Hi Nux!” Capable said when she picked up, and just hearing her voice made him smile.

“Hey! Done with school?”

“Well, done with class, anyway. I’m going to study at the library for a bit and then head to the hospital before we meet up at Giddy’s. So what’s up? Did something happen?”

“Just some bullshit,” he said. “Bills came in and money’s gone. Wanted to take you out tonight after the show, but I’m flat broke.”

“Well, I still owe you for when you helped me at the laundromat. I got my paycheck, so I can give that to you tonight. But it still sucks about the bills. Is everything else ok? Are you ok?”

He was quick to reassure her. “Yeah! Yeah, I’m fine. Don’t need to worry about me.”

She exhaled a long breath. “You sure you’re ok? Do you want to come into the city earlier? I can go to the hospital now instead of later. Wait - You’re still coming tonight, right?”

“I’m coming, Capable. Promise.” There was no way he was going to miss her show. He’d walk all the way there, if he had to. He’d swim the whole river.

“And you’re really ok?”

“This is just War Boy stuff. Won’t kill me.”

There was a pause and he heard her sigh again. “Ok, Nux. But hey, remember, if you need me to, I’ll come get you. I can drive now, right?”

They talked a little longer - Not long enough, but he’d already discovered that it was never enough. When she hung up, he stared at the phone for another moment before glancing around the garage. One of Morsov’s cats was sitting in a round loaf on the roof of the Fargo, yellow eyes in narrows lines as it watched Mack and Rotor argue over the hydraulics. Ace was nowhere that Nux could see, and he wondered how their quasi-boss was managing.

“Too busy with that girl,” Slit said scornfully, interrupting his thoughts, and Nux rolled his eyes. He slid his tray of bearings over and shuffled through them, ignoring his partner who was stomping around behind him. Slit bent over, looking at Nux through the gaps of the hubcap, and added grumpily, “Pay attention to this fucking truck and maybe we can finally be done with it. Instead you’re fucking around again.”

“Personality and good looks,” Nux said as he held up a bearing for inspection. “No wonder Ace is so worried you’ll out-boss him.”

“Hey, I’m a delight.”

Nux grinned. “Yeah, don’t think that’s the word for it.”

“Fuck you.” Slit said, smacking Nux on the head as he walked by to add injury to the insult. He bent out of the way when Nux took a swipe at him. “Give me the 10mm.”

Nux tossed the wrench over and Slit dropped on the ground next to him. Conversation went from the truck to Slit’s motorcycle, still only half done and nearly naked without its fairing.

“Thinking about the paint job,” Slit said and Nux looked up with interest.

“Yeah? Design anything yet?”

He nodded. “Silver for the base -”

“Flames?” Nux interrupted with a snicker.

“Who am I, Morsov?” Slit scoffed and they grinned at each other. Slit pulled some folded papers out his pocket and Nux slid over so they could go through the designs together.

When they finished the Fargo, Ace sent the message. Nux took out his own phone and started texting Capable - maybe he’d be able to get into the city sooner rather than later. But before he could make plans with her, Ace rapped a wrench against one of the work tables, and the ringing got everyone’s attention.

He said, once he knew everyone was listening, “Heard back from Rictus. He wants us to bring his truck to the Pits.”

Someone found the radio and turned it off, and without music playing and everyone lowering their tools, there was a silence that seemed to fill every corner. Going back to the Pits. Home. The Pits had been loud and crazy and shine as fuck, with Boys everywhere and bosses bringing in all sorts of shit for Joe. Inside the old warehouses they had cars, rows and rows of them in every stage of completion. It had always been War Boy territory; losing them was a blow as big as losing Joe. It’d been the best part of the city for any gang: the river on one side, close to the highway, away from any precinct. Winding, narrow streets kept out any other gang. They’d have to have a death wish to even try coming through in the dark with Boys in all the windows in the sprawling old factories and terminals.

“Ace, what’s going on?” Morsov asked.

“We’re going to the Pits,” Ace repeated.

No shit. That was apparently enough for Morsov, but Nux pressed, “Yeah, but why?”

The lines around Ace’s mouth deepened. “The order is to go there, and we follow orders.”

The exact fucking opposite of what Capable would say. Nux flattened his lips in a frown. As far as they all knew, the Pits had been stripped empty - first by the police and then by whoever got through the padlocks. The rest of Ace’s crew were grabbing each other and cheering, but Nux just rubbed at the back of his neck, pressing hard against the tense muscles. Were they just meeting? Or was something going down? Had someone paid the police off? He’d told Capable that War Boys obeyed, not questioned, but he couldn’t stop his thoughts from racing. Didn’t they deserve to know?

Ace snapped his phone shut and pushed it carefully into one of his pockets. It occurred to Nux that maybe Ace didn’t know either. Something in the way that Ace had replied to Nux - the “we” instead of “you.” Again Nux wished Furiosa had come back to straighten it out, either by taking Ace’s side or taking his place. He’d ask her again, find the right words to make her understand.

“You know why we’re better than Buzzards? Rock Riders?” Ace asked Nux, but the question was loud enough for the whole garage to hear. He wasn’t really waiting for Nux’s answer, because Ace continued in the same firm, steady tone, “We work together. We’re a well-oiled machine, crews and their boss. Bosses trust their crew will come through for them and the crew has the discipline to it.”

“Obedience,” Nux murmured.

“Come on,” Slit said, pulling on his arm. He grabbed their jackets from off a pile of tires and tossed Nux’s at him. It landed on Nux’s head, blanketing his vision in black for a second before Nux pulled it onto his shoulders. He was the last one out of the garage, but then Morsov slowed in front of him.

“Maybe we’ll get paid,” Morsov said quietly, more to himself than to Nux.

Nux nodded sympathetically and didn’t say out loud what they both suspected: Rictus wouldn’t give them anything. When Ace started up the Fargo, the headlights lit up the silhouettes of the feral cats, before they scattered, darting away into the bushes. Nux brushed his hand over Morsov’s bald head as he walked by him. “Might be able to help you out. Capable might.”

The sky was getting dark already, red as fire where the sun was setting through the haze and then the black-blue bruise of night on the other horizon. Capable’s show at Giddy’s was only a couple of hours away. And only a few miles away, but it felt like maybe they were in completely different worlds. He got into the car with Slit and started it up. Pulling onto the street, he waited until the rest of the crew had gotten into Rictus’ Fargo or Ace’s truck before he started to drive. Once they were on the highway, he shifted up and pulled far ahead of the others. The smooth speed of the Monte Carlo was comforting - It was something that Nux could understand. It was something he could control.

“We’re going to get it all back at long fucking last,” Slit stated and when Nux glanced at him, his partner was grinning to himself. He’d slid the seat back as far as it would go and had stretched his legs up, boots up on the dashboard.

“Yeah? Don’t know.” Nux stared at the car in front of them. “If it was anything big, Ace would have told us. Don’t think he knows what’s going on.”

Slit snorted at that. “Course he doesn’t. Ace has his head so far up his ass that all he can see is bullshit. Hey, remember the glory days? Riding down route 91? You and me, and no one could fucking touch us.”

Racing way faster than he had with Capable, it had always been him and Slit in the front of the whole gang, Joe’s killer coupe DeVille in Nux’s rearview mirror. Nux slapped his palms against the steering wheel and then shifted up again. Even with the memories, even with her car, it felt like there was something pulling at him, some hook in some soft place. The ride was mostly silent and before long, he pulled off the highway onto the streets of their old neighborhood. The roofs of the Pits rose above the apartment buildings, dark and stark.

Some kids from the Roodes Houses yelled out their windows when Nux drove by, but mostly the neighborhood was empty. He slowed as he turned onto the narrow, quiet streets that led to the Pits themselves. Nux passed a couple of Boys standing around outside their cars, but it wasn’t much of a homecoming. A lot of the windows were broken and inside the warehouses looked dark. There were piles of trash in the gutters and in the doorways were more piles - homeless people with shopping carts or big suitcases.

Joe wouldn’t have stood for that.

In his mirrors he could see the dark shape of Ace driving the Fargo. He was a couple of lengths behind Nux’s Monte Carlo. Again he wondered what the older man was thinking. Maybe Ace really bought the whole “well-oiled machine” pitch.

“How old do you think Ace is?”

Slit frowned. “Don’t know.”

“Weird how we don’t know, right? How come we never asked him?”

With a shrug, Slit turned to look out his window. “Maybe the same age as Joe. Thereabouts. Surprised he lasted this long.”

During Nux’s first date with Capable, when he’d been an idiotic asshole but she’d still talked to him, he’d mentioned how little he had known. He meant about her, about what Joe did in his Vault, but now Nux was seeing just how true that was about everything. There was so fucking much that he didn’t know. “How come we don’t know?”

That question made Slit twist back to face Nux. “How come?” he repeated. “Who cares how old Ace is?”

“Not just about how old he is. I mean, what about what it was like when he was our age? When did he join? What did he do before he was a War Boy? Or how come he’s not really a boss?”

A police car drove by, slow enough that Nux could see through the windshield at the driver. The cop stared back and their eyes met, but then Nux snapped his stare back to the street ahead of him. Suddenly Slit leaned over him, shoving his middle finger out Nux’s open window. “Come on, don’t piss off the cops,” Nux growled and pushed Slit back. “We don’t need a run in with anyone right now.”

Slit’s dark eyes narrowed but he slunk back into his seat. “You’ve been off all day,” he said, with a tone in his voice that Nux almost never heard - something akin to worry. Slit added sulkily, “What does it matter? About any of that shit. I’ll tell you: it doesn’t fucking matter at all.”

“Think it does. And think you want to know, too.”

“Keep your eyes on the road, will you? You’re driving all over the fucking place.”

Nux hadn’t been, but he could tell that there wasn’t any point in arguing. Maybe if Slit hung out with Capable more, he’d see things the way that Nux was starting to see them. Like Seeds had said, when they were eating Chinese food - things were all connected. It wasn’t just about Ace.

They reached what had been the main entrance: high fences with barbed wire on top surrounded the warehouse and the gate was still closed. Closed but not locked - a thick metal chain and broken padlock were on the ground, kicked to the side. Someone had gotten back inside. Nux pulled onto the sidewalk and he and Slit climbed hurriedly out of the car.

“See?” Slit asked and threw his arm over Nux’s shoulder. “This is what matters. Getting the gang back. Getting back what’s ours.”

“Yeah?”

“Bet Rictus will blow a fucking gasket when he sees his truck.” Slit turned to look over their shoulders to where Ace was parking the Fargo. “Thing’s a beaut now.”

It was - shined up and purring before Ace turned off the engine. Nux looked out of the corner of his eyes at Slit. “Told you that Rictus needs me.”

“Told you that Rictus doesn’t give a shit about weak War Boys.”

“Yeah? Think maybe we have different ideas of what strength is.” Again Nux thought about Capable. And not just her, but all her sisters - even Angharad.

“Swear to fucking Valhalla, Nux -” Slit let the rest of his sentence quiet into a hiss when Ace and the rest of his crew approached. He dragged his arm off Nux’s shoulder and leaned against the car, glaring at him.

A door in the Pits opened, spreading a pool of light out onto the darkening street. Rictus walked out with Prime close behind him. Despite his irritation at his partner, Nux glanced toward Slit. Both bosses? With Rictus and Prime at the Pits, maybe something important was happening. Nux stood up straighter, felt the old familiar rush of excitement start to move through his veins.

“Alright, look at that!” Rictus exclaimed when he looked at his improved rig. Like usual, the big man was decked out with what he considered his finest. There were other colors mixed in with his blacks now and a pattern on his shirt. “Shiny! Bring it in before it gets messed up out here.”

Prime pushed past Rotor as he climbed into the truck. Dred caught him before he could stumble for more than a step and then the two of them straightened, looked at Ace for instruction. Nux slid his eyes away to follow Rictus’ massive back as the man stomped toward the door. That was fucking that. No money. Not even a glance at them.

Some fucking reunion.

“Prime, any other orders?” Ace asked and the boss leaned out of the window.

“Clean up the garbage. Pits is our territory.”

“Garbage?” Dred echoed. “Prime, you mean -”

“And all those fucking beggars. Don’t need street trash fucking up our cars.” He drove slowly past them, the beams of the headlights illuminating everyone’s blank face as he pulled in through the gates and toward the warehouse.

“What the fuck are we supposed to do with it?” Dred demanded and Ace shook his head.

“Dump it in the river,” Mack replied. He dropped onto the curb and fished through his pockets until he found a cigarette.

“And the fucking homeless assholes all over the fucking place?”

Mack shrugged and exhaled a plume of smoke. “River.”

“This is bullshit.” Nux’s exasperation made his voice loud and it bounced down the empty corridors between the buildings. “Shoot these poor bastards? For what? You can’t be fucking serious. I’m not doing this.”

“Yeah? So what are you going to do?” Mack taunted. “Run off crying to your girl?”

“This is what you want to do, Mack? We haven’t been in this place for months. And now we aren’t even being let in. So yeah, fuck this. I’m leaving.”

There was a raw hardness in Ace’s voice. “You turning your back on us? Thought you were a War Boy, Nux. Told you this afternoon - We’re in this together.”

Nux balled his hands into fists but he kept his tense arms at his side. “Like this is some sort of family? Is that what you really think, Ace?”

“Joe-” Morsov started.

“Joe didn’t either. We weren’t his fucking sons,” Nux cut him off. A family, for fuck sake’s, was that how they saw it? It was nothing like how Furiosa protected Capable and her sisters. And it was nothing like their home on Green Place. “Capable’s right: he used us.”

Maybe they’d heard Joe’s name. Drawn by the noise, Rictus and Prime had started walking back.

Slit shoved Nux aside, ignored his startled curse, and snapped, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you weren’t so mediocre, Ace.”

“Slit, this isn’t the time-” Ace said quietly.

Nux elbowed his partner back. “Come on, Slit! Will you listen to me for once? All that fucking work, all that fucking money, all we fucking do and for what? Bosses gets everything and what happens to us?”

Rictus’ voice was a bullhorn. “You need help keeping your Boys in line, Ace?”

“No, Rictus. Slit, Nux, you two need to stand down -”

“You can’t tell me what to do, Ace. You’re not a real boss. I could fucking take you right now -” Slit lunged forward and grabbed Ace by the lapels of his jacket.

Ace’s crew jumped up, shouting and snarling, and Nux threw himself onto Slit’s back, catching his arm and pulling it back. Suddenly they were all thrown - something tore Nux off and tossed him aside and he landed hard on the ground. The impact snapped both of his wrists back but he scrambled up to his knees. But he wasn’t fast enough - Rictus drew back his massive fist and bashed Slit in the face. Slit dropped, cracking something on the pavement, and the rest of the crew scattered, dragging Ace back away from Slit.

“Yeah! You see me take care of that, Ace?” No one answered but Rictus didn’t seem to give a shit about that. He swiped at his shirt in disgust, maybe he’d gotten a spot of Slit’s blood on it, and then looked back down where Slit was panting on the ground.

Morsov spoke up before Nux could get his tongue to work. “We passed some cops before. Maybe we should clear out before they come around again.”

“Yeah, alright.” Rictus allowed. “Get inside.”

Nux skittered over the ground to Slit, but Ace’s crew filed by without looking at either of them. Even Ace didn’t glance back. Someone - sounded like Mack - laughed and the noise carried until the door slammed shut. Nux sagged onto the ground and reached over to shake Slit’s shoulder. The adrenaline ran off as fast as it had come, but his heart was still pounding. “Come on, Slit. You alright?”

He sat up with a groan. There was blood in a stripe over the bottom of his face - One fucking hell of a punch.

“Any teeth out?” Nux asked, and Slit opened his mouth and ran his tongue over his teeth - blood, and plenty of it, but nothing broken. He let go of Slit’s chin and sat back on his haunches. “I can handle my own fights, you stupid fucker.”

Slit’s chuckle was more like a wet wheeze. “Too soft. Need me.”

“Yeah, like a hole in my head.”

“Rictus would’ve.”

“Would’ve what?”

“Put a hole in your head.”

Not on the middle of the street, not when there was still light out. Or maybe Rictus would have and Nux was giving him too much credit. Would Slit tell Capable if something had happened to him? Instead of asking that, he said mildly, “Least he didn’t have a knife.” Nux ran his thumbs over the ragged lines of Slit’s scars, smearing away the blood there. “Mess up your pretty face.”

If he had money, he’d go to the first convenience store he could find and get Slit bandages, aspirin, a beer. Anything. His own wrists ached and cracked as he slowly stretched them. “Look,” he said, waiting until Slit finally met his eyes. “Let’s go to Capable’s.”

Slit grunted as he rolled over onto his hands and knees. He took a deep breath before shoving himself up and rose to his feet. He spat out some blood and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, then pulled on his jacket to adjust it. There was still blood drying across his face, but other than that he looked like he’d recovered. Looked like, Nux thought. His partner was shine at spotting things, and just as shine at hiding them.

“And do what?”

“I don’t know. Go to university. Save up while she’s at school, then leave Citadel City. You still want to go to New York, right? Or wherever. Or stay. Just not here.”

“Don’t know if you’re crazy or stupid.”

“Or both.” Nux tried to grin, but it didn’t last. He stood too and crossed his arms over his chest as he watched Slit pace. Slit said nothing; maybe he was pretending that he didn’t even hear Nux. Nothing like Capable, who listened to him even when she didn’t agree, and asked and wondered and wanted to know. Fuck, Capable. He pulled out his phone - there was a new crack in its case, but the screen still worked - and quickly read through her message: she was going on soon and was he ok?

“I’ve got to get out of here,” he mumbled to himself and Slit looked back at him.

“You’re staying with the car,” Slit said and to drive the point home, leaned heavily against it.

Nux ran his hands over his skull. “Fuck everything. I’m going. You going to try to stop me?” There was a moment of stillness as they sized each other up. Nux softened first, adding, “Haven’t seen her in ages. Barely talked to her today. I’m going.”

Slit straightened and jammed his hands in his pockets. Without another word he turned away, heading down toward the projects. With another sigh Nux rubbed his head again. Fuck it. He’d given the War Boys enough for one day. He jumped into his car and peeled down the streets.

Raced there, parked illegally, raced out of the car.

It felt like it had been years since the last time he was in Giddy’s bar. It felt like a different bar completely, or maybe he was a different person. He pushed hurriedly through the door. He didn’t hear any music - What if he missed the show? Breath caught in his throat, or maybe that was his heart lodging itself in there.

There, on the little stage, was Capable. The lighting was low but she was still glorious, like all the dim lights had turned to shine on her. She was talking to Dag, her head turned so he couldn’t really see her face, and she was adjusting some knobs on her guitar with one hand while her other fingers plucked at the strings. They were still playing; he hadn’t fucked up and missed the whole thing. Nux groped toward the bar toward Furiosa and slid onto the stool next to her. He’d been quiet but she turned anyway, and he saw her hand flex around her bottle before it relaxed again.

“Thought maybe you wouldn’t show,” she said.

Nux studied her face. She seemed more amused than irritated, her shoulders loose and rolled back, and after he glanced back at the stage to make sure that Capable wasn’t about to start singing, he lowered his head closer to Furiosa. “Ran into some trouble,” he confided and waited to see how the boss would take it.

She nodded slowly as her gaze raked over him. “Got some blood on you.”

Of course Furiosa would notice that, even in the bar’s dingy lighting. That was one of the reasons she was the best. Nux wiped his hands on his jeans again, hoping to clean off the last bit of Slit’s blood. “Shit’s been getting rough, boss. Ace needs help.”

“Not a boss,” she said again, punctuating the statement by rapping her prostetic arm on the bar. Giddy heard and moved closer, close enough for Nux to see the old woman glare at him.

“I know,” he assured her quickly. “But you could still fix it. Rictus is -”

“It’s not about Rictus.” The interruption shut Nux up and he stared at Furiosa. She rapped on the bar again and this time held up her bottle - empty - and Giddy replaced it with another beer. “Want one?”

“Yeah, thanks.” His stomach growled and rolled - He’d barely had anything to drink or eat all day. Being in debt to a boss was a dangerous position, but Nux found that he didn’t mind the idea of owing Furiosa. Still, in case she wanted to renege, he added apologetically, “I don’t have any money.”

“I can afford a beer.” Another motion to Giddy and a second beer was slid down the counter. After she’d taken a long drink, Furiosa said, voice flat and certain, “Who’s on top doesn’t matter. The whole thing of it, it’s built up bad. ”

On the stage, Capable turned back to the audience. “This song’s dedicated to someone special. Thanks for coming Nux! I’m really glad you made it! So Citadel City can seem pretty bleak at times, but that darkness doesn’t last forever. One, two, three -”

The song hit him like a truck. The strength and beauty of her voice silenced him and he forgot whatever he was going to argue. Toast, Dag, and Cheedo joined her and the harmony of it was glorious - he hadn’t really known that people could sound like that, that they could do so much with just their voices. Her fingers bent over the neck of her guitar, racing up and down it, but Capable never looked down at them. Instead she was looking out over the bar - Looking out over to him. And Nux was grinning back, holding onto the seat of the stool so he wouldn’t start applauding in the middle of her song.

Your old road is rapidly aging
So get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand
For the times, they are a-changin’
The line, it is drawn, the curse, it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
The present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

He was on his feet before the chord faded, cheering as the four of them waved and took little bows. “Yeah,” he said to Furiosa. “Yeah, you’re right. Not going back.”

“You can go back,” she replied. “But you can’t go back to the way it was.”

“Don’t want to,” he told her before he took off. Quick as he could, Nux weaved through the little tables, squeezing around people who were too slow in pulling their chairs in. When he got to the stage, Capable swung her guitar behind her and then bent down and kissed him, there in front of her sisters and Furiosa and the whole bar.

---

Well, the light was rust
And the cold was in our knees,
And our breath poured out over golden fields
Though I could not know then
We'd have but few times like these
With all the good smoke in between
- “Tucked the Darkness In” by the Bowerbirds

Chapter Text

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

Chapter Text

The wind blows wild and I may move
The politicians lie and I am not a fool
You don't need no razor or a three piece suit
To argue the truth
The air on my skin
The world under my toes
Slavery stitched to the fabric of my clothes
Chaos and commotion wherever I go
Love I try to follow
- “Ain’t No Reason” by Brett Dennen

---

She came home with a backpack full of sheet music that she’d printed out at the library. Toast was still at school, but Capable was able to pull Dag and Cheedo away from sanding with Furiosa. As her two sisters flipped through the pile of potential songs, Capable plugged the Gretsch into her amp and focused on tuning it until a few rapid chord changes sounded out in perfect harmony.

They worked through some Judy Collins, some traditional pieces, then Cheedo beatboxed while Dag rapped about old prime ministers. Getting back on task after that took some admonishing, but soon they were back to practicing for the march. Music took time and it took effort, but Capable didn’t consider it work, not really. So after her sisters left her room, Capable kept playing, settling back into her bed with her headphones plugged into her amp. When Toast came back from class, their room had grown as dark as the sky outside. Toast flicked on the light and waved for Capable to keep practicing before she sat down onto her own bed with her bag of school books.

As a song ended and another one began, Capable looked back up at her sister - Even with the music playing, Capable had an ear for sounds and one was missing: the flipping of pages. Toast was staring across the room, and her hand lay motionless on her book.

“Hey, everything ok?” Capable asked as she pulled out her earbuds.

“Yeah. Boring reading tonight.” Toast pushed the book away and reached for the pile of paperbacks on the bureau. After grabbing the top one, she dropped it onto her lap and started to flip aggressively through it. Toast’s books seemed to reproduce on their own, slowly taking over their shared bureau, and the shelves in the living room were getting crowded.

Capable waited and when Toast didn’t continue, she turned on the bed so she was facing her sister. “If it’s the sociology stuff, we can go through it together.”

“Sure.”

It was an unenthusiastic reply, even for Toast. “Are you sure there isn’t anything bothering you, Toast?” And then, worried and unable to stop herself, “Is it about Nux? You can tell me if it is.”

Toast shook her head, exhaled a breath that sounded something like a laugh. “It’s not Nux. I was just thinking. We need more money. Everything we took from Joe - It’s gone. Don’t know if I should be glad or not about that.”

“That’s not that big of a problem, Toast,” she soothed. “We’ll manage.”

“Do you ever think about…” Toast paused and then shook her head. “I can’t believe how much things cost. We keep adding expenses. Cheedo’s class isn’t cheap to begin with, and she’ll probably need a laptop.”

“I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. But it’s been sort of fun.” Having money at all was new, let alone having the freedom to choose where to spend it. When she was a kid in foster care, there had never been much to go around; with Joe all his money was carefully, tightly controlled. They had to ask, he had to approve, and what he allowed was a limited list.

But there was no way to deny that Toast was right: everything was expensive. And it was a cost of time as well as money. Taking the bus and subway to school was cheaper than Furiosa filling her truck with gas, but it tacked on a lot of time to the commute. The fridge always looked empty, even when they bought in bulk. And the construction on the neighboring houses seemed to generate a never-ending bill.

“More shifts at the laundromat is always an option.”

“You and Dag are worth more than minimum wage,” Toast said crossly.

It’d been hard enough to get that job. She and Dag hadn’t had any employment before that - no references and no experience, nothing to put on a CV. The laundromat wasn’t perfect, but it was permanent either, and there things about it that Capable liked: quiet times that she used to study in, and now spent on the phone with Nux.

She strummed down the strings with a flourish that would have sounded impressive if they’d heard it. “I’ll start doing more busking. It’ll give me a chance to practice some more, anyway. Got to be at my shiniest for the rally!”

Another snort from Toast but at least she didn’t argue. Again Capable waited for her sister to speak, but Toast was back to staring at the book on her lap. After a few more moments of silence ticked by, Capable frowned to herself. She wished she had something else to offer Toast and she ran quickly through her repertoire until she remembered an old Jackson Browne song. It was silly, but it was still worth a try. Reaching down, she pulled the headphones out of the jack on her amp.

“I’m going to be a happy idiot,” she sang and the corners of Toast’s lips twitched. “And struggle for the legal tender…”

“You’re right about that,” Toast said, but there was no sting in the insult. She sighed and dropped onto her pillow, then crossed her arms behind her head. Again she was quiet; this time Capable didn’t try to interrupt her sister’s thoughts and instead just continued to play softly through the rest of the song. At last, Toast spoke up again, “What are you going to do about Nux?”

“What do you mean?”

Toast shrugged. “He’s still a War Boy. He keeps going back to them."

“It’s like Angharad said, Toast: they never had a chance to be anything other than War Boys. The Pits are right by some projects, and Nux told me that a lot of Boys are from there. What else are they supposed to do?”

"Joe's been dead for months."

"But this stuff takes time. It takes months. You can't just flip a switch. I'm not still really over it. Joe, and what he did, and our old lives... I still..."

"I'm over it."

The severity there made Capable stare, eyes wide and mouth suddenly dry. "Toast..." she began, but the other woman cut her off.

"I don’t know how you can look at him and not see Joe.”

“It’s not the same. They’re not the same.” Capable looked down at her hands, slid them off her guitar and into her lap. She wondered how long Toast had kept those thoughts to herself and if she was bottling anything else up inside her. “I thought you liked him. Nux. Do you want me to stop bringing him around?”

“No. It’s not him. Sorry, Capable."

"Are you sure?"

“I'm just stressed. It's almost finals."

Downstairs someone was banging around in the kitchen. Someone was starting dinner, Capable thought as she listened to the now-familiar noises of clanging pots and clinking pans, the fridge creaking open and closed, and the click of the stove as a burner was turned on. Regular noises. Safe noises. A swell of affection for Furiosa - and the home that she’d created - filled Capable and she brought her knees up, hugging her guitar carefully to her chest.

“It’s like Angharad said, Toast: they never had a chance to be anything else. What else are they supposed to do?”

Toast didn’t reply to that, but the question was rhetorical anyway, and partially spoken aloud so Capable could work through it herself. She knew Nux was trying to learn more, to be more.

“Don’t you want to get away from that?” Toast said suddenly. “From Joe? Hell, from Citadel City?”

“Do you?” she replied in surprise.

“It’d be easier. Leave all this behind.”

Capable shook her head and Toast sank back down onto her bed. After another pregnant pause, Capable asked, “Toast, is there anything else you want to do? Outside of school, I mean. Maybe you should only take four classes next semester. Or three. Or take the semester off.”

“The sooner I graduate, the sooner I can get a real job.”

“You can take a break from school if it’s too stressful. You could take painting lessons or learn to code or whatever. Whatever you want.”

“And we’ll pay for that with…?”

She held up her trusty guitar and the Gretsch’s golden body shimmered in the moonlight. “Feel like coming tomorrow?”

Toast swung her legs around and climbed out of bed. “I don’t know. Probably not. I still have a lot of work to do. Anyway, let’s go down to dinner,” she said quickly, changing the subject before Capable could argue.

Not much of a good talk, Capable thought to herself as she followed Toast down the stairs. The fact that Capable couldn’t help her was a needling anxiety. But there was nothing to do once Toast had set her mind on something. An indomitable spirit, Dag had described Toast once. But just like she’d told Nux to do, Capable was going to keep trying. Her family was worth it.

The next day Capable packed her 79 Swaisey in its case and then banged on the Vuvalini Construction sign for good luck as she walked to the bus stop. Toast and her bike had left soon after breakfast, before Capable had had a chance to talk to her again. That was a gray cloud on her horizon, but Capable was still in a good mood when she left Green Place. Nux had been texting her since he woke up, a long and convoluted story that she read message by message as she sat on the bus about Slit and their attempts to get a new tattoo machine. Trying to keep the laughter in just resulted in her giggling like an idiot.

and thats y ace says we cant go to
bartertown nemore
also cuz i thik wed
get hardcore arrestd
but!!!! we were framed
swear i dont even knw whata snorkel is

She tucked her phone into her pocket when she went down the stairs into the subway, her sneakers slapping on each step. Service was spotty at best, which made her phone - as cheap as it was - more of a target for pickpockets than anything useful. But it was fine - Capable was ready to play.

A song, a good song, was an epic condensed into minutes. It was a revelation extended into a rally. Each string of her guitar could create a multitude of notes, each line could be a lifetime of wisdom. Hearing, to listening, to learning, to thinking - With her guitar and voice filling the station, Capable felt like maybe she was doing more than just busking.

She was in the middle of a song, strumming through the bridge, when she heard it.

The footsteps were out of sync with the rest of the station’s noises, a beat at the wrong time that threw off the rest of the music. Capable crained her neck, trying to see through the thinning crowd of commuters - War Boys? Maybe she’d summoned Slit again. But it didn’t sound like Slit and it definitely wasn’t Nux.

The laughter was all wrong too; it reverberated in a harsh loop, almost matching the squeals of the subway cars. Coming up from the tracks were men, but not in the now familiar War Boy-blacks. Brown baseball caps and brown sneakers. Shoving people on the stairs and swearing at everything.

Buzzards.

Her fingers didn’t slip but her stomach did, dropping and clenching as the Buzzards paused at the top of the stairs. One of them motioned to her and then all three of them were coming toward her. Capable instinctively took a step back and the cool tiles of the wall pressed against her elbows. There were a few other people in the hall but they all quickly looked away and hurried up the stairs - And then they were alone, her and the Buzzards, and the silence in the subway was deafening.

“Might not be bad territory after all,” the the one of the left said. He was the shortest of the three and had something tattooed under his eye - teardrops or maybe just circles. The three of them closed in, moving close enough that one of them kicked her open guitar case.

“Hey pretty girl, got anything for us?”

“Not a lot,” the one in the middle replied, but he still jerked his head and murmured something in Russian, and one of the other men bent down a plucked a bill from the little pile of money that she earned. He waved it in front of her like he was daring her to make a grab for it and when she didn’t, he grinned, flashing a gold-capped tooth.

When she’d been playing at Giddy’s, that first night when she’d met Nux, she’d been caught between opposing desires: half wishing her family were with her, half wanting them to stay away and be safe. The same war churned in her now, but Capable didn’t let the bubbling, roiling panic and anger overtake her.

She tried to tamp down her fear and be more like Toast, who had practically challenged Slit to a fight when he’d scared them. But even Slit had stayed back, giving her and Toast a way out. The Buzzards were surrounding her, making a circle like they really were vultures. Her right hand curled into a fist and her guitar pick dug into the flesh there. “Look guys,” she said, voice strong, “it’s been a slow day and I really need this money.”

“Think of it as payment for letting you play here.”

“I need this money,” she repeated. Rolling her shoulders back like Furiosa and Nux made her straighten her spine; it made her feel bigger, even if it didn’t add much to her height. “My family needs it. We’re just trying to get by. You guys know how rough it is.”

“Not for us,” the one in the middle said with a laugh that his mates mimicked. “Got this new territory.”

“This isn’t your territory! It’s a university!” she began, anger flaring. They laughed at her again and she inhaled a sharp breath, forcing it out slowly as she tried to remain calm. Her voice was flat when she tried again to reach them, “A lot’s happening in Citadel City. I’m just trying to -”

“Not trying hard enough.” The Buzzard with gold in his teeth swooped down and grabbed the other bills.

“Hey!” Instinctively she jerked forward to stop him. He rose suddenly with a snarl and she retreated as they laughed at her. Nothing like Nux, how receptive he’d been even the first night, how sweet even when he was hurt.

If only it’d been him coming up the stairs to her.

“I don’t want to call the police,” she told them. Meeting the middle one’s eyes, she continued, “But I will if I have to. You guys need to get out of here.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” the one with the tattoos under his eye said. “This is our city.”

“No it’s not,” she retorted fiercely. “Not anymore.This isn’t going to work forever. Things are changing and we aren’t going to put up with this.”

“Oh yeah? Big words for a little girl.”

“So what else do you got for us, beautiful?”

“Leave me alone or I’ll call the cops!” Her cellphone was in her pocket and she pulled it out, keeping it tight in her hand and close to her chest so they couldn’t try to take that, too. With a couple more steps, the one in the middle sidled close enough that she could smell him. If she didn’t have the guitar hanging across her stomach, they might have been touching. The subway lighting was dingy, flickering sometimes when trains rolled by, and when he tilted his head, shadow covered his face like a mask. Capable jerked the neck of the guitar forward and he leaned back, his eyes widening in surprise. “Don’t touch me!”

“Come on, why do you got to be that way? We’re playing nice - You should too.” The man grinned unsettlingly, but he pulled his hands back. Capable watched them, her own hands ready to strike back if he raised them to her again, but instead he rested them on his hips - a patronizing, scolding position - and then slid them back, pushing his jacket more open so she could see the knife he had tucked into his waistband.

Capable pressed harder against the tiles. Glancing down at her phone, she started dialing the police. Barely any service, just like she thought, but she’d try it. “You got the money; leave me alone.”

The third man pulled up his bandanna so that it covered almost half of his face. “Got anything else on you? Check her pockets.”

“I said don’t touch me!” She heard her words bouncing back but suddenly something interrupted the echo. More footsteps and more people; the Buzzards finally moved away and she felt like she finally had air to breathe.

“See you later,” the middle one called over his shoulder.

“Fuck off.” She spat back.

Relief flooded through her as they clomped down the stairs back to the subway tracks, but it didn’t completely excise her ire. Capable stood there shaking as the other sounds grew louder and closer until finally someone came careening around the corner. She only had a moment to push her guitar behind her before she caught the other person - Savannah Nix, Capable bewilderedly recognized her savior.

“Capable!” Savannah exclaimed and then twisted to yell behind her. “Down here, officiers! Told you it was Buzzards! Capable? Holy moly shit! Are you ok?”

“Savannah! Yeah, I’m ok. I just got mugged. Are you all right? How’s your leg?”

“Are you kidding me? I’m fine! You got mugged! By Buzzards! Where are those cops…”

By the time the cops came, the Buzzards had boarded a train and disappeared deeper into the city. None of the cameras in the station worked, but the cops took down her description - Which she gave, despite suspecting that nothing would come of it, nothing but having her name once again show up in a police file.

The subway lights glinted off their badges right into Capable’s face. A headache pounded behind her eyes as her adrenaline subsided and she debated calling Max, seeing if he could do anything that the other cops couldn’t or wouldn’t. Or Furiosa. Or Dag, who was at work. Or Toast, who had class. Or Cheedo, who was home. Or Nux. He’d come to get her. All of them would.

More questions, none of which were helpful. No, she’d never seen them before. Yes, she knew about Buzzards. No, no one had ever robbed her while busking before. Yes, she understood that the campus security guards didn’t come down into the subway. No, she didn’t think she was asking for it.

As the two cops left, Capable closed her eyes. Savannah patted her arm reassuringly. “Need to sit down? You can lean on me.”

“No, I’m… So glad you came to my rescue. Thank you, Savannah.”

“Hey! I’m glad too! I heard your voice and I said to myself, hey, that’s Capable and she does not sound good. Sorry it took so long - Had to run to get the cops. But I did it! We did it! And you’re ok!”

Capable nodded as she ran her still damp palms over the strings. They were cool, tight, firm over her hands - the neck unbowed, despite what had happened. She was ok. Her guitar was ok. Everything was ok. “Hey, Savannah, if you’re still interested, I really want to do that show. Whenever you want. Name the time and I’ll be there.”

“Yeah! Yeah, sure! But hey, maybe want to go inside? We can hang out in the library.”

Quickly she shook her head. “No, I’m going to play some more.”

“Hey, I know that you have a friend who looks like a War Boy, but maybe you should be more wary of Buzzards. I’ve heard these stories…”

“I know about gangs, Savannah. I’m not going to let them shut me up.” And not just the gangs, she thought adamantly. “We are not things they can just push around. They think they can scare me - push me around because I’m a woman.”

“But…”

“This is exactly what why we need to keep getting our voices out there. This is bullshit - And it’s time that we changed it. This is our school, our subway, our city. And I’m going to fight for it.” She clenched the next of her guitar again and she took a deep breath, trying to calm her shaking body. She screwed her face up into a smile, and then said in a statement that was simple and not quite a lie, “I need to make up that money.”

Savannah scratched the top of her head with her cane but then she shrugged. “Ok, well, I hope you know what you’re doing.”

This time Capable sang one of her own songs, loud and clear over the sounds of the subway. It was a dare, a challenge, a summons. Joe hadn’t been able to stop her; the Buzzards didn’t stand a chance. The old Citadel City was dead; long live Citadel City.

---

I was climbing now I'm falling,
I've been pushed off by a man
Who has made it to the top and now defends it cuz he can
And I have found a breach in his front line
I was open now I'm hidden
From the danger of his words
- “Battles” by Hudson

Chapter Text

Oh, and tell me what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's so sick and sad?
Tell me what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's so gone mad?
He's gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river
- “The Body Electric” by Hurray for the Riff Raff

---

Dag made tea and they sat around the kitchen table, all of them steaming. Capable ran through the whole story on the phone with Toast, then again with Dag, Cheedo, and Furiosa when she got back home, texted an abbreviated version to Nux, and was recounting it for a third time to her family’s sympathetic nods. “I’m not going to give in. Angharad wouldn’t - hasn’t. Seeds was right about the rally. There’s so much that we need to fix. And I’m going to help.”

“We don’t need you in a coma, too,” Furiosa said pointedly.

“Fucking smeg-faced bastards,” Dag hissed, but her anger was winding down and the curse didn’t have as much vitriol as her earlier ones. She’d always been the best blasphemer out of all of them, and with her purple hair draped around her shoulders and spilling onto the table, she not only looked like a supernatural entity, but sounded like one too. She shook her head crossly. “Time they learned their lesson.”

Cheedo’s dark eyes were wide. “I’m really worried, Cape. I don’t want anything to happen to you. What if Savannah hadn’t come? Or what if there were more of them? Or what if they ran into War Boys and started fighting?”

Capable gripped her mug. Angharad had known the risks when she rallied them all; it had been nights of whispered discussions, all of them huddled together as they worked out the details and weighed the consequences. They’d known from the start that it would be dangerous, but everything with Joe was. If they didn’t risk it, then no one else would. “I’ll be more careful. I’ll get mace, like Toast. But I’m still going to busk. I’m going to busk even more.”

“We’ll come with you,” Dag announced and beside her Cheedo nodded with reluctant slowness. Dag glanced up at Furiosa and then added, “Power in numbers, yeah? Maybe they’ll think twice before starting a fight with a girl gang. We can get matching jackets.”

Dag’s glibness made Furiosa frown. She leaned back in her chair and let her gaze travel over them. Capable stared back, all the questions she’d been meaning to ask were still simmering in her thoughts. Furiosa said, tone neutral, stating a fact, “They will come back, if they know you’re there. You ready for that? Mace is a start, but it won’t stop a group.”

“I’m not going to carry a gun, Furiosa,” Capable said firmly. “One, it’s dangerous, and two… I don’t know. It’s like admitting they’re right - that force is the only way to get something done. That’s not what Angharad taught us.”

“This isn’t some philosophy class,” Furiosa replied.

“I know.”

“Then think this through. War Boys are too busy falling apart to be any real threat and the Rock Riders weren’t much to begin with. Buzzards are different - Buzzards are dangerous. Thought you’d be safe near the university, but if they’re moving in -”

“So what? Should we quit school because of them?”

Furiosa’s eyes were hard. “You’re letting your judgement get clouded.”

A tense silence fell. Furiosa’s comment stung and Capable dropped her gaze to her mug. She was hurt and she was angry, but in those rolling emotions was the niggling knowledge that Furiosa was scared, too. Capable sighed and again lifted her eyes to meet Furiosa’s. “I’m not going to back down. I’m going to keep playing. I get to decide now - Not those guys.”

Cheedo and Dag glanced at each other before Cheedo covered Capable’s hand, squeezing it gently. “Hey, maybe you should have recorded them, Cape. We could put it online so people can see what assholes they are. And how awesome you are.”

Furiosa’s eyebrows rose at that idea and she nodded slowly. “Not a bad idea.” Suddenly the atmosphere of the room changed - This was progress. This was a plan. This was a way they could move forward. “Careful if the cops get involved, though. They don’t always like being filmed.”

“Really?” Cheedo asked in surprise. “You think we could do that?”

A rare smile formed on Furiosa’s face. “I do. It’s good thinking.”

“I think there’s an app that automatically uploads what you’re filming.” Cheedo took out her phone and started to scroll through it. “Someone in class was talking about that. I’ll ask about it, Cape. That way the footage is protected, even if they take your phone.”

“Valkyrie might know,” Furiosa said.

“When’s she coming over?” Capable asked, thinking about Toast’s concerns about the community gardens.

“I’ll ask her. She -”

Pounding steps on the stairs made all of them look up. Furiosa was the first to stand, faster than the rest of them, but Capable quickly shoved her chair, too. “Probably Nux,” she guessed hopefully as she followed Furiosa out of the kitchen.

She didn’t have time to say anything else. Nux charged through the door and with a few long steps had reached her, then pulled him against her. His hands slid up and down her back like he trying to make sure she was in tact, patting down over shoulders, ribs, hips as he searched for any wounds. She tilted her face up and Nux’s eyes were wide, but that was all she was able to see before he was kissing her, his lips on hers, her cheeks, her forehead, her hair.

“Had to make sure you were alright. Are you alright?”

“I’m alright, Nux. They just scared me. I’m alright.”

He was warm, hard against her, and when he pulled her even closer, his jacket closed around her like he was blotting out everything else. He made a noise, some low and rumbling sound of distress and she added quickly to reassure him, “Next time I’ll have mace. Valkyrie got some for Toast; she can get me some, too.”

“You’re going back?”

“Of course!” Keeping her hands on his chest, she pulled back again. “Running into the War Boys didn’t stop me, right? Buzzards won’t either. I’m not giving in.”

“And we’ll go with her,” Cheedo added.

He’d been staring into Capable’s face, but as Cheedo spoke, Nux looked up, his eyes moving over the other women. He seemed to stop at Furiosa - and then Capable felt his body shift under her, the muscles in his arms tightening until he seemed to be radiating tension.

“How many were there?” He asked suddenly.

It took her a second to parse the question. The way he’d said it, hard and almost clipped, surprised her. “Three.”

“What did they look like?”

“Brown jackets and caps.”

“Their faces?”

As she started to describe the Buzzards, uneasiness frothed itself into a turmoil inside her. Nux’s questions felt more like an interrogation than the police’s. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Furiosa, who nodded shallowly along with Nux’s questions.

“Any scars?”

“Why?” She knew, dammit, she knew, but Capable still grimly hoped she was wrong. This wasn’t what she had been expecting - Maybe Furiosa and Toast had been right, maybe she was too idealist, maybe to the point of being foolish. Ice formed around her heart and she was surprised by the pain of it, a physical pain that left her speechless and staring at him as Nux grit his teeth and narrowed his eyes.

His big hands moved to her shoulders and he gripped her for a moment, as though he trying to keep her in place. His brows were drawn in a dark line and his eyes were narrowed, the blue glittering and the stare unfocused - he wasn’t really seeing her. “They’ll keep coming, Capable. Buzzards think it’s their territory now. We’ll get them first. I’ll find them.”

“What? No!”

Again he looked to Furiosa. “Boss, you know they will. University just has those rent-a-cops - Buzzards aren’t afraid of them. But we can take care of them.”

Before Furiosa could answer, Capable grabbed the lapels of his jacket, dragging his stare back down to her. Her palms were sweaty already and it was hard to keep purchase on the leather, making her scrabble to hold onto him. “Nux, I don’t want the War Boys getting involved!”

“Can’t do much for you - too mediocre. But I can do this. I’ll get the crew and we’ll get those fucking bastards.”

“No, Nux!”

“What if they do something to you? Capable, swear to fucking valhalla, don’t know what I’d do if they hurt you. Can’t even think about that.” The snarl ended and he set his jaw, then suddenly he jerked away from her. “Joe hurt you all that time. Won’t let that happen again. I’ll protect you, whatever it costs.”

“Nux!” She yelled after him as they clattered down the stairs. Just like the first time he’d come to the Green Place, she felt like she was too slow, just standing when she should have been running. Always too fucking slow - Never the first, never in the lead, never doing anything but watching as everything fell apart.

At the last step, she grabbed the railing and came to an abrupt stop. Suddenly hands were on her back and shoulders - Her family had come running out behind her.

“Wait, Nux!” Cheedo called.

“You don’t want to do this, mate!” Dag’s voice carried over the lawn.

Wildly Capable twisted around and found Furiosa looking back at her. Their eyes locked, and then she gave Capable a brief nod. Maybe she wasn’t a fighter. But maybe she didn’t need to be. Still on the stairs, Capable called out to him again, “Nux, Nux, listen to me.”

“Got to do this. For you, Capable.”

“I don’t want you killing for me! Getting hurt for me… or hurting someone for me…”

“There’s nothing else I can do!” His hands were in fists. “Don’t want to, but I’m supposed to do this - take out threats, patrol the streets, take what’s ours.”

Her heart was banging in its cage. She could order him, she realized miserably. She could make it an ultimatum. It would make a liar out of her, turn everything she’d said about trusting him into bullshit, empty propaganda. A dry wind whistled down the street, ruffling her hair and the edges of her shirt, the only movement as the rest of them held their breaths and waited. A precipice, Capable thought, the word ringing in her thoughts like a plucked string. Trying to keep her voice in control, keep the words from spilling out, Capable said, “If you think that this is what I want, then I’m not the person you think I am. And you’re not the person I think you are.”

He froze at that, stopped in place on the lawn, but Nux still didn’t turn around. “What do I do?”

“You get to choose, Nux.”

At some point she’d made a fist in her shirt, her hand twisting the fabric over her ribs. Finally, finally he turned toward her, and Capable released her grip and stretched out her arm.

And he came back to her. She jumped off the steps and onto the grass - And Nux’s long legs making the distance between them shorten, disappear as they caught each other.

“Capable, Capable. Fuck me. I won’t do it, won’t chase them. But how are you going to stop them?”

“We’ll figure it out together.”

She was vaguely aware of Dag, Cheedo, and Furiosa heading back up the stairs and into the house, but instead of following them, she and Nux stayed on the grass. Each time she kissed him, Capable pulled him in closer to her until he wasn’t just holding her, he was holding her up. Hands around the back of his head, her thumbs on his cheeks, Capable clutched him. The wind was back, sighing around them as it stirred up leaves at their feet and swept them away.

His hand in hers, she lead him into the house and then up the stairs, which creaked under his weight. She opened her door and stepped inside, but Nux stopped in the frame like it was some sort of threshold before she tugged him in.

Like all the rooms in the house, the bedroom she shared with Toast was small and simple. Their one window was between their beds and overlooked the front lawn. Under it was their shared bureau, covered with guitar picks, CDs, and books. A few framed pictures and a faded print of Monet’s water lilies decorated the green walls. Fortunately there weren’t too many clothes on the ground and the things that spilled out of the tiny closet weren’t scandalous. Her Swaisey was still in its case; its in stand sat her Gretsch. In the orange light of the setting sun, the electric guitar glimmered a rich gold. Nothing at all like Joe’s apartment.

Just being inside made her feel better, feel safer. Her heart still ached a bit, but it was with weariness instead of fear. Capable sank onto her bed, legs suddenly weak and looked up at Nux. He was still hovering at the edge of the room, eyes roving across the small space.

“Yeah, this looks like your room.”

“Yeah?”

He nodded, smiling bashfully. “Sort of been thinking about it. When we talk at night, you know?”

“And you imagined it looked like this?” She asked with a laugh.

When she patted the space beside her, he pulled off his jacket and boots, then sat down and leaned against the wall. The mattress creaked under his weight and she slid closer to him so their knees were touching. He said as he rubbed his knuckles against her leg, “Thanks for letting me come in.”

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“Don’t know why,” he mumbled, but still looked pleased.

It was a comfort, having him beside her. When she rested her head on his shoulder, she felt him exhale a sigh and he turned slightly toward her, just enough that she could fit in under his arm. The room was serene, but Capable couldn’t reach the same state of calm. The anxiety was fading and in its place was an elated excitement. He’d come back and he’d stayed, and Capable, holding his hand in her own, smiled for the first time in hours. She started humming spontaneously; maybe it was that that made Nux rouse himself and point to her electric guitar.

“Oh shit, so that’s your Gretsch G5438T?”

“You remembered!” She giggled, surprised and delighted that he’d memorized the make and model number. Suddenly all she wanted to do was play - Plugged it into the amp, pulled it on her lap, tossed her hair back, banged out a lick, and then threw her arm up in a rock star pose that she knew was ridiculous but couldn’t help anyway. “I promised I’d show you how to play. Want to try now?”

“Fuck yeah! You sure?”

“Music always makes me feel better. Best way to fix any problem, in my humble opinion. Here.”

He took it from her so gingerly that she giggled again. “It’s fine, Nux. You won’t break it. You trusted me with your car, right?”

As he plucked experimentally at the strings, she gave him a quick run through of the parts and their purposes, and then she grabbed her acoustic.

“Here, put your fingers like this: that’s a C chord. And if you move them like this, you get a G. They’re both major chords; they have a sort of happy quality to them, right? Now let’s try an A minor - Yeah, you got it, Nux. Sounds different, doesn’t it? Sort of sad? And finally an F.”

“Don’t know how you do it.” He strummed down the strings, made a face at muddy chord. Bent over the guitar, somehow he looked more handsome than ever. His long fingers curled around the neck and with every movement she could see the flex of the long muscles in his arms. He was good with his fingers, she noticed and then squeezed her eyes shut in mortification.

“Lots of practice,” she replied. “Lots of patience. You can learn it, too. I think you’d be really good at it.”

“Can you play other stuff?”

“I tried bass a couple of times; I want to buy one some day. Oh, and a mandolin. And maybe a banjo. And ukelele too, while I’m at it. I can play a little piano, but Angharad was always better at it. She had a real talent. Has.”

“Think she’ll be able to play again?”

Capable nodded slowly. “I hope so. I think she will. Angharad can do whatever she sets her mind on.”

“Makes me think of Slit.”

“Oh yeah? Is he like that too?”

Nux grinned, a sharp, half smile. “Stubborn as fuck and the best way to get him to do something is to tell him he can’t.” They both snickered at that. “Think he has been listening to me more, though. Or maybe he’s just getting better at keeping his mouth shut. But like you said - Got to keep trying, right?”

“That’s really good. Meanwhile I’m having problems with Toast. We had… well, not a fight, really. I’m worried about her. The rest of us are moving on, but I think she’s still really hurting. She doesn’t want to talk about it.”

“That definitely sounds like Slit.” He touched her knee, rubbing it reassuringly. “Toast is real fucking smart. The two of you will figure it out. I mean, you’re helping me and I’m a mediocre shithead.”

“Don’t say that about yourself, Nux.”

He stroked the strings again and the chord rang out perfectly. “Guess I’m getting better too. Want to tell me about happened with Toast?”

She ran her hands over her hair and shook her head, then reached back into the Swaisey’s case and pulled out the capo. “Maybe later. Right now I’m giving you a lesson. You know, with those chords you can play a ton of different songs. Thousands. All from those four chords.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah. Sort of interesting, right? So once you know the basics, you get to buy all sort of fun toys. This is a capo - it lets you shift a song to a higher key; this is my tuning pipe, for tuning, unsurprisingly; and this is - Ever heard of bottleneck guitar?”

“Looks like a beer bottle.”

A DIY slide for her guitar. Just like Nux guessed, it was from the neck of a broken beer bottle with the jagged glass edges sanded down until it was smooth. Capable slid it over her left ring finger and then played a few notes - the slide gave them a smooth, almost twangy sound. Nodding, she explained, “Furiosa made it for me. Metal is usually better, but this is pretty bad ass.”

“Play something?”

“I do take requests,” she replied with a smile. It took a moment for her to think of a song - it was supposed to be a duet, and without one of her sister’s voices, it seemed too quiet, almost stripped - but the soft beauty of it was nearly a lullaby.

I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June
If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too
No, I'm not asking much of you
Just sing little darling, sing with me

There was an intensity in his stare, but somehow there was a gentleness, too - An impossible oxymoron, but Capable couldn’t get her thoughts into any sort of order enough to classify it better. The twilight hour was a magic one: half on fire with the setting sun, half fading into the velvet of night. And in the middle was the most shade of blue, just like the color of his eyes. A painful twinge nearly made her fudge a chord and all those silly metaphors disappeared. When the last note faded, Capable pulled her left hand back and peered at her index finger. A blister was forming there, raw when she squeezed it.

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah, just my finger.”

Nux took her hand, held it up to examine the fingers. “You sure? Buzzards didn’t hurt you?”

“They didn’t touch me,” she said and Nux nodded, his eyes still riveted to her hand. “This is just from playing so much. I have calluses, but I played a lot over the past couple of days. Damn, it hurts. I hate getting blisters.”

“Let me see?” He gently rubbed her fingertips with the pad of his thumb and then brought her hand his mouth. His lips were warm, pliant, and she couldn’t stop the sharp intake of breath - a gasp, a sigh, maybe the start of a moan - as the sight and feel of him bombarded her senses. Nux’s eyes flickered up to meet her own: dark blue under his long lashes, and not as innocent as before.

“Can you… do that again?” She managed to ask.

When his tongue trailed over her knuckles, Capable couldn’t resist any longer. She rose to her knees and stretched forward, catching his chin to tilt his face up. The light scratch of stubble under her palm scratched at an impossibly deep itch. When they kissed, everything disappeared but him - the day, the Buzzards, her aching fingers, the aching worry. Somehow they got the guitars onto the floor - a few seconds of interruption that lasted way too fucking long - and then she pulled him into her arms. He was heavy and hard against her, but as she sank into the bed and drew him on top of her, he fit against her like they’d been made to match.

“Been thinking about this, too,” he whispered hoarsely. “Being in bed with you.”

“Me too. I think about you all the time. And…”

“And?” He prompted, mouth moving over the shell of her ear, down to her neck.

She shivered, wiggled, arched against him. Her face was hot - maybe she was blushing just thinking about her confession or maybe it was his fingers leaving trails of fire as they traced down her side. “And when we were in the bathroom at school, when you stood there half naked.”

“Really? I thought I scared you, me being a War Boy. And then when you told me about Joe and what he did to you, thought maybe I reminded you of him.”

“I was a little scared, but not because of anything you did. You were so gorgeous. Are. I’d never seen anyone like you before. I love looking at you. And feeling you. And feeling you against me.”

“Like this?”

“Yeah, just like this,” she said as his hand cupped her bottom and pulled her harder against him. When she could speak again, it was to ask audaciously, “I want to get closer - Can I? Can I take this off?”

He lifted himself up and together they pulled off the shirt, throwing it somewhere into the darkening room. She didn’t have a chance to see much of him before they were kissing again, wrapping each other into a tight embrace. Capable pushed lightly on his shoulder and Nux rolled onto his back, letting her rise above him. His arms and chest were shaved smooth, except for that trail of dark hair leading down to the waistband of his pants. The size of him, she thought dizzily and couldn’t get any semblance of articulation to finish that observation.

“Been thinking about this too,” she told him, splaying her hands over his chest. “Your tattoo. It’s... wow. Shine.” She could see the rise and fall of his chest, faster as she finally traced the lines of his tattoo, her fingers weakening as the crossed over the flat planes of his muscles. Under her Nux shifted and she could feel him straining, trying to hold back from bucking into her.

But he waited for her. The hands that kneaded at her things held her loosely, giving her space to escape. And when he looked up at her, it was with a smile that made some part of her heart soar. “Like this,” he rasped, “having you on top.”

Leaning down, she breathed against his cheek, kissing there before sliding her mouth back to his. “I like it, too.”

“Everything you do feels fucking shine. Whatever you want, Capable - I‘ll do whatever you want.”

“I’m the driver tonight?”

Nux laughed and buried his face against her neck. “Yeah! Best fucking driver in the whole fucking city.”

One of his fingers ran hesitantly under the bottom of her shirt, which was suddenly uncomfortably tight. She grabbed his wrists and lead his hands up from her hips, to her sides, and finally to her breasts. But even that wasn’t enough, the muted touch of his fingers over the too-thick bra. “Can I take off my shirt, too?”

“Capable,” he said firmly with a frown, “of fucking course I want you take off your shirt.”

She grinned as she raised up and over her head, accidentally catching her hair elastic with it so when she tossed her shirt aside, her hair cascaded loose over her shoulders. As she murmured and sighed her approval, Nux slid his fingers into her hair. “Glory, glory. You’re so fucking beautiful, Capable.”

She felt like she was. She felt fucking glorious and nothing she’d ever done even came close to the sensation of being skin to skin with him, warm and hard and not enough. Impatiently she dragged his hands to the clasp at the back of her bra. “Your hands feel so good,” she encouraged him when he didn’t move. “I really like it when you touch me. Can you -?”

Another kiss stopped the rest of that question, but Nux understood and plucked at the clasp. And tugged it. And then swore, tearing his mouth from her. And then held her closer so he could see over her shoulder. “Wait - how does… Swear to valhalla… Capable -”

With a soft laugh, Capable brought his hands back to clasp. “It unhooks.”

Tenderly he pulled her bra down her arms. And then she was laid bare before him, but instead of vulnerable, Capable felt bold, strong, and so ridiculously happy that she wanted to laugh, or maybe sing, or maybe dance, or maybe grab Nux and hold him so close that she melted against him, into him.

One hand was flat against her back, holding her up, and the other ghosted over the side of her breast. He followed the curve with his thumbs, a slow glide of a tickle. “This feel good? You sure?” He asked worriedly and swallowed hard before the rest of his anxious confession spilled out, “Haven’t done this before. War Boys… we weren’t supposed to.”

Capable froze, hand wavering for a beat before she lay it softly on his arm. “Not supposed to what? Be with someone like this?”

“Get close, I guess. They said it made you soft. And if the two of you got caught -” the unspoken punishment hovered. She tried to withdraw but he caught her hand and brought it back to his shoulder. “Don’t want to stop. You said I get to choose, right? I choose you. This.”

So did she.

Hitching breaths, teeth pressing down where they’d been kissing. Every time they moved their hips, the bulge of his erection rubbed against the inside of her thighs. It was through two layers of pants but still made her groan; under her Nux whined.

“That’s good?” She breathed and he nodded, eyes squeezed shut. When she rocked again, he threw his arm over his face. “Hey,” she said as she tugged at his wrist, “want to see you.”

They rolled onto their sides, getting better grips on each other as they kissed, shivered, rocked. His skin was slippery under her fingers and her touch skidded over his chest to his back and then down to his hip bones. His pants were already low there, the waistband worn soft and loose, and somehow in the mess of her brain that used to be able to think, she realized how easy it’d be to push them down.

When he hoarsely groaned his permission, she slid his pants down his hips and silenced his whine with a deep kiss, tongue on his lips and then swiping over his teeth as he gaped. A light touch on his stomach first, letting him adjust to her closeness, and then Capable closed her hand around his erection. He bent up in an arc around her, his long legs pulled up, with one arm curled over her side and the other under her hair. And she kissed him, he writhed and moaned against her mouth, and when she stroked her fingers down the length of his cock, Nux shuddered and pressed so close that the boundaries between their skin seemed to blur.

His words spilled out in a rush - “Feels so good, Capable, can’t believe, don’t stop” - and she responded with her own breathy murmurs, whispered in time with the rhythm of her stuttering movements - “You feel so good, love touching you, Nux, oh Nux.” She could feel him getting close with each word, every touch, and could feel him trying to hold back.

The last thrust nearly made her tremble along with him. With a low noise, something between a growl and a groan, Nux came hot and pulsing over her hand, and she kissed his closed eyes, the sweat beading on his forehead, then his parted lips. There was some laughter between those kisses, especially when he rolled over, carrying her with him to reach for his shirt to wipe them both clean.

Capable was still thrumming with desire and Nux caressed her with unexhausted eagerness, those brilliant eyes clear and bright and focused so intently on her that she felt like she was on a stage of her own, all spotlights pointing right at her.

He followed her hand as she opened her jeans and didn’t argue when she told him she wanted to keep them on, just rubbed at her thigh, waiting again for her to lead. The instructions were barely articulate but he heeded all of them, dipping his fingers down her underwear with such care that any last lingering bit of trepidation vanished, gone so completely that it was like it was never there at all. With his mouth on her breast and fingers on her clit, Capable finally gave up talking completely - But Nux still understood. The glide of his touches as he reached into her made her cry out and clutch him. Each sensation seemed to build until it hit a crescendo, and then - then - then - Shaking, she came. Shaking and nearly crying, feeling wet and slick all over.

Glory, glory.

“That was - You were -” Nux stopped, interrupting himself with a laugh. “You’re beyond chrome. Don’t know if there’s even a word for it. It didn’t feel like I was breaking a rule. Or maybe I was but it should have been broken.”

He rolled on top of her as he buried his face in her hair. With her whole body still buzzing, even those touches made her giggle. “You were-” she began but then his hand on her stomach got to be too much and she wiggled ineffectively against him. “That tickles!”

“Yeah? Right here, huh? And your knee right? Remember that from the other day.”

“No! Not ticklish at all!”

She found a spot on him too, right above his hip that made him snort and then roll away in an attempt at self preservation. Laughing in bed, half naked and still damp from sweat. She’d never, ever done anything like that before. And probably neither had he. Laughing and kissing and they still had their pants on and it was all amazing. It was like they’d discovered how to make love - maybe they’d even created it - there in her little bed in her little bedroom.

“Don’t want to leave you.”

“I want you to stay,” she replied. She stroked her fingers down his cheek until he caught her hand and pressed a kiss against her palm. “Can you? Stay the night?”

“Yeah! Course. Couldn’t drag me away if you tried.” They chortled quietly at that and then fell into a comfortable silence. In the kitchen below, she could hear dinner noises again, and she thought about Toast, wondering where her sister was. How would she explain a half-naked Nux if Toast came swooping into their room? Maybe she really did need some sort of police tape. Later. She’d figure it all out later.

She sat up with a languid stretch, ruffled her hair, which was damp against her neck, and looked at the time on her phone. “Wow, it’s getting late. Are you hungry?”

“Holy shit, look at you.” He smoothed his hand over her hair, then twirled the ends of it around his finger. “Yeah, guess so. Wish we could just stay here.”

And eat in bed. Another thing to blush about.

“Come on,” she urged and he let himself be pulled out from the covers.

She found her shirt and put it back on as he picked up own from the floor, cheeks turning red as he turned it around in his hands. But when she laughed, a grin spread across his face too and he draped his arms over her shoulder, kissing the top of her head.

“Probably shouldn’t wear that down to dinner. Let me get you a clean shirt.” Rummaging through her drawer, she searched for something that’d be big enough for him. She had some large t-shirts, used primarily for painting, and finally she found one - black, too, with a green rib cage on it and only a few spots of paint. “I’ll wash it,” she assured him. “It’s sort of getting to be a habit with us. At least it’s not blood this time.”

He groaned. “Don’t see how this isn’t worse.”

She tilted her head back and kissed his jaw. “Well, I like it more.”

He groaned again and they both laughed as they clamored down the stairs to the kitchen.

Someone had set out bowls for them, too, and they sat down just as Dag started to ladle out lentil soup. Her pale eyebrow arched so high that it seemed in danger of ascending off her forehead, but she contented herself with just smiling smugly and didn’t comment on Nux’s new shirt. Nestled in some more plants - which seemed to be spreading at the same rate as Toast’s books - the radio played a waltz.

“Hey Nux, I’m starting a new class.” Cheedo told him eagerly and he looked up in interest.

“No shit? Another play?”

“Script-writing this time. I want to write my own stuff. I think. I’m going to try, anyway.”

“For plays? Or movies, too? Are they the same?”

Cheedo and Nux frowned at each other across the table. “Don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe? Well, in movies you have to think about where the camera is and stuff, right? So maybe that’s in the script too? That’d be sort of cool, actually.”

“Never saw a play before yours. And we weren’t supposed to watch movies. Or TV.” He frowned at the bowl of soup. “Did a little, anyway.”

“That’s like all we did,” Cheedo replied. She glanced at Dag, who smiled back at her, and then continued, “Since we basically never left the apartment, we’d watch a ton of stuff. Mostly old movies; I guess Joe didn’t want us seeing the news. Hey, maybe we should have movie nights!”

“Toast’s at the library right now,” Dag said as she looked at her phone. “I’ll tell her to see what they have. Probably not a lot. But it’d still be fun. Interested, Nux?”

“Can drive you over there now, if you want a ride.”

Dag tugged on a purple strand of hair and smiled wickedly. “Maybe tomorrow or something. I think we’re all probably pretty busy tonight.”

Cheedo looked over Dag’s shoulder at the texts she was sending Toast. “Nothing with a lot of blood. There’s got to a be a website that tracks all this stuff, right? Toast would know. If it has a dog, then it can’t die. And it has to pass all those tests. And can we get a couple of musicals?”

Capable nodded but her attention was elsewhere. She could hear the distant pound of a hammer outside: Furiosa was working on one of the houses by herself. “Be right back, guys,” she said as she stood. “I’ll go get Furiosa.”

Nux had started to rise but Dag waved him back into his seat. The beat of the waltz matched her footsteps as Capable padded down the backstairs to the lawn. She was still barefoot, another thing Furiosa wouldn’t like - they were supposed to wear boots when they did any construction - but Capable was determined to talk to the other woman, shoes be damned. Up into the other house, which was looking more and more like a home, through the piles of wood shavings that reappeared no matter how many times they swept, and then up to the second floor. The hammering had stopped and when Capable pushed open the door, Furiosa standing next to the window, looking out and down at their house.

“We didn’t want you to miss dinner,” Capable started, taking refuge in the neutral comment. “Nux is still here. I want him to stay the night.” And maybe longer, she thought.

Furiosa picked up on that unspoken longing. “Be safer for him if you kept him here.”

Kept. “I’m not going to make him if he doesn’t want to.”

“Protecting isn’t the same as locking up, Capable.” Furiosa lay her hand on Capable’s shoulder. “Go easy on yourself.”

They leaned on the sill, both of them gazing at the other house. Light spilled out from the downstairs window, creating something like a golden halo around the building. “It looks so different than when we moved here,” she said in wonder. “I can’t believe how much you’ve done for it. For all the houses.”

“You all have helped.”

“Yeah, but we couldn’t have done it without you.” Capable pushed at her hair, trying to keep it out of her face. “I couldn’t have done much of anything. It’s because of you that I’m here right now.”

Dust and dirt streaked Furiosa’s shoulders and there was a smear of something dark over her nose where she had swiped at it. A modern day Rosie of sorts.

“I’m not trying to spite you, Furiosa. I really am thankful. Wow, that sounds ridiculous. But I am. I owe you so, so much. I know that me going out makes you nervous, but I’m not going to stop. I can make me own choices now - I know that’s because of you. Maybe this is a way I can repay you, by actually doing something with the freedom you fought for.”

Furiosa rubbed her hand over her hair, down to her neck. She had to be sore from all the work she’d been doing, but she showed no weakness at all, standing as tall as she ever did. “Nothing ventured. I’m proud of you, Capable. Don’t want you to think that I disapprove of what you’re doing. You’re right - and Seeds is too - about having to work for this all. I’m used to taking risks, not used to you doing that, too.”

“I did get Nux out of it, so that’s a pretty big point in my favor.” Capable smiled tentatively at Furiosa, who rolled her eyes at the joke. After a moment, Capable added softly, “Thank you, Furiosa. It means a lot to me. Maybe the Buzzards will listen, too. Or other War Boys. Maybe your crew?”

She waited for a reaction for that, but Furiosa barely moved. “That life is over.”

“I know. I’m sorry - We don’t have to talk about it. But I wanted you to know that Nux is trying to convince them to leave, too. And I’ll help him if I can.”

Furiosa shook her head. “You can’t save everybody.”

Capable’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I know,” she said again. “Things will never be perfect. I know that, Furiosa. But they can still get better, right? And we can make that happen.”

They walked back to the house together. In the dark sky Capable could see some stars; they were far away from the city proper that on clear nights, Dag could pick out constellations. They were another thing to show Nux, and she imagined sitting out on the roof with him, her guitars on their laps. Back in the kitchen, they convinced Nux to eat lentils after he unsuccessfully offered to pick them up McDonald’s. The rest of dinner was spent trying to remember the names of movies they’d liked and failing miserably at movie-star six degrees of separation. Nux draped his arm over the back of her chair and under the table she rubbed her foot against his bare ankle so they were in constant contact. But the mugging was still on everyone’s mind, and as they finished eating, the conversation came back to that afternoon.

“I’ll help, too,” Nux insisted after Dag and Cheedo reaffirmed their own commitment. He watched as they reached across the table to cover Capable’s hand with their own, and then added, “After everything I did, you still let me in. Never even hoped like anything like this was possible. Thank you. For it all.”

Dag stood up and stretched over the little table to rub his head.

After they’d cleaned up, Capable refused another mug of tea as casually as possibly and pushed Nux back to the stairs. He jumped at the offer of a shower. “You can use my razor if you want,” she told him as she found him a clean towel. “Oh, and that one’s my toothbrush.”

“Haven’t had a hot shower I don’t fucking know how long,” he said, looking longingly at the tub.

As soon as she heard the bathroom door close, Capable stripped out of her clothes and dug through her closet for something to wear as pajamas. Sleeping with him - this was another new intimacy. If only she had some of the lingerie that she used to wear, she thought wildly, but then checked herself and pulled out another t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Annoyed that she’d let another old memory resurface, she undressed without any care, jamming her limbs into the pajamas. This was nothing like what she’d used to have to do. Swimming compared to drowning. Though maybe someday she’d get something lacy again - or get him something lacy, another idea that made her flush. After she climbed into her bed, she plugged her phone in its charger and looked at the screen. There were some new messages from Toast waiting for her: her sister was checking in again, making sure that she was ok, that Nux was ok, that everything had returned to some semblance of normal. Capable typed back a reply.

it’s all fine! :)
nux is still here
i’ll tell you all about him later
i want him to stay the night
would you mind?
i know that things are rough right now

It didn’t take Toast long to write back.

just had an off day yesterday
i’ll hang out at school for a while
let the two of you “play guitar”
make some sweet, sweet music
bang out a few licks

Capable groaned and rubbed her forehead. Suddenly a text from Dag lit up her screen:

tap three times on the floor if you need us to get you some condoms
:))))) XDXDDD ;););)
hold on this phone has to have a dick emoticon somewhere
btw i counted three hickeys where i could see them
that pale skin hides nothing!
parchment to list your peccadilloes
text message high-five!!

It was like they were all conspiring to ruin her. With a grin, Capable was quickly writing a message back - you’re 1000% terrible - when Cheedo texted too.

movie night dates!
i’ll look for one with cars in it!
furiosa would probably like that too!
but not guns!
there’s not a lot of room on the couch so maybe you have to sit on his lap!!

After typing back and forth a little more, Capable pushed her phone onto her bureau and lay back in bed. Even though her body was exhausted, behind her eyelids her brain was churning through memories, an endless reprise that made her cover her face with her pillow. Still, Nux was in the shower so long that she’d nearly fallen asleep waiting for him, tucked down deep in her blanket with her pillow still covering her, and when he closed the door and turned the light on, she startled and rose in confusion.

“Shit, sorry,” he said, immediately switching the light off again. “Did I scare you? Want me to sleep someplace else? Can sleep in the car.”

“Come here,” she replied and felt the bed sink as he sat down. He smelled soapy clean and she wished she had joined him - maybe another thing they could try together. The thought inspired a series of wicked reactions that were probably the reason she added daringly, “You don’t have to sleep in your clothes, if you don’t want to.”

Heavy jeans couldn’t be comfortable to sleep it. Completely reasonable suggestion.

“Haven’t had hot water in fucking forever. Felt really good. Can’t believe everything tonight. Not the shower. I mean, the shower was great. But being able to get back into bed with you, it’s so shine. Just want to be with you. And now I get to. Your bed’s real fucking chrome, too.”

She could see his pale skin in the dark. Leaning on her arm, she watched him stand again, then pull his shirt over his chest and fiddle with the button on his pants. And then let them slide off his narrow hips and down his long legs. Capable tried to swallow, but her mouth had suddenly gone desert dry. Somehow she remembered how to speak and observed in a steady voice, “So War Boys don’t have socks or underwear.”

“Nope.” A few seconds of silence stuttered by before he added, “Sure it’s ok?”

“It’s ok,” she said as she reached to him. “I’m just surprised. Can’t believe I didn’t notice that before. Wow. How did I miss that? Guess I was pretty distracted.”

“Sorry.” He sat down on the bed and gingerly lay down beside her.

“It’s not your fault. It’s…” she paused, trying to decipher the inchoate uneasiness. She’d been so sure before, so certain in her desire. “I don’t know if I’m ready for sex, you know? Maybe I am, or maybe part of me is, but I don’t want to yet. Is that ok?”

“Capable, this is the best fucking night in my life. Don’t want you to think that you need to apologize - I’m not missing out on anything.”

She felt him shuffle through the bedding, and then he looped an arm around her waist to pull them together. Instead of climbing in with her, he’d was lying on top of the sheet so that it was a layer between them. “This ok?”

“Yeah, thanks, Nux.”

He made a pleased sound that turned into a laugh. “Can’t believe any of this. Sure I didn’t die? A real bed with you in it. In the garage, we only have mattresses on the floor.”

“That sounds awful.”

“No worse than the Pits. Maybe a little better since there’s only seven of us. And they’re pretty good mates.” Carefully he slid out from under her and rose to lean on his arm. “They aren’t anything like you, though. Never had anyone treat me the way you do. And you know, never really worried about losing anyone before. Boys get killed all the time. Figured someday it’d be me and Slit. Got used to that, tried not to think too much about it.”

“Your life is worth so much, Nux. Joe didn’t want you to think that. Or any of us. But you matter. You mean so much.”

“You do. Got your text, just about went feral. Rather die than let something happen to you.”

Die. The word seemed to burn in her brain, some sort of horrible brand. She traced his arm, tracing her fingers along the muscles of his bicep, to his shoulder, and then cupped his chin with her hand. He was incredibly beautiful in the pale light, with his eyes soft and shining. “I want to be with you.”

“But you need someone to protect you. Don’t know how to do that any way than the War Boy way.”

“Just because that’s the way things used to be done doesn’t mean it was right. The War Boy way, it’s about domination. And that hurts you, too, like it hurt me and my sisters and everyone else in the city. I’m not going to submit to that. And I’m going to change it - But I’m not going to do it their way.”

“I’ll help you, Capable. Anyway I can. Don’t know how, but we’ll figure it out, right?”

She nodded and he touched her cheek. In silence he studied her, his dark brows low, and then finally sighed.

“Don’t know enough words to explain how I feel about you. Been trying to think of them all night. You’re so everything - You’re so smart and sweet and so beautiful that when I look at you I feel something inside me that’s like pain, only it’s the greatest feeling in the world. Love you, I love you - Wish I could say it better, but I don’t know how.” He caressed her breast, circling her nipple through her shirt before coming to rest over her heart. Then quieter, voice low and intimate and for her alone, he repeated those three sweet words, “I love you.”

“Oh, Nux,” she exclaimed, unable to stop the burbling laugh that made her shiver and wiggle into his arms. “I love you, too. You make me feel like I never thought I’d be able to feel. When I’m with you, the world seems so much bigger - but safer, too, you know? There’s so much out there and I can’t wait to try it. With you.”

“Hey, can you say it again?”

“I love you,” she complied with a smile.

“Love you,” he said seriously, then broke out in another grin. They kissed again and she tasted the mint of toothpaste on his lips - As she cuddled up to him, she sleepily thought about getting up to brush her teeth too, maybe take a shower or at least wash her face… And it was on the tip of her tongue to ask him why he hadn’t shaved - when she had touched his face, she’d grazed over rough stubble.

Instead, nestled under his arm, she fell asleep.

---

Oh I'm scared to close my eyes in case
I miss my chance with you
Didn't know what I was missing
You gave me something to miss
- “Cereus Bright” by Stella



Art by Super-Chi

Chapter Text

Love - it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you
It will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
- “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons

---

He used to imagine his death. They all did, and talked about it too, everyone trying to outdo each other. Storms of bullets that shattered every window on a block, a car crash that punctured the fuel tank so it’d explode, pipe bombs on the supports that would bring down the whole fucking building. Something big, something that the news would cover for days, photos from every angle as the helicopters circled from a safe distance. The War Boys painting the town red.

It was their own blood, a lot of the time. They all knew that it’d kill them someday. Knew and hoped. Everything in Citadel City was fucking dangerous - Living in the projects, living on the streets, get killed by an overdose or by the cops or by a bullet meant for someone else or by cancer from the smog or lead in the water. Could die like that, not even a blip on a radar - or could die with the War Boys and be remembered: names of mates tattooed along shoulders or spraypainted on overpasses for every driver below to see, talleys etched into bosses’ cars’ doors of crew members who died.

Better than dying alone.

He woke up in something like a daze, every sense scattered and muddled, drugged by the feelings of warmth, softness, weight on him and something brushing against his shoulder - Capable. She was half on top of him - her leg over his, arm tucked around his chest, head resting on his shoulder so that glorious hair poured over his skin. He moved his legs restlessly, torn between trying to get even closer to her and keeping still enough not to disturb even a second of her sleep.

The latter won and Nux lay beside her in silence, listening to her steady breathing. If he died right there and then, he’d die happy. Completed. Probably the softest War Boy in history, he thought, but felt smug instead of ashamed.

It was a tiny, narrow bed, but that meant they were pressed so close together that it felt like each of her heartbeats was resonating through him too, a slow and steady engine purr that could keep him going for miles and miles and days and days. Under the blanket he gingerly slid his hand down her until it rested on the flare of her hip. Soft curves and firm muscles, every part of her so beautiful that it was maddening, but Nux swallowed back the urge to kiss and touch and sink into her. Used to only a few hours of sleep at a time, he felt wide awake.

He lay there, memorizing the sensations of being with her as minutes ticked past. Then, as gently as possible, he pulled his arm out from under her. She murmured, stirring, and Nux held his breath, but then she rolled over and went back to sleep. At some point Toast had come home, and in the dark he could see her outline in a lump of blankets. Moving quietly so he wouldn’t wake them, he slipped out the door and down to the bathroom.

The bathroom was small, like the rest of the house. But comfortable, too, also like the rest of the house. There were plants in the small window, bottles of shampoo and other sweet smelling goo, and on the edge of the tub was Capable’s razor.

Arms locked on the sides of the sink, bracing himself, Nux stared at his reflection. It almost didn’t look like him - the way he was used to looking. It’d been nearly 24 hours since he’d shaved and already the evidence of it was visible. He had dark hair and with his pale skin, stubble was spreading like a rash. Nux rubbed at his chin, followed his jawbone up to his ear, scrubbed his palm over his head. The hair was a shadow on his face, filling in under his cheekbone, covering up the War Boy underneath.

Maybe not a shadow - It looked like dirt. Smudges of oily grit that would spread down his arms, across his chest, from his legs to his feet unless he worked at keeping himself clean. Visible proof of straying from the rules. Visible rust on Joe’s chrome.

He splashed water on his face and flicked his hands dry, splattering his reflection.

Back in the hallway, his bare feet stepped lightly over the cool wood floor. Even in the dark, he could see the photos on the walls - Not many, but moments proudly captured and displayed: all of them in front of the busted frame of the house, Dag and Cheedo hanging out of the front window of Furiosa’s truck, Toast on her bike making a face, Capable holding her electric guitar with a grin so bright that he smiled back at it.

Suddenly, cutting through the silence, there was a click downstairs, the quiet noise of a door closing in another part of the house.

Someone coming in.

Silently Nux slipped back into Capable’s room. She wouldn’t have a gun - course she wouldn’t - but there had to be something he could improvise with. Under her bed was jack shit, just books under Toast’s, the bureau’s drawers were full of soft pieces of clothes and some more books. The search was done swiftly, but Nux could feel the second ticking by - Someone was fucking around downstairs and he had nothing to protect Capable with.

In one of his pockets was his knife. He dove for his pants, pulled it out and flicked it open, and with a glance at her - still asleep and safe - he slid out from her room, closing the door soundlessly behind him. Down the stairs, which barely whispered a creak when he descended, past the front door, still closed and locked, toward the kitchen, where soft light was spilling out into the little living room. There was a clatter in the kitchen and then he abandoned stealth to sprint the last few feet -

Across the room was Furiosa, shoulders squared, lips drawn, butcher knife in hand.

“Furiosa!” he exclaimed first and they both lowered their knives. “Sorry, boss - Didn’t think it’d be you.” The energy from the hunt suddenly left him and Nux felt clammy under his sweat. Second time he’d pulled a weapon on her, he thought guiltily, and hurried to explain, “Heard something and wanted to check it out. If I’d known you were down here -”

“Don’t worry about it,” she replied. Knife went back in a drawer and she sat back down at the table. In front of her were papers, a pen, and her cellphone - She’d been working on something. Her fake arm was on the chair next to her. As he wondered if she wanted anything else from him or if he could return to Capable, Furiosa spoke again, “No gun this time.”

“No,” he agreed, looking down at his butterfly knife. “Hey - I know that Capable wouldn’t have a gun, but she doesn’t have anything to protect herself. Not even a baseball bat. And anyone could get on the roof, push the window open.”

She grimaced. “I know. But they refused bars over their windows.”

Of course they wouldn’t, not after what they’d been through. Shamed by that explanation, Nux ducked his head. Still, there had to be a work around. “How about a lock from the inside? Something that could sit on the frame.”

“Maybe,” Furiosa allowed. She seemed to muse on it and finally gave him a slow nod. “I’ll work on it tomorrow.”

“I can help.”

That made her snort. “You live here now too?”

“Sorry, boss.” Nux immediately apologized for the overstep, but it was out of habit and not real regret. He wasn’t sorry for being there, for being with Capable. “Will stay out of your way.”

“Suppose there are worse things than having another set of eyes around,” she said, another concession, but Nux recognized it as praise and grinned, relief and pride coursing through him. She studied him and he straightened under her gaze. “You didn’t shave.”

Again he ran his hand over his chin. “There’s something about it that doesn’t feel right. I know it should - Feel right, I mean. But there’s something about it that feels… Alignment’s off,” he filled in, suddenly thinking of his car. Like maybe he was pulling too far to one side, or maybe some parts were feathering, wearing out too much, something dragging that should have lain flat.

“Adjustments take time. Grocery shopping was hard, the first few times. Didn’t realize how complicated everything would be.”

That she’d willingly share a vulnerability surprised him, but Nux quickly rolled with it and confided in return, “Getting coffee! If Capable hadn’t explained it all, I never would have been able to do it.”

She leaned back in her chair, shoulders starting to relax. “Noises. Everything sounds like a gunshot. Even hammering, at first.”

But she’d built the houses anyway. “Think I’ll be ever be fixed, too?”

As surreptitiously as possible, Nux studied her in return. Only part of her attention was on him; she’d turned her head to look at the dark lawn outside the window. She’d let her hair grow out, but only barely: it was more like a fuzz across her head, shorter even than how Toast kept hers. There were a few pale scars that he could see, and then of course there was her arm. She hadn’t put her prosthetic back on. It was the first time he’d seen her without it, and he couldn’t help but look at the rounded stump. There were all sort of stories about it - War Boys traded rumors along with supplies, and the legend of Furiosa was one of their favorites. Rictus bit it off, she lost it to a Buzzard with a machete, she tore it off to escape from a secret police cell, and everyone’s favorite: chopped it in a fight and beat the other guy to death with it.

“Adjusted,” she corrected, then shrugged. “I can’t tell you that. Up to you to try. You seem to be doing it.”

“If I can adjust, what about other War Boys? Ace, Morsov, Dred, Rotor, and Mack - ”

“Aren’t my crew anymore.” Furiosa’s steady scrutiny wasn’t broken by a single blink. “All of them versus me - Might as well have a bull’s eye on my forehead.”

“Wouldn’t be like that,” he said, knowing how weak it sounded. If Furiosa wasn’t a boss, then they weren’t her crew - It was a simple equation. Remove that loyalty and what were to her? Gang members, trouble, a risk for her family. “You trusted me when you had no reason to.”

“Capable trusted you,” she said, another correction.

What was Furiosa to him? What was he to Furiosa? Something other than a subordinate appealing to a boss, he hoped. “You trust me now.”

The steely gaze came back. It was hard not to think of her as a boss then, pinned under her stare.

“I should… Capable is…” he motioned behind him and slid away from the door. “Night, Furiosa.”

“Nux,” she called and he stepped back into the kitchen. “At least get underwear.”

Maybe not being completely fucking naked would have helped his cause. He flushed - and could see his whole damn body blush down to his feet - and retreated as quickly as possible to the safety of Capable’s room.

As he put his knife back into his pants’ pocket, he fished out his phone. The icons for messages and missed calls blinked from the screen. Nux sat on the edge of Capable’s bed as he flipped open the phone: the texts from Slit were no big surprise, but Ace and Morsov had also been trying to reach him. It was early, but taking jobs before dawn wasn’t uncommon.

With a quiet murmur, Capable rolled over and Nux reached down to rub one of her bare feet. Her skin was warm and soft, muscles relaxed under his hand. Without listening to his voicemail or reading the texts, he snapped the phone shut and tossed it on his pants on the floor. Careful once again to keep the sheets between him and her, Nux slid along side of Capable and buried his face into her hair. The worries about Furiosa, her crew, everything else faded away until they were just background noise, until they were silent. He fell asleep enveloped by Capable.

When he woke a second time, it was in slow stages: feeling her, hearing her sigh and yawn, opening his eyes to the gray ceiling. He rubbed at his face and rolled over, meeting her face, nose to nose with his.

“Morning,” Capable said softly. She pushed her hair out of her face so he could see her beautiful eyes as she smiled.

“Morning. Hey, love you.” He couldn’t help saying it - It spilled out as smooth as oil.

She made a low, pleased noise and snuggled against his chest, her nose nudging his chin up so she could kiss under his jaw. She fit in perfectly there and Nux tightened his hold on her, pressing her body down the length of his own. He caught her knee and pulled it up so he could get her legs around him, feel the shivvery warmth of her there -

“All right, all right,” said another voice. “I’m leaving. Keep your pants on. ...Put your pants back on.”

“Hey Toast!” Nux said cheerfully.

Capable sat up. “Toast! I didn’t hear you come in last night.”

“Well, that was what I was aiming for. Let me just get my clothes - I’ll be out in a second.”

“Yeah, ok. Thanks,” Capable said as Toast left the room and closed the door behind her. She sank down into bed and covered her head with her pillow. “I still can’t figure out what to say to her,” she said in a muffled voice.

“She doesn’t seem mad at you.” He tugged the pillow off and brushed his fingers against her cheek.

“I don’t think she is. I don’t know. I know I said something wrong, or at least something she didn’t want to hear. But I’ve been going over everything from the past couple of weeks - Don’t know what could have happened. Life’s been pretty normal. For us, I mean.”

“School’s ok?”

“Finals are coming up. And she said she was worried about that.”

“So that’s a bunch of tests you guys need to do, right? Fuck, I’d be nervous about those. Did shit in school when I was a kid. But you think it’s something else?”

“At Joe’s we knew everything about each other. I guess I still need to get used to having our own lives.” Capable sighed, but she nodded, too. And then, with a grin that made every part of Nux wake the hell up, she rolled him onto his back and rose above him. “Sometimes I do appreciate the privacy, though.”

“Me too.”

She grinned again and then reached over him to grab for her phone - shirt loose enough that he caught glimpses of her shoulder, breasts, stomach as she stretched. “Wow, It’s still pretty early,” she said as she checked the time. “Hey, that tickles! I think I hear someone making breakfast - Nux! Hey! I swear to - That tickles, that tickles!”

Despite insisting that she had morning breath, Capable wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. They rolled around her bed, kicking the blankets and pillow off until the scent of coffee slipped under the closed door.

He took a quick shower - fucking hot water was glorious - and dressed, then followed Capable downstairs. Toast was on the couch, headphones in and reading from two books at once, and only looked up briefly to wave before she went back to underlining. In the kitchen, Dag blinked blearily at them as she stirred something in a pot on the stove. Nux set the table and by the time Furiosa joined them - coming in from outside, and Nux wondered if she’d gone back to sleep after they talked - Dag’s discolored mush was ready.

He accepted a bowl of it and prodded at its wet surface. Dag rolled her eyes and gave him a smirk before she sat down at the table. Dag probably wouldn’t want to kill him at that point, he reasoned. He was trying to convince himself to eat it when the doorbell rang.

Capable looked over her shoulder. “Can you get that, Nux?”

He nodded and took an experimental taste of oatmeal. Which tasted pretty much how it looked. As he dutifully dug in, Nux padded out through the living room. As soon as his eyes fell on the dark blue uniform, he tensed and shortened his steps.

The police. What the hell did they want with Capable’s family?

Just one cop - a better sign than a pair of them - but Nux had had far too many run-ins with the police to regard them with anything other than mistrust. Even with Joe paying them off, cops were trouble - Practically another gang to contend with. Nux opened the front door but left the screen door closed.

The cop’s eyebrows rose. “War Boy?” he mumbled in surprise before his eyes darted away to look at something over Nux’s shoulder. “Hm.”

Mud caked the cop’s heavy boots. Hunched like he was older than Ace, the cop wasn’t exactly listing, but Nux could tell there was some kink in one of the man’s legs from the way he rested his weight. He was poorly shaved, with patches of stubble over half-healed bruises. There were more splatters of something dark on his uniform’s pants and shirt, and as Nux’s eyes traveled over the weapon on the cop’s belt, he noticed more stains around the cuffs. Blood. Had to be.

Feral fucking cops.

“Got a warrant?” he asked, a stall to give the women inside some more time.

Another mumbly noise from the cop. “Move over; let me in.”

Nux didn’t and after a moment, the cop pushed at the door - Nux stopped it with his foot. “Don’t fucking think so. Warrant or fuck off.”

“Hey Nux, what’s going on? Who’s there?” Cheedo voice came up behind Nux and he turned to see her walk down the stairs behind him.

“Police,” Nux answered as he shifted his weight to block the door more.

“Max!”

“Max?” Nux repeated. He turned back to the cop, who was nodding distractedly as Cheedo jumped down the last few stairs. “Wait, fuzzy navel Max?”

“Max?” Dag asked, poking her head out from the kitchen. “Furiosa! Max is here!”

“No shit, Max? I have to see this for myself!” Toast exclaimed she dropped her books and hurried to join them.

There was a rush to the door and Nux moved aside, holding his bowl of oatmeal over his head as the women pulled the cop in. They hugged him, quick, fleeting embraces that the cop tolerated with a soft smile, and as they hustled him toward the kitchen, Capable grabbed Nux’s hand.

“We haven’t seen him in - I don’t know. Wow, I can’t believe he’s here! Come on, I want to introduce him to you. Don’t worry - He’s a good cop. Max, wait a second. I want you to meet my boyfriend, Nux. Nux, this is Max. Max helped us - I don’t know what would have happened without him.”

Boyfriend. Introduced to a cop as her boyfriend. Stunned at that, Nux could only nod mutely at the cop, who bobbed his head in return.

Cheedo and Dag pushed Max into the kitchen and over their shoulder, Nux saw Toast take another mug out of a cabinet and pour some coffee. Max came to a halt in the frame and pulled off his cap. Furiosa stared and then a grin spread across her face. With a long stride she crossed the room, but stopped before embracing him. Instead, she put her hand on his shoulder. It was a quiet moment that lasted for about five seconds before the traffic jam was broken by the women pushing Max the rest of the way in and to a seat at the table. Nux stayed at Capable’s side and as everyone settled down, she moved to the sink to lean against the sink. When he stood next to her, she slipped her arm around him and rested her head on his shoulder.

“You’re a wreck,” Furiosa said fondly and Max made another low hum of a noise.

Toast passed Max his coffee and Cheedo slid the sugar bowl closer. Dag put the kettle onto the stove and turned the radio down so that the music softened to a thrum. But with the cop there, the breakfast had turned uneasy, and even with Capable so close, Nux felt the acidic edge of fear pressing against his chest. He forced himself to swallow another mouthful of oatmeal and this time, the tasteless warmth of it was comforting.

“Is everything ok, Max?” Cheedo asked.

“It’s been months since we’ve seen hide or hair of you,” Dag chided, “and now you’re here, looking like something the cat dragged in.”

“Long night,” he said as he gripped the mug. He looked up to Capable and cleared his throat. “How are you? Heard about, uh… what happened.”

Nux felt her nod. Capable’s hand on his waist tensed as she said, “I’m getting over it.”

“The officers who talked to you…”

“Weren’t that helpful. But not awful,” she added hurriedly. “More like they just didn’t care. It wasn’t that much money, after all. Thanks for checking in, Max.”

“That’s not the only reason you came,” Furiosa said. Again Nux felt Capable shift, and looking down he could see her smile disappear. Nux wondered if Furiosa suspected more than Capable and her frowning sisters could detect. If he’d noticed the blood and disarray, the Furiosa had to have, too. And probably a thousand other things he’d never picked up on.

Max’s gaze flickered over Nux and Capable, then moved back down to his mug. “Hn,” he hummed in agreement. After a long moment passed in silence, Furiosa spoke again.

“I was listening to the police scanner last night. I know something happened.”

Was that what had kept her awake? Nux dragged his eyes away from Furiosa back to Max, and watched as the cop bowed his shoulders in.

He cleared his throat and then said to his coffee, “The, uh. Hn. There was a fight. Scabrous is dead.”

Furiosa was the first one to speak. “Cops kill him?”

A nod. The tea kettle whistled and Dag swore to herself as she fumbled with a mug. The song on the radio ended and the DJ’s gentle, steady voice murmured for a few seconds before some other piece came on, something with a lot of piano.

Nux and Capable tightened their grip on each other. “Are you alright?” she asked quietly and he nodded. He was. He was all right. It was all right.

“Are you?” he asked back, in the same soft tone. Some of her hair spilled out of its clip as she nodded, and Nux carefully tucked it back behind her ear.

“A lot of arrests?” Furiosa pressed for more information.

“As many as I could make.”

“Who was there? Where was it? How long did it last?” She had to pull the words out of them, like his was an engine not turning over properly, all flooding and false starts. Mostly Max nodded or shook his head, and the few times he spoke, it was gravelly and curt. Strange reversal of roles: it seemed like Furiosa was the interrogator and Max the culprit.

“Anyone else killed?” Nux asked, emboldened by Furiosa’s questions.

Again Max nodded silently.

“Who?”

“Uh,” Max started, then closed his mouth and shook his head. “They weren’t identified.”

War Boys, probably just mowed down. No headlines for them, might not even get mentioned in the news. Of course the cops didn’t know.

“It shouldn’t have happened that way,” Max offered, and Nux stared at him.

“You couldn’t just come for breakfast, Max,” Dag said with a sigh and shake of her head. Her smile rose, then dropped down again. “It’s too early to deal with these sort of bad vibes.” She moved behind Cheedo, touching her shoulder as she glided by. “How about we sit on the porch?”

Cheedo rose from her seat and with a shrug, Toast followed.

“We’ll leave you two to catch up,” Capable said with a small smile as she took Nux’s hand, leading him from the kitchen.

“Sure you don’t want to talk to him some more?” Nux asked as they reached the front door.

“Oh, he’s not getting away that easy. He and Furiosa deserve some time together, but after we’ll talk to him. Did you want to ask him anything else?

“I don’t know. Guess I should, but don’t want to.”

“Did you know Scab?”

“Only enough to know I didn’t like him.”

“Us too.”

Outside the sky was getting lighter, but it was still early so the sounds of traffic were only a distance dull hum. As Capable and her sisters started talking over their breakfast, even those few honks and squeals faded.

The oatmeal didn’t improve as it cooled so Nux shoveled the rest of it into his mouth. He learned a little more about Max as they talked, but they admitted that even they didn’t know much about him. He was a cop, he wasn’t like other cops, and he helped them.

The sky was still dim, but brightening as the sun rose over the roofs. Across the street Nux could see small birds in the empty driveways. The houses were boarded up, but they had construction signs in the front and someone had been mowing the lawns. The cop’s car was nearly as much of a surprise as the man himself: an Interceptor. Busted as fuck, though, which Nux figured should be an arrestable offense. Strip off the old paint, get better wheels on it… Nux itched to see what was under the hood. His own car was gorgeous in comparison and he felt a swell of pride as he looked down at it. At least he had the Monte Carlo. If something started to happen at the garage, anywhere in War Boy territory, he could get away.

Nux stood, suddenly restless. Collecting everyone’s empty bowls gave him a reason to excuse himself and he slowly walked toward the kitchen. Scab was dead, he repeated to himself. Another boss. Another part of Joe. Even though Scab controlled a different part of the city and a different group of Boys, there would be aftershocks. Deep in thought, he didn’t realize Furiosa and Max were still sitting there until he heard Max’s low voice.

“Things seem, uh…”

“Good.” Furiosa replied.

Nux leaned silently against the wall, his fingers curled along the inside of the bowls so they wouldn’t clink. Eavesdropping on a boss always resulted in a beating - sometimes a public one - and he paused before he shoved that thought away. He wanted to hear more from Furiosa.

“Better,” Max supplied instead.

“Got nothing to complain about. Nice, living out of the city.”

“You’re still in the city.”

“Not living in it,” she argued. “The city - that life’s over.”

Max made another of his humming noises. “Don’t think you’re done with it.”

“Don’t lecture me about regrets, Rockatansky.”

Regret, Nux thought to himself.

He withdrew without a sound. He stood in the living room, staring absently at the bookshelves until something touched him lightly on the arm. Capable was at his side, eyebrows raised curiously. When he motioned to the kitchen, she nodded in understanding. Together they went back up to her room and sat on her bed. Comfy as fuck, even with the blankets half on the ground. She waited as he wrestled with his thoughts

The light was different now, and the room seemed warmer. There were more birds, maybe out on the roof, and he could hear the voices of the other women talking below. Made sense that Furiosa didn’t want to leave. Especially to go back into Citadel City, not with everything that waited for her there.

But if that was where Capable was going, then Nux would follow.

“It’s stupid, but I keep thinking about a road. Felt like I was on a highway for a long time, easy drive, going fast barely needed to look at anything other than straight ahead. Different now. Turns and wrong ways and different directions…”

“It’s a good metaphor,” she said encouragingly. “What do you want to do now?”

“Change. Like you do - Change where I’m going. Fix it. And I want to do it like you do.”

“With Scab dead…”

“That just leaves Rictus and Prime, and Rictus is the big one. Size and power, you know? Holy shit, Rictus is big.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

Course she would. Nux paused, carefully searching her face to make sure he hadn’t dredged up bad memories, before he continued, “I want to go back, make sure that no one replaces Scab. Don’t think it’d be safe for you in there - or Furiosa. But I’m trying to get them to listen.”

“Will you be safe if you do?”

“Yeah!” he said energetically, hoping to convince her. He rested his chin on the top of her head and they sat like that for a while, trading ideas. He kissed her forehead, over her soft mouth, and worked his way down her shoulder and arm until he reached the tips of her fingers. “How’s your blister?”

“Not bad. It’ll get better. I should give it a couple days rest, but I’ve been thinking of a song and I really want to work on it.”

“Really? How does it go?”

She laughed and waved her hands dismissively. “Super rough draft. Barely figured out what chord it’s going to be in.”

“It’s hard writing songs?”

“Sometimes. Sometimes it flows, other times it feels like I can’t get anything right.” Her fingers went into her hair, ruffling it so it spilled out of its clip. “I should hang out with more musicians. Might be useful to learn how other people do it.”

“Sure I can’t hear it?”

Capable hummed a little - not like Max, this was a song. Her hands moved a little, strumming the air.

I follow you down the stairs
You open the car door and I go in
You drive to the river
Park on the shore
You dive in the river
Clothes on the shore
When I follow you there
Will I sink or swim?

“The rhyming pattern is pretty standard but it has an inconsistent beat to it. I like the water imagery, though.”

“I like it!” he assured her. “I like the car. Car, driving, moving forward… And the drive/dive part.”

“Thanks, Nux.”

“Will you play the rest for me when you finish it?”

“You’ll be the first to hear it.” She wiggled into his lap and turned her face up for a kiss.

He slid down her bed, pulling her along with him so that she lay completely on top of him, soft breasts on his chest, her toes stroking at his ankles. Leaving her… maybe he was crazy for even thinking it. But he could come back. Capable would hold her hand out to him.

She held his hand now as they went back downstairs. Dag, Cheedo, and Toast had returned to the kitchen and he said goodbye to them all as he dropped off the dishes. Max and Furiosa had disappeared; something of a relief - He didn’t know what he’d say to them. After he put on his boots, he and Capable clomped down the front steps to the lawn. He thought about her lyrics - would he sink or swim?

But then he looked down at her. She loved him. The least he could do was try for her.

“I love you so damn much,” he murmured against the shell of her ear. “Love you, love you.”

“I love you, too,” she said before she kissed him.

Her hands pushed up his shirt as she wrapped her arms around him and Nux couldn’t stop himself from groaning against her mouth.

“Can I call you later?”

“Of course! Soon as you can.”

“Because I’m your boyfriend,” he said, testing the word out. “You’re my girlfriend.”

Capable giggled. “Sometimes you’re so cute I can’t handle it.”

“Me? No way. Total bad ass.”

“Mm, with this scruff you do look pretty sexy. I like it.” She pressed another kiss against his cheek. “Let me know how it goes. I love you, Nux.”

Reluctantly she let him go and walked back to her house, glancing over her shoulder a couple of times before she reached the porch again.

He climbed into his car and started the engine, but his hand was still on the key when a sudden flash of movement caught his attention. Toast hopped down the stairs past Capable and marched down to the street. Nux turned off the engine and opened the door; he’d barely gotten out when she jammed her index finger at him accusingly.

“You’re going back to them. After everything that happened, you’re still going back to the War Boys.”

Toast looked like she was ready to fight him over it and he glanced nervously at Capable, who was still watching from the little porch. Holding his hands up submissively, he said, “Yeah. Capable’s going back to busking, right? Trying to be like her.”

“Shit,” she hissed out and dragged her hand through her hair so that it spiked up. ‘What will it take to get you out of there? Don’t you have any fucking sense of self-preservation?”

“You sound like Slit,” Nux grumbled and Toast’s eyes widened before she looked away. “Doesn’t matter. It’s worth whatever punishment I get.”

“I don’t fucking understand you guys,” Toast said. “The War Boys and their fucking crazy ideas of honor. But I guess I should still thank you for staying with Capable last night.”

“Yeah! Course! I mean, it was the greatest night in my entire life, no shitting.”

“She’s ok, right? She didn’t tell you anything she didn’t tell us?”

Nux looked down at Toast in surprise. “Like what?”

“You know how she is,” Toast explained with an impatient wave of her hand. “Doesn’t want us to worry.”

“She’s fine. Think I was more worried than her. She’s handling it real well.”

“Good. Of course she’s fine. Shit.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

She made a face, her eyebrows low and teeth on her bottom lip. “It’s all my fucking fault. This wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for me. I told her we needed more money, I refused to come with her, then I was busy when she needed someone with her.”

“She’s doesn’t think it’s your fault. In fact, she’s worried about you. Talked about it a little.”

“Talked about what?” She demanded sharply and he held up his hands again.

“Nothing! Not much, swear it. We were sort of talking about Slit, then she said she was worried about you, then she played this shine song, and then…”

“You’re turning red, which is probably a sign that I don’t want to know about what happened next. Well, that’s a good a segue as any. Here.”

Out of her back pocket she pulled sheets of folded paper and held them out to him. Nux unrolled them and read the headings: the human female reproductive system, the human male reproductive system, safe sex, enthusiastic consent 101. And there were pictures. Nux flushed and looked wildly around to make sure Furiosa somehow hadn’t seen them.

“Figured even War Boys need to start somewhere,” she said. Her dark eyes were watching him skeptically, so Nux nodded and carefully folded them back up.

“Thanks, Toast. I’ll read them, promise. And, you know - probably should have said this ages ago - but thanks for before, too.”

“Before?”

“Furiosa would’ve shot me and I would’ve deserved it; but you got the gun first. Thanks for not shooting me in the face.”

She snorted a laugh. “Yeah, well, don’t make me regret it, alright?”

“Won’t. I owe you.”

“Yeah? So I can call my chits some time? I’ll keep that in mind.”

Like Furiosa had with Max, Nux reached out for Toast’s shoulder, giving her time to get away if she needed, and then patted her there. With another snort and rolling her eyes, she stepped in and hugged him. She only came up to mid-chest, not like Capable who was the perfect height.

“Don’t be an idiot and get yourself hurt, ok? Capable would be unmanageable if something happened.” Toast sighed before she released him. “Hey, give me your phone.”

He fished his phone out of his pocket and Toast flipped it open and slowly began pressing buttons.

“I haven’t used a flip phone in forever. You have a lot of missed calls and texts, you know. From ‘lizard king?’”

“Slit. He changed it - he was lizard douchebag before.”

A smile flickered over her face but she shook her head without comment. “Is this phone private? Or is someone else going to be using it?”

“It’s mine, bought it and everything.”

“Yeah, but does that mean anything?”

“No,” he admitted. “A boss could take it.”

Toast nodded. She fiddled with his phone for a bit, explaining as she added herself to his contact list anyway and then sent herself a text, passing the phone back when they heard her own beep at the message.

“All right,” Toast said as she tapped at her phone’s screen. “I don’t know what else I can do for you. Maybe I’ll print out life expectancy stats next time I’m at the library. If you and… Nevermind. Just watch yourself.”

She walked back to the house and joined Capable on the porch. He couldn’t hear whatever they said to each other, but Capable smiled before turning back toward him and waving. Back in his car, he carefully put Toast’s papers into the glove compartment and then opened his phone to look at her entry. “T” was there, under “capable <3” and “lizard king.” Quickly he read through the texts; Slit’s he mostly ignored, but Morsov had sent a few only a couple of hours earlier, and those were important.

wher r u?
come 2 bar
tryin 2 cover 4u

The voicemails said essentially the same thing: they were going to the bar and he needed to meet them there. He knew what bar they were referring to: deep in War Boy territory, it wasn’t exactly theirs, but no one else would risk trying to drink there, not unless they wanted their ass kicked before it was dumped on the sidewalk. Clear destination. If only his plan were as easy. Trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing by driving away from her, he waved and took off.

Citadel City was slow to wake, even though the sun was up and burning through the haziness. Almost no one was on the road, just him and the earliest commuters. For a second he debated going to the garage for a different shirt. He was still in the one Capable lent him. There was no point, unless he was going to shave, too. It would mean that he was announcing to them all that he wasn’t a War Boy anymore. But it was only a second.

He shifted up and pressed the pedal to the floor.

The street was a row of shitty stores. The ones that were still in business all had names with words like “Value” and “Quality” in them, even though most had filthy windows and faded displays. There were a few people on the sidewalk, but they kept their heads down and hurried to the bus stops. Because of the War Boys, he thought as one man glanced up at him and then looked away. Maybe someday the neighborhood would be like the one Capable had taken him to for Cheedo’s performance.

War Boy cars littered the pavement outside the bar, some parked on the sidewalk, others idling in the street. Finally he spotted Ace’s truck and parked behind it, hoping that the crew was hanging around outside. No luck - he’d have to go inside. Hesitating a little at that realization, Nux slowed his steps. He still didn’t know what the hell he was going to say to them. It all sounded good, dreaming it up with Capable, but without her lead, he felt lost. And nervous. He jammed his hands into his pockets as he walked, jingling his few belongings. His keys clicked against his knife, there was his phone, a few small bills… And then his fingers pressed against an unfamiliar shape, something small and thin. He pulled it out and lay it flat on his palm.

Capable’s guitar pick. He’d pocketed it without thinking.

She’d played in a bar to an audience of War Boys. And she’d talked to him, even though they’d probably scared the shit out of her.

Even though he knew she wouldn't be mad, he texted her about the pick anyway, apologizing and promising to bring it back. And then he pushed through the bar door.

The bar was smoky and dim. The one window in front was covered with years of smoke and dirt, barely letting in any light. The walls were black, so were the few stools and tables. It made it hard to pick out Boys, and Nux had to wait for eyes to adjust before he could recognize anyone. But then he saw his partner - Slit was at the bar, rolling a beer bottle in an unsteady circle on the counter. Other Boys looked up when they heard the door, but Nux ignored them all - waiting for Slit.

But for once, Slit didn’t come to him. He stayed at the counter, staring ahead at the rows of empty bottles that lined the wall, like maybe he hadn’t even noticed Nux’s entrance. Before Nux could join him, someone grabbed his arm - Morsov was at a table by the door. Dred was across from him and both gawked at Nux as Morsov tugged him closer.

“Hey guys. Where’s Ace?” he asked, looking back down the bar.

Morsov answered hurriedly, “In the back. He was looking for you all night. Where the hell were you? Something happened early this morning. We’ve been waiting for news. You all right? Where’ve you been?”

“Scab’s dead.”

“What?” Morsov and Dred exclaimed together. Morsov grabbed Nux again, firm but not painful, and the three of them shoved through the door, back outside. At the curb, Morsov released him and paced in a tight circle between a couple of War Boy cars. Dred rubbed at his face, shaking his head as he groaned a few swears. They both looked tired, worn, and smelled dank with stale cigarettes and shitty beer. The door clattered again and Slit appeared. Nux looked up at his partner: Slit’s dark expression seemed more pissed off than usual.

It’d been the first night since they partnered up that they hadn’t been together. He hadn’t even thought of that until that instant - he’d left Slit behind and hadn’t even noticed it.

“You need to tell us every fucking thing you know,” Morsov said.

Nux turned back to Morsov and Dred. He still had Capable’s pick between his fingers and he turned it so it pressed into his palm. “Scab’s dead. Some kind of shootout with the cops. Some Boys died too, but I couldn’t get names.”

“Shit,” Morsov swore in a hiss. “What’s going to happen to the rest of Scab’s Boys?”

“Rictus can’t handle them,” Dred put in, voice low with worry. “And Prime’s too busy trying to fuck over Rictus.”

Morsov squatted on the ground, his hands dangling limply between his legs. “Shit. We’re rusted.”

“No, we can work with this. This can be our way out.” Nux hauled Morsov back to his feet, glancing back and forth between him and Dred, and Slit who was still motionless at the door. “Capable’s right - the world’s changing. We stay with Rictus and it’s just a matter of time before we get shot. It’s like we’re fucking bumpers for them, you know? But it doesn’t have to be like that. We don’t have to be like that. We can get out. War Boys are dead, but we aren’t.”

“Got to find Rotor,” Dred mumbled and turned away toward the bar. But at the door Slit caught him. Bigger than Dred, and way fucking more angry, Slit dragged him back down to the sidewalk as Dred fought and snarled. “The fuck, Slit! Let go of me!”

“How do you know?” Slit demanded over Dred’s struggling.

“About Scab? Capable’s mum. She knows a cop.”

Slit’ scars twisted as he grimaced. Under his arm, Dred continued to struggle, but Slit’s attention was completely on Nux. “Are you kidding me? Will you think about what you’re saying for once?”

“Slit, what -”

“Disappear last night when we get the call, you know what happened to Scab before we do, you’re buddying up with a cop… I believe you because I know you’re a idiot. But anyone else will think you sold us out.”

“What? No! Swear, just found out this morning. Listen, I wouldn’t have come back, right? If I sold you out, why the hell would I come back? I want to help. I don’t want you - any of you - to die like that, stuffed in some morgue and because some boss told us that that was all we could do.”

“Breaking the rules, not staying with us, and look at you - Didn’t shave and you look like shit. The fuck is that shirt?”

“It’s Capable’s. Listen, Slit, just listen -”

“Not going to listen to someone who’s barely War Boy anymore!” He released Dred, and Nux saw him dart away before Nux’s eyes snapped back to his partner. With a long step Slit was in Nux’s face. He grabbed Nux’s jacket and shook him as Nux gritted his teeth and tried to keep his anger in check.

“So what if I’m not a War Boy? We’re friends, right?”

“I’m your partner!” Slit yelled as he shook him harder.

“Slit!” Morso tried to grab Slit’s arm. “Where the hell were you last night?”

Slit hissed as he twisted to face him. “At the garage, dipshit.”

“Before that!”

“I don’t answer to you, Morsov!”

Nux kept his grip on Slit as he lunged toward Morsov and the three of them collided, fists and elbows and the tang of blood as they struggled to right themselves. The door opening created a second of distraction and Nux yanked Slit off Morsov as Ace yelled their names. Dred and Rotor’s faces appeared over his shoulders - and some other Boys, but their faces were only a blur as Slit banged into Nux’s side. He fumbled to grab his partner again, in case Slit turned on Ace again, but Slit slithered away.

“Scab’s dead, Ace,” Nux said breathlessly, rushing the words out. “And some other Boys.”

“I know. Just found out.”

“What are we going to do?” Morsov asked, shooting Slit a dirty look as he joined his boss’ side. Mack, Dred, and Rotor moved closer, too, until it was the crew versus Nux and Slit. And Slit, with his arms crossed and lips frozen up in a snarl, wasn’t much of a back-up. It was like standing up to Furiosa in the kitchen, him alone and feeling just as naked.

“We regroup, Boys,” Ace told them. “Got to stay strong. Rictus will send us his orders.”

“Ace,” Nux said and the older man shifted toward him. Even more than his crew, Ace looked exhausted. He kept his back and shoulders straight, but Nux could pick up on the weariness in his eyes. “Do you know how many got killed?”

He shook his head. “No exact numbers yet.”

Slit growled. “Joe would’ve known.”

“Dozen,” Ace said, and now he didn’t bother to hide how close he was to a burnout. “Maybe. Where were you, Nux? Didn’t pick up your phone.”

“With Capable. She got mugged by Buzzards. Had to stay with her. Wanted to.” Nux took a deep breath and then said in a soft voice, “Let’s just go, Ace. Capable is right about the War Boys - about all of the city. The whole thing is falling apart. And it should. We shouldn’t fight for Joe anymore.”

“War Boys don’t abandon-”

“Furiosa did,” Nux interrupted. At her name, her crew froze. “She was the best. You trained her - you know. And she left. You thought she was coming back, right? To take over? But she isn’t - She knew that all this was bullshit. Joe was wrong. The War Boys are wrong. What are we doing? Hurting people like Capable, all for some old asshole’s rusted glory that we’re never a part of anyway.”

“You watch what you say, Nux. I don’t have time to deal with this right now.” Ace headed for his truck.

“Ace-” he called but Ace didn’t turn around.

“You don’t know anything about Furiosa,” Ace said as he continued to walk.

Nux caught up to him. “So let’s talk about her.”

Ace sighed. He slowed to a stop and his crew made a circle around them, all of them waiting. “Later,” he said at last. “If I let you take the Monte Carlo, will you come back to the garage?”

“I’m coming back,” Nux promised. And then, to reassure Ace, Nux called to Slit and tossed him the keys. Slit caught them, but his scowl didn’t clear and when Nux caught his eye, Slit clenched his jaw and turned away.

Ace nodded and motioned for his crew to follow him into his truck. As Ace climbed into the driver’s seat, Nux caught Morsov and Dred and pulled them back.

“You’re really putting your ass on the line,” Dred said with a frown. “Look at you.”

“Your girl make you stop shaving?” Morsov asked.

“No, I decided on my own. Capable isn’t like that." In his pocket he felt his phone buzz and he flipped it open to read Capable's message.

keep the pick nux!
now all you need is a guitar <3

He slipped the phone safely away and looked back at Morsov and Dred. "Listen, wasn’t lying when I said she got mugged. Buzzards are claiming the university.”

Both of them straightened at that, eyes bright and interested. “No shit?” Dred whistled. “Been awhile since I drove around there.”

“You owe me for the cat food, Morsov. And Dred, backed you up against Mack, didn’t I?”

They glanced at each other, frowning, but then they both nodded at him. He’d been hoping for a more enthusiastic response, but at least they were listening. First step to starting a car was putting it in first gear, anyway.

Nux grinned and flicked the guitar pick in the air like a coin. “So I’m calling in my chits.”

---

I want to disappear
Far from the folks I know
I want to get an answer
To why I was even born
No one here can tell me
What's been haunting me all my life
Well, this rat race has left me limping
'Cause I balanced on the edge of the knife
Why am I here?
Oh, what should I do?
Well, is this the point I'm trying to prove?
- “Salt in the Wounds” by Delta Spirit

Chapter Text

Find your hope forget your home
Heed that feeling in your bones
For your heart knows you'll never win
Until you're free from him
- “History’s Door” by Husky

---

Valkyrie’s fury was as dangerous as any weapon and once she heard about the Buzzards, she flew into a rage. She worked fast, but with her busy schedule it still took her a couple of days to bring over another can of pepper spray. Capable’s blister was being annoyingly disgusting anyway, the wait was probably a beneficial one. She limited her playing and instead started writing, spilling out songs over her school notes and across her flashcards, lyrics mixed in with terms and definitions. It was a well, a pool, a spring that seemed to flow unceasingly. She finished the piece she’d sung to Nux, composing so much that most of it had to be discarded, else the song would be more like a Greek epic that no one in her usual audience at Giddy’s would be able to digest.

There was plenty of other work to do, too. Seeds, Mari, and Stega hauled over another dumpster and parked it outside of the empty house across the street. Another Vuvalini Construction Co. sign sprang up, claiming the property for their own - Another house bought cheap from the bank, who refused to give Furiosa a loan but were happy to accept her cash. Redlining, Toast had explained while Furiosa called the Vuvalini to borrow the money. Even with the other houses cleaned up and welcoming, the agents who’d come from the bank barely stepped out of their car when they inspected Green Place.

School, busking, work, busking, hospital, busking, house, some more busking, with only phone calls and texts with Nux interspersed between the labor. Which wasn’t nearly enough. She dreamt about him, she daydreamed about him, she told Angharad everything (almost everything). But nothing was the same as actually being with him. Her tiny bed seemed awfully big - and empty - which she texted him one night as she climbed under the covers. Although it was getting dark, it still wasn’t that late, but despite her efforts to stay focused on her papers, her eyes kept closing. She was dozing when an hour later there was a patter on her window.

She shot up, suddenly wide eyed and wide awake.

Nux. Nux was on the roof at her window.

Breathlessly she pulled up the lock bar and flung open the screen, they both only had time to say each other’s names before they were kissing. Knocking over some stuff on the bureau in their haste, she pulled and he slid over and into her bed.

She kissed him fiercely and he met her with the same fervor, like they’d been apart for years into of days. She’d missed him. She’d missed him so damn much. With her arms finally firmly around him, she guided him on top of her. Nux’s mouth scalded as he dragged his lips down her throat and to her shoulder, and with one hand he pushed up her shirt so he could kiss her stomach. As she groaned and writhed against his mouth and hand, Capable’s fingers skidded from his leather jacket up the back of his head - And then stopped and cried with a gasping laugh, “Nux, your hair!”

It prickled against her palms as she ran them over his head and down his face. When he turned to kiss her hand, she felt soft scruff on his chin and the angle of his jaw.

Twisting, she found the desk lamp on the bureau and turned it on. In the days since he’d last stayed with her, he clearly hadn’t shaved at all. It gave his face more contrast, and his blue eyes - already big and bright - seemed even larger now that they were framed by the dark hair. His mouth too - the stubble on his chin and cheeks drew her eyes back down to the curve of his lips. It made him look a little older, but somehow softened his features, too. She’d long stopped thinking of him as a War Boy; now he didn’t even look the part.

“Like it?” he asked with a tentative smile.

“You’re… wow.” She swallowed against her suddenly dry throat. “You’re so handsome, Nux.”

He ducked his head with a laugh and rubbed his hand over the fuzz on his scalp. But that shyness faded and when he looked up at her again, his lips were curved up playfully and those brilliant eyes glinted.

“Yeah? I think it itches like fuck - But you touching me feels good.” He rolled onto his back and scratched at his chest. “Even here itches.”

“Let me see?” she asked huskily and he immediately shucked his jacket and pulled his shirt over his head, and kicked off his boots. She kissed him again as her hands roamed over his chest, stroking at the fine dark hair over his tattoo.

“Like that,” he murmured.

She did too. “I’m really glad you came. Can you spend the night?”

“No, sorry, Capable.” he said ruefully. “Would really like to. Fuck, I really want to. Promised Ace I’d hang around, though.”

“That’s ok. Is anything going on at the garage?”

“Just more fallout from Scab dying.”

“What happened? Are you ok?”

“Broke up a fight today. Bad one. Not the worst I’ve ever seen,” he added quickly, which really wasn’t much of a reassurance. Sensing her distress, he rubbed his face against her neck - the stubble tickled her, made her giggle He said, low and musing, “Know what helped? Talking about Furiosa. Her name’s like a magic word. Drop that bomb and bam.”

“You talked about Furiosa?” she repeated in surprise.

“Not about where she is now. Just bringing her up - Been doing that with Ace and her crew, too. Makes them think, you know? About the ways things were, the way things are now, what we’ve been doing.”

Hearing, to listening, to learning, to thinking.

Murmuring how proud she was of him, she kissed him again, anywhere she could. Conversation stopped completely after that, mouths too busy to speak. Finally they parted, moving just far enough away that they could see each other’s smiles.

“Maybe you could sing some Bob Dylan at them,” she teased and Nux snorted.

“Still got your guitar pick. Maybe Slit and me can start a band.”

“On that note,” she said and stretched behind her toward the bureau. Unwilling to let go of him to search for real, she had to grope blindly for a few moments before she found what she was searching for. “There it is. Here, Nux, I made you another CD.”

“Fuck yeah! Thanks, Capable!”

“I was hoping you’d like it!” A silly present, but it had been fun choosing and recording songs for him. And then, as she burnt it, she realized that it could be a whole new CD to sell. Like her first one, the CD was fairly amateur, with a piece of free art she'd found online, and the layout done by her one evening during dinner. But she was still proud of her sophomore album. “Let me know what you think! I might start selling this one, too. Who knows, maybe some of the regulars at Giddy’s would be interested.”

He grinned back at her. “Bet it’ll be crazy popular. Can’t wait to listen to it.” He dropped it carefully on his shirt and jacket. “Is your new song on it? Oh, and hey, how was busking today?”

“Good! No Buzzards anywhere. Broke a string though.”

“Doing it again tomorrow?”

“Mm.” She stroked up the length of his side, skimming over the smooth cream of his skin. Her fingers followed his ribs over to his nipple and as she brushed over it, Nux moaned into her hair and that low sound made her thrum in return. How easily she moved her knee over his, how smoothly she rolled onto her back with him trapped between her legs. Good and satisfying and natural - this was what they were supposed to do, what it was supposed to be.

Nux leaned on one arm, careful not to squish her under his weight. She was only wearing a loose t-shirt, easily pushed up for his hand to roam over her stomach. When he reached her breasts, they both murmured delightedly. As gentle as she had been, he thumbed her nipple and then pushed up her shirt, asking if he could kiss her there, too.

She gasped her permission and when his warm mouth met her skin, gasped again. The attention he lavished on her was almost deliriously delicious. His lips were still on her breast as his hand glided down to the hem of her underwear. He didn’t push them aside, just touched there lightly. “Glory, Capable,” he sighed as he moved down her stomach, “can’t tell you how much I love you. Want to kiss you everywhere. Can I perform cunniligus on you?”

“What?” She’d been floating under his touches - Capable scrambled up onto her elbows and gaped down at him.

“Pronounce it wrong?”

“No, it’s just…” she started to giggle, shocks of energy jumping through her. It was hard to think straight, between the laughter and her pounding heart and the melting warmth between her legs. Still, she struggled to keep her thoughts orderly. “I didn’t think you’d call it that. I mean, that’s probably the official term or something. It’s just… wow.”

“Want me to call it something else?” he asked.

As he waited for her reply, Capable thought again about finding words, using them, having them be heard. They were writing their own song, word by word.

“No, it’s fine,” she said, smiling through her blush. “Thanks for asking, Nux”

He nodded, kissed above her navel, then slid his long body down lower on the bed. He had to curl up his legs to fit on the mattress, and even then his feet hung off the edge. “Toast gave me these print-outs. Soon as I read it, wanted to do it with you. Just reading about got me all revved. Can I? Supposed to feel good, real good. If it doesn’t, I’ll stop. But I want to - want you to moan my name like you did the other night.”

The gorgeous mouth of his, lips up in a smile as they moved along the inside of her thigh, his long lashes brushing a whisper of a touch before his heavy lidded eyes met hers again. The muscles in his shoulders and back flexed as he moved between her legs, and as he wrapped an around her leg, she could see his bicep bulge. Shine - So much that it was almost overwhelming to look at him.

“Want to kiss you everywhere, Capable. Taste you.”

His mouth. His mouth on her.

It was nearly impossible to speak with her heart as wild as it was. Capable nodded as she tried to find her voice, then finally was able to gasp out, “Yes, Nux, please.”

“Tell if you don’t like it,” he said between the kisses he pressed against her skin. “Tell me if you do. Tell me what you want.”

Her hands clenched around her pillow, making fists, pulling it up her chest. Nux tugged at the elastic waistband of her underwear, just tugged - didn’t take them off until she lifted her hips for him. Once he’d tossed them aside, he slid off the edge of the bed and sat on the floor on his knees. There was a moment of still silence as he gazed at her - Capable’s heart, body, everything suffering in anticipation - and then his big hands were on her hips, pulling her down to the edge of the bed and to him.

“Wow, look at you, Capable.” She felt each of his breaths caress her bare skin and shivered again. “You’re so beautiful. Going to kiss you, ok?”

And then she melted against him. Turned completely boneless. His fingers on her clit - his mouth on her clit - He was gentle, so gentle, with light touches that grew more insistent as she whimpered and writhed. Her hair stuck damply to her face and neck, strands of it covering her eyes and getting into her mouth as she tossed her head. At some point she’d squeezed her eyes shut and in her ears was the liquid sound of her heart pounding; the rest of her attention was focused entirely on the experience. When he paused to ask if she liked it, she blurted out an endless stream of yes yes yes that only ended when her voice gave out completely.

She loved this she loved this she loved him.

When she was done, he traced lines between the freckles on her damp inner thighs. His hands were warm on her legs, hips, waist, kneading her languid muscles until she mustered the strength to reach down and catch those hands, tugging him along as she shimmied herself back to the pillow.

Nux was as flushed as her, his chest hot when she lay her head against him. Against her leg she could feel the hardness of his erection, but he threaded his fingers through hers and brought their hands away from his waist before she could push down his pants.

“Just wanted that,” he told her.

She sighed a laugh. Unbelievable. He was unbelievable. “Thank you, Nux. It was…”

“Yeah?” He kissed the top of her ear, the slightest drag of his tongue touching there, too. “Even better than I imagined. You’re so...”

“Sure you can’t stay the night?” she murmured, unable to keep herself from asking.

”I should get going.” He kissed her again, slow and warm, and then smiled against her mouth. “Sucks, but at least no oatmeal torture.”

“Hey, oatmeal’s good.”

“Totally mediocre.”

She laughed softly. Brushing her lips against the soft scruff along his jaw made her wiggle in pleasure again, despite her heavy exhaustion weighing down her limbs. “Maybe you’d like it with cinnamon next time.”

“You put stuff in it?”

“You ate it plain?”

Sleepily she kissed his jaw, missing his mouth completely and sliding down to his chin. When he eased out from under her, Capable flopped her arm over to catch his hand. “Love you.”

He brought her hand up to his lips. “Love you! Sorry I can’t stay.”

“Me too.”

She rolled onto her side and watched him put his shirt and jacket back on. With a grin he scooped up her underwear and tossed them at her, and as Capable caught them (with another blush), she remembered something. “I washed your shirt. Hold on on sec.”

She pulled it out from her bureau and gave it to him. Nux caught his bottom lip with his teeth and then flashed her yet another gorgeous grin. Leaning forward for another kiss, he lifted the hem of her shirt. She raised her arms and with one quick flick, they pulled it off. The cool night air on her naked body made her shiver - but it was just a second before he tugged the black t-shirt over her head. Capable pushed her arms through the sleeves and he lifted her hair out.

“Shine,” he pronounced.

Another kiss, then Nux tucked the CD into a pocket, then grabbed his boots and tossed them onto the roof. Halfway out the window, he paused and grinned back at her. “Anytime you want another go, text me and I’ll race over.”

Capable groaned a laugh and buried her burning cheeks in her hands.

“What if we had a signal or something,” he continued, and when she uncovered her face she could see him smirk. “Secret code. Like… ‘Nux, you cunning bastard.’”

Suddenly he pulled his phone out and typed something; Capable’s phone buzzed and she looked down at his message.

:P

“Winking face,” she said between her ever-increasing laughter. “Needs to be a winking face.”

He stretched back to reach for her, his long fingers cupping her chin to bring her closer for a parting kiss. Then quickly he climbed out the window, grabbed his boots, and disappeared as he swung down into the darkness. She heard the thump of him landing and then a woman’s surprised yelp.

“Hey Toast!” Nux’s cheerful voice floated up through the night. “See you around!”

Capable’s heart almost stopped at that. She’d forgotten about her sister. Maybe she really did need some sort of do-not-disturb sign to hang on the door. After pulling her underwear back on, she turned off the light and settled down under her blanket to go to sleep. Which was impossible. Of course images of how he had looked flashed behind her eyes. Of course she was going to think about the wet slip of his tongue. His t-shirt was soft against her skin - Obviously not as good as having him around her, but it still made her stomach flop. Eventually she sat back up, turned the light back on, and grabbed a textbook. Staring studiously at the chapter on the trade routes of early Dutch merchants, she managed to memorize a few important dates in between her dreamy thoughts of Nux.

He had been so grateful for the experience, like she'd given him something instead of the other way around. Next time, she thought to herself, imagining him on the bed, his legs spread out before her. She pulled the hem of his t-shirt to her lips and brushed it over her mouth. Maybe next time...

---

An impromptu study group in the kitchen over breakfast started with the best intentions, but once Cheedo joined them, all bets were off. She and Dag took a “five minute break” to pick some of the flowers growing around the porch, then came back with a bouquet for Angharad and a few long-stemmed daisies that Cheedo began to braid in Dag’s faded purple hair.

“You aren’t drying them?” Toast asked as she watched over the rim of her coffee mug. “The kitchen’s half alchemist lab already.”

“I will for the herbs,” she answered serenely, ignoring the sarcasm in Toast’s voice. “Maybe I’ll make tea and read the leaves. I see… A tall, dark man in your future, Toast.”

“Can he tell me how I’m going to do on my microeconomics final? More interested in that.”

“Hm, the spirits are imparting their wisdom.” She rocked a little in her chair and Cheedo clutched the remains of the flowers, her eyes wide. “They say you should spend more time in the library. And pour me another cup of coffee.”

“Where would I be without their guidance,” Toast grumbled as she reached for the coffee pot.

“I want to know about Max,” Cheedo said. “And Furiosa.”

“And Max and Furiosa?” Dag asked with a sly smile.

He’d been the topic of their conversation since he appeared on their doorstep. After Nux had left, she’d tracked Max and Furiosa down with her sisters - Furiosa had been showing him one of the houses - but most of the questions had gone unasked. It was obvious, painfully obvious, to all of them just how tired he was. He’d crashed on their couch and was asleep when they’d left for the day. By the time Capable had come home that evening, Max was gone. What he and Furiosa had done with the house to themselves was anyone’s guess. Furiosa was smiling a bit more, however.

Dag twirled the end of one her braids around her finger. “Hm, maybe I need to consult my grimoire.”

“Maybe you need to consult your psychology book,” Capable teased as she pushed the textbook across the table.

“He’ll be back,” Dag promised. Cheedo nodded, even though Toast rolled her eyes.

The radio started playing part of one of Mozart's operas and Capable tapped her pencil against her paper along to the arpeggios. The light coming in their the small window was a soft yellow, basking the room in a glow that reflected off their glasses of orange juice. Little motes of dust floated in the sun beams - Toast was right, with the plants, the rich scent of coffee, and the sunlight, the kitchen was looking like an alchemist's lab. Capable gathered her mug and bowl and was bringing them into the sink when she heard a car pull up outside. Hoping it was Nux, she hurried to the door and was surprised to see the Interceptor park at the curb. “Hey guys! It’s Max!”

Dag’s voice was triumphant. “See? What did I tell you?”

Capable pulled open the door and held it open as Max slowly made his way up the stairs to the house. In jeans and a battered jacket, he looked even a little more worn than he had when he appeared the morning after Scab had died. Instead of coming in he stopped there at the door and looked over her shoulder.

“Furiosa?” he asked.

Just one word, but Capable could hear so much in it. And so, even though she wanted to pull him into the kitchen so he could have breakfast with them, she pointed to the house across the street where Furiosa was working.

“How about a ride to school?” he asked as he turned back to her.

“That’d be great, Max, thank you.” With her heavy backpack and guitar case, taking the bus had been even more of a hassle lately. “Is twenty minutes ok?”

Back in the kitchen, they snickered as they cleaned up and collected their books. Dag and Capable had class, and Cheedo had been planning on visiting Angharad anyway; only Toast waved away the invitation. She stayed in the kitchen with her school work as the rest of them piled into Max’s car.

After Capable stored her guitar in the trunk, she looked back at the house. How had Nux gotten onto the roof? Stood on the porch, pulled himself up to her window like a modern day Romeo… He was certainly strong enough. Without thinking she squeezed her legs together as the memory of the night before shivered through her.

“Poor Toast,” Cheedo was saying to Dag as Capable climbed into the front seat. “I should hang with her when you guys are at work. But she’s always on her bike. Hey, maybe I should learn to skateboard. I’ll hang on the back of her bike and she won’t be able to escape.”

Dag laughed as she kissed Cheedo’s forehead. “You’re a sundrop of delight. You’d look fantastic on a skateboard - Let’s see if we can find one.”

Capable pulled her attention back to the present so she wouldn’t be blushing when Max joined them. “I keep telling myself that we just need to be there for her when she decides to let us back in.”

“And then there’s Max,” Dag said as they saw him step through the door to the house. Furiosa must have called to him, because he turned and leaned against the frame. “He can be Furiosa’s next project. You how she likes to bang on things.”

They had to stifle their giggling when Max finally walked to the curb. “All right?” he asked as he gingerly lowered himself into the driver’s seat.

“Yeah, thanks for the ride, Max,” Capable answered before Dag could make another impolite insinuation. “Hey, did Furiosa tell you that I’m learning how to drive stick? Do you think I should try to get my license?”

He nodded and a brief smile appeared. “Good for you. You should all get licenses.”

His eyes were brighter and the bags underneath were gone, but Max still looked distant, his stare drifting over the road. They knew so very little about him, even after the calamity they’d faced together, Max was still a mystery. Almost a ghost, in fact, the way he drifted in and out of their lives. If he had asked - if he’d shown any inclination at all - Furiosa would have probably let him move in with them. She might have given him one of her houses, built from the inside out for him, made safe and accessible.

But Max held himself back. Like it was an act of self denial, martyring himself. If he had been hurt, he could heal. If he felt broken, he could be fixed. Capable suspected that he was still reeling from the night when Scab had been killed; maybe he hadn’t recovered from the night of Joe’s death, too. Valkyrie had done a little digging: he’d been married with a child, but that had been years earlier. If she’d found more than that through her contacts, she hadn’t told them. Or maybe she’d told Furiosa, Capable thought as she watched Max out of the corner of her eye. Whatever the case, maybe Dag was right: Max was Furiosa’s.

Still, maybe Capable and her sisters could help. A little bit.

Capable, Dag, and Cheedo kept up most of the conversation, tossing practice test questions back and forth, debating over movie-night plans, complaining about work, but when a lull fell as they waited at a red light, Max finally changed the topic.

“Your boyfriend,” he started then looked over his shoulder out the driver's side window. At nothing, really, maybe a person on the sidewalk. “He doesn’t have much of a rap sheet.”

She wondered if the ride had been a front for him to talk about Nux. Still, Capable was touched that he’d been thinking about her - and decided not to worry if using the police database like that was ethical. Or legal. “Thanks, Max. That’s good to know.”

“If he, uh. If you need any… help with him…”

“He’s not like that, Max. But thank you.”

“If he tried anything, Furiosa would skin him alive,” Dag pointed out. “And that’d be only if he survived the three of us. But so far signs point to him being a cinnamon roll.”

“More vanilla than cinnamon,” Cheedo said.

“Tall glass of milk.”

“Anyway,” Capable interrupted, “you don’t need to worry about him. Or me. We’re doing really well. Maybe you can come over for dinner next time he’s around.”

A full kitchen for sure, between Max and Furiosa, Nux, and her sisters. If Valkyrie, Seeds, or any of the other Vuvalini joined them, they’d spill out into the make-shift dining room. As far as Capable was concerned, that was a good problem to have: a house full of friends and family, voices filling the corners and the night.

“Hm.” Was Max’s reply to the invitation. It wasn’t a flat refusal.

Cheedo added eagerly, “You should! It’ll be fun! It’s nice seeing you around, Max, I’m not even mad that you missed my play.”

Max made a noise that was some combination of cough, mumble, and laugh. “Ah. Heard it went well.”

“She was amazing,” Dag said

Capable nodded and turned around in her seat. “Cheedo, tell him about your new class!”

Cheedo explained about script-writing and some of the drafts she was already putting together as they continued to drive. Soon they were at school, and Dag helped Capable pull out her guitar and bag.

“Thanks for the lift, Max,” Capable said as she leaned through the passenger window. “Listen, is there anything we can do for you? Are you alright?”

He seemed surprised at the question, his eyebrows lifting a bit before he turned back to look at the steering wheel clenched in his hands. “Yeah.”

Couldn’t push him. Just like Toast. Capable exhaled a breath. “Well, let us know. We worry about you too, you know? Bye, Cheedo - Say hi to Angharad for us!”

With that Max’s Interceptor drove away and Dag and Capable clattered down the stairs into the subway. Just like they’d promised after the day she’d been mugged, her sisters volunteered to join her as she busked. With Cheedo, Capable mixed in some pop songs, loud and silly and sweet. When Toast joined her, they both gravitated to the ballads, and the Swaisey thrummed with the slow, low notes. Their voices came together in the songs, a harmony unreflected in their relationship.

Dag had been digging up the tabs for some of the weirder stuff that she was into, songs by bands that released their albums only on vinyl - or on cassette tape. Capable pulled the sheets out of her bag and glanced through them again as she tuned her guitar. As Capable played, Dag swayed to the music - Arms undulating, long fingers curving, braids waving down her back, Dag moved with the pliant grace of a tree in the wind.

They didn’t make quite as much money as when Capable and Cheedo played, but Capable didn’t really give a damn about that. She flowed with the music; with the guitar, she couldn’t move as freely as Dag, but she still tapped to the beat.

A discordant cry suddenly echoed through the subway and Capable’s hand clenched down on the Swaisey’s neck, halting the song. For a moment Capable froze too, panic locking her limbs, but then she forced herself into action. She wasn’t going to stay helpless anymore.

“Hey! Hey hey!”

“Savannah!” Capable cried as she recognized the voice. Swiftly she and Dag grabbed their things and with her guitar still on her back, Capable ran toward the shouting. Around the corner, toward the stairs, heart jumping with her conclusions - maybe Nux, maybe Buzzards, maybe something else -

She’d been right - it was Savannah. And a War Boy!

Instantly she knew he wasn’t Nux. Not Slit either. Back against the wall and hands up, he seemed to be the one who needed rescuing, not Savanah who was jabbing her cane at him like a sword.

“Savannah!” Capable cried again. “What’s going on? Is everything alright?”

“Found this… this scoundrel skulking around. But this time I got the jump on him first! Don’t you worry, Capable, I can handle this one. Yeah, what do you think about that?”

“Told you - not here to cause trouble!” the War Boy said. When Savannah swiped at him with her cane again, he yelped. He probably could have grabbed the cane - and Savannah, too - but the War Boy just grimaced when she jammed it at him again. Capable touched Savannah’s arm, drawing her back before things got messy.

“So what are you doing here, War Boy?” Dag demanded.

His eyes flickered between them as he lowered his hands. He frowned, unwilling to explain, but as Savannah and Dag closed in on him, he said quickly, “Just looking around. Nothing much.”

“Sightseeing?” Savannah snorted in disbelief.

One War Boy by himself - What was he doing around the university? He couldn’t be there to take on Buzzards all alone. It brought to mind the time she’d met Slit, when he had searched her out in the subway. This War Boy wasn’t as tall as Nux, but he was still big; but he didn’t seemed threatening. In fact, he appeared baffled at how he’d gotten himself into such a situation, but gamely he stayed in place, even though he could have easily pushed them aside and escaped. His leather jacket was neater than Nux's: not as worn at the elbows, no loose threads at the hems - And his black pants were nearly pristine. Nux often had grease darkening his fingertips, but this War Boy was fastidiously clean. Prim and proper, she thought. Capable’s eyebrows lowered as she studied him. “Do you know a War Boy named Nux?”

He did - she could tell by the way his expression changed - but the War Boy hesitated again. It was only after Savannah huffed and wigged her cane again that he admitted, “Yeah.”

“I’m Capable,” she said. Dag told him her name, too, and then Savannah declared loudly, “Savannah Nix, host of Nightly Tells and you can bet your ass that this going to be in the next broadcast.”

He glanced at each of them in turn and then said in resigned but still confused voice, “Morsov.”

“Morsov.” She recognized that name. He was one of Furiosa’s old crew. Dag touched her arm and they exchanged a quick glance. Capable had a thousand questions for him, but she dismissed them and instead asked with a smile, “You have cats, right? Nux told me about them. How are they doing? How many do you have?”

“Yeah.” Suddenly he smiled back - looking a lot younger - and met her eyes for the first time. “Six right now.”

“Six! Wow!”

Ever the reporter, Savannah asked, “What do you mean, ‘right now?’”

“Think one’s pregnant.” He relaxed more, shifting his weight and putting his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. “Been trying to feed them all more, but she’s put on a lot of weight. Keep finding her in strange places too - under the sink, in some tires…”

“You should get them fixed,” Dag told him.

“Fixed?” he repeated with a frown.

As Dag explained about trap-neuter-release programs, Capable pulled out her phone. Now that they were closer to the subway entrance, she had some service. No new texts from Nux, just the :P from the night before. He’d been joking, but Nux was right: he was pretty cunning. When she laughed, the others turned to look at her.

“So what do you think about the music, Morsov?” she asked.

“Sounds pretty good live,” he answered politely. He added, voice becoming excited again, “Nux says you have an electric, too. You should play that down here. It’d blow out the whole place.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied, still smiling. “Well, we should probably get ready for class, and I bet you’re ready to go back to Gas Town. Maybe we’ll see you around sometime?”

He nodded, but it was with anything approaching Nux’s enthusiasm. Still, he looked around, hesitating - Maybe waiting to make they were really leaving and not going to double-back into the subway. When he finally stepped away, Savannah cleared her throat.

“Sorry about before,” she said, scrubbing at her curls sheepishly.

He shrugged. “No problem.”

Her face brightened and she leaned forward a bit, the start of a smile turning up her lips. “Might still do a story about you - them. This. War Boys. Be interesting, that’s for sure!”

Morsov put his hands up again, warding off this new attack.

With Capable and Dag on either side of her, Savannah was finally convinced to release Morsov - who took off down into the subway. When they reached school, Savannah hurried off to the radio station, leaving Dag and Capable to shake their heads and sigh as they walked to class. Dag wrapped her arm around Capable’s waist, pulling her close.

“Should we tell Furiosa?” Dag asked.

Capable plucked a petal out of Dag’s hair. The flowers were wilting, but still gave Dag a mystical look. “I don’t know.” She couldn’t help but tease, “Could you read his aura?”

“I’m more interested in that Savannah. I didn’t know she was so cute.”

“Maybe you do want to come on her show?”

Dag laughed. “So you’re still planning on doing that? How are you going to fit Nux in if you’re so busy?”

“I’ll find a way,” Capable demurred and Dag laughed again.

"Guess you only need him for a few minutes anyway, right?”

“Dag!”

When they got to class, a group of students at the door turned toward them. “Hey, Capable, heard you got mugged the other day. You ok?”

Dag squeezed her shoulder before she slipped out of the crowd and toward a desk, leaving Capable in the center. “Yeah, I’m good, thanks.” she replied in surprise. “How’d you hear about that?”

“Savannah Nix on CCUR. She’s all over this shit,” said a young man wearing Bartertown t-shirt.

The girl next to him nodded. “She said that there’s a turf war going on or something, and a local musician was getting caught in it. Figured it was you.”

“Yeah, that was me,” she said with a wry smile. She slid her guitar away under a desk. “Some claim to fame. It was just that one time, though. I feel pretty safe when I’m down there. Usually it’s just students. I’m heading back down there after class - Be great if any of you guys dropped by.”

Not nervous, even without the protection of her guitar. Her classmates asked her a couple more questions and Capable found herself explaining about the Clearwater Fest, then about maybe doing a rally or a march. There were questions about Seeds, too - she’d come in as a guest lecturer - and then about War Boys. Before their professor started the class, Capable had sold two CDs and given away one more.

“I play at Giddy’s, just a couple of blocks from here,” she added before she took her seat. “And I’m going on Savannah’s show soon.”

Nods and smiles, a couple of promises to come. Not bad. Not bad at all.

There were texts waiting for her from Nux when class ended - He’d escaped from the garage and was waiting for her. Released from her burden of another couple of hours, Dag headed to the library and Capable raced out of the classroom, her guitar case’s heaviness forgotten as she took the stairs two at a time. There, outside by the bike racks, was Nux. The guitar case fell out of her grip at his feet as she threw her arms around him, and Nux picked her up and spun her around before kissing her.

He’d shaved his face again, and she touched his smooth cheek before kissing there too. “Decided to shave?”

“That ok?” he asked a little nervously.

“Course, Nux. You can look however you want.”

He rubbed at his pale chin. “Felt… weird. Maybe I won’t shave tonight. Don’t know.”

Morsov had been completely clean-shaven - face and head. Nux’s hair had to be a rarity, even after all the months of Joe being dead. A deviation. “You look chrome no matter what,” she told him and he ducked his head in pleasure. She smiled, trying to keep it from becoming a smirk, and added, “Morsov doesn’t seem much like a folkie. Maybe next time you should send Slit down.”

He blushed as he laughed. “Didn’t think you’d have your own gang on patrol.”

“Thanks for keeping an eye on me,” she said. Nux, Savannah, her sisters, Max - A gang, Nux called them. More like a family.

He carried her guitar as they walked back to the subway, hand in hand. Down in her favorite spot, she tuned her guitar and kept an eye on Nux as he prowled around the station. He’d promised that he didn’t mind if she played for another hour, though Capable silently swore that she’d make it a short set. Roving, he disappeared down to the tracks, finally circling back just as she began to strum the first few chords of one of Cheedo’s favorite songs like she’d summoned him with the music.

“Stay with me,” she said and he nodded and moved closer. Closing her eyes, she could still feel him there, the warmth of his presence radiating through her. She began the song in earnest, strumming hard enough that the sound would carry up the stairs and toward the school. Her voice rose over the other noises of the subway, the other tempos, the other people -

Taking over this town they should worry
But these problems aside I think I taught you well
That we won't run, and we won't run, and we won't run

As she started the line, something soft, something low, something a smooth and pure as water flowed with her voice -

“And we won’t run,” sang Nux beside her.

Surprise struck her silent. Love, love, love for him and what he was giving her - his respect, his effort, his voice - surged through her. One movement to swing the guitar behind her, one step to reach him, one moment to capture his mouth with her own.

“Hey,” he said with a breathy laugh when she released him, “you stopped your song.”

“You’re amazing, Nux. I didn’t know you could sing! I should have asked.”

He shrugged off the compliment, but grinned all the same. “That’s what you want, right? To sing together. Like that song you played when I stayed over: ‘Sing, little darling, sing with me.’”

“Do you like to sing?”

“Never really thought about it before. Not much singing in the War Boys, big fucking surprise.”

“What other songs do you know?”

“Everything on the CDs you gave me.”

“CDs? Plural?” Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You learned them all?”

There was that glorious grin, bright as the sun. And there was her heart lifting at the sight of it. “Course. I love you.”

“You are so shine and so chrome, Nux! Oh wow, I can’t wait to sing with you! You should do the rally with us - oh, I should make a new CD and you can sing on it too - I can’t wait - Love you love you -”

Another kiss, another spin, another moment where she couldn’t believe how extraordinary he was, her life was, the world was. When she started up the song again, his voice joined hers on exactly the right beat and the subway rang with the harmony of it.

---

So may we never wander
May we never wonder
May we take each other
To have and hold on to
And may I always have you?
- “Something We Just Know” by Twin Forks

Chapter Text

Don't force a smile that'll make you
Resent the city
Play it soft and forgive
Keep the frown that'll make you
Squint in the summer
Play it slow and forget
- “Petals” by Bibio

---

She sensed it before she saw. A hundred warnings jabbed ominously at her senses: Furiosa’s rigid shoulders, sideways glance from a nurse, the sound of movement from inside Angharad’s room. She was tall enough to see over Furiosa, into the tiny room that had become Angharad’s whole world. There were the square machines that monitored her, that fed her, that almost lived for her; all of them singing their continuous beeps, their lights unsynchronized as they each performed their tasks. A red blip, a white blip, another white blip, a red blip again, a message that could be understood: Angharad was alive, Angharad was still in her bed, Angharad was still in her coma.

But.

But.

When Furiosa turned sideways, there was enough space for Capable to slide past her and in through the door. Furiosa’s prosthetic stopped her, the metal hand cool against Capable’s arm - Not exactly blocking, but making Capable pause at the impediment. Her heavy guitar case banged into her knees, the momentum of Capable’s movement making it swing.

“Nurse?” Furiosa called into the hallway. “Who’s the attending doctor?”

“Things have been quiet for too long, eh?” Seeds said from behind Capable.

It was an attempt at levity that fell flat, and Seeds’ quiet sigh indicated that she knew it, too. Capable heard without really listening to Seeds. Her attention was on Furiosa, but being dragged back to the room. Everything sounded fine inside. Everything had to be fine.

She got around Furiosa, ignored Seeds’ hand on the back of her sweater, stepped into the room, looked at Angharad, choked on a breath, gasped it out as a sob.

They’d tied her to the bed with wrist and ankle restraints.

“Angharad!”

Her pale hands were in skeletal fists, fingers clenched inward and wrists bent up. Under the blankets her knees rose and swayed feebly, a jerking undulation that hypnotized Capable, who stood in locked silence, barely breathing. But when Angharad flung her head to the side, Capable snapped into frantic motion, rushing to the bed and touching Angharad’s hands, face, hands again before she grabbed the first belt. It wasn’t much, just a thin black strap that buckled over Angharad’s twitching wrists and a silver metal clasp, and Capable’s sliding slipping slithering fingers pulled it open and freed Angharad.

“The patient has been pulling out the IVs,” a voice claimed, coming from someone out in the hallway. It was a tinny sound, and Capable barely heard it through the furious pound of blood in her ears. “The patient has still been receiving the same care; the restraints were implemented to -”

A chorus of voices erupted.

“I want to talk to Angharad’s assigned doctor.”

“Please don’t unstrap the patient. Without the restraints -”

“Who’s on duty right now? Where are her usual nurses?”

“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you -”

“Angharad, Angharad, I’m so sorry. It’s me, Capable. Don’t worry, I’m here. We’re here. We’ll get you out.”

“I’ll call security -”

“Capable, come with me.”

“Where are her usual nurses? Where is her doctor?”

“Don’t touch me! Angharad!”

“Security!”

A horde of people with a swarm of hands descended into the room and onto Capable and Angharad. She elbowed back at the people at her sides, striking almost blindly, until Furiosa took her by the shoulders and forced her around.

“Capable, get back in control. Seeds, take her out of here. Don’t you touch her - Get these pay-by-the-hour assholes out of my face. Where is the attending doctor? Where the fuck is the doctor?”

If it had been one of the nurses or security guards clenching her hand, Capable would have pulled away, fought back to Angharad. But it was Seeds at her side, and the old woman was safe from Capable’s still roiling anger and fear. Somehow she found her guitar case and backpack - when had she dropped them? - and followed Seeds. She clamped her teeth together until her jaw hurt and marched unseeing through the hospital. Finally outside, Seeds guided them to the low stone wall and Capable fell ass first onto it, legs finally giving out.

“They’re tying her down. I can’t believe - I can’t fucking believe. Tying her down like - like -” Overwhelmed again, she bent over, teeth clenched again, only this time it was to keep her lunch from spilling out and not a stream of profanity. Seeds understood, but she didn’t really know, not in the way that Furiosa did. There were the crumpled butts of cigarettes under and around Capable’s sneakers, the remains of other people fretting and fuming. Trying to calm herself down, she stared at them intently like they had some sort of message to discern.

Seeds sat down beside her. “You’re still protecting her; she needs that.”

Capable lifted her head out from between her legs and looked at the older woman. When Seeds’ didn’t continue, Capable prompted in a tired voice, “But?”

“But?” Seeds repeated with a frown. “What now?”

“Where’s the ‘but?’ Aren’t you going to tell me to calm down? Or see it from their perspective? Or... Or…”

“That’s it, girl. You do whatever you need to do.”

Her hands had curled into fists. “I’m just - I’m so fucking angry. How could any of them possible think this was a good idea? They have her medical history, they know about Joe and what he did! I can’t fucking believe that they’re tying her down. Fucking, mediocre, I swear - I hate this! I’m so fucking helpless. I couldn’t do anything for her!”

“You feeling any better?’

Capable rubbed at her eyes, took a deep breath, even counted to ten. “Not really.”

“Here.” She hefted a thermos out of her bag and unscrewed the top, and Capable smelled the nutty fragrance of coffee. When Seeds passed her the small plastic mug, she waved her hand before Capable could take a sip. “Give me a sec. Hands aren’t as deft as they used to be. Hold this.”

Curious in spite of herself, Capable accepted the warm thermos as Seeds searched through her jacket - And then pulled out a flask. She poured a slug of whatever it was into Capable’s coffee. “A little pick-me-up. Don’t tell Furiosa.”

The whiskey burned as it went down, but at least it cut through the lump in Capable’s throat. “All this time - I was getting to be happy, and all this time Angharad’s been suffering. I don’t - I can’t - They’re tying her down, and I’m supposed to just go back to school?” Capable spat out. Suddenly the event that had occupied her all morning came rushing back into her thoughts: she was scheduled to be on Savannah’s broadcast.

“It’s because she’s waking up,” Furiosa’s low voice cut through Capable’s cacophonous thoughts.

“What?” she and Seeds cried together.

Furiosa dropped onto the stone wall beside Capable. She barked a disbelieving laugh and shook her head. “I couldn’t get a lot out of them. The doctor’s off somewhere right now and her usual nurses weren’t around. But they were able to tell me that much. It’s not seizures or random flailings. She’s reaching up and pulling out her IVs.”

“She’s waking up,” Capable said slowly and softly, testing the words out. “But why are they holding her down?”

“For her own good,” Furiosa said. Not insisted, just stated. They both knew those words, what they could mean. Furiosa rose again, and stood and stared over the parking lot to the street as she cracked her knuckles. “Figured I’d give them time to regroup, then I’m going to get some real information out of them.”

“I’m coming too.”

Furiosa caught Capable by the shoulders. Her grip wasn’t hard, but it was firm. “No. Wait I get some answers.”

“This is bullshit, Furiosa. You can’t keep me from her!”

“Capable.” Toast’s voice surprised her; she hadn’t heard her sister approach, but there Toast was, her face shining with sweat as she walked her bike closer. Toast nodded at Seeds and Furiosa, then turned back to Capable.

“Toast! Did you hear what happened?”

“Furiosa sent a text out to all of us,” Toast explained. “I was riding nearby; came as soon as I could. Look, there’s nothing we can do right now. We need to get some more information. Let’s go back to school.”

“When’s the broadcast?” Furiosa asked and Seeds’ gray eyebrows raised.

“Couple of hours,” Capable replied. Capable had promised and Savannah had scheduled.

Furiosa’s hands dropped away from Capable and she slid them into the back pockets of her pants. Capable had asked Furiosa to trust her - with Nux, with busking. Didn’t she owe Furiosa the same? What sort of debt to Furiosa did she owe? What sort of payment was enough to settle it? Nux had said that it was bleeding that made family, not blood; that was a War Boy philosophy. Which wasn’t exactly wrong, though maybe it was incomplete. There were other things that connected them: there were tears, there were dreams, there was love.

Capable pushed back her hair. It was damp from sweat and tears, and had been sticking to her face with wet itchiness. Once she pulled it back into a ponytail, getting it away from her cheeks and the back of her neck, she felt a little lighter. She could see a little clearer. “Do you want to go into the hospital first, Toast?”

Toast rocked her bike back and forth as she considered. Other than lower her eyebrows as she stared at the hospital, Toast was expressionless, giving no indication of the flow of her thoughts. “I’ll ride back soon,” she said, shaking her head. “I want to print some things out at the library.”

“As soon as the broadcast’s done, I’m coming back, too,” Capable said and this time Furiosa nodded.

Seeds reached up to stroke Capable’s hair, tucking back some strands that had already worked themselves free. “It’s been a long journey, but you can keep going, can’t you, girl?”

Keep moving forward. There was no going back.

“Thanks for looking out for me, Seeds,” she said, pressing her hand over the older woman’s thick knuckles. “And thanks, Furiosa.”

Furiosa grunted and shook her head. “If it’s dark when you’re done, call Valkyrie or Stega; have someone pick you up.” There was a beat as she considered. “Or Nux.”

“I will.”

“Good luck on your broadcast. You’ll blow them out of the water. I’ll make sure the radio is playing in Angharad’s room.”

“Don’t let this distract you,” Seeds advised as she hoisted herself up to her feet. “You keep your eyes on the road ahead.”

She and Toast watched the women disappear through the sliding doors. For a few moments the city was quiet, with just the distant hums and honks of traffic as their background music. Toast turned away first, dragging her bike forcefully along as she steered toward the street. And for once it was her who filled the silence with words, starting the conversation so Capable wouldn’t have to.

“I read so much about comatose patients and treatment, but that was months ago. I know I have a book at home, but there were websites I looked at, too. There’s this medical scale that measures reactions - I don’t know, maybe it’s too early for that. But this is unbelievable. After all this time, for her to move so much -”

“You didn’t see her. It was like….”

“I know,” Toast said when Capable didn’t finish. They waited at the corner for the light to change, silent. Capable’s gaze traveled over the cars in the intersection. She’d never have Nux’s enthusiasm for them, but her interest in cars had definitely grown since she’d met him. A garish red Mustang purred patiently as it waited for the light to change, its driver tapping on the steering wheel along to some music. Mostly there were older models - the Mustang was an outlier, most everyone else had neutral colored sedans or dinged minivans.

“Vegetative state,” Toast corrected herself. “She isn’t in a coma. I can’t remember the exact definition, but I’m pretty sure she’s in a persistent vegetative state. Maybe it’s even the minimally conscious state. I’ll print out everything I can find and we can go over it together.” She paused and glanced quickly at Capable. “If you’re up to it.”

“I should read everything again,” Capable said. “I’ll look too - There has to be other options for keeping her IVs in.”

Toast’s lips turned up, but the smile was sharp, almost twisted. “She’s always been like that though, right? Not a patient patient, our Angharad.”

A fighter.

“Remember when she slapped that asshole from the Citadel Bank?”

“Or when she snuck that knife into the apartment?”

“You weren’t there yet, but I’ll never forget the time she defended me against Joe after he broke my guitar.” Capable looked down at her case, the peeling leather and stickers, the duct tape holding an edge together. “I don’t know what he would’ve done to me. Thanks to her, I didn’t ever find out.”

A thrift store had its door open and some of its wares on the sidewalk: a small table of paperbacks, a rack of jackets that rippled in the breeze from cars speeding past. In the window was an old TV with rabbit ears and an advertisement stuck on the screen boasted that the store had the largest collection of ugly sweaters in the city. They paused there, on the constant look-out for any good deals. A blender was probably unnecessary, so was the cast iron dutch oven, and the ice cream maker was absolutely out of the question.

There was a War Boy symbol painted on the bricks. Someone had tried to scrub it off however, and it was only a faded remnant now, barely visible. Maybe it had been Slit, prowling around while Nux had waited for her outside the hospital. Or maybe it had been there for ages, someone else’s tag from the gang’s glory days. She traced her finger around the circle that surround the skull.

“I’ve been seeing someone.” Toast announced suddenly and Capable’s finger jerked away. “Sort of.”

“Are they… nice?” Capable asked.

“Sort of.”

Walking again, Capable waited for Toast to say more. Her sister’s face had hardened a little, brows drawn again and lips flattened, but once again it was difficult for Capable to read much in Toast’s expression. Which was an indication in itself - Toast didn’t want to cop to anything more.

Her worrying about Angharad quieted into an ache, still present but now dampened by this discovery.

“I know you want ask about him,” Toast said, still looking straight ahead. “But there’s not that much to tell. Just a hook up.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Toast shook her head quickly, but then shrugged. “It’s not important. But if I’ve been… distracted, it’s because of that.”

Where’d they meet? How? What was he like? What did “just a hook up” really entail? How long had it been going on? How long did she think it’d continue? Did he know about all of them? Instead of asking, Capable just said, “I hope it works out. It’s cool that you found somebody.”

Toast snorted a laugh. “That’s it?”

“I’m a meddler, aren’t I? That’s got to be fucking annoying. Furiosa’s right - I can’t get involved in everything.”

“Capable, that’s not what I meant. Look, he’s - It’s not like you and Nux. Besides….” she trailed of, silencing as they walked through a group of people waiting at a bus stop. Once they were alone on the sidewalk again, Toast continued, “I know you’re trying to fix things. You have Angharad, school, your music, and Nux; you don’t need to add me to your list. I’m fine. And anyway, some things can’t be changed.”

“I think they can,” Capable argued.

“Yeah, I know.” This time when Toast smiled at her, it was a real one, brightening her face.

“Is he cute at least?” Capable teased gently.

Toast rolled her eyes, but her smile was still there. “He’s a sight to behold.”

They walked past the laundromat and Capable waved through the glass at one of her co-workers. She’d been slacking off there, handing off shifts so she could spend more time playing. Once finals were over, she needed to start putting in more hours. Busking didn’t pay that many bills.

“About you and Nux,” Toast began slowly, then paused to frown. “What makes it work?”

Was there one thing about him? One moment? There hadn’t been an epiphany; rather, it had felt good, right from the start. Their relationship had built on itself, every day adding another layer, another connection. “Being with him - It feels like there are all these parts of my life that I didn’t even know were there, like there was all this darkness and I couldn’t see them - or I didn’t even know they existed. But with Nux, he lights up all those places. Those parts of me. He’s so sweet and funny and he’s smart, Toast, even though he didn’t graduate high school. He’s just - He’s just so much. And he makes me feel like I’m so much, too.”

It was a deluge of description, but it still felt like she hadn’t gushed enough. Toast glanced up at her, but Capable couldn’t read anything in their dark depths.

“I like being with him,” Capable added, and the words sounded lame even to her, limping out feebly. “And I like the person I am when I’m with him.”

Toast turned back to stare down the sidewalk. They were almost at school now, and would have to maneuver carefully through groups of students who were getting coffee or milling in front of convenience stores. No War Boys and no Buzzards that she could see, just people with backpacks and briefcases, balancing books and cans of soda Once they got to the university, they walked through the library together until they reached the computers. Toast wrapped her arms around Capable and sighed against her chest.

“I’m sorry this had to happen right before your broadcast,” Toast said when she let Capable go. “You’ll be ok?”

“Yeah. I have some time before I need to go up there, so I’ll wash up in the bathroom.”

“Hold on, I think I still have some money.” Toast rummaged in her backpack until she found her wallet. “Here, get a coffee or something.”

Capable wanted to refuse, to tell Toast to save it for herself, but after a second she took with a nod, touched by the gesture. “Thanks, Toast.”

“Want me to call Nux?”

“Do you have his number? It’s ok, I was going to talk to him after the broadcast, anyway.” She pulled out her phone and turned on the screen. There were a few texts from him already, sent when she was walking.

<3!!!! hey my super chromest gfriend
ur goig 2b so awesome
cant wait
holy shit
good luck ilu!!!!!!!!
going 2 listen an record and get evry1 2 listen 2

Over her shoulder, Toast shook her head and laughed. “You’ll be so super chrome and shiny.”

She quickly sent a reply, thanking him and then asking if he’d be free later. The news of what had happened was too big and messy to summarize with a couple of texts, so she left all of it out. She’d explain later, in person when she could bury her face against his chest. Sighing, she dropped the phone back into her bag and gave Toast a tepid smile. “Well, on the plus side, I’m not nervous.”

“Silver lining.”

“I feel like hell, though.”

“You practically went through hell,” Toast said quietly.

Not like Angharad had. “I should get going.”

“I’ll be listening - You’ll be great, Capable. Really. I know you will. You… Look, don’t feel guilty about leaving Angharad.”

“I’m trying not to. I guess I just needed some time to accept this. This is big - This is improvement.”

“Yeah. I think so. But what I meant was… Fuck. Ok, give me a second to figure this out. You’re doing exactly what she would have wanted. You aren’t abandoning her - You learned from her and now you’re teaching. It’s like you picked up her mantle or some shit like that, that sounds stupid. But you did. You are.”

There had been texts from Dag and Cheedo, too, and even Valkyrie, everyone wishing her luck and promising to listen. They’d spent all dinner and breakfast going over her song selections, and Cheedo had written up a practice script with potential questions - and answers.

“Thank you, Toast. Without you guys-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Go get some coffee.”

Once she’d washed her face and re-braided her hair, Capable felt enough like a human being to get coffee from the lounge. Taking the elevator up, nervousness started to inch in between the cracks in her heart made by worry. She tapped her knees against her case and almost took her guitar out, just so she could hug it to her chest.

We are not things. We are not things. A self-evident truth that couldn’t be denied and couldn’t be dismantled,. Someone could try to ignore it, but Capable was going to make sure that no one silenced it, not any more.

The door to the studio had a handwritten sign on it: QUIET! RECORDING! OR FACE SAVANNAH’S WRATH; under it, in smaller, less blocky writing was a second note: Please and thank you - Miles.

Her first broadcast. Her first radio appearance. Her first time in a studio.

Inside the studio was just as small as Savannah had bemoaned, but Capable was awed by it. A wall of CDs and vinyl records completely covered one side of the room. At one computer sat a skinny young man who looked up briefly and waved, but didn’t pull off his headphones. The other computer was hooked up to an impressive soundboard, switches and slides and knobs that made Capable practically shiver with anticipation. Just one microphone, but it was far more advanced than the one she recorded on. Real. A real studio.

“Hey, you’re early, that’s great!”

Capable waved at Savannah, who stepped through the door with coffee of her own. With her guitar case, there wasn’t much space in the studio, and for a moment they all juggled their belongings until Savannah was able to collapse into a chair. Capable held Savannah’s coffee for her, and then passed it with smile. “I couldn’t wait to see this place. It’s shine.”

“You like it?” Savannah grinned in delight, blushing up to the roots of her blond curls. “Let me give you the grand tour: our computers, our recording devices, me, and this fellow’s Lonely Miles himself. And that’s it. Oh, we also have chairs.”

“Hi Miles; I’m Capable. I’ve been listening to your afternoon shows. I really like the deep cuts.”

Miles still didn’t remove his headphones. “Oh? Um, thanks. Uh. Glad to have you… aboard?”

“Interns,” Savannah said with an exaggerated sigh. “Anyway, have a seat and we’ll go over a few things. Are you nervous? Don’t be nervous. I’m a total professional. No hardballs, don’t worry. So excited!”

Capable nodded and forced her thoughts to remain in the present. It grew easier with every moment that past. “I’m really excited too! There’s so much I want to say - Thanks for inviting me, Savannah.”

“Hey, if it works out, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. I can see it now - I mean, I can hear it now: The Morning Show, with your host, Capable the Capable.”

Savannah’s quick explanations of the process and her goals helped ramp Capable’s enthusiasm until she was thrumming with it. And then the music went off and the mic went on, and with a wink, Savannah leaned forward.

“Evening, all you Citadel City civilians. It’s time for Nightly Tells with me, your host with the most, Savannah Nix. Time counts and keeps counting, and we all know that finding all the things we lost along the way is no easy ride. But that’s our trek, boys and girls and everyone, and we’re going to travel it. You and me. And tonight, I have a special guest who’s going to help us out. She’s the soundtrack to our journey - And with her, I think we’re steered right.”

Capable’s introduction was brief, focused more on everyone in her life than on herself. A couple of questions from Savannah, who stuck her promise about not digging too deep, and then Capable unlocked her guitar case. She sang about hurt, about wounds that went through blood and muscle to the deepest part of a person. She sang about dark nights, dark storms, dark dreams, and the glow of dawn that followed. Just the act of singing was itself a rebellion, and she hoped that the audience, whoever, wherever they were, heard beyond the words, the notes, the guitar’s vibrating strings. Heard and joined.

“The other day, I heard you playing Bob Dylan.”

“No one wrote like him,” Capable said fondly. “He’s a great place to start, if anyone’s interested in getting into folk. It’s a universal thing, every culture has their own traditional pieces. It’s music by the people. I guess that’s why it resonates with me. Also it has a great history of activism.”

“Make drum circles and not war?”

“Something like that,” she replied with a laugh. “Read Pete Seeger’s testimony in front of House Un-American Activities Committee. And of course there’s ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.’”

“Sounds like to me, you’re hoping to do more than make a couple of bucks in the subway. Which she is, folks, catch her shows right outside our own little university. So tell me, Capable, where are you going with this?”

“We’re going to have a rally outside of City Hall. The men in charge think they can do whatever they want with this world; what they’re doing is destroying it and taking us all down with them. We’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to build it back up.”

“Listeners, I expect all of you to be there. I’ll be in the front with a sign taped onto my cane.”

“You’ll be on the stage with us,” Capable said and Savannah grinned back.

“You have a whole musical group, don’t you?”

“My family, yeah. They’ll be there. Right now, there’s someone I love very much in the hospital. I hope she’ll be able to join us. It’s because of her that I’m able to sing at all.” When she closed her eyes, she pictured Angharad’s bed and the radio beside it, and hoped her sister was listening.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you. It’s been hard on all of us.” That was the understatement of the century. “But what happened - She’s there because of Joe Moore.”

Savannah’s eyes widens and she inhaled a sharp breath that hissed through her teeth.

“We need to fix things so there can’t be another Joe Moore,” Capable pressed. “There are so many things that are wrong, and I know that sounds pessimistic and overwhelming. But my point is that there are things we can change. This stuff - It’s preventable. We can make sure that no one else gets hurt like she was hurt.”

“I’m going to tell you all something that I don’t think I’ve talked about before. Maybe you know already, it was in the news when it happened and if you searched for my name online, you’d find the articles. Or maybe it’s buried under all the other tragedies. Three years, four months, and… ten days ago, my son died. Apartment fire. Bad wiring, thanks to a cheap landlord. The whole floor of the building was destroyed.”

“Oh Savannah - I’m so, so sorry.” Capable moved away from the mic, close enough to Savannah to speak without her words being broadcasted. “Do you want to take a break? Are you ok?’

Savannah nodded, squeezed Capable’s hand before leaning toward the mic again. “A lot of us have stories like that, don’t we? I wanted you all to know… that… That, well, about preventing...”

“What was his name?”

“Finn.”

“Can I play a song for him?” Capable asked and when Savannah nodded, she took out her guitar and began to sing.

There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway
A song that they sing when they take to the sea
A song that they sing of their home in the sky
Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep
But singing works just fine for me
So, goodnight you moonlight ladies
Rock-a-bye sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won't you let me go down in my dreams?
And rock-a-bye sweet baby James

There were a couple seconds of silence after the last notes faded. But Savannah was a consummate professional, and after a swig of something in a chipped mug provided by Miles, she was back on track with some more questions and more observations.

“That’s our show tonight, friends, students, country-people everywhere, and I’m Savannah Nix signing off. We light the city, keep it bright so everyone who’s still searching can find us. Maybe it’s not tonight, maybe it’s not tomorrow, but there’ll come a night when they see us. And they’ll follow that light back home. Me and you, listeners, we’ll make sure to light up that path. It’s something we all need to do together.”

“Come to the rally - it’s for all of us here in Citadel City. For my sister. And for Finn,” she added, catching Savannah’s eye. “Let’s be so loud that they won’t be able to pretend they can’t hear us anymore.”

Once it was over, Savannah flung herself into Capable’s arms and they laughed together; even dour Miles gave them a thumbs-up. They made plans for coffee and another show or two, and Savannah promised she’d get more microphones so the rest of Capable’s family could join them. Capable asked gently about Finn again, but when Savannah shook her head, she didn’t press. Collecting her guitar and bag, she waved one last time and then left the recording studio.

And barely had a moment to compose herself before two people tackled her in the hallway. “Nux! Dag!”

“Holy shit, so chrome and so shine. You were on the radio like a rock star!” Nux picked her up and swung her around.

A flash caught both of their attention and they turned to see Dag holding up her phone. She studied the picture she’d taken and then grinned. “This one’s going on the wall.”

“Thanks for coming, guys!”

“I found this lost soul roaming around outside and had to bring him in,” Dag explained. Once her phone was away, she hugged Capable, too. “I thought we could go to the hospital together. Toast was already on her way there when Valkyrie dropped me off. And Cheedo was on the bus.”

“Dag told me about Angharad,” Nux added. “Give you a ride over there now, if you want.”

She wrapped her arms around his chest, pulling him so close that she blocked out the rest of the hallway. Nux murmured her name and pressed his face into her hair. What she had said to Toast about him came back to her; although she’d tried to convince Toast and herself that she wasn't going to get involved in Toast’s love life - or lack thereof - she couldn’t stop concern for her sister from edging into her thoughts. It was an odd combination of happiness and anxiety, pride and regret. The clarity that Angharad had always seemed to possess eluded Capable, who once again felt pulled in too many opposing directions.

Angharad’s words were efficient weapons, able to slice and shatter apart any argument.

The three of them walked together out to Nux’s car and piled in. Capable touched Nux’s arm, then curled her fingers lightly around it. Driving, he couldn’t do much but glance curiously at her. He hadn’t shaved his head and the dark hair was growing longer. She couldn’t resist petting him, the bristles soft under her fingers.

“Poor Savannah,” Dag said with a sigh. She stretched across the back seat and tapped her fingernails on the rear window. When headlights illuminate the inside of the car, they make Dag appear to glow, and she looked as ethereal as the spirits she professed to consult. “You should invite her over, Cape. How much did you tell her about us?

“Nothing, really. I had no idea about her son.”

“Poor Savannah,” she repeated. “Another one of the lost.”

Angharad’s son wasn’t born in the traditional sense. Dead already when they reached the hospital, the c-section that the doctors performed was to remove him, not to save him. The first time any of them had seen her child it was when he was wrapped in the blanket that became his shroud. How would they tell Angharad about him? When would they be able to?

She touched Nux again, tapping her fingers lightly down his neck, and she saw him flash a smile.

“Thanks for driving us, Nux,” she said as they reached the hospital.

“Yeah, course. Want me to hang around?”

“I don’t know how long we’ll be.” She leaned over to kiss him. “Can I call you when we’re done?”

“Course, whenever you want. Sure you don’t want me to wait? I will, for however you want.”

“Go home, sweetheart. I love you.”

“Thanks mate,” Dag called as she climbed out behind Capable. “You’re a good egg. Don’t really look like one anymore, though.”

Dag held Capable’s hand as they walked through the hospital. When they met Cheedo and Toast, the four of them came together for one messy embrace, backpacks and purses and Capable’s guitar all dropped to the side so they could press into each others’ arms.

But then it was down to business. Toast passed around her printouts as they waited for Angharad’s doctors and nurses, then Dag and Cheedo got tea and they passed around the steaming mugs. In her bed, Angharad’s fingers plucked at the IVs so they took turns holding her hands. By the time the doctors rounds brought him to Angharad’s room, it’d felt like half the night was gone. Still, working as a team they were able to get answers to most of their questions and compromises to many of their demands.

Kissing Angharad, Capable promised she’d be back soon to tell her all about the broadcast.

Cheedo fell asleep on the way home, her head lolling between Capable’s and Dag’s shoulders. In the front seat Toast read some more facts about treatment for vegetative patients aloud to Furiosa, but Capable only partially listened in, her mind on Angharad and Savannah. And Nux. She needed another date with him, another night to go wild.

When they pulled onto their street, Furiosa chuckled and glanced at Capable in the rearview mirror. “Tell Nux to check the oil in my truck in the morning,” she said as she pulled into the driveway. “Want a second opinion on the engine - Think it’s running hot.”

Capable looked out the window: Nux’s car was parked on the curb.

Leaving Dag to wake Cheedo and drag her into the house, Capable hurried up the stairs, unlocked the front door, hurried up to the second floor. Asleep in her bed was Nux.

“Move over,” she said after she’d shucked her jeans. Nux mumbled and stirred, his long eyelashes fluttering as he woke, and rolled over enough for her to wiggle into his arms.

“Love you,” he murmured sleepily into her hair.

He was warm, relaxed, and when she cuddled against his chest, the beat of his heart soothed away the day's stresses. “Love you too.”

---

Was there nothing but the hush of night?
Had a treasure but I don't know where
Did you flee from what was said and seen?
Yes, the good was not without the bad
Raise your sword and shield
- “Was There Nothing?” by Asgeir

Chapter Text

I know who I am now
And all that you've made of me
I know who you are now
And I name you my enemy
I know who I am now
I know who I want to be
I want to be more than this devil inside of me
- “Dear Wormwood” by The Oh Hellos

---

On his back under a van, Nux was trying not to half-ass the oil change. The work was tedious but had to be done. More and more Boys were dropping off cars for him, a whole armada of sputtering engines and failing batteries, filling up the gravel yard. The cash he got from the all the work barely weighed anything in his pocket. There was enough for cat food and a couple of coffees with Capable, so he came out on top at the end of the day. Most of the Boys traded promises of favors down the road - Stacks said he fill up the Monte Carlo next time Nux was in his neighborhood, Drift swore he’d help Nux find hubcaps, and Wedge said he knew someone who knew someone who worked at Bartertown and didn’t mind giving five-fingered discounts. Even if they didn’t pay, even if they didn’t promise to pay, Nux took in their cars anyway. And once word spread that he was doing free work, Boys came from every part of the city to take advantage of it.

Meant the garage was loud and full long into the night. It made Ace happy enough; it should’ve made Slit happy, too, that the garage was growing into the Pits, but Nux hadn’t seen much of his partner at all since the night Scab had been killed. But as usual, Nux’s thoughts were on Capable, not Slit.

Well then can I walk beside you?
I have come to lose the smog
And I feel myself a cog in something turning
And maybe it's the time of the year
Yes and maybe it's the time of man
And I don't know who I am but life is for learning

Capable’s words drifted under the car with him, and Nux paused, eyelids low, as he listened to her call. As he lay under the van, some of Morsov’s cats crept underneath and he watched them squeeze their svelte bodies between his tools and trays. They stayed even when he started humming along, furry bodies warm against his legs.

Brake pads were next. His fingers twisted and turned the lug nuts, compressed the calipers, did all the repairs automatically while his thoughts roamed wild, wandering through the twists and turns that his recent life had taken. Used to following, but what if there wasn’t a road any more? Cars again, he thought, remembering what he’d said to Capable. It was easy for him to think about cars. But now under a vehicle, after hours of maintenance, he found himself pining for Green Place.

After being with her, the rest of the world was dull. She was in his dreams all night, all day she danced around in his thoughts. But Capable had finals and he tried to be satisfied with their short coffee meetups or a sneak in through her window once both their homes were dark. Nux wasn’t going to bother her when she was busy with work, but he still kept his phone close, set on vibrate in his pocket in case she needed him for anything.

“You under there, Nux?” someone called. The cats scattered and Nux climbed out to see Nogo, a War Boy serving a boss named Gonner, and then some of the other Boys in his crew. “Hey, mate, so you are still here.”

“Hey guys! Yeah, still here,” he said with a laugh. He accepted a hand up and Nogo pulled him into a quick embrace.

“Jonesy says you’re barely around anymore,” Solder, another of Gonner’s Boys, said as he banged Nux on the back. “Thought you might have gone rogue.”

Slit would’ve been fucking furious at that suggestion, but Nux just shrugged and rubbed his hand through his hair - a new habit. And immediately regretted it as he smeared grit and oil there. Had to get used to washing it instead of just wiping his head clean.

“Be lost without Nux,” Morsov said, coming up behind him. He slung his arm around Nux’s shoulder and pulled him down. No knuckles against Nux’s head though - Morsov wasn’t used to the hair, either. He laughed when Nux jostled him back.

“Not worried about pissing off Rictus?” Nogo pressed.

Nux’s gaze roved over the Boys. Nogo looked nervous, but he always did, and Solder’s rolled-back shoulders gave the impression of him not giving a shit. Wasn’t half as convincing as Slit’s poses. The rest of the crew was fucking around with Mack and Dred, and there were other Boys milling around.

“I don’t care what Rictus thinks of me,” Nux dismissed. Morsov pulled his arm back and when Nux glanced at him, Morsov’s smile looked too stretched to be real. It didn’t stop Nux from adding, “He probably doesn’t think about any of us.”

“You’re the best at cars. Be deadlocked without you.” Morsov tried again.

Nux had used the same line of reasoning when he’d argued with Slit. Hearing it now, Nux just shrugged it off. Felt hollow, even untrue.

Some of the other Boys - Dred, Scavs, Tag, Jonesy, Stacks, and Drift - moved closer, their blacks blocking the harsh fluorescent light bulbs that dangled throughout the garage. A half circle of them formed between him and the doors out, eyes on him as Nux wiped his greasy hands on his pants.

Nogo traced over the hood of the van. There were divots in the metal, something that Nux had yet to buff out, and he tapped his knuckles against the dents. “Wish I could build cars like you,” Nogo said. “The figuring out the hp, matching up torque spec, I can do that. But I think the actual building part is shit.”

“Rusted War Boy,” Solder said with a grin and shoved him. The fight was over quickly - Nogo stepped away and shrugged off Solder’s hand. The other Boys around him moved away gave him space like he might get rust on them. Nux wasn’t the only one who noticed that: Nogo jammed his fists into his pockets and hunched in his shoulders. He’d taken a chance on admitting a weakness and regretted it.

“Good at maths?” Nux asked and Nogo jerked his head in a brief nod. “That’s shine, mate! One of Capable’s sisters takes math classes at university. Need that for all sorts of jobs. Run a store, design cars…” He paused, trying to think of other possibilities. “Work at one of the fancy skyscrapers downtown, decked out in a suit.”

“Nogo in a suit?” Stacks repeated gleefully. One of Scab’s Boys, he’d been burnt back a couple of years before, and the scars on the left side of his face made all of his grins lopsided. The half-sneer was there now and Nogo glared at it as Stacks elbowed him. “Maybe the cops will die laughing before they shoot your sorry ass.”

“Hey, fuck you!”

“Didn’t mean it, mate,” Stacks took back, and even put a hand on over his heart like he was swearing it. “You be the best damn War Boy tax collector you can be.”

“Should’ve followed Scab, you mediocre shit. Too much piss in your gas tank?”

“Why not?” Nux asked loudly before a fight could break out for real.

Nogo shoved away Stacks, who flipped him off as he retreated. They were in a semicircle now, closed in on Nux and Morsov and the van. The rest of them were all clean shaven, of course, and all of them - even Nux - were in their blacks. Clear indication to anyone else who they were, where they belonged. Seeing one Boy was like seeing any of them.

When they went out on a big raid, they even smeared paint on their face. Hard as fuck to tell each other apart after that. First time he’d done that, he’d even lost Slit in the crowd - Not that it mattered; they all moved together, one shadow through the streets. Now, though, all he could see was their differences. With darker skin than the rest of them, Dred stood out the most. Morsov spent the most time shining himself up: no oil on anything. Part of Jonesy’s ear had been torn off and the tattoo on his shoulder climbed up a bit onto his neck. Drift was smaller and lean, and eyes wide with interest instead of suspiciously narrowed. Tag was even skinnier. Then there was Stacks: wilder than the rest of the Boys, probably since he’d run with Scab. Slit’s scars were still worse, but Nux’s eyes snagged on the smooth burn marks on Stack’s cheek. He’d been one of the few Boys ever to actually go to a hospital, dropped off there out of desperation. Reputation had been shot after that; even his crew had kept him at a distance. Not for the burns - all of them had evidence of their bang-ups, scars that cut through tattoos, bones that didn’t heal flush, bullets that couldn’t be dug out - but for needing something to fix him.

“Why not what?” Jonesy prompted.

Nux’s eyes moved back to Nogo. “Why not be a tax collector or run a store or figure out banking?”

“You wrecked in the head Nux? That why you’re acting like this?” Scavs shoved at Nux’s shoulder. Behind him, Morsov moved closer, his own hand on Nux’s back to keep him from having to step back. Scavs groaned in irritation, “Swear to fucking valhalla, Nux, now I know why Slit takes off on his own all the time.”

“War Boys don’t do soft shit like that, for fuck’s sake.” Tag added. Big talk from him; if Slit had been around, Tag wouldn’t have been. He looked over his shoulder quickly like maybe he was double-checking that Slit hadn’t reappeared.

“Nogo isn’t going to ditch us,” Solder said. They weren’t partners, but being in the same crew meant they still had responsibility for each other. “He knows about the rules.”

“A lot of fucking rules,” Nux scoffed. “And they’re always for us. Joe got to do whatever he wanted. But us - We’re locked up in here until they need someone to take a shot for them. Course Joe didn’t want us learning math; maybe we’d start learning other stuff, too.”

Drift looked back and forth at the other Boys, then said with a shrug, “Keep us pure.”

“Yeah, pure,” Tag echoed with a finger pointed meaningful at Nux. “Joe knew that street trash would get you filthy.”

Nux’s spine snapped straight. “Don’t call her that,” he growled at Tag. “Don’t call anyone that.” In two steps he could have been in Tag’s face, two seconds and he could bash Tag’s nose in. It’d be easy, fast. With difficulty Nux swallowed it all back. “Capable knows more than he ever did.”

“The hell does she know?” Scavs demanded.

“She knows what Joe never wanted us to figure out - That he fucked us over too!”

“He shredded War Boys who deserved it,” Scavs shot back. “Weak, soft, traitors!”

“Like Furiosa?” Just like before, saying Furiosa’s name had an immediate effect. Even though Morsov didn’t respond, the rest of the War Boys were staring at him now. “Didn’t matter if anyone else said you were rusted or soft - She could see what made you shine.”

“Because she was the best boss,” Dred asserted and that made arms cross tighter and Boys start to snort.

“Yeah, but she’s no boss now!” A voice from the back yelled. “Just some wretch on the side of the road.”

“Take that back!”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Morsov shift, glance over at Dred and Mack. Keeping silent, they weren’t much of a back-up. Nux surged on anyway, “She let you be good at whatever it was.”

“Shut up, Nux,” Mack hissed suddenly in Nux’s ear. He yanked at Nux’s arm and this time Morsov didn’t intervene. Nux bit back a curse and tried to keep his muscles relaxed.

In the background was Capable’s CD still looping through her songs, but the noise of the other Boys drowned out her voice. Eyes flickered away from him, more arms crossed arms, more sideways glances, air in the garage getting warmer and thinner, too, like everything was getting pulled tight. Nux wasn’t as sharp-eyed as Slit, but it was all clear enough that he’d lit a fuse.

“Talk a lot for just a blackthumb,” Tag observed. “You aren’t even a driver anymore, are you?”

The way it was jeered, it was a clear insult. Fighting words, to provoke into defending himself. But they missed their mark, and Nux let them go right past him. He motioned to Dred and said, “Dred’s a chrome driver. No flat tires at all this month.”

“Ace’ll let you say shit like this, but Prime or Rictus hear you and you’ll be shredded. Where’s Slit?” Jonesy rubbed at the back of his neck and then dragged his hand over his bald head. “Thought he was supposed to keep you in line?”

“Think maybe he has a point?” Dred asked Rotor, and his partner hissed for him to shut up.

“What about Furiosa?”

“What about her? Went rogue!”

“Think maybe he should watch it or he’ll get us all wiped out.”

Energy was roiling, looking for a place to burst out. Without Ace or any other boss around, the Boys looked wildly back and forth to each other for some sort of sign of what to do. Slit would’ve taken over. And although Mack looked pissed as hell, he stayed back when Morsov angled his body in his way. Shoulders straight, arms crossed, chins tilted up, plenty of mutterings but no clear words that Nux could hear, no questions for him to answer or points to argue. Just Boys and the van, and -

A noisy buzz of him phone as it rattled against the screws in his pocket. It cut through the rest of the noise, shattered it. Capable! Nux opened the door to the van and slid inside, closed the door against the other Boys so he could focus on her. Along with her usual cheerful words was an invitation to dinner. Instantly he typed back his reply - hell yeah.

Boys moved away to go back to whatever they were doing before, but Nux was too busy with reading her message to watch them as they slid away. A couple more texts back and forth sealed the deal. He hopped back out and grabbed his jacket off a tool box.

“You going out alone?” Drift asked in surprise as Nux pulled his keys out. “Where?”

All eyes were on him like headlights. “Going to see Capable. Lots of stuff to do in Citadel City when you don’t have a boss on top of you. Here, Morsov - Almost done with the brake pads. Can you finish them?”

Morsov’s lips parted but then he slammed his mouth shut and nodded. He caught Mack’s elbow and pulled him along to the other side of the van.

“Thanks, guys!” he called after them. A quick look around told him that he hadn’t been totally successful, but it hadn’t turned into a brawl, so Nux decided to notch it as a win. Capable would have done it better, of fucking course. He jammed his hands into his pockets and spun on his heel. Nux caught a glimpse of himself in one of the other car’s side view mirrors and grinned at his reflection. Sort of looked shine with the hair. Bouncing a little with each step, he made his way quickly through the garage. No Boys tried to stop him, but Stacks followed at Nux’s heels, even trailing him outside.

“Just wanted to know…” Stacks began. “Are you really going out to see your girl? You and Slit - Not trying to ride on your own? Been hearing a lot about you two.” Before Nux could answer, Stacks moved a little closer, keeping low and hunched. “If I wanted to nab one -”

“You don’t capture a girlfriend, Stacks,” Nux interrupted with an exasperated grimace. Capable and her sisters - not to mention Furiosa - would have pounded Stacks into the ground for that.

“You know what I mean.”

“You might actually mean that,” Nux pointed out as he dropped into the driver’s seat.

“Fine, fuck.” Stacks threw his hands in the air. But then they went back into his pockets and he shuffled his feet. “If I wanted to - I don’t fucking know - win one, how do I do it? Where’d you get yours?”

“She’s a person for fuck’s sake. Didn’t win her, didn’t get her.”

Not the answer Stacks wanted to hear. His hands came out again, moving restlessly up to tug at an earlobe and then trace over the burn scars on his cheek.

With a sigh, Nux leaned on the steering wheel. “We were at the bar by the university, Giddy’s. There to see about Buzzards. Slit wanted to find someplace else, but I heard this song and holy shit, I couldn’t stop listening. Went in and there was this girl there, shining like the sun, and it didn’t matter that I was in my blacks and we were in a crew. It was like I forgot all that. Forgot about Joe, too.”

He’d been able to shove all that aside, gone up to her like without any thought about it at all; it had to mattered to her, but Capable kept it all in. Seeing him, dealing with him, maybe it’d been like Joe all over again for her. And then he’d pushed the knife in harder, brought Joe up and talked over her like Nux knew any fucking thing at all. She’d forgiven him. She’d talked to him. She’d brought him in. She loved him.

A smile spread across his face. “First time she kissed me… V8. She’s so fucking smart and sweet and gorgeous and can’t believe she loves me. Believe her, though. Trust her. Love her.”

“Sounds like you’re filthy from her.”

Affronted, Nux flicked his eyes up to Stacks. Once again a shot of rage ricocheted through him. But instead of flooring it, leaving Stacks with a lungful of exhaust, he leaned back and tapped his fingers against the wheel. “Thought you wanted a girlfriend?”

“Just curious,” Stacks sulked. “Maybe I don’t. It’s all different. They say you’re soft for having one. Make it easier for you if you didn’t. Or if you shut up about it.”

“Won’t shut up, not about her.” A realization rolled through his brain and Nux straightened in his seat. “I won’t shut up, because of her.”

“Soft,” Stacks grumbled, but there wasn’t much force behind the insult. “Some fucking War Boy.”

“Not just a War Boy. Not just what Joe said. And neither are you.” Nux waited for Stacks’ reply to that, but Stacks just rolled his shoulders into a shrug. The garage door opened and a sliver of yellow light fell across the gravel yard; that was enough to call Stacks back inside.

The Monte Carlo purred as he turned the key. With the radio blasting, Nux flew out of Gas Town like his tank was full of nitro.

---

When my time comes around
Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I'll crawl home to her
- “Work Song” by Hozier

Chapter Text

Oh we turned on the radio
And listened to talk shows
Till the engine slowly
Drove down into sleep
The desert’s sunrise
Was a feast to our eyes
The dry heat and hot wind
Caressing our skin
We'll go no further
We'll build us a home here
- “Hummed Low” by Odessa

---

Waiting outside Entity Memorial for Capable, Nux watched the flow of students. There were guys with homeless-wretch-length beards, some with scruff like they’d shaved without a mirror, one asshole with a chinstrap that Nux actually grimaced at. Capable had said she liked him with stubble, he thought as he rubbed his chin. Smooth under his fingers now; he’d been keeping up with shaving. His face, anyway. The hair on the top of his head was growing thick; pretty soon a razor wouldn’t be able to cut it.

Plenty of people Capable’s age, too, but a lot were younger. Just kids really, though some same hard expressions as the older students. A lot of them glanced at him, some even did double-takes like they couldn’t fucking believe what their eyes had told them. Had to be a fucking mirage, he bet they were saying to themselves. Some were in t-shirts and sweatpants, looking filthy, there were a couple in suits like they belonged in one of the big ass skyscrapers, and there were others dressed like Capable liked to, jeans and a shawl or sweater, maybe a soft looking skirt.

If he’d stayed in school, maybe he’d be one of them, running around with books and a styrofoam cup of coffee in a sweater and blue jeans. Or he’d be in class with Capable, holding her hand through a lecture together. Maybe he’d keep the leather jacket. Or maybe lend it out to her. Imagining her in it… Maybe in just the jacket… Nux shifted, tried to slow that rush of thoughts. He wondered what they’d do if he enrolled. The one time he’d gone to class with Capable, he’d gotten strange looks but that was it. Change his shirt, change his pants, and he’d almost fit in. Had the scars, but a lot of people in Citadel City got beat up by it.

The class had been history, and not just history of the city. He’d never even thought about life in the past or really about other countries. The more he learned, the more he learned about all the things he still needed to learn about. Overwhelming a little, he’d just sat and soaked in it. She’d taken notes, listening and nodding along, smart enough to follow it all and understand it, even with one of her hands occupied with his. Holding hands; just that was chrome. He’d never held hands with someone just for the sake of it. Just to be close.

Every day with her had been a revelation. She’d given him an entire world; what could he offer her that matched that? And along with that shitty question was another shitty thought: he shouldn’t have let the world get lost in the first place. When he closed his hand around his flip phone, the scars on his knuckles stood out, white lines like tallies of the shit he’d been through. Which were nothing compared the ones he’d carved over his lips. But like he’d said to the Boys, she loved him - loved him - anyway.

When he saw her bright red hair above the sea of other students, the knot that had formed in his chest relaxed, opened, dissipated completely until Nux was standing, grinning, moving toward her. Didn’t matter what had had happened to him, wasn’t a brake or road block. He’d keep at her side, for as long as he was able.

“Nux!”

“Hey, Capable! You look amazing!”

Her strong arms went around him and pulled him against her. When she kissed him, he could feel her smile.

“So do you, Nux!” she exclaimed when they parted. “Shiny!”

Her long fingers scraped gently through his hair and he shivered at the feel on it. His eyes closed and he leaned harder against her, getting lost in her, and he almost missed the fact that there’s someone else there. It was Savannah Nux - a face to the voice he’d been hearing on CCUR, the university radio station. Savannah was short with short hair, but despite the height he had on her and the fact that she was leaning on a cane, she seemed more interested than scared. They talked a little as they climbed into his car. Savannah bombarded him with questions about the War Boys - including some about Morsov, which got him thinking about how the other Boy had had tried to back him up in his own way. Nux hoped it didn’t come back to bite him in the ass. Of all of them he was Ace’s favorite, and if Ace took Nux’s insubordination out on Morsov… No, Ace was fair. Wouldn’t punish Morsov for Nux’s War Boy failings. Still, he resolved to talk to Capable about it, when they got some time alone, wanting her opinion and advice.

Conversation got back to the rally again and for the rest of the drive, the three of them trying to figure it out. When they got to Green Place, the street looked like a War Boy mob: cars, trucks, and motorcycles parked everywhere. He slowed down to weave carefully through the obstacles. There were trailers in the driveways of the other houses, some attached to trucks and other with a more permanent appearance. Plastic pink flamingos stood in freshly-planted flower beds, and there were new trees planted along the sidewalk, short but leafy. Like they’d sprouted too, he saw Vuvalini Construction Co. signs everywhere.

“Seeds said they’ve been spending so much time, they might as well move in,” Capable explained. Her face had a smile so radiant that Nux’s heart jumped, but he smashed down daydreams to pay attention as she explained. “With everything they’re done for us - I mean, they’re basically rebuilding this neighborhood - These houses really are theirs.”

Better protection, definitely, having so many other people there.

“And there’s the unexpected add bonus of now having a people giving me motorcycle lessons,” Capable added and Nux whistled, impressed.

“The biker grannies?” Savannah asked excitedly. “They’re here too? Can I meet them?”

“Yeah! I thought it’d be cool for you to talk to them. They’ll probably be coming over for dinner.”

“Everyone?” Nux asked, counting the motorcycles. There were enough to take on a group of Buzzards or even a War Boy crew.

“They come in and out. Don’t worry Nux,” Capable added in a quiet voice, leaning in so he could feel the caress of her breath against his ear, “we’ll still have some time alone together.”

“Yeah?”

“Definitely. I’ve missed you.” Her fingers were light on the back of his neck, a rub at the tired muscles there before she scratched gently through the bristles of his hair. He almost groaned aloud at the pleasure of that touch.

“Me too! Have some stuff I want to talk to you about.”

Her beautiful blue eyes searched his face. “Yeah? Did something happen at the garage?”

“Talk later?”

“Course, Nux! Whenever you want.”

He nodded. “So how’s school?”

She studied him for another moment. Gorgeous eyes, just like the rest of her. And soft, filled with concern for him. Not at all like the War Boys - who might be worried, sure, but it like him trying to keep track of his wrenches. He wanted to stop the car, pull her onto his lap, tell her it all while she threaded her hands behind his neck. Climb into her bed, breath her in and maybe taste her again.

“Maybe next semester I’ll just take yoga classes.” She groaned and scrunched her face up. Adorably. Nux traced her bottom lip with his thumb and Capable’s eyes met his, all bright and shine.

“Oi, I’m still back here, remember?” Savannah said loudly and Capable flopped back down into her seat.

He parked at the curb and Capable hopped out. “And they’re here already,” she observed with a chuckle. “Come on, guys, I’ll introduce you. Looks like all of our studying will have to wait until after dinner.”

A whole chorus of greetings met them. There were Vuvalini lounging on the porch, raising their drinks and coming forward with their arms out as Capable lead Nux and Savannah up the stairs. Some he’d met already, but there were other women he didn’t know - they waved at him anyway, even though he was in blacks. And Capable introduced him like she didn’t care he was in his blacks either. “This is Nux, my boyfriend,” she said. Her hand in his, his name on her lips, proud and happy with no fake smile or tense shoulders.

Most of the women were older than Furiosa, their hair chrome-colored. Hawke had a scar over her nose and whacked him solidly on the back, then patted Capable too, giving her a wink that made Capable blush. Skully and Stega were in leather jackets and still had motorcycle goggles on their foreheads. Cleo Leo was splattered with paint, even in her hair. He recognized the tattooed arms of Giddy, too, who actually smiled at him when he caught her eye. Capable pulled Savannah into the kitchen to meet Seeds.

“Hey Nux,” he heard Toast’s voice before he could see her. He stopped and she appeared from the cluster of people with a bottle of beer in each hand. “Damn. Don’t know how we’re going to feed everyone. Dag’s been adding so much water to the stew that it’s basically just swimming potatoes.”

“It’ll be good!” Dag said and she waved through the door frame. She’d dyed her hair again - pink - and as cool as it looked, he still preferred Capable’s. Like she’d heard that thought, Dag briefly pulled Capable into view and they both gave him a grin as Nux’s eyes immediately went to his girlfriend’s wild crimson hair. “Capable’s a cynosure for heart and eye, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Toast grumbled good-naturedly. After Dag and Capable disappeared back into the kitchen, Toast rolled her eyes at Nux. “Don’t mind Dag. She’s hopped up on moon goddess juice or something. Speaking of, want a drink?”

“Yeah, thanks!”

Toast saluted with the beer bottle. “Val brought the beer; thank her. I’m just the messenger. Oh, hey, cynosure means… well, something shiny, sort of. Something brilliant, something that’s like a beacon. Case you didn’t know.”

“Thanks. Didn’t know what she said.”

Toast nodded. “So what’s up?”

He had wanted to run it by Capable first, so he only gave Toast a summary of what happened in the garage. Her face stayed smooth through the whole story, but when he was done she exhaled a long breath.

“You need to be careful,” she said firmly.

It wasn’t the reaction he’d been expecting and Nux frowned down at her. But Toast had warned him off before. It was like she knew about the gang, even more than Capable did - He wondered what sort of life she’d had before Joe had got her. Maybe she’d lived on the streets or maybe she’d known someone in the Boys. “It’s fine.”

“You don’t think you pissed anyone off?” Toast asked and when he shrugged, she ran her hand through her hair.

“Capable does way more than me,” he pointed out. “So what do you think I should do?”

“I generally don’t think about War Boys. But I guess… get them to see that they're part of the problem. Accepting that. Accepting responsibility. That's what I want the War Boys to do.”

He nodded. “So how?”

“Fuck them, I don't know.” She pressed her lips together and turned away. “It’s not my problem. You’re probably safe for tonight, anyway. Don’t think even kamicrazy War Boys would dare get through a biker gang of angry construction workers.”

Nux snorted into his beer.

“Your hair’s getting pretty long,” she said, changing the subject. “Looks good.”

“Think so? Not too messy? If I wanted to…” he began, but trailed away before he managed to finish the question. Having hair was one thing, actively doing something with it though…”Like what Dag did.”

“Dark hair like yours - You’d have to bleach it first, probably. In which case, I’d let it grow out some more so you don’t melt your scalp.”

“No shit?”

Toast nodded, amused. “Bleach is strong stuff. You really want to dye your hair?”

“Yeah. Maybe. Don’t know. I want to do something. Just not sure what.” There was a fog in his brain, nothing clear enough for him to sort through. The whole mess of thoughts like a toolbox spilled over and he had to find the one washer in all the mess. He’s always wanted to be be one of the War Boys, to fit into the machine of it like a cog. There’s never been a time, not even as a pup, that he’d wanted to be just Nux. Who the hell was he?

Her dark eyes regarded him seriously. All of Capable’s sisters were smart as hell, but Toast was the sharpest, and he straightened as she considered him. She said thoughtfully, “Think I know what you mean. What about tattoos?”

“You saw mine, right? Shine as anything! Even if you’re not a Boy it’s still fucking impressive.” Seven years old and it was as clear as the day Slit had done it. It’d been in the Pits, bunch of Boys around, and when Slit had splashed Nux’s chest clean of ink and blood, everyone cheered. “I could get another. Slit has a tattoo gun again. But he probably won’t do anything but War Boy shit.”

“So no ‘Capable’ across your forehead. That was a joke, by the way. Don’t get her name tattooed on your face.”

“Wasn’t even considering it,” he lied valiantly.

“You don’t think Slit would let you choose your own tattoos?”

Nux took a swig of beer as he thought. Stronger than the stuff than he was used to, and tasted different, too, like there was something else in it instead of the foamy water that they had at the garage. He looked at the label: a woman’s head exploding with foam. Weird. “He might do ‘Joe’ across my forehead,” he joked. “‘Slit forever.’”

“No names period. Capable will never forgive me for giving you that idea.”

Weird to think of it now, to think of Slit now, as outside of Nux’s new world. As partners, they’d gone up through the ranks together. He and Slit had grown up together, but they wouldn’t have without the War Boys. Not friends, not brothers: crew - That’s what Slit had told him.

“Slit’s a good partner,” Nux said. The word stuck a little in his throat, even after he took another swig of beer. Toast was staring at him again, expectant, so he lurched on. “He can draw almost anything you throw at him. Any car, any bike, and people, too. Anything! Used to play this game when we were pups: he’d draw a building and I’ve have to find the real one. Sometimes he’d stash stuff for me there, extra rations or whatever.”

“A break-and-enter treasure hunt,” Toast said with a roll of her eyes, but she laughed, too. “So he does more than tags.”

“He might not admit it, but yeah.”

“Seems ridiculous to hide something like that. But Joe was thorough. It’s almost impressive, when you think about it: how much he was able to control. Make things into a taboo. ‘Purity,’ right? That’s how he spun it. Shine, clean… White,” she added and arched an eyebrow at him.

“Sorry.”

“Sorry?” she repeated. “For what?”

Accepting responsibility for what the War Boys - what he - had done. Nux’s gaze traveled over the room again, the plants and the books, the shoes in piles by the door, hoping that something would rescue him. But when he looked back down at Toast, there wasn’t anger or even annoyance in her dark eyes. Maybe she understood that, too, without him stumbling to explain it.

Laughter spilled out of the kitchen and suddenly Capable appeared, grinning and gorgeous, and interrupted the growing awkwardness. Dag’s word came back to him. What was it? Shinosure?

Be a good band name.

“Hey guys! Toast, you show him the fanzines yet?"

“You really have one called ‘Holy Titclamps?’” he asked.

Toast grinned and shook her head. “That’s the one you’re interested in? War Boys and their kinky obsessions. Yeah, that’s a real zine.”

“Wow! No shit?”

“I can’t make this shit up. I’ll bring them down later.”

“We started one this morning!” Capable said. She squeezed his arm in excitement. “We’re thinking about passing it out at the rally. Or maybe for the rally. What do you think, Nux?”

“How about both? Think I can help?”

“Sure! What do you want to write about?”

“A War Boy fanzine…” Toast muttered thoughtfully. “What would that be about? Are there even War Boys literate enough?”

His shoulders rolled inwards defensively. “Can read.”

“At least enough to read the writing on the wall, right?” Toast was smirking over the rim of her beer bottle, that wry grin sharp.

And words sharp, jabbing between his ribs. Toast was trying to get a rise out of him and that made it hurt all the more: like a bullet entering and exiting again, two wounds from one shot. Worse than anything that the Boys in the garage had flung at him. It meant talking back, but Nux had to say it. “Trying to.”

“Toast!” Capable snapped.

Toast hissed out a breath, said something that sounded like “Shit.” A moment passed, all rusted and awkward again, and then she rapped her knuckles against his arm. “I shouldn’t have said that. Guess I forgot who I was talking to.”

He was in his blacks - No way for her not to remember he was a War Boy. Nux and Capable shared a look before he turned back to Toast. Capable had been saying that her sister had been acting weird. “No worries,” he said and added a loose-shoulder shrug.

Capable rescued him again, breaking through that uncomfortable silence. She slid her fingers through his. “How about a DIY mechanic guide?” she suggested.

Her hand was warm around his and he tightened his grip on it gratefully and latched onto her idea. “Be a good way to teach people how to do stuff cheap.”

The tension left Toast’s face and she let out a short chuckle. “So we’ll have one zine on folk music, one on urban gardening, and one on cars. Pretty eclectic set of guides.”

“Guide to being a War Boy: don’t,” Nux proposed and Capable and Toast laughed.

“A zine for War Boys isn’t a bad idea,” Capable said. “Joe would’ve hated it.”

He snickered. “Can’t see Slit doing a zine. Probably just want to light it on fire.”

“No way,” Capable said, and her lips started to curl up wickedly. “I can tell there’s a tortured artist in there. He already wears black - I can totally see him all emo-d out.”

“Emo?” Nux grabbed her and spun her around as she shrieked with laughter. “Even we aren’t that bad!” With a grunt he heaved her up onto his shoulder, ass up, legs kicking, and her hands on his back, warm prints up and down as she squirmed and giggled. “Hey, look out! Spilling beer all over the floor - Furiosa’ll shred you!”

“Don’t drop me!”

“Won’t!”

“Beer everywhere,” Toast grumbled and mopped it up with her sock. “So back on topic: is he still giving you trouble? Slit? About hanging out over here?”

Once they’d finished working on his bike, Slit had taken off. Probably tagging every part of the city he could get, Nux figured. He heard from some other Boys that Slit’d been riding with other crews. Other rumors said he’d been picking fights with them. Either could be true. “Not really,” Nux admitted. He laughed as he scrambled to keep ahold of Capable, one arm around her waist and the beer bottle sloshing some more as his other hand slid up her thigh. “Oi, watch it! That’s my hair up there!”

“It’s so soft, Nux!”

“Like it? Thinking about dying it if it gets long enough. Anyway, Slit’s been out of the garage too much to give me a hard time.”

“Oh yeah?” Toast asked. “Doing what?”

“Hey guys, stew’s ready!” Cheedo called from the kitchen.

“There enough for everyone?” Nux asked.

Capable raised herself up and twisted so she could kiss his neck. “Yep! I think Seeds and Val were going to bring some stuff, too. It’s sort of a potluck.”

“What’s that?”

He lowered her down but kept his arm around her shoulder. She explained about potlucks as they joined the rest of the group. It took a couple of minutes of confused voices, but then Dag passed him a bowl of stew and Furiosa tossed a spoon over Toast’s head to him. Veggies, probably, he thought as he poked at them. Little noodles. He almost asked Dag just what the hell the floating green things were, but he thought better of it when she narrowed her eyes at him.

Even with some of the Vuvalini sitting on the couch in the other room, the kitchen was still packed with people. Nux kept to the side, holding his bowl up so the women squeezing in toward the stove or around to the fridge wouldn’t spill his stew. Once people started sitting down it got less chaotic. But even with Cheedo and Dag sitting on the counters, there weren’t enough chairs. Capable tugged him toward a seat.

“You sit; I can stand,” he insisted.

“It’s alright, sweetheart,” she said with a laugh. She pushed gently on his shoulder, guiding him down, and once Nux was sitting, she did the same. Sit down. Capable moved between his legs and then sat on his lap, soft and curved.

Cupping the bowl with one hand, he wrapped his arm around her and rested his fingers one the bump of her pelvis. Capable laughed and wiggled herself comfortable. With one arm over his shoulder, she propped herself up and drew him closer. When she tossed her hair back to keep it out of his face, Nux followed the movement, twisting his torso - but still holding her secure - so he could press into her wild curls.

Conversation continued, little talks and louder jokes, beers and bowls of stew passed around.

“Not everyone has a smart phone, not everyone has a computer at home, but a lot of people have radios.” Savannah explained between bites of dinner, “And maybe I just sort of like it. There’s nothing like hearing yourself being broadcasted.”

Capable nodded. “Yep. It was fucking shine.”

Nux squeezed her and she flashed him a smile. She’d something like that to him before, in one of her texts that he read through whenever he needed a jolt - About being heard. First the water fundraiser she’d done, then the radio show - Capable’s voice was reaching across the whole city.

Seeds laughed. “Wasn’t all that long ago that radio was cutting edge technology, you know. There’s a good history there.”

“Let the girl talk, Seeds,” Mari chided, reaching across the table to pat Seeds’ hand. “You get started and we’ll be hearing about pirate radio all night.”

But Savannah’s dark eyes were interested. “No, that’d be great! Oral history, that’s important. Maybe you could come on the show!”

“Good way to spread the word about the rally,” Dag said and Seeds flashed her a grin.

The other Vuvalini nodded, murmuring to each other; Nux caught snippets of their conversations - about how they’d done it before and how it was bullshit that they had to keep doing it. Stega sighed and leaned over toward Hawke: they’d keep doing it, as many times as it took. And besides, they had to show the sprogs how it was done.

It wasn’t just an idea - Capable and her family were making plans for it. Possible dates, Valkyrie agreeing on the permits, and Savannah pulling out her notebook to start scheduling the Vuvalini on Nightly Tells. March rather than rally? They asked Nux for everything he know about certain streets and neighborhoods and debated their options. Seeds listed other contacts for Savannah to try, other friends and groups, more allies to make their gang.

“Did you read the mayor’s last speech? On housing? Asshole.”

“So I heard that they cut the cafeteria workers’ benefits again.”

“The paper just had a big article on that environmental report on the river.”

“If we get everyone together, we have to be loud enough.”

Toast snorted. “United we stand?”

On his lap, he felt Capable straighten. “Separate issues, same cause,” she pointed out. “City Hall’s doing whatever it can to keep us in ‘our place.’”

“And not just City Hall,” Cheedo added. “There’s so much going on, right, Dag? The river’s gross and the school’s suck. The police stop and frisk everyone and unemployment’s crazy.”

“I think we should do a march,” Seeds pronounced. “Gets the blood moving.”

Valkyrie pointed with her spoon. “You won’t have a podium then.”

“I’m loud enough that I don’t need it,” Seeds said with a wave of her hands and everyone laughed. “Besides, Val, you know that it’s not about me having a soap box. It’s about getting people out and getting them together.”

“Like the War Boys,” Nux murmured to Capable.

“Yeah? How so?”

Encouraged by Capable, he said louder, “Sounds like War Boy - gang - logic. Not criticising,” he added.

Valkyrie and Stega both grimaced. “You’re ok, mate,” Cleo Leo said, “but the Boys are still on our shit list.”

“But it’s sort of the same in some way, right?” he continued. “Get seen, make it so people can’t avoid you. Take to the streets.”

“Take to the streets. A march, then?”

“Shut down the street and you’ll get attention,” he said.

“Nux’s got a point,” Toast said with a slow nod.

A bunch of different conversations sprang up but then a sudden noise interrupted everything - The cop Max was hovering awkwardly in the door.

“Max!” Furiosa said before anyway else.

“Didn’t mean to interrupt,” he said quickly and gave them all a half wave. “I can wait, uh, outside.”

“Don’t you want some dinner?” Cheedo called and she and Valkyrie found him a bowl.

Max accepted but stayed in the doorway. Not that there was much room for him in the kitchen - though Nux was sure that Capable and her sisters would find a way to fit him in, if Max had wanted a seat. Max hovered around the edge of them room as conversation went back to the radio, with Savannah trying to make arrangements to get everyone on Nightly Tells.

It was a War Boy habit, but Nux couldn’t help it - even though he had Capable on his lap and voices all around, his attention kept fixating on the boss of the crew, on Furiosa. Half hated himself for it, but then when Furiosa caught Nux’s eye and then rose out of her seat, he was glad his instincts hadn’t gone soft. Gently he slid Capable off his lap and the padded after Furiosa, out of the kitchen, through the sitting room, and to the front porch. Night had fallen for real and the sky above them was dark, but with the soft light coming out of the house and the lights on in the trailers, the street wasn’t desolate.

Max was shorter than both of them and knew it, or maybe he was always sort of hunched. Leaning against the railing, his eyes only perked up as Furiosa and Nux stepped onto the porch. The other time Nux had seen him, Max had just come out of a night of raiding. But even now he looked ragged. Limp wasn’t quite as pronounced, but it was still there. Didn’t they put cops on desk duty when they got banged up? Early retirement?

“Can you tell us anything, Max?” Furiosa asked as the man stared down at the plate in his hands, strangely silent. Nux would’ve jumped to answer a boss’s question, but the cop acted like he almost hadn’t heard it. Nux glanced at Furiosa, but her gaze was on the cop. Not a stare, not a glare, just eyes on him, patient and quiet.

“Nothing since Scab,” he said at last. “Have some War Boys locked up. Awaiting trial. No date set on that.”

“Will there even be one?” Furiosa asked wryly and Max shrugged. Same thing that happened to Rotor, tossed in a cell and left there, punishment enough. She scraped the last bit of stew out of her bowl and Nux did the same. Cool now, but still delicious, filled him up like McDonald’s didn’t.

“So is that the end of it?” Nux asked. “Can’t be. Are the cops really stopping with Scab?”

Even as he said it, Nux knew that the cop had good reasons not to answer. Even if Max was a friend to Capable and the rest of them, he wouldn’t risk telling all the police department’s activities when there was a War Boy present. Nux shifted, suddenly very aware of the heavy material of his black pants.

“Orders right now are to pick up usual suspects on the street.”

“Cops are only coming after us because Joe’s not around to pay them off,” Nux said darkly. It was almost a dare for Max to argue, but the cop just brought another spoon of stew to his mouth.

“Everyone knew the Commissioner and Joe were in bed together. Why isn’t Rictus paying them off?” Furiosa pressed.

They looked at Nux. Slit’s warning, about how the Boys would say Nux had traitored them, came back like a blow. But Furiosa had brought Nux out specifically; she had to intend him to help Max out somehow. Nux exhaled a hiss of a breath and tried to figure out what to say. “Been a lot of fighting between Rictus and Prime. Rictus thought they’d fall under him out of loyalty, but Scab’s Boys still aren’t rolling over. Prime’s trying to get them.” He rubbed at his hair. “And I might’ve been stirring up shit.”

Furiosa exhaled a low snort. “Dissent in the ranks. Just what Rictus needs.”

While Max’s head was down, Nux studied him again. Fuck keeping silent. “Rictus doesn’t have the brains to keep it all in order. Doesn’t have the loyalty to enforce it, either.”

“The War Boys?” Max asked.

Nux nodded, then glanced back at Furiosa. “Us, the ranks. Rictus hasn’t made any new bosses. Don’t think he’s gotten any new Boys at all. But it’s not just us, right? City isn’t his, not the way it was Joe’s.That’s why Buzzards are at the university. And cops keep picking us up. Haven’t gotten the Vault back. We went to the Pits a couple of weeks ago, but it’s still almost empty. We’re still in Gas Town.”

Furiosa had been nodding along, but then she stopped, her eyes hard as she stared at Nux. With her shoulders squared and legs apart, she looked braced for a punch. Another War Boy or a Buzzard or Rock Rider would kill for a list of weaknesses - Furiosa knew that, too. But Max stayed hunched and uncommitted, not reacting to all that Nux had admitted to.

“What’s going on with the police?” Valkyrie was at the door, staring hard at Max and the cop almost flinched away.

Nux followed Max’s gaze down the yard. On the curb was the Interceptor - Max was looking at it like he wanted to make a mad dash down to it and get the hell out of the neighborhood.

“A mess,” Max said at last.

Valkyrie didn’t seem surprised by that terseness. After a few more silent beats, she sighed, but didn’t press him for a better answer. “Capable’s looking for you, Nux,” she said and held the door open for him.

He looked back at Furiosa; she released him with a brief nod. “Thanks,” he said to Valkyrie as he slid by her. He felt her dark eyes on him and paused, waiting for her to add something. An instruction or a question - she seemed to want more from him. Or maybe from Max. The way her shoulders were set, the lines around her mouth - It was clear enough even to Nux that she was poised on the edge of something. But Valkyrie stayed silent and he went back into the house.

Back in the kitchen, the women were collecting dishes - Dinner was over. Skully took his bowl and put a towel in his hands, and with so many people washing, drying, and stashing everything, it didn’t take long to clean up. Once the table was cleared, Hawke and Mari put a platter out and started pulling more food out of their bags: fruit, smelling summer sweet when they started chopping, and small packages of cheese. Nux plucked a piece of cheese and popped it into his mouth. Thick and creamy.

“And here, sweetheart, have a piece of apple,” Capable said as she took a piece off the plate.

When she held it out, Nux wrapped his fingers around her wrist to bring it closer. Her lips parted, still smiling, and there was a glint in her that made him grin back before he brought her hand to his mouth. He flicked his tongue over her fingertips - sweet from the juice of the apple - then closed his lips over them.

“Good?” she asked, voice low, quiet, only for him.

He swallowed, nodded, caught her when she stepped closer. A real kiss this time, her mouth on his - just as sweet.

The Vuvalini filed out but Capable and her sisters stayed in the kitchen. Nux sat down again and pulled Capable onto his lap. For a while there wasn’t much conversation at all - Toast started making tea and the radio was playing something with a lot of instruments, and everyone was listening to that or dozing a little. A lot to think about. That always happened when he saw Capable, like she filled up his tank with premium gasoline, got everything cranking and spinning and pounding. If they really did have a march, what would the War Boys do? City Hall was in their territory - made sense, with how class Joe and the mayor had been. Would the Boys let them in? Would they have to fight it out?

Nux pressed his nose into Capable’s hair. If it came to that, he knew what side he’d be on.

“You know, Nux, if you married Savannah, your name could be Nux Nix.” Dag threw back her hair as she laughed. “Look at his face! Sorry, Savannah, that’s a no from him!”

“Don’t go marrying off my boyfriend,” Capable said protectively.

“There are plenty of other War Boys to choose from, anyway,” Toast added. “They’re everywhere. You can pick them up off the street.”

Dag shook her head. “Nah, not interested in Boys.”

“Not all bad,” Nux said. He glanced at Savannah and said sort of an apology for rejecting Dag’s marriage proposal for them, “Morsov’s good to have at your back.”

“Not interested in lowercase boys,” Dag said, which really wasn’t much of a clarification until she leaned forward and gave Nux a smile.

Nux’s eyebrows rose. Maybe he misunderstood again, Capable’s sisters driving in circles around him. But when he looked at Capable for a cue, her eyes were expectant; she was waiting for him. The other women too - they weren’t trying to keep Dag quiet or get her to take it back, not embarrassed by what she’d admitted. He cleared his throat and tried, “There are War Boy girls, too. Women. Like Furiosa, right?”

She sat back with a laugh. “Thanks, Nux. Don’t think I have much time for dating now, yeah? But I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Are you trying to hook us all up with your mates, Nux?” Toast asked. “Come on, let’s get down to studying. I want to go to bed before midnight for once.”

“We’re getting there. Your hair is so cute, Savannah,” Dag said as she turned to face the other woman. “You look like a Shakespearean fairy.”

“You really think so?” Savannah asked, delighted. She patted at her hair, quick fingers plucking at it. “It’s not too wild?”

“Nope. Short and sweet. Let me see?” Reaching over, she tweaked the ends of Savannah’s hair. Their faces were close and Savannah blush a bit, and then with a smile Dag sat back down. “Thinking about doing the same with mine. Time a for a change, yeah?”

“I like it long!” Cheedo piped up. “We match!”

Dag pointed to her pale hair. “White and black isn’t exactly matching, sweetling.”

“You know what I mean,” Cheedo said quickly. When everyone turned toward her, she blushed and fidgeted, like she wanted to slump down, possibly until she slid under the table. “The length. And we braid in feathers and beads.”

Dag shrugged, but Nux thought that it wasn’t with her usual flowing ease. “We can’t be twins forever.”

“Were you adopted together?” Savannah asked before Cheedo could reply. Nux saw her look away from Dag with a frown.

There was a subtle shared glance between the sisters, though Cheedo seemed more focused on the table. Nux had listened to Capable’s broadcast a few times, and while she’d said that she performed with her family, she’d been vague on the details, probably to protect them all. But she loved them all as sisters - maybe even the Vuvalini, too, like aunts or mothers.

“Not really,” Capable began. “We all -”

“Are you going to put this on your show?” Cheedo asked loudly. “It’s not really any of your business.”

Capable reached across the table to touch Cheedo’s shoulder. “Cheedo -”

“What?” she said as she moved away from Capable’s hand. “Maybe I don’t want my entire life story on the radio. I bet Furiosa would agree with me.”

Beside him Nux felt Capable fidget and she brought her hands up to her hair, pushing the loose curls back. Cheedo crossed her arms and glared like she was daring someone to argue with her, but Toast’s face was blank and Dag seemed completely surprised, pale eyebrows up and mouth slightly agape.

But she recovered with another shrug. “If you’re worried, Cheedo -”

“It’s totally valid.” Cheedo stood up, shoving the chair back so it screeched against the floor. “I just think it’s really shitty that she’s using us to get more listeners or whatever.”

“Sorry! Sorry - Do I come across like that?” Savannah waved her hands. “I’m not. Wasn’t.”

Cheedo ignored her and marched across the room. At the door out she spun around and looked at Dag again. “I’m going to water the plants. Want to come?”

“You know we have to study,” Dag replied and whatever else she was going to say got lost in the noise of Cheedo slamming the door.

Capable rose and they all looked at her as she shoved back her hair and huffed a sigh. Savannah apologized again and Dag and Toast told her not to worry, but Dag turned around again to look at the closed door. When Capable glanced at him he stood too and then followed her into the living room. She dug a couple of bags out from the pile of coats and shawls on the couch and slung them over her shoulders. Once her hands were free she wrapped her arms around him, drawing him in for a kiss. He cupped her face in his own, rubbing her smooth skin with his thumbs.

“Thanks for coming,” she said softly. “You’re so sweet. Can you stay the night?”

“Yeah. Course.” The reply come instantly. He kissed her again, tilting her face up to deepen it, get as much of her as he could. With her arms around him and her hair brushing his cheeks, and her chest stomach legs pressed against him, Capable cleared away all the smog and shit that had been clogging him up. He was running clean - And heart pounding strong, pulse racing fast like it was fueled with nitro. When he felt her teeth on his neck, the graze of them and then a nibble, Nux pulled her hard against him, hands on the curves of her ass.

“Don’t distract me. You still need to tell me about what happened at the garage.”

He kissed her hair, murmured her name. He did want to tell her and it felt damn good that she wanted to listen, but the edge of worry about it had been blunted. Hearing the Vuvalini, talking stuff out with Toast, making plans with them all - It made him more convinced that what he’d said in the garage was right. “Later,” he replied. “Let’s go upstairs for a while.”

“I have to do some work,” she said all slow and begrudging, and scrunching her nose up.

“How about we study anatomy?”

His hands roamed over her sides and she wiggled and giggled. “Nux! What am I supposed to tell my professor? ‘I spent all night studying my boyfriend’s body instead of my notecards? In my defense he’s gorgeous?’”

“All right, I’ll hide in the bathroom with your textbook and when you have your test you can run out and I’ll give you the answer.”

“Ah yes, the tiny bladder excuse.” She dug her fingers under his armpits, tickling him, and Nux squawked as he grabbed for her hands. “Give me a couple of hours and then we’ll have some time together. That work, sweetheart?”

“Yep.” He guided her arms back around him. He said as he pressed his lips against her forehead, “Like it when you call me sweetheart.”

A few more kisses that didn’t last long enough and then Capable untangled herself from him. “Can you maybe check on Cheedo? Or ask Furiosa to?”

“Course,” he promised. When she went back into the kitchen, he stuffed his feet back into his boots and went onto the front porch. Cheedo was in the street. He leaned over the railing and watched as she dropped - threw, really - something onto the pavement. It rolled away, it’s wheels squeaking. A skateboard. He straightened, interested, and then trotted down the stairs and across the lawn.

For a few minutes she ignored him, just skateboarding up and down the darkening street. On the other side of the road, he could see people moving in the empty house and the sounds of work were clear enough - saws and the pound of hammers. They did echo like gunfire, just like Furiosa had said. He put his hands in his pockets and jiggled his keys. There were a few coins in there, too, some screws, and a couple of small wenches, and it was satisfying hearing them all clink and clank. Didn’t own a lot, but that was alright. He started to hum a little, too, one of Capable’s songs, and was almost at the end of it when Cheedo rolled up to where he was waiting on the curb.

“I was right, right?” she asked, but kept on going before he could answer, “I mean, about it not being any of her business. Like, do you want her to know about you?”

Nux shook his head. Savannah had asked him a shitload of questions in the car. “Think she really wants to put all that on the air? How’s the class?” he asked, changing the subject. He knew she’d been taking a class on writing scripts. “Write a blockbuster?”

Cheedo tried to jump off the curb. The board flipped around and she landed hard on the sidewalk, and she had to hop a few times to keep from falling over. “No. I don’t know. I suck at writing. There are so many things I want to do, but then I can’t figure out how to do it. My teacher keeps saying that it’s just because I’m young, but that sounds like such bull. I mean, I saw a lot. With Joe. I did a lot. She probably doesn’t mean anything. She just thinks I’m a teenager.”

She got back on the skateboard and wobbled by him. “Everyone treats me like a kid!

“And Angharad’s still in the hospital. And everyone’s always busy with school. And Dag’s being all whatever.” She came back around in a loop, going faster this time. “And you know what else? There are these guys doing construction or whatever by the bus stop, and they’re there standing around whenever I get out of class.” Cheedo kicked the board up again, and this time it landed on the curb, but after a foot or so she slid back down.

“Getting better!”

“Want to try?”

There had to be something else say to her, but Nux’s brain just spun its wheels. He rubbed the back of his neck and then nodded. “Sure!”

Cheedo shoved it and it rolled over to him; Nux stopped it with his foot and considered the skateboard for a second before climbing on it. Primitive looking thing. Still sort of cool. Standing on it was harder than it looked. Super fucking wobbly and he had to hold out his arms to balance his weight. How the hell did Cheedo wheel the thing around without falling the fuck off? She laughed and shouted instructions and he actually managed to get the thing to move a little. Stupid as fuck, a board without even the simplest motor - at least a bicycle had parts to it.

“Oh fuck!” He managed to yell before he fell off it and the board flew off down the street toward Cheedo. She pushed it back to him as Nux laughed and then tried again. Once he was on it and pretty sure he wasn’t going to flip off onto his ass, he said, “So the construction guys, they bothering you?”

She nodded but then shrugged too. “It’s stupid. I’ve heard way worse.”

“They yell shit at you?”

“Cat-calling, yeah. It’s stupid,” she said again. “It just makes me mad, you know? Assholes. But I’m fine.”

Nux came to a rolling stop so he could take a better look at her. He asked skeptically, “You sure?”

“It’s just - I don’t want anyone to worry about me. So don’t tell Capable about this, ok?”

A secret from Capable, that was a shitty preposition. Although he frowned at it, he also gave Cheedo a nod. It was clearly bothering the hell out of her - Had to be scary. Had to hurt. “Want me to take care of them?”

“No!” Cheedo crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. “If I wanted to make a big deal about it, I’d tell Furiosa.”

The offer had come out before he’d really thought about it. Whatever shit she’d been through didn’t change that - She was a kid and she needed protection. Fuck she was so young, just a pup. Fucking Joe, who got into everything and ruined it, a pollution so deep that Nux hadn’t even realized it was there. He stepped off the skateboard and caught it with his boot. “Alright,” he said placatingly, holding up his hands. “How about I give you my number? You don’t feel like waiting for the bus, give me a call and I’ll pick you up. Alone. No crew, promise.”

“Yeah.” Cheedo scooped her long hair up and tied it back into a ponytail. With it out of her face, he could see her start to smile. “Yeah. That works. Cool. Thanks, Nux.”

They exchanged numbers; now he had another name in his list of contacts. Nux grinned down at the little screen. Once his phone was safely tucked back in his pocket, he tried another loop on the skateboard. And sucked at it. She laughed and took the board back - Cheedo was miles ahead of him and he cheered when she almost made her jump again.

“I want to get my nose pierced,” she yelled as she flew past him. “Eyebrows too!”

“Don’t get a chain to connect them - Fastest way to lose a fight!”

“I’d be so bad ass then!” When she whizzed by him again, she stuck out her tongue and flipped up her middle fingers. After a few more circles, she jumped off it and kicked it up, then rested the board over her shoulder like it was a baseball bat. She kept talking about piercings, tossing out other possibilities. “I like the ones up here, at the top of the ear. Maybe a ring?”

Nux rubbed at his earlobes, considering. The War Boys in his rank didn’t have piercings; like he’d said, something like was a bullseye. Still… “Pretty shine, getting holes punched in your skin. Do you need to go somewhere to get it done?”

“Dag can do it with a needle and some ice.”

“No shit?” He’d figured there was some sort of gun for it, like tattoos.

“Yeah. She said she’d do it for me. Maybe she won’t now.”

“I don’t think she’s mad at you,” he said gently. “Maybe worried.”

Cheedo tossed the skateboard unto the grass. “Yeah.”

“Just Savannah piss you off? What Dag said… about not being into guys - Didn’t bother you?”

She crossed her arms again, frowning. “Course not. We already knew that. Besides, it’s fine. I just don’t want her to - Nevermind.”

Nux didn’t push that. “Hey, want to see what Furiosa’s up to?”

They clomped up the steps to the house. The frame and layout was the same as Capable's house: skeleton that would be a front porch, a staircase by the front door and rooms on other side. Only some of the windows were in, other ones were boarded up. No lights up either, just lanterns on pieces of furniture scattered across the rooms. There was a table with tools scattered across it - even more kinds than he had at the garage - and stained coffee mugs, worn paperback manuals, and large unrolled drawings. The air was dry with wood dust, but it was a good smell, sort of earthy and almost sweet. Not like Gas Town, not like the garage.

The Vuvalini pointed them to the back of the house and he followed Cheedo toward the kitchen. When she paused at the door frame, she glanced briefly over her shoulder at him and whispered. "One sec -"

She whipped out her phone in silence and held it quickly up. In the screen he could see the subject of her picture: Furiosa and Max under the sink. It was mostly just their legs visible, their boots out and braced against the dusty floor.

It didn’t take long for Furiosa to realize they were there and she eased herself free, passing a wrench to Max to keep working. Nux and Cheedo shared a look but wisely kept their mouths shut. She led them up the stairs to an old bathroom, then gave them instructions and a big ass sledge hammer. He’d busted through walls before and torn up shit, but this was miles away from the War Boys’ mayhem, even though he was still following a boss’ order.

After hauling out the toilet, sink, and pieces of cabinet out of the house, they were done for the night. As he tossed pieces of the shitty wood with satisfying crashes into the dumpster parked in the driveway, his eyes fell on the Interceptor - Max’s car. Cheedo stayed in the house with the Vuvalini - she was safe there - so Nux was free to drop off the gloves and mask and check the beauty out.

He made a loop around the car, whistling at the state of the frame. Busted for sure, but still a beauty, just waiting to be made shine again. A furtive glance around - just Stega and Val chatting down the street at one of the trailers - and then Nux popped the hood.

“V8,” he swore to himself. Eight-cylinder v-shaped engine - faster than a V6, smoother than a V12, and a hell of a power source for the Interceptor. Some genius had modified it to add a supercharger through the hood. Glory. No wonder cops could run them down.

“That’s mine.”

Furiosa and Max had come out of the house and were walking over. Max’s low grumble seemed more annoyed than full on angry, so Nux just glanced up with a grin.

“Beaut! Ford Falcon, right? Massage out all these dents and the lines’ll be as smooth as mother’s milk.” A nice way to put it. Banged up and filthy, the thing needed a head to tailpipe make-over. The body of the car was a piece of art - or would be once someone cleaned it up.

“Thing’s barely street legal,” Furiosa said, chuckling. She had taken off her flannel shirt and was wiping sweat and grime off her shoulders and arm. Strong as hell - Maybe even more so than the time Nux had seen her take down Prime. “Not bad, being a cop. Get all the fun tools.”

Max was still looking at him with a pinched, suspicious expression, so Nux added. “Always been a revhead. Cars are my thing. Were, maybe.”

The cop came over slowly but moved around the car instead of standing next to Nux. “Were,” he repeated in a mumble.

“Yeah. I was obsessed as a pup.”

There was that limp, a drag in the way Max moved his right leg. Nux closed the hood, pressing down hard to make sure it clicked closed. With all of the dents in the chassis, it was hard to make it lie flush. The cop ignored Nux’s raised eyebrows.

“Now though - Been thinking about going to university,” Nux continued. How many times had he thought that? Maybe he meant it - Maybe he wasn’t just blowing smoke. Nux paused to see if the cop would challenge him.

“I think you can do it. Hope you can,” Furiosa said to Nux as she watched Max.

Who furrowed his brows and made a half-shrug movement. “Hm.”

“Don’t think so?” Nux pressed. “What were you doing when you were my age?”

Max climbed into the Interceptor. Sort of fell, really - The car was too low for his bad leg. Glancing at Furiosa again, to Nux it looked like she wanted to say more. Or she wanted Max to see more. And Max did look back up at her. Third fucking wheel, that’s what Nux felt like, remembering the two of them under the sink together. He eased himself away, moving closer to the house. But Max started up the engine without saying anything else to Furiosa. As the car drove away, Nux heard Furiosa’s heavy steps move back across the street to the Vuvalini.

The grass was soft under his feet, not like the gravel at the garage. He walked around the house, hands in his pockets again. Some Boys kept a gun in the big pockets of their cargo pants. Slit had knives tucked into most of his, armed practically to the teeth. Nux’s fingers did another inventory of all his stuff and then found what he’d been looking for: Capable’s guitar pick. Rubbing it between his fingers as he walked, he looped toward the kitchen in the back of the house where light and voices were spilling out of the back door.

Who do you love?
I hope it's me
I've been a changing
As you can plainly see
I felt the joy and I learned about the pain
That my momma said
If I should choose to make a part of me
Surely strike me dead

The song erupted in loud laughter and then the door swung open and Dag hopped down the stairs, still humming to herself. When she spotted him, she waved him over.

“More chores,” she explained as she bent down. “Cheedo didn’t water these guys, right?” She pulled a hose out from under the steps - There were a couple of big ass spiders that popped out too, scuttling and horrific and Nux reached instinctively for the gun he didn’t carry anymore. Dag didn’t even flinch as they ran off. She dragged the hose behind her toward a garden in the back.

“Things are growing good,” he said and she grinned.

“Tasting good too. Some of the carrots were in the stew.”

She pointed out the different plants, pulling a couple of leaves for him to try, then a couple of beans, even offered him a flower that he tucked behind his ear to give to Capable. He walked carefully behind Dag, but even so his boots left big prints in the soft dirt.

“Never really had any of these,” he admitted. “Where we are in Gas Town, definitely can’t grow anything out there. Don’t even know where to buy vegetables. There’s just McDonalds.”

“A food desert.”

“Desert,” he repeated. “Yeah. Guess you can’t really grow stuff in a city.”

“Not in Gas Town,” she agreed. “Not unless there’s some serious clean-up. And I mean government-level decontamination. But there are gardens in the city. I’m helping get money for them, in fact. Val’s been pointing me toward some grants and we might do some fundraising.”

“Shine.”

“Always liked plants, but I never thought I’d have so many.” She sprayed one fondly, then bent down to water it closer to the soil. “Wish I could cover the whole city in them. Bury us all in blossoms.”

“Are they like your babies?” he teased and Dag tossed her hair back with a laugh.

“That’d make me a cannibal, yeah? But I like them. I’m a green witch.” She had more tattoos on her fingers than Capable, and when she wiggled those fingers at him, he almost believed that she was some sort of magic. She continued as she stood up, “In fact, check this out: I’m going to cast a spell. Bellum puer aqua. Ubi oh ubi est maem sububi. Wingardium leviosa. Pedo Mellon a Minno.”

And then she sprayed him with the hose.

He hadn’t fucking been expecting that. Got him right in the face before he threw up his hands and jumped back with a startled curse. He nearly slipped and crushed her rows of baby tomatoes as he darted backwards, but Dag didn’t let up.

“Alakazam! Presto chango! Hocus pocus!” she laughed as she chased after him.

“Fuck! Capable! Help!”

Faster than her, he dashed across the lawn and toward the stairs to the kitchen. Capable came out onto the steps, her mouth parted in surprise, but that was all she had a chance to do before he grabbed her and swung around her. She laughed but let him hang on, even though he was wet enough that a pool was forming under their feet.

“Don’t say I never do anything for you, Cape,” Dag called from the yard.

“Nux! You’re drenched!”

“And dripping,” said Toast as she scooted away.

“Come on, sweetheart,” Capable said, still laughing. She caught his arm and led him out of the kitchen and toward the stairs. “Let’s get you some dry clothes.”

Her warm fingers tugged at his shirt and they pulled it off together, boots were shucked at the front door. Capable leaned forward, sliding her hands up his bare chest - so warm, so smooth - until they met behind his neck, and then pulled him down for a kiss. Wet pants forgotten, she molded herself against him. Her hair fell across his shoulders and he groaned at the soft slide of it - Opening his mouth to her made her lick hotly against his lips.

He swung her up into his arms and held her against his wet chest. Capable squealed and giggled, but her arms stayed around his neck. He shouldn't thought of this before, should carry her everywhere so he could feel her whole body, the press of the swell of breast, hip against him. He took the stairs two at a time as she giggled and then shoved the door to her bedroom open with his knee.

"Hold on," she said, halting him completely. "Shower."

A flush of heat rushed through him, fueling up everything that had stopped at her command. He bent down to bury his face at the crux of her shoulder and throat, kissed there, brought her up to kiss her smiling mouth.

At the bathroom she slid from his arms and then tugged him inside. There was almost no place with both of them in there, but that made it even better, nowhere for his arms to go but back around her, his knee but to slide between her legs, nothing to do but press against her. Cupping her face he turned it up to him and kissed her, hard and hot.

They locked the door behind them.

---

Take your time we’re lining up the buttons
I’m holding on to all of its strings
There’s dreams of this in all my cities, oh!
We go hand in hand
We fit back to back
Just cover me up, some fine moon
I never want to wake up it would be too soon
One day at a time
Never need to rush
Just follow me now, going to take you home
- “All of my Cities” by the Ruffled Feathers

Chapter Text

Oh the songs
People will sing for hope
And for the ones that have been gone for too long
Oh the things
People will do for the ones that they love
- “Coeur d'Alene” by The Head and the Heart

---

The thing about Nux was that there were so many things about Nux. She couldn’t stop touching him, fingers playing down his skin and evoking sounds as sweet as any song. First it was just her hands, but then her hungry mouth met his skin. She kissed his throat, shaved smooth and silky, then the angle of his jaw, finally his mouth again. The beauty of him, it was a magic spell that ensnared her or a drug that left her seeing stars or some song so catchy that it trapped her in it.

She wished she dressed up for him - or maybe she wished she was naked already so she could press her overheating body against his chest, still cool from his impromptu shower.

That muscular chest, which rose quickly, more quickly as she ran her hands it. The fine dark hair on his chest was soft under her palms, springing crisply back when she playfully ruffled it. Watching him respond to her, Capable was filled with so much emotion - god, so much desire and so much joy - that it bubbled up through her and she started laughing around her kisses. She could feel his lips curl up too when he kissed her back. Since they were entwined, she could feel all of his body’s responses.

Her nipples were hard and her bra scratched at the sensitive buds. “Too many clothes,” she managed to say, whine really, and Nux huffed a low laugh. When she raised her arms he lifted her shirt. When it was finally off she reached to the clasp of her bra, but then Nux wrapped himself around her, pinning the damned bra between them.

“Your hair is so shine, Capable,” he murmured into it, his hands buried there, too.

Impatiently she found the top of his pants, felt the line of curling hair that led from his navel downwards. Under her nimble fingers the button and zipper were undone; he groaned low and rough as she pushed the hem down his narrow hips.

“Can I touch you, Nux?”

“Fuck yeah, Capable, please -”

No underwear still, so as soon as she pushed his pants down from his narrow hips, he was gloriously naked. Without that thick layer between them, his cock sprang out. She’d felt his cock before but had she really seen it? Seen all of him? Those questions were answered with a long stare - Capable’s eyes traveled down along with her hands and he was so handsome, even his cock, that if there’d been any worry at all, it was burned away by the incalescence of her desire.

She palmed the head of it, moving carefully over his foreskin, and slid down the shaft with a loose grip. She kissed his open mouth again and then gave his cock a squeeze - and when his cock throbbed in her hand, she looked down again -

And started to giggle.

“What?” he asked, eyes flying open.

“Nothing! You’re so sexy and shine, Nux. It’s just - I love you! Your cock’s great!”

His groan turned into a laugh.

Kicking through their clothes, somehow they made it the few steps to the tub without leaving each other’s arms. Nux held her up as she leaned over, wildly flailing toward the shower faucet until she finally found it and turned it on. All frantic energy, kissing and gasping and hands roving everywhere. Nux’s came to her underwear, snapped the elastic and then waited.

She dropped down on the toilet seat and he leaned over her - more kissing, how many times had they kissed at this point? Thousands or even millions, one to make up for every second they ever were apart - and then scooped her up, one hand under her ass as the other pulled her underwear down. Where they sort of got stuck on her socks. She still had socks on. This never happened in movies or romance novels. There was a hole in one heel and they didn’t really match; she was about to apologize for it, maybe grumble about losing socks in the wash, but Nux pulled socks and underwear off without a single comment and then his big hands were traveling up, up, up from her toes to calves to knees to thighs, and then the apology on the tip of her tongue turned into a whimper.

They fumbled their way into the shower. He knocked over some shampoo bottles, she nearly put her hand into one of Dag’s plants on the window sill, but they fit perfectly together in the small tub. And then Nux took her into his arms and even the steam couldn’t get between them. They swayed a little bit, almost like dancing. The slide of his hard body against hers was so impossibly good that Capable couldn’t imagine it ending. But at the same time is that desperate need to rush to the end of it.

She’d meant to spend time on him like when he’d gone down on her, but once they were both in the shower, all those plans were washed away. Aided by the hot water, her hands glided over him until she had his cock between her palms again. And again she looked at him - didn’t make herself, it wasn’t a challenge she had to overcome - Capable wanted to see all of him, see what he could do and what she could make him do, and to memorize it, feast on him as though she could ever be sated by him. Ever since that first night in Miss Giddy’s bar, Nux had never been far from her thoughts, like a missing piece that was now come home.

“I love you,” she said, and got water in her mouth. So she let her touches say the rest: brushing along the line of his chest muscles, following the soft hair from his navel, stroking at the silky skin over his hard thighs.

He leaned into her, a weight heavy enough to send them stumbling over the slippery bottom to lean against the wall. His big hands against her back protected her spine from the tiles. She gripped him back: one arm around his waist and fingers brushing over the curve of his ass, and her other hand curled over his cock. And she stroked.

They found their rhythm immediately. Nux rocked against her and Capable stroked up his length. He felt hotter than the water that streamed over her hand. Bending her head down, she watched the head of his cock flush a darker pink as her fingers moved over it. Gorgeous and big and hard and -

She dropped to her knees and kissed his flat stomach. Kissed the smooth skin of his upper thigh. Squinted through the water and then leaned forward again to kiss the underside of his cock. Just her lips on him, and then her tongue, too, running over the thick vein there. And then she pulled his erection down and slid it into her mouth.

The saltiness of his pre-cum dissolved as she rolled her tongue over the head of his cock. Nux’s hands dug into her hair, not to hold her but to hold himself still. She could feel the muscles in his legs flex as he worked to keep himself in control. Over the rush of water she could hear his murmured words spill out, “Love you, Capable, love you, oh fuck you feel so good - Fuck, I love you - Don’t stop, I fucking -”

Soaked already, and soaking; she almost let him go so she could touch herself. The noises he made, the strength of him as he moved, how fucking good it all felt -

Suddenly he grabbed her under her arms and pulled her up. He crushed her against him, his lips covering her mouth. His cock pulsed between their slick stomachs and she grabbed it again for a few more frantic strokes before Nux came, hips stuttering against her. His long eyelashes were black against his flushed cheeks and his teeth on his lower lips, and he was so shine that Capable ground against him in desperation. She pulled on his hand, tugging it fitfully toward her crotch.

“Nux, please -”

His long fingers came to rest on her pelvis, stroking there, while his other arm looped around her to keep her close. “Love you,” he said again, his voice husky. “You’re so chrome like this. You’re hair’s like fire and you’re all wet. And the way you’re moving…”

“Nux -”

“The way you made me feel -”

“Please -”

“That’s what you want.”

“I want you.”

Finally his fingers pushed down through her pubic hair toward her clit. She arched toward him, trying to reach his lips - But all she got was another mouthful of water as he ducked away and fell to his knees.

There was more slipping, more snorting water as they both laughed, fumbling around each other until her back was against the wall. Places reverses, roles reversed - now it was his mouth on her sensitive skin. She spread her legs and his fingers spread her labia lips and then finally, fucking finally, she felt his tongue on her clit. Bent over him, her hands roamed over his head, through his soft hair, down to his shoulders.

It was fucking incredible. Toes curling, eyes closing as the intensity of the pleasure that shook through her - He was strong enough to hold her up when her knees shuddered and went weak. Strong and gorgeous. When she recovered, Capable tilted his chin up. Water ran down his cheekbones and over his smiling mouth; his eyes were as big and blue as the sky.

Sitting squished together in the tub, they grabbed bottles within reach and washed each other off. With more care and more thoroughly than she tended to be, Nux washed her hair. She felt him curl a tendril of it around his finger like a ring. And then she washed his, Nux bending his head down so she could work shampoo into the soft bristles. They dried each other off, too, and stood side by side at the sink as they brushed their teeth. Framed by the mirror, it was a goofy picture of them grinning through mouthfuls of toothpaste.

It was still early - she could still put in some studying or some practicing or help Furiosa or talk with her sisters - but instead Capable lead Nux back to her bedroom. They had to make a mad dash, naked with their clothes in their arms, but they made it in without scandalizing her family.

Autumn was coming to Citadel City. Toast liked the window open so the cool night air could sweep over them and she could cuddle deeper under more layers of blankets. The breeze that ruffled the curtain felt damn good against Capable’s still flushed skin and she poised there, leaning on the bureau between the two beds and letting the air dry away the last clinging droplets.

Nux’s palm followed the arch of her spine before sliding over to her breast. Her nipples were hardening from the cold and when he thumbed one, her whole body quivered at the sensation. With a giggling yelp she hopped backwards. But just a few steps - then she pounced on him, tackling him down into her bed. He gasped a laugh and twisted to kiss her, then twisted away as her fingers found his nipples and gave them both a pinch.

But it was a wrestling match that didn’t last very long. She pushed her wet hair aside and snuggled up under his arm. He rolled over, half on top of her, so she was secure against the night. No sheet between them this time.

“Thanks for coming over,” she said sleepily and he made a low, pleased noise.

“Thanks for letting me stay.”

She hadn’t told Nux, but she’d started taking birth control pills. Toast had come to the clinic as added protection, and they’d gotten another slew of STD tests as well. It was completely unnecessary, but she’d still felt relieved at the results. She really was clean. She really was fine. There was nothing of Joe still remaining. She kissed Nux's jaw and then rubbed her nose on the bit of stubble there.

“What time do you have to be back in Gas Town?” The mention of War Boys was a bitter end to a sweet night, but she couldn’t help but worry about him. She lay her head on his chest and traced the lines of his impressive tattoo.

“I’ll go back when you go to class. Can give you a ride.”

She had work in the afternoon and she wanted to visit Angharad before school. Capable rubbed her face against Nux and then sighed. All she wanted to do was stay with him. Vacation couldn’t come soon enough

They talked about Angharad some more; she didn’t have much news for him, but what she what she had was good: Angharad was responding more as she fought her way out of the coma. Baby steps for sure, but still big achievements. Capable confessed her own admittedly fanciful hope, that Angharad would be with them when they did the march.

“I want all my family there,” she said. She raised herself up onto her elbow and gazed down at him. Nux’s lids were low over his sleepy eyes, but she could still read the love there. He smiled and pulled her down for another kiss. There were so many more things to say - they could talk for hours and she still wanted more time with him - but her limbs were heavy and Nux was warm, so she fell asleep instead.

---

Hold you close, you feel part of my skin
In the morning I’ll map your palms again
And on your back I’ll trace this story
Here today the lines are everything
- “Plans” by Dustin Tebbutt

Chapter Text

There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth
- “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan

---

Nux compared the two of them to a well-oiled machine; Capable preferred thinking of them as a duet. Teasing each other over the analogies turned into tickling, turned into kissing, turned into her hands running up under his shirt. But all of that came after the long conversations they shared, working through everything that’d been happening in the garage. In those few quiet, precious hours they had alone, he told her everything while she stared into the depths of his blue eyes. Together. They were working together.

And Angharad’s message was spreading over Citadel City. Like a heavy rain, it was washing away the old grime and putting out old pyres. It was working into the cracks, trickling down into the deepest crevices. And it was going to flush out everything.

But she still worried when his taillights disappeared into the darkness, and she wished she could send him off with more than just a kiss. Furiosa had repeatedly refused to get involved, but Capable still hoped the former boss would heed the call once more. Capable knew that Furiosa was as angry as the rest of them; it wasn’t apathy that kept Furiosa out of the fray. But that anger had turned inward.

Angharad had said that there was no going back. If only Joe could see them now, Capable thought wryly. She felt safe enough to think about him now; no longer in danger of summoning his ghost. The memories were no longer invasive, no longer monsters.

The War Boys had to be dismantled, and not just as a posthumous middle finger to Joe Moore. The night he died had been a fitting end to his violence - But… There was always a but. Always more. Seeds had said as much, and Capable reflected again on the older woman’s philosophy. It wasn’t enough that she and her sisters had gotten out - They’d left behind so much on their quest for their own freedom. Like Nux and the other War Boys trapped in the machine of brutality that Joe had built. And Savannah, and all the other students at CCU who could be caught in gang wars. And Max, called at in the night to wade through the bodies of the dead and dying. Joe might have built a war machine, but they were building, too. And she had her own machine, and just like Woody Guthrie, hers could destroy fascism. With her guitar in her arms, she felt like she could take on the world.

Everything was crowding together - finals, planning, work, busking, Nux, and of course Angharad, still, always. There was also Capable’s birthday, marked with a star on the calendar hung on their fridge. It was after finals, thankfully. Not that she’d made any plans for it. Her first birthday in their house on Green Place. Wasn’t that enough? She didn’t really need to anything more than that. Home with her family - That was special enough. She tried to keep herself from brooding, deliberately sitting on Toast’s bed with her to study for sociology, playing guitar for Seeds as the older woman worked on her motorcycle, and then joining Cheedo and Dag as they watered the garden.

The three of them were out making mud in the rows of tomatoes when Capable’s phone buzzed in her pocket. She assumed it was Nux, but Dag took hers out too - A group text then. That realization was followed immediately by a burst of anxiety in the moment took for her to grab her phone and open her messages, Capable’s mind ran through a dozen possibilities, ranging from from the amazing to apocalyptic.

Mari and Seeds. The hospital. Angharad. She’d opened her eyes.

There was a second of silent awe and then the three of them started jumping. And shrieking, loud enough that it echoed back to them like a whole chorus of cheers. Dag grabbed Capable tightly, enveloping her in the sweet scent of her perfume and the damp earthiness of her garden. Cheedo’s long arms surrounded them both to squeeze them into a big, messy hug.

“Come on!” she said as Capable and Dag continued to hyperventilate. “Let’s go! Is Toast still at school? You guys get ready - I’ll find Furiosa.”

“And the apprentice becomes the master,” Dag laughed as she let Cheedo hustle them into the house.

Furiosa was still covered in paint and wood dust when she started up the truck. They tore out of Green Place and into the city. When they saw Toast on her bike waiting at the curb for them, Furiosa had barely stopped before Toast was flinging her bike into the pack and climbing into the back seat. The rest of the ride was nearly a blur - Capable’s brain spinning too fast to focus on anything other than getting there - getting to Angharad. And Furiosa seemed to be driven with that same need. They parked and Furiosa was the first one out, the first one to make it to the hospital, the first one at the elevator, pounding at the button.

They met Mari in the hallway. She caught Furiosa’s arm and shook her hand, a congratulations on this new stage of life. “Seeds is still with her, talking up a storm to that poor girl.”

“So she’s really awake?” Cheedo asked excitedly.

Remorse softened Mari’s smile. “Part of her is. Come on. Come see for yourselves.”

Dag caught Capable’s hand and weaved their fingers together. Their tattoos aligned for that moment, the sigils pressed together like Dag was casting another of her spells. And as though it were magic, Capable did feel stronger.

The little room had never felt more claustrophobic. Too cold to have the window open, the air was stale and the scents of the hospital swirled around them. And Angharad was in the center of it all.

“Let’s sit her up.”

“Yeah, lift her up,” Capable agreed, too stunned to think on her own.

A flurry of hands, everyone lifting Angharad together. Angharad watched them all, but her expression was one of mild confusion - no real recognition, no gratitude, no spark. But she was watching. They clustered around, Cheedo and Dag half on the bed, and even Toast and Furiosa leaning as close as they could along the metal bars of the cot. Capable rubbed at Angharad’s hand, as though she could coax more life into the long fingers. Over the mouthpiece for her feeding tube, Angharad’s eyes were heavy-lidded but clearly open. And following the movement of the women as they arranged themselves around the bed.

It was a paradox: it felt like a thousand years since that fucking night in the stolen van, racing down the highway; it felt like the two of them had been joking about baby names only a day before. If she could just hear Angharad’s voice again… There were so many things to show Angharad that even listing them was overwhelming. She had to see all the houses on Green Place, of course, and the gardens and lawns in the back full of Dag’s trees and flowers and birds. And Capable’s guitars and the ridiculous old case. And the CDs they made, as glorious as platinum albums. And their rooms, decorated the ways they wanted with doors they could close and lock. The whole house - their own castle, their own nest, their own sanctuary. And the city and all of Toast’s books and Cheedo’s photographs and Nux’s car. And Nux.

Her heart was in her throat, filling her mouth so all she could do was murmur soft noises like Max made when words failed him. Oh god, having Nux sing with her for Angharad - or sing with them both on either side of her, standing at the front of a stage for all of Citadel City to see. To hear.

Not just a sister, Angharad had been her whole world. She’d protected and provided for them, then taught and led them; Angharad had shone bright in the darkness. And shown them their own brightness. In the Vault she walked in front to lead the way through the grasping hands and gawking faces; when they went back to the apartment, she followed in last to make sure they made it in off the street safely. Even when she got pregnant and her ankles got swollen or she spent the morning vomiting up the late-night dinner from the night before. Angharad was slowed but never stopped. No matter what Joe did to her. Or any of them. Never broken. Never bowed.

Filled with those memories, Capable straightened. It had been Angharad’s determination that had fueled her search for an escape from Joe. He should have feared her instead of dismissing her; she was the queen of the city in ways he could never comprehend. Even Furiosa, who had barely glanced at Angharad the first time they met, had been won over.

She moved her eyes away from Angharad’s pale face, toward Furiosa’s. The other woman’s brows were in a low, straight line over her narrowed eyes. But there was a shine in those eyes, the neon lights of the room reflecting off a sheen of moisture. And her lips were parted, mouth open ever so slightly as she failed to bite back her own murmurs of encouragement. The lines in her forehead and around her mouth were more pronounced, like scars on her face, proof of the agony that she’d gone through, too.

Voices dragged Capable out of her contemplation.

“When can we take out the feeding tube?”

“She should exercise more, get her body working again.”

“Angharad, it’s going to be winter soon! You don’t want to miss out on that!”

“I think she’s getting tired. Angharad, are you ready to go to sleep?”

“She can sleep in a coma?”

“Yeah. She’s in a persistent vegetative state, not a coma - She’s responding to stuff.”

“Toast, you still have all that information on the scales, right? There was one… Glasgow or something?”

“It’s all at home.”

Quietly they stood and collected their jackets. Capable was the last to let Angharad go.

“Come on, girl,” Seeds said as she touched Capable’s shoulder. “I think we all need to get some sleep.”

But once they piled into Furiosa’s truck, the quiet exhaustion vanished. It was a noisy car ride home with everyone’s hopes and plans filling the car. With Seeds in the front seat, Capable and her sisters were squeezed into the back. Capable started texting Nux, a long message full of exclamation point and smiling faces, trying to keep her elbows in so she wouldn’t bang into Toast and Cheedo. Toast was on her phone too, busy scrolling through something, and one Capable’s other side, Cheedo was tucked under Dag’s arm.

In a pause in the jubilation, Capable called out to Furiosa, “We’re going to need a bigger car once Angharad’s out!”

Four they could squeeze into the back of the truck, but one more and and they’d be on each other’s laps. And forget getting Nux in with them. She almost giggled aloud at that, thinking about jamming him in too, his long legs folded up and maybe her on his lap again, arms around her to hold her close. It was easy to daydream about rides in the summer, off to the beach together, everyone singing. Or her at the wheel, taking them all for a spin around the city.

The lights in Seeds’ trailer and the houses under construction were visible as they turned onto Green Place. In the pools of light she could see Dag’s plants, thriving even with autumn in full force. There seemed to be more lights in more windows now - Not just the Vuvalini’s houses, but more of them down the way, on other streets.

“Glory of a night,” she yelled out the window as they passed some of the Vuvalini and their bikes.

Cheedo and Dag laughed, and in the front, Furiosa shook her head.

At their house, they flopped out of the truck and made their way inside. Capable caught up to Toast and squeezed her quickly on the shoulder. “So where do you think Angharad should stay? Stairs might too be hard for her to begin with. Can we convert the TV room into a bedroom? Or should we try to design a better room in one of the new houses?”

“Ask Furiosa.”

Capable slowed, fell back a step. Toast’s tone was terse; whatever had been bothering Toast over the past few weeks had sharpened her. Capable ran her hands over her hair - under her damp palms it was even messier than usual, getting tangled around and sticking to her fingers.

“No ideas at all?” she tried teasing. “That’s not the Toast I know. After finals, how about we start researching home care?”

“I already started taking notes. But we have plenty of time.”

“Nothing wrong with being optimistic, right?”

Toast slowed at that. She didn’t stop, but there was a hesitation before she unlocked the front door. “You need to be careful, Capable. Don’t want your optimism to bite you in the ass.”

Behind them came the voices of the other women, tired but still excited. Dag poked at Capable’s back to get her to move out of the doorway and they followed the light into the kitchen. Looking up from the table were Valkyrie and Max, both of their frowns turning into hopeful expressions. Max stood up slowly when Furiosa came in; Capable studied her again and yep, there was definitely some spark there in her eyes. And Max’s gentle expression, almost bashful under all of their stares, held a glow of its own.

Maybe they could double date, Capable thought giddily.

They crowded around the table, even Toast. Cheedo put the kettle on and started up the coffee maker. Angharad’s name filled the room - Furiosa explaining her status to Val, Cheedo and Dag catching Max up, and Capable adding her own reports. Seeds and Mari stayed in the doorway to answer some questions, but then they waved and clomped out into the night. Inside, the rest of their voices finally started to lull.

Exhaling a sigh, Valkyrie shook her head. “This is incredible. For her to show such progress after all these months….”

Furiosa crossed her arms over her chest as she gazed down at Val. “I hear a ‘but’ in there.”

“Just thinking about the case.”

Capable caught Dag’s eye before Dag turned to Cheedo, wrapping her arm around her sister’s waist to pull her close. Lawsuits. Testimonies. Trials. Valkyrie had been compiling all she could against Mayor Eater and Police Commissioner Kalashnikov, Joe’s closest associates. Angharad, the splendid favorite of all of them, had seen, heard, witnessed more than anyone else. It was no wonder Val wanted to include her in the case.

It struck Capable how everyone needed Angharad, even those who hadn’t met her. It almost made her into an icon, someone to appeal to. But Angharad was going to be more than a martyr, Capable swore to herself.

“You really think you can take them down?” Toast asked.

Val glanced at Max first, but he said nothing in defense of his boss. “I know I can. I will.”

“The court’s just as fucked up as the rest,” Toast pressed. “None of the charges against Joe ever stuck. What do you have on the mayor and commissioner?”

She’d pulled her long, dark hair into a bun and her face, though wiped of make-up and lined from fatigue, was resolute. “They can’t dodge forever. I haven’t been sitting on my ass all these years. If the courts won’t do it, then we’ll try them in the papers. The courts don’t need to legitimize anything - People just need to see the truth.”

“Trial by newspaper,” Toast said musingly. “Whatever it takes, I guess.” The chair squeaked against the floor as she stood and ignoring the curious looks, Toast ducked out of the kitchen. In a few moments she was back with her bag. “Another weapon for your arsenal, if you’re interested.”

They all leaned forward to watch as she pulled something from her backpack, put it on the table.

A cell phone.

Confused silence turned to shock as they recognized it. Cheedo reached for it first and pressed the power button. The screen stayed black but they didn’t need that confirmation - They knew what it was. Whose it was. Angharad’s cell phone - their cell phone. The one that Joe had never found out about, the one autonomous connection to the outside world. The one that had gotten left behind in the chaos of the night they escaped.

“You went back into the Vault.” Capable didn’t need to ask, not with the proof sitting like a trophy on the table.

Their eyes met: Toast’s were flat, disinterested, looking through Capable like maybe she wasn’t even there. Toast nodded, and then, maybe to stem all of Capable’s words that were brewing in her throat, began to speak. “We need a cable so we can charge it. But I remember Angharad made at least four video recordings and six or so audio recordings. Are those admissible in court? There are pictures, too - documents, guns, drugs.”

Val picked it up, studying it for a moment before she put it safely into her briefcase. “I’ll back it up and give it back.”

“There’s more than evidence,” Cheedo said quietly. “Right? We took pictures of each other and stuff.”

Val reached over the table to cover Cheedo’s hand with her own. “I’ll give it back,” she said again. “I’ll get a cable in the morning and return it as soon as I can.”

“You went in alone?” Max’s question came out harsh and they all swiveled to look at him.

“I figured it’d be empty, and I was right. Getting the phone was easy - it was right where we left it.”

Furiosa’s prosthetic arm clicked against the table. “You went into War Boy territory, into the Vault, by yourself? What were you thinking?”

“Scab never went there and it was obvious that Rictus hadn’t reclaimed it. And we know that Joe never let the Boys in. Scoped it out, confirmed it was abandoned, went in, got the phone, and got out.”

“I expected something like this from Nux and Capable, but you, Toast?” Furiosa’s metal fingers clicked louder.

“It’s still under investigation,” Max added. “The police -”

“Practically left the doors wide open,” Toast cut in. “Besides, if they found this phone, what you think they’d do with it? We had to get to it first.”

“That was a risk you shouldn’t have taken alone.” Furiosa said stonily.

Toast snorted a sardonic laugh. “Alright. I’ll run all my plans by you first. Val, use it if you want to. If you don’t, give it to Cheedo.”

She stood up and squeezed through the chairs to go back into the living room.

“Toast,” Dag called and caught her elbow. “Come on, sit back down. Tells us about it. How’s it look inside?”

“We could take a field trip there,” Toast replied. “How about it, Max? Furiosa?” She sighed and ran her hands over her hair. It was shorter, neater, trimmed by Cheedo, and made her look stylishly sleek. She ruffled it then pressed it flat again. “It looks basically like it did before, just emptier. Nothing special. And now that we have the phone, there’s no reason to go back.”

This time no one tried to stop her as she left.

Again Capable felt like she was trapped in a warped timeline, one foot in the past, one foot in the present, her head floating in the ether somewhere, untethered. Nux had never tried to bring her into War Boy territory - it hadn’t even occurred to her to ask him. But Toast had done it, done more than any of them had conceived to do. She’s done more than Capable with her War Boy-boyfriend. Questions came like waves, like a deluge that flooded her brain. How had Toast done it? Biked? What had made her do it? What had she seen? Had there been other War Boys around? Had she done it at night? Snuck in like a thief?

Not a thief - the phone had been theirs. And thanks to Toast, it was theirs again.

The whistling kettle gave them something else to focus on, and for a few minutes they busied themselves with pushing around mugs and finding cleans spoons. It was Max who broke the silence at last.

“Well, good to hear about Angharad,” he offered as he accepted a mug of tea. Like most of their dishware, the mug was from a thrift store. I Survived Thunderdome! didn’t have a single chip in it. After a sip, he roused himself to add, “Thanks.”

Cheedo still had Angharad’s phone and was tracing her nail lightly over the black screen. “You should visit her with us.”

He ducked away from that suggestion. “Hm,” he mumbled.

“I think she’d like it.” Capable had to add that, though it came out weakly.

“Don’t like hospitals,” he offered as explanation. “Never did. And especially after - Hm.”

Even Capable knew enough to leave it at that. But she still searched his face, hoping for any observation to turn into illumination. Even with his hair in permanent disarray and all his clothes crumpled around him, they had all agreed that Max was a good-looking man. Sensitive face, particularly his lips. Despite his looks, despite his bravery, despite his gentleness, Max seemed to live a life of perpetual loneliness, almost a hermit in the expanse of the city. He hadn’t invited them back to his apartment since the night they stayed there after the crash - His privacy was some sort of protection.

“What happened wasn’t your fault, Max,” Furiosa said. Stated, really, just a piece of truth with no sentimentality with it. She crossed her arms over her chest as she studied him. “You can't take all the guilt for it and then refuse any forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness.” Max repeated the word with a grunt.

“Time to start thinking about changes. Hell, who knows. Maybe even we get some redemption.”

Dag and Cheedo looked at each other, then at Val, who was contemplating Max. Plans and plots, Capable thought with a frown. Every keeping their cards close. Again she wished Nux was with them, missing his honest, earnest eyes and easy smiles. “Look,” she said, slapping the table with open palms. “I’m sick of these insinuations. Val, even if you can’t use this phone in court, maybe it’ll give you some bargaining power.”

“Close-ups of your commissioner,” Dag added with a smirk at Max. “You know, we’re still not what side you’re on. Is that what you mean about forgiveness? Or redemption?”

“Upholding the law… used to be a righteous pursuit.” Max cleared his throat and rolled the mug between his big hands. He had blunt fingers, Capable thought as she watched him. Not like Nux. God, she wished he were here, warm and comforting around her.

“Yeah, don’t know about that, mate. Pretty sure you were always just armed assholes. Having a badge doesn’t really add all that much.”

“I know.”

Max’s answer was short, rough. No bullshitting, not that he ever did. But there was a certainty there that made even Val give him an approving nod.

“Well then what the hell are you doing in their uniform?” Dag flipped her hair - the dye was fading but it was still there, a color that Joe would’ve never allowed. She was wearing a denim jacket, a hand-me-down from one of the Vuvalini, and already had collected some patches and pins for it. Each one was a colorful statement in more ways than one and Dag leaned forward like she hoped Max would read them.

“It might come in useful,” Val answered for him. It made Max frown and grunt into his mug of tea.

Max carried a badge, Furiosa kept her hair cut War Boy-short. Remnants of whatever lives they’d had before, that they hadn’t been able to escape. None of them deserved what punishment they were putting themselves to. She thought about Toast again - Could that have been her motivation, too? Going to the Vault in spite of all the reasons not to? Capable sighed and pushed her chair away from the table. “I’m going up to talk to Toast. Night, guys. See you later, Max.”

Toast was on her bed, her books spread out almost in a complete circle around her. Capable leaned against the door, clicking it closed behind her, and tried to smile. “Hey. Are you ok? That was a hell of a bomb you dropped. I can’t believe you went back there. Do you want to talk about it? Did anything happen to you?”

“Nothing interesting. It was empty, Capable. Just dust and roaches and Joe’s shitty pictures.”

“I don’t think I could do it. Maybe with Nux. I don’t know - I’d probably try to burn it down.” Her gaze moved slowly through the cluttered comfort of their room. More books and more CDs were stacked on their bureau, and spilling out of one of the drawers was Nux’s shirt, which Capable had tossed aside as she’d gotten dressed that morning. She had some pictures of him now, too, taped onto the wall by her bed. Looking at Toast again, huddled up to make room for all of her papers, Capable pitied her. Capable and Nux, Cheedo and Dag - That left Toast by herself. She asked gently, “Are you sure you don’t want to talk? Not just about the Vault. About anything? You’ve been pretty distant for a while now.”

“Maybe I’m just difficult by nature.”

“You’re not! I know you’re not.” When there was no response to that, Capable exhaled a low, irritated sigh. “Is it school? Is it the guy you’ve been seeing? Are you still with him? Did you tell him about Joe? Or the Vault?”

Toast had opened a book but at that she let the cover fall closed. “I don’t have time to play twenty questions with you. I have to study. You might not give a shit about your grades, but I do.”

“Toast! Come on, I’m just worried about you.”

“Did you say you weren’t going to pry? I remember that conversation, even if you don’t.”

Anger and sadness churned together until she blurted out, “What the hell is going on with you?” The outburst left her drained and she moved quickly toward her sister to sit next to her on the bed. “Toast, I know something’s up. It was the Vault, wasn’t it? Going there - that had to be insane. Seeing all of Joe’s stuff… I get how that could fuck you up.”

She gently knocked her shoulder against Toast’s, but her sister’s stone face refused to budge.

“I’m not fucked up.”

“I didn’t say you were.” She frowned and looked down at Toast’s papers. She had her History 101 exam coming up, but she couldn’t consider even pretending to study for it. Not after their night. She didn’t know how Toast could, how she was able to compartmentalize it all. A few seconds of silence ticked by, then Capable tried again. “We sort of talked about this before, right? About facing the War Boys. So going back into their territory… Does that mean that you’ve changed your opinion on them?”

“No. They’re still a gang of fucking psychopaths.”

“Nux isn’t.”

Toast realized she’d crossed a line and held up her hands placatingly. But her eyes were still flat with cool indifference, separating her from the drama of the moment. “All he’s ever been is a War Boy. That’s all he’s ever known. That’s how he acts - That’s how he thinks. He might not mean to, but he’s going to hurt you. One way or the other.”

“So I should drop him because why? He’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me! He’s sweet and funny, and every time I’m with him, I fall in love with him more. I’m right about him, Toast.”

“Fuck, Capable. What are you getting out of this? You barely go to school, you barely go to work. And as soon as one thing happens, you let it disrupt everything. If you want to keep fucking him, fine. But don’t think that one nice guy is worth risking your entire life over. Especially since he comes with baggage. A shit ton of baggage.”

“Angharad would never-"

“Yeah, all right. Let’s talk about Angharad. She’s going to need months - fucking years - of therapy. If she ever really wakes up at all. It’ll be a grind, you know that, right? She’s not going to leap out of bed and take it to the streets, no matter how much you hope.”

Capable crossed her arms over her chest, squeezing them tight. “I know that!”

“Do you? Really? You’re always like this - you build up everything. you need to focus more on what’s actually happening - there’s so much shit still going on. Just because you have one War Boy boyfriend doesn’t mean they’re all good. Just because Angharad is moving doesn’t mean she’s healed.”

“Yeah, it’s way better to be pessimistic about everything. That way I can feel like shit all the time.”

“Being aware of what actually is happening isn’t pessimism.” She held up one of her books and waved it in the air like some sort of volatile preacher. “Focus on what can actually get done: go to class, get good grades, get a job. Be practical. It’s just fucking logic.”

“I should be logical? Like you? Staying at the library all day and even when you’re at home you’re not really here -”

“What are you talking about, Capable?

“Stop interrupting me! Holy shit, Toast, why are you trying to pick a fight?”

“I’m not. I’m just - Look. I want to be successful. What’s wrong with that?”

“You don’t have to do everything right now. And you don’t need to do it yourself. Something’s going on with you. We can help, Toast. Just talk to us. We’re your family.”

“You know we’re not really sisters.”

Capable’s breath caught in her throat, a lump that choked her for a few moments as she swallowed and blinked her eyes. “I know. Course I know. I just thought… After what happened to us…”

“We were in a shitty situation, that’s what happened to us. And I’m not going to let that happen again.” Toast stared down at her papers and then began to shuffle them. Suddenly she shoved them into a pile and started to stuff everything back into her bag. “You going to bed? I’ll study downstairs.”

This time Capable let her leave. She sat on Toast’s bed for another few minutes before she dragged herself to her feet and flopped face down onto her own mattress. What the hell. What in the rusted, fucking hell.

Under the covers, Capable opened up her messages to Nux. There was an endless stream of them now, ranging from short greetings and goodnights to long exchanges about their pasts. And then just random texts: Capable sending him possible lyrics, Nux describing the garage cats, anything, really, just words to keep the connection open between them. She smiled at the last message from him and then slowly started typing.

how do you know if youre doing the right thing
had another fight thing with toast

Her fingers hesitated over the letters. “Fight thing” - what kind of shitty description was that? Like the argument had destroyed her words along with her patience. The old anxieties returned, casting a shadow on her happiness. What could she offer Toast? Maybe she was treating Nux like some sort of medal, a trophy to prove to them all that she was right about him, about all of them. With a heaving sigh that blew strands of hair into crazy whirlwinds her face, Capable started to type again.

do i always tell everyone what to do
i just want toast to to be happy and healthy
oh god i am the world’s worst mom

She groaned and rolled over to bury her face in her pillow. When her phone buzzed she groped for it without coming out of her cocoon of blankets.

hey dont hve time to talk sorry
love u
shit takes time
cant force it
but we can still change it
love u love u!!!!
call yu 2moro
good luck w ur test!!!!!!

Capable sent him a quick I-love-you in return and then slid her phone back onto her bureau. Without the glow from the screen, her room was almost completely dark, but she didn’t reach up to turn on a light. Instead she sat in the quiet, replaying the day like a song on endless loop, grimacing at all the harsh notes of it. Angharad would have a solution to it all. Despite the time she spent racking her brain, Capable was no closer to any sort of answer.

Maybe she was fucking sick of waiting around. Maybe it was time to seek her own redemption.

---

In some ways, her busy morning came as a relief. She packed up and took the bus to work, headphones on and music loud enough that she couldn’t think over it. Between customers and studying, she didn’t have time to brood over it all. Not that her worries disappeared; they hovered like a cloud of smog in the corners of her brain. But pushed back there, Capable kept them from overwhelming everything else.

She read her note cards on the way to school. Read them aloud, which had the added benefit of keeping creeps, muggers, everyone at a distance - No one wanted to mess with someone mumbling to herself about Mongol invasions. In the classroom, there were students in desperate study groups. She was going to ignore them - her headphones were still in and Tim Buckley was on repeat - but she heard someone call her name.

Maybe Toast would pretend she hadn’t heard, Capable thought as she pulled the earbuds out. It was a hell of a lot easier to go through life without moving her eyes off the road ahead. No argument with Toast about that. But Capable smiled and waved, and went over to join them.

“Oh sweet, note cards,” Scroo said. He had deep shadows under his eyes - mark of the long suffering university student. “Hit me up.”

“I’m fucked. Totally fucked.” Newt buried her face in her hands. “I’m going to flunk out of CCU, I know it. Might as well throw myself to the Buzzards now.”

“Come on; let’s study together,” Capable said, gamely shuffling her note cards. “We have twenty minutes before the final. We can do it.”

“Did you write a song about the Renaissance?” Scroo teased.

“It’d be a three-hour song and it’d give me laryngitis.”

“You could get your boyfriend to take out Professor P,” Newt said, voice muffled as she buried deeper into her arms. “Do War Boys do hits? No, seriously, if I flunk out I’m going to die.”

“Nux isn’t some TV gangster,” Capable said coldly. Newt mumbled an apology and looked away from Capable’s cross expression.

When Professor Pappagallo arrived, they groaned and Scroo begged for an open-book test.

“You can refer to your notes for the essay part,” he reminded them. Bespeckled with gray hair, Professor Pappagallo looked the archetype of academic decorum. Usually he was dressed the part too, in slacks and a tweed jacket. But today he was in jeans and a sweater, and like the rest of them, looked exhausted. “And I might be convinced to give some extra credit…”

He trailed off and rubbed at his chin. The class, nervous for the upcoming test, whispered and fidgeted as they waited. Finally he addressed them again, “I want you to think about the current state of affairs here. As you take the test, think about your place in history. The events we discussed in class aren’t isolated - history is not another country.”

He seemed to lose track of his point. He put his briefcase onto his desk and crossed his arms over his chest as he looked down on it. “Citadel City isn’t an isolated case. I know some of you here have experienced first hand what future students will learn of as atrocities. Next semester, if any of you are taking my course on history of the world part two, you’ll see more of that - familiarity. In fact...” Professor Pappagallo grabbed a piece of chalk and turned to the blackboard and began to frantically scribble. “Think about Rome in 395. Theodosius the First - remember him? - what marked his reign? Extra points to anyone who gives me a correct answer!”

“Gang warfare!”

Laughter at that response. “Close! I wouldn’t call it gangs, but very similar!”

“Civil war!” Scroo yelled and flashed Capable a grin - that’d been on one of her note cards.

“Exactly! There was civil war, which Theodosius violently squashed, but his unification did not survive his death.” Pappagallo wrote on the board again: divided rulership. “After who took over after him?”

“His sons!”

“That’s correct. Two sons, remember? This is on the test! Their names are on the test as well as the issues that plagued their rule. So we already have some discussion points. Fascinating connection between Rome and Citadel City, don’t you think? What else was going on in Rome that caused its decline?”

Capable cupped her hands around her mouth. “Unfair taxation!”

“Yes, another reason for the fall of Rome! Increasing gap between rich and poor.”

“Lead pipes?”

“Good! Poor health of the populous, very important.”

“Gang warfare!” was yelled again and more people laughed. Newt stood up to defend her answer, “No seriously! The Goths and the other barbarian tribes!”

“Explain that some more on the test, alright, Newt? But yes, good point! Let’s move away from Rome and some of the causes of a societal collapse. How about growth? Who can give me an example of positive change within a government?”

“Magna Carta!” Capable yelled. The charter had been a driving influence for democracy in England.

“Very good! I expect more explanation on the test, of course. And again, stayed tuned next semester for more on English statements of rights. Anything else?”

“Constitution of Medina!” she called again. Hell yeah, she was on a roll. Muhammad had created the treaty to encourage peace between the tribes in that area.

“And another point for Capable! Yes, everyone remember the classes on the Muslim Empire? Make sure you get your timeline in order, however, please: Medina was before the Magna Carta.” He took a step back from the blackboard, surveying it. “This is good work, class. Now, think about our own lives. Our own stories. What’s happening in Citadel City? What are you going to make happen? Again, do not dismiss history as some sort of fiction - something in a book that could never happen to you. Good or ill. And with that, let’s begin the test.”

The sound of pens and pencils hitting the desks was like the rapping of a dozen tiny drums. When she was done, she felt like like there were drums banging in her head too. But when she stepped out of Entity Memorial, the sunlight soothed it away. She did it. One final down. And probably even passed. She texted her family to let them know she was on her way home and then flicked over to where Nux’s messages were waiting.

yu kickd that tests ass so hard
call me when you can
love u lovu lovu!

On the bus, Capable leaned against the window, forehead pressed to the cool glass. Purged of ancient history, her brain returned to the night before. Toast and the Vault, Angharad and the phone. Her sisters and the War Boys. The history final had been easy in comparison to those dilemmas. She took out her phone and pulled up some of her favorite music sites to read concert and album reviews, finding solace once again in music. It’d been too damn long since she’d seen a show. She was still thinking about that as she called Nux.

“Capable! Hey! How was your test?”

“Pretty good,” she replied with a laugh. “Hey, do you have time to talk now?”

“Yeah, I’ve been waiting for you to call. So what happened last night? Everything ok between you and Toast?”

She groaned. “No. I don’t know. It’s shitty.”

“Sucks. Let’s meet up. Want to?”

More than anything. “Yeah, I really want to see you Nux. Feel like going somewhere?”

“Fuck yeah I do. What do you want to do?”

“Go wild,” she said and Nux’s laugh made her squeeze her legs together in sweet anticipation. “I have a plan.”

“A cunning plan?”

“Hm, maybe,” she said with a giggle of her own. “You up for it?”

“For you, Capable? Fucking always!”

Time to start making her own way. "Ever listen to a band called the Coma Doof Warriors?"

----

Once we drove all night
Wind in our hair, blood in our cheeks
We would cut the lights
Race the moon right over the trees
Drink the bottle dry
Watch the sun rise out of the sea
Nothing breaks my heart now
Nothing moves my feet
No fire in my blood now
I walk the lighted streets
- “Light That Match” by Down Like Silver

Chapter Text

All you lonely sons and daughters
Step into the raging waters
Let them swallow you forever
Silencing your beating heart
- “Sons and Daughters" by The American Spirit

---

The wind was in her hair, pulling it out of its pins, and in her face, cold in her wide eyes. The lights from the houses and the new streetlamps the road up like it was paved in gold. On Stega’s motorcycle with her leather jacket heavy on Capable’s shoulders, she raced up and down Green Place and the borrowed bike purred under her like it was enjoying the ride as much as she was.

Nux had something about it the open road - about the rapture of it. Freedom, unadulterated. She could go wherever she wanted. Maybe that was how Toast felt, pedaling on her bike. Maybe she wasn’t trying to go away; maybe she just wanted to go.

When Capable came back from another loop around the neighborhood, more Vuvalini had joined Stega on the newly completed porch. They called as she went by, so she turned and parked in the driveway to the sound of their cheers. Hardly Evel Knievel, she was mostly happy she hadn’t crashed onto one of Dag’s newly planted lawns. Some excuse for breaking their date - though Nux would probably still be proud.

“Any flies stuck in your teeth?” someone hooted.

Capable scrubbed her hands over her cheeks to warm them. “Just extra protein!” she shouted back as she joined the Vuvalini. Lounging on the porch with bottles of beer or mugs of tea, they all looked tired but pleased. Having them on the street had done more than change the look of it; somehow the feel of the neighborhood had changed, grown. It was a whole new season.

“Oi, Capable! Thought you had a date tonight!”

“He’s on his way,” she told Hawke as she checked her phone. A series of smiley faces from Nux made her grin in return. “We’re seeing a show then maybe go for a drive or something.”

“Think that spot on the other side of Harbourwall is still there?” Hawke asked and the other women chuckled and shook their heads. Interested, Capable leaned forward and begged for more information. A secluded spot on the river, for enough from the city that the gangs didn’t bother with it. Upriver from Gas Town, the river was still water and not run-off.

“Used to have dances there,” Stega remised fondly. “Turn on the beamers for light, someone would blast their radio…”

“One time we all burned out all our batteries, remember that?” Mari added.

Hawke was younger than them and she and Capable listened to the story with wide eyes and grins. “And Seeds didn’t skin you alive for that?” Hawke was incredulous.

“She was there, too,” Mari replied with a wink.

“A classic make-out spot,” Stega proclaimed and clapped Capable on the shoulder. “Passing it down to the new generation.”

A roar through the quiet noises of Green Place - That was Nux.

“Go on, girl,” Stega said with a wave. “Wear the jacket - Might need it if gets cold later!”

Headlights first like bright eyes. As he drove closer, she could hear him yelling out her name and she came running down to the street to meet him. He’d barely climbed out before Capable was there at his car, but he caught her easily, spun her around until she was even more dizzy. After some kisses he released her and stepped back. His blue eyes moved up and down her before returning to her face. “Shine,” he pronounced, then grinned. Not his goofy one, not his bashful one - this one was like a sliver of moon in the darkness. Exciting. Wicked.

Capable pulled him back into her arms, spreading her legs for his knee to slide up between them. She spread her lips, too, so his tongue could slide over her teeth. His hands were strong - cupping her ass to bring her close, moving up her back, plucking at the back strap of her bra. She grabbed the lapels of his jacket to press him against her, hard enough to feel his muscles - down his chest, down to the hard heat of his erection. Hungry for him, mouth and tongue on him, holding stroking grasping - None of it was enough. More - needed more -

Suddenly he lifted her in his arms and turned them around - fast and smooth. His strength thrilled her and Capable gasped his name as he ass thumped against the hood of the Monte Carlo.

“You’re so shine, Nux,” she murmured. Sitting back, she wrapped her legs around his waist. They rocked together, his hands on her thighs, her hands on his chest. “That feels so good. Keep doing that.”

She laid down on the hood, her unruly hair spread out in a fan as it escaped from the remains of her braid. She could feel the jacket and her shirt ride up, the metal cool on her back.

“Fuck, Capable. You on my car -”

“You two realize that this neighborhood isn’t empty anymore, right?” Dag yelled from the porch and beside her Cheedo waved her cellphone. If she was filming anything...

Nux flushed and stammered an apology, but when Capable laughed, he broke into a grin.

“Come on,” he said, offering his hand. He pulled her up into another kiss, which made Dag hoot some rude observations.

“You guys are awful!” Capable shouted at their audience. “See you later!”

When she got into the car, she realized that she was covered in street dust. Probably in her hair, too, she bemoaned, grumbling in disgust. Just what she needed - like riding around like a maniac, mussing up her hair and messing up her make-up hadn’t been enough.

“Your family’s crazy,” Nux said as he started the engine. Before pulling away from the curb, he reached over and his thumb gently rubbed at her cheek. “Smudge there. I got it.”

She flashed him an apologetic smile. “Thanks. Sorry about Dag.”

“Hey, it’s ok. Used to it by now! But I wish I’d parked a little further away,” he added, his gaze flicking back over her. “You were so fucking chrome spread out on the hood. Wanted to keep going. You all riled up - Fuck, if the engine was on, rumbling under you -”

She snickered and poked him in his ribs. “So do you want to have sex with me or the car?”

“Hey!” he laughed. “Well me and Monte Carlo have been together forever…”

LIke always, they feel into an easy conversation. She told Nux about how, after school in the hours before her foster parents got home, she’d skulk through music alley - the nickname of a street full of bars and venues. Sneaking into bars to watch music, she’d gotten one hell of a musical education - and learned about even more of the dark parts of Citadel City. There were metal bars, like the place they were heading to, and then there were jazz clubs, full of couples in smart suits and elegant blouses. There were casual places with a person or two on guitar, inspiration for Capable’s sets. And a lot of bullshit, like grabby drunks and sleazy bouncers, and bathrooms that looked like a murder was about to happen in them. Toast would probably say that all they were now were notches on her lipstick case.

“I learned a lot,” she told him. “About how to play live, you know? The performance is part of it - it’s not just about singing the song. So how they talked to the audience - or didn’t - and what they did on stage. All that stuff. I saw some awesome shows.”

“Wish I’d been there with you.”

What would their lives be like if they’d met before? It was a strange existence for her to imagine, an alternative identity free from the burdens and the scars. She stared at his mouth and the healed-over wounds that made lines through his lips. Unable to stop herself, she reached for him again, her fingers skimming over his neck to his hair. When he glanced curiously at her, she said cheerfully, “Let’s go out more! When school’s done I’ll have way more time.”

They talked about school and then Angharad, who was getting better. Not by leaps and bounds, but the small steps were still in the right direction. The conversation then turned to another sensitive topic - Toast.

“Still don’t know why she went into the Vault,” Capable said. Outside the window, the night lights of Citadel City were turning on - neons and bright colors that were vivid against the dark sky. It her think about the Vault again, about that huge sign that lit up the darkness around it. “There’s so much I don’t know about Toast, actually.”

“Yeah, but you don’t really need to know everything,” Nux replied in a thoughtful tone. “She can have her own stuff, right?”

Capable frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Some Boys are like that - They’ll kill before they give up their shit. Maybe I’m like that with my car. Slit’d say so. If it’s the only thing you got, then when you lose it, you lose everything, you know?”

“So maybe Toast’s like that with her privacy?”

“Yeah. She seems like she wants to hold things back. That’s what I think.”

“I’m not trying to take anything from her,” Capable grumbled. “Ugh, fuck. I don’t know. So what’s going on with you, sweetheart?”

“Usual bullshit.”

“Anything happening at the garage?”

“Not tonight. Perfect timing for us: War Boys are in the Pits,” he explained. The Pits were on the other side of the city, almost the opposite direction of the Green Place. But with arms outstretched and back straight, he was handsome in his proud rebellion. Every time she saw him his hair was thicker, darker, framing his face. With his jacket off, she could see the muscles in his arms. He continued, “Got a call that something’s going down there. Told Slit he’d have to get his own ride over.”

“So what’s going on?”

He shook his head. “Could be anything. Boys don’t get told the details.”

“Does Ace know that you’re skipping?”

“He’ll notice. Don’t think he’ll snitch on me, though. He’s no fan of Prime or Rictus.”

“What about the rest of his crew?”

“Don’t know,” he admitted. “Think they’ll cover for me. Don’t really care, either way. You’re more important.”

A heart pounded in response to that. Such a simple statement, but the sincerity of it, the tenderness of it made her smile soften, her eyes grow damp. “I love you, Nux.”

“This is the first date we’re gone on for fucking ages!”

“I know; I’ve been so damn busy. Ugh. Feels good getting out! And being with you!”

“All night,” Nux said and the gleam in his eyes when he glanced at her made Capable hope it was a promise. “Anyway, means that the club’ll be clear of Boys.”

She looked out the window again. Biker - Rock Riders, it looked like - roared down the street from the other direction. The club wasn’t in War Boy territory, but the neighborhood still wasn’t a good one. It wasn’t just more music in different places - it was more music for different people. And that meant War Boys. Even if he didn’t play for Rictus or Prime now, Doof had been twisted up in the War Boys too. For the first time that night, there was a twinge of fear that shivered through the confidence of her plan.

Though most of the War Boys only knew of him. Even though Doof played in the Pits, Nux said he never dicked around with them. If he went out, he went out with Joe. And that’s how Capable had first learned of him, playing sedately in the Vault. They’d all been interested in the blind musician, though Capable had felt the strongest tug. Her shiny, chrome, and amazing boyfriend had fixed the Doof Mobile once - If she wanted to get to know Doof, Nux promised he’d find a way to arrange it.

First things first, she cautioned herself. First she’d see him play.

The venue was part concert hall, part bar, and named after some saint who’d died horribly. There were ripped posters covered in graffiti and broken bottles of beer standing like a tiny audience. Plenty of War Boy tags, but the people standing around by the curb weren’t Boys. The venue’s front was a little nicer - cooler posters and plenty of homemade notices for small shows. She should've brought some of her flyers, she thought. Maybe she’d borrow Toast’s bike and bring some. It was outside her usual territory, but hell, she was broadening her horizons, wasn’t she? And the whole idea of territories was stupid, anyway. Annoyed that she didn’t think of it sooner, she started plotting out all the places to post her posters. She’d nail them to the doors if she had to. Maybe it was time to update them with cooler artwork than pictures she stole off the web...

The bar inside was packed. Tons of people in black - She felt Nux straighten and his fingers were tense when she took his hand. Too loud for her to say anything comforting, she just gave him a squeeze. But concerns about potential War Boys got lost in the noise. It’d been a long time since she’d been in any venue like this - piercings and tattoos and spiked hair, everyone shouting over the pounding beats of the show, passing bottles of beer over the crowd’s heads.

“Bitchin’ hair!” a girl with a mohawk yelled as she squeezed passed Capable.

“Thanks! Yours too!” Score one point for the grungy look.

Behind the bar were old concert posters and t-shirts, and goofy props, maybe from other shows - a human skull with antlers on it, a model of Stonehenge, a creepy ventriloquist puppet. But then music started pounding - no time for drinks.

“Come on!” she shouted back at him. She tightened her grip on him and pulled him through the crowd. She had to shove hard on the door to get it open and when it did, the music hit her like a wave. Loud didn’t begin to describe it. It rocked through her - rocked the whole hall.

Doof was fucking awesome. She’d heard him before in the Vault, but what Joe had him play there was nothing like this. He wielded the insane double neck guitar like a weapon, whipping the guitar riffs over the pounding drums. No singing but hell, the song didn’t need it.

There were too many swaying people for them to really get close to the stage. Capable tried to watch Doof’s hands as they moved over the strings, but in the dim light of the hall it was impossible to follow all the movements. So she leaned back against Nux’s hard chest and closed her eyes to just listen. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her head. In the dark, no one could see when he slid his hand under her shirt. As she nodded her encouragement, his long fingers worked under the strap of her bra. Stega’s jacket was suddenly way too fucking hot. Light touches that grew more insistent as the music inciting them - her nipple hardening as he teased it, his cock hardening as she undulated against it.

When the song ended they came back to reality like waking from a dream. Muddled, marbled by the music and Nux’s touch, her reaction time was sluggish. It was the lighting too - the flashing lights from the stage made it hard to focus her eyes and in the darkness their black leather jackets and black pants made them meld into the shadows of the throng of people. But she could see the shaved heads and faces in the flashing lights.

War Boys.

But behind her, Nux stiffened. The hand that had been playfully stroking moved, his arm curled protectively around her. Bending down to her ear, he hissed, “You see them too? Let’s go.”

The room was packed with people; they walled her and Nux in. Pushing against them just made the groups glare at her - and the War Boys, yelling over the music, sounded like they were everywhere. Maybe it’d been a bad idea. The old anxiety of crowds chewed at her and suddenly Capable was slick with cold sweat. What had she been thinking? Had she been thinking at all?

Someone hurled a beer bottle against the wall and it shattered over a bunch of Boys. Howls and jeers at that, and everyone else around the gang shoved over to the side. Capable flicked her gaze over them nervously. How to read them, how to judge, all of that she’d learned early as a young woman alone in Citadel City. The signs of danger that were sometimes as obvious as a gang of War Boys, sometimes too subtle to even name. Angharad had been the master of that, recognizing signs that Capable didn’t even know about, and Dag likened it to witchcraft, a women’s magic. It’d been a sarcastic observation but not a wrong one.

Signs and symbols and sigils - the sort of stuff that metal concerts were all about.

One of Doof’s trills shot through the room like bolt of lightning. Made Capable feel like something snapped in her, too. She wasn’t prey; they weren’t predators. Her plan all along had been to point her guitar toward the dark parts of the city. She stopped short and Nux turned back, his lips parting with a question. With a tug she brought him back to her side. “Let’s stay.”

He flipped open his phone. “No messages. Don’t know why the fuck they’re here. Ditching?”

“Soon as they do anything, we go. But I want to see the show.”

Still uncertain, he looked back around the venue. When he turned back, he was frowning, but he nodded and stepped toward her.

An arm reached out, caught Nux - Capable kept her grip on him and pulled him back as he snarled. He pushed in front of her, blocking her view from whoever it was. War Boy, had to be! “Nux!” she yelped. “Don’t -”

Nux yanked back, banging against her, and the other War Boy jerked forward. But he was laughing and his free hand was loose, open at his side. “Knew it was you!” the War Boy yelled. “The hell are you doing here, Nux?”

“Stacks! The fuck? Why aren’t you guys at the Pits?”

“We don’t give a shit about Prime! Fuck that mediocre wretch, right?”

The War Boy had wide eyes - dark, so that they almost looked like holes in his head. He was clean shaven and in a leather jacket, but had something on his face - the room was still too dark for her to see clearly. But then he leaned closer, ignoring Nux’s angry noise, and she realized that there were burn scars on his cheek and around his mouth.

“Hey!” Stacks said around Nux’s shoulder. “Hey, are you Capable? You got to be!”

There was no threat in his voice, just surprise and a note of something else - awe? Before she replied she glanced toward the door. The exit was just feet away; she and Nux could make it out if they needed to. But curiosity won over her anxiety. And maybe some concern, too. Scars like that - What had happened to him?

“Yeah,” she said at last. When she looked up at Nux, he shrugged, but didn’t give her any other reaction. In for a penny, she thought to herself and turned back to the Boy. “You’re Stacks?”

“Yeah! Holy fucking shit, something shine like you in a place like this. Can’t believe it!”

The War Boy complement made Capable twinge.

“Want to ride with us?” Stacks asked. He grinned at Capable, a flash of white in the smoky room. “Boys can show you what the city’s really like. Hey, you got a sister, right? Any more? Friends? Want to call them? I can go get them. Any of them. I’ll get them and -”

“Told you that you don’t just get them, Stacks, for fuck’s sake.”

The War Boy looked honestly insulted by that. “Hey, I’m asking, not making her do anything! She can say no! So what do you say, Capable? You can ride with me -”

“Stacks -” Nux groaned again.

“I’m not going to ride with you,” Capable said firmly, cutting them both off. Nux’s long fingers curled protectively around her shoulder and he stepped forward again, angling his body between her and Stacks. She planted her feet apart to stand like Furiosa did, straight and strong.

Stacks eyes zoomed back and forth between them. “Why the hell not?”

“Because I said so.”

“But I asked!”

“And I said no!”

The chilly reception following that finally seemed to freeze him too. “Shit,” Stacks sighed as he rubbed his hands over his bare head. “I need to practice more.”

“Yeah, you do, mate,” Nux snapped. “So fuck off.”

Stacks grimace turned into a softer frown and he dipped his head. “Sorry, Capable. Fuck.” He pushed his sleeves up and even in the dim light she could make out tattoos running up the muscles there. And more scars. “Harder than I thought. Guess you’re shine if you got her, Nux. Maybe you’re not completely full of shit.”

He turned away and moved back into the crowd. She watched him as he pulled a couple of other War Boys close and then all three looked back at her and Nux. And she and Nux stared back, both of them holding their breaths. But then when one stepped toward her, Stacks yanked on his jacket and they turned away.

“So what was that about?” she asked. She tugged his arm up onto her shoulder so she could fit against him and Nux sighed before pressing a kiss onto her hair.

“He wants a girlfriend. Stacks is alright, just crazy. Scab ran his crews even harder than Rictus. Maybe even than Joe.”

“Those burns...”

“Got them everywhere.” Nux drew her closer as he watched Stacks move into the crowd. “Scab’s Boys are all fucked. Maybe that’s why they’re here tonight. But if it’s just them, they shouldn’t give us trouble.”

He was staring at the crowd with his dark brows low over his eyes, but his tall frame was loose, muscles relaxed - no immediate danger from the other crew. Nux caught her eye and shifted closer. As he opened his mouth, the drums started first and then Doof’s killer guitar; Nux kissed her instead of speaking, but she understood all the same. He loved her, he’d protect her, he’d be there with her. When they parted, she saw Stacks’ glance back at them before he turned toward the stage.

Notes from the wailing guitar shot through the hall. Everyone jumping, cheering - the War Boys got lost in the frenzy of the music. As the songs continued, she relaxed. Fuck it - she’d come this far. Capable raised her arms above her head and hollered along, heard Nux’s voice shouting behind her. This was what she wanted - Energy and movement and hearing it and feeling it, down to their bones. Everyone cheering, phones out and cameras on, even the War Boys roped in.

When the set was done and the lights came blindingly back on, they were hustled out with the rest of the mob back out onto the street. Still pumped from the show, she and Nux stood on the curb chatting animatedly, even when the War Boys piled out. Some of them waved and a couple of them flipped them off but that was it - They barely gave her a second thought. She was just some girl. Easy to dismiss. To ignore.

Summoning up courage, she waved to them, then yelled at them so there was no damn way they could pretend she didn't exist, "Hey! Shine show, right?"

Nux laughed at her bravado. “Be right back, Capable. Just want to see what they’re up too.”

She took out her phone and texted her family, but Capable still kept an eye on Nux. In her hand the phone was a comforting lifeline, though she didn’t really want to consider what she’d have to do if the War Boys got violent. If Furiosa came, could she stop it? Or would it start something else? The memory of that first night with Nux, that awful fight in their front yard, still ricocheted around her brain. Nux had a pocket knife now but no other weapons - she had her hands on him enough to know that. And in her purse was her pepper spray. But Joe had armed the army he had amassed, and each of those leather jackets could hide a holster. And probably more.

By the venue there was light, but Nux and Scab’s War Boys moved across the street and in an instant the darkness swallowed them. Small flicks of fire as the lit cigarettes brought their bare faces into contrast and she could see more scars. She thought she recognized Stacks in the moving cluster of them, but he didn’t call out to her this time.

Mulling over it got her nowhere. WIth her phone gripped tight in her hand, Capable left the pool of light and stepped off the curb. Her eyes sought out Nux then; quickly she found her boyfriend, like something connected them, invisible and indivisible. “Nux?” she called and out of the group a tall figure stepped away.

Nux loped toward her and caught her in a hug. “Hey! What’s up? You ok?”

“I was going to ask you that,” she replied. Over his shoulder, she watched as the War Boys kept moving, heading deeper down the dark street. “So what’s going on?”

“They’re going out drinking somewhere. Figured you don’t want to tag along, right? Oh shit - Come on! I just saw Cob - He’s the drummer. Let’s go!”

They hurried down the sidewalk toward a cluster of people as Capable pushed her worries about the War Boys out of her mind. Later. She’d ask him about them later. She glanced once more over her shoulder before turning her attention back to Nux. His long fingers were curled over hers, keeping her hand warm in the cool night. As they got closer, Nux yelled over, “Fucking awesome show, Doof!”

The group turned toward them. In the center was Doof; even without his deranged guitar, he looked like a rocker: crazy red pants, big sunglasses, and his white guiding cane had a skull for a handle. “Thanks, mate!”

“Hey, you might not remember me- “

“Nux,” Doof said with a lopsided grin. Between some of his teeth glinted metal like he’d added a literal chrome grill to his mouth. “You kidding me? Course I remember. Don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t fixed the Doof Mobile.”

“How’s it running?”

“Traded it in,” he admitted dolefully. “Needed cash fast.”

“Rusted luck. So that mean you’re staying in the city?”

“For the foreseeable future,” Doof replied and there was a wryness in the comment that made her smile.

“This place sounds good. Good acoustics. I play guitar, too,” she explained quickly. “This is way better than my usual gigs.”

“And she writes songs,” Nux added proudly. “My girlfriend’s shine as hell.”

Doof’s eyebrows rose over the rims of his shades at the word “girlfriend.” Capable hastened to add, “Hey, Doof. I’m Capable.”

He outstretched his hand and she took it. Leaving out the “nice to meet” felt rude, but from where she was, it wasn’t an introduction. With his big sunglasses on, she couldn’t really read him - Maybe he wouldn’t remember her at all.

But then he nodded. “Voice sounds familiar,” he began and Capable’s breath froze in her lungs. His red lips made his mouth look like a wound, ready to spill out her identity. Around them, the groupies turned their wide eyes to her and voices dropped into hushed whispers. She groped for Nux’s hand and found it, and the warm strength of him kept her grounded. Doof’s grin widened and he exclaimed, “You’re were on the radio! Nightly Tells, right? With Savannah Nix?”

“Yeah!” she answered with relief. “You heard that?”

“Fuck yeah. Nix is the voice of the night. Liked the song you did.”

“Thanks!” she said, pleased and surprised. She’d have to tell Savannah that her audience was growing. And maybe schedule time to do another show. Capable let herself bask in the complement for a moment before she returned it, “Your show was chrome! You playing here again soon?”

“Thanks! Yeah, hope so. Looking into some other gigs. Been sort of shitty to find places.”

“Yeah?” Joe had probably considered himself a patron, bestowing his attention and money when it was convenient.

“Unless we play for the other Moores,” Doof added, confirming that suspicion. “However many of them are left. Rumor on the streets is the Pits is a fucking disaster. Not that I’m missing those shitty acoustics. Or… anything else,” he finished and then cleared his throat. “So... where do you play?”

“Subway, mostly. Couple of bars and coffee shops. Or on the street. Sometimes I’m out with my sisters. Or Nux,” she added, banging her shoulder against him.

Some of them laughed, disbelieving, and looked at Nux expecting him to object. Doof said nothing but rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then stroked his hand up to his bald head, jostling his glasses.

“Like your shirt,” one of the groupies said. “Black Sabbath - fucking classic.”

“Sing me a song / you're a singer,” Doof recited.

She’d borrowed Seeds’ old Black Sabbath t-shirt, faded from black to nearly gray from years of wear. “Earlier than that - Ozzie’s first run. Think it’s from the ‘73 tour.”

Nux pressed a quick kiss into her hair and murmured, “Music nerd girlfriend.”

Doof nodded in appreciation. He’d crossed his arms over his chest, she could see his long fingers twitch. Might have been nerves, feeling like she sometimes did that she was naked without a guitar in her arms. It’d be prying to ask, and definitely insensitive in front of so many other people, but she wanted to know about how Joe had been to him. Who Joe had been to him. What parts of the Vault had he seen? Being in the Pits, too, gave Doof a strange breadth of experiences.

He steered the conversation back to music. “So what’s a folkie like you with a guy like Nux? Folk’s on the other side of the fucking road.”

She let the first question slide by. “Think so? Don’t know - I think there’s a lot of crossover.” With him beside her, and still thrumming from the music, she felt bold enough to launch into her plan. Trying to tamp down the excitement at the idea, she continued, “Bet I can convince you. Want to play together sometime?”

Doof’s weird, cracking grin split his face. “Yeah, let’s jam!”

Doof passed her his phone and as she added her information, his drummer shouldered his way through the group, holding a couple of bottles of beers over his head. His long black hair was in braids and again Capable thought of Toast; her sister (no, that wasn’t the right word, was it?) had had her hair in twisted braids on that first night that Joe had brought her around.

“Hey, Cob, good to see you, mate,” Nux said as he extended his hand.

His teeth were bright against his dark skin as he returned Nux’s grin. He pulled him close enough for them to slap each other on the shoulders. “Nux. Been a while. Don’t go by Cob anymore - It’s Ali.”

“Shit, sorry, man. Ali, this is my girlfriend, Capable. Capable, Ali was a fucking monster in the Pits.”

‘You were great tonight,” she told him. “Good to meet you.”

“Girlfriend?” Ali repeated. “Fuck me. Things sure have fucking changed in Citadel City, right, Doof?”

“Hell yeah,” she answered before anyone else could.

It wasn’t until afterward when she and Nux were going back to his car that the weight of it really hit her. With a squealing laughing she jumped into Nux’s arms - he caught her with a laugh of his own. Already she started planning out a session with Doof. Describing it to Nux, it almost didn’t seem real. Playing with Joe’s old guitarist… It was going to be crazy explaining it to Angharad. As extensive and expansive as Angharad’s schemes had been, and they had built castles in the sky during some of their darker nights, none of them had come close to this reality.

“Hey Capable,” Nux called, pulling her out of her reverie. “Catch!”

She reacted without thinking and caught his set of keys. “You sure, sweetheart?”

“You need to practice driving at night,” he replied. “Besides, you earned it. Really fucking happy for you.”

“This is my reward?” she teased gently. She caught him for another sweet kiss. “Thanks for coming out with me tonight.”

“Fuck yeah. Course! Good to see Doof again. I’m glad he wasn’t shredded after Joe got killed. I hadn’t really thought about him until you brought him up.” He paused, his eyebrows low. “Makes sense that he got the hell out of the city, but it’s chrome that he’s back. Think you’ll really play with him?”

“Yeah,” she said with a definitive nod of her head. “Well, I’m going to try.”

“First date, you said you wanted to play with a band.”

She squeezed his hand. “I can’t believe you remember that! Wow, that feels like ages ago.”

His blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “You playing with Doof… You want to do a show, don’t you? Place like this?” When she nodded, he added, “Crowd like this?”

“Yeah. I’ll go electric and I’ll blow out their eardrums and they won’t even be able to hear the bosses anymore.”

In the car, she ran her hands over the steering wheel. A deep breath, keys in, engine on, clutch in, gas pedal pushed down, and they took off. There were a few cranking stops and goes that made the car squeal its complaints as she down-shifted, but the streets emptied out as they got further from the city. She had yet to master the easy slide over the road like how Nux drove, but Capable coaxed the Monte Carlo into a steady speed. Each smooth mile that passed made her more confident - and beside her, Nux grinned and cheered and then risked distracting her with a kiss on her neck as she made it onto the highway.

She wasn’t ready to go home - She wasn’t ready for the night to be over. And they didn’t have to - it didn’t have to. The spot the Vuvalini had described - Maybe it was worth finding.

It was even cooler by the river, but they kept the windows open anyway. He cranked the radio to CCUR; when a song she recognized came on, Capable started to sing. Almost yell the lyrics, really, drunk of the bubbling happiness she felt with him. Loud and laughing along, and then Nux’s voice joined her. She stole as many glances at him as she could - daringly taking her eyes from the road to watch the movement of his gorgeous lips, the slinking grace of him as he moved to the beat.

So I went back to the country
Where the air now bitter sweet
And subtle is the change of my indifference
But strange how the solitude
Can leave a man complete

And I can’t wait till the morning
Be it sunshine hail or snow
See I do not believe in superstition
But somewhere upon this mess
I may have found some happiness to call my own

Oh and time is a healer
Time is a friend of mine
In time if you feel it
Would you be a friend of mine
Oh I hope you're a friend of mine

“I love you!” she shouted over the wind and the music and Nux whooped and hollered out of the window.

“She loves me! Fuck yeah! Witness me, Citadel City!”

The sparkling towers of the city faded and then the smoking stacks of Gas Town cleared until it was just them on the road, dark and smooth as the river that ran alongside them. Nux only asked once if she knew where they were going and then grinned back at her when she blew a kiss at him. It wasn’t the first time he explicitly put his trust in her - there was the time in the bathroom at the university, another memory that again seemed so far in the past that they’d had a lifetime together, and when she brought him to dinner or had him spend the whole night under her roof. Here she was, driving his prized possession into terra incognita, far away from his territory and his responsibilities, and his big blue eyes were clear from any worry.

Easy to switch that around - here she was, in the middle of the night, her family in bed miles away, with a former gang member as the night as her only witness. Life was strange. Life was wild. Life was wonderful.

She pressed down on the gas and the car zoomed along with her pulse.

Off the highway and onto a quieter roads that grew darker as the streetlights thinned and the trees thickened. Inside the car was warm but through the cracked-open windows came strands of cool air, sharp and fresh - They were getting close to the river again. The two of them had to peer through the dark at the faded street signs, Nux double-checking her phone for directions, but finally they found the turnoff. The paved road changed to hard-packed dirt and the trees grew closer, tangling overhead to block out the sky. But when it opened up again, they had a view like no other.

The river reflected the moon and stars and on the other shore were the twinkling lights of a town. When Capable turned off the engine, the only sound was that of the moving water - calm and steady.

“Wow,” Nux breathed. “Can’t even see the city from here.”

She nodded - It was peaceful in a way that no part of Citadel City, not even Green Place, could be. But Capable was antsy with energy, not in any mood to soak in the serenity.

Kissing him was just a start - but what a fucking start. The scars on his mouth made his gorgeous lips plump under hers. Capable caught his face between her hands to bring him closer, fingers on his jawline, stroking at the bit of sandpaper scruff. He grabbed her and hauled her over the stick shift and then she was in his lap, bodies as close as their lips had been. Stega’s borrowed jacket was flung away, followed quickly by her shirt.

And then his.

In the dark it was hard to make out the details of his beautiful face, the long body that writhed under her. But she’d memorized the hard lines of him, even his tattoo, which her palms slid over like she could feel it on his silken skin. More chest hair now, springing under her hands. Each touch made Nux move more under her, his strong leg rising as he rolled his hips up to meet her. The layers of pants didn’t matter - she could feel the heat of him and the hardness of him, and god, Capable wanted him so bad that there wasn’t room for anything else in her. Just a want, want, want that beat along with her heart. Desperately they kissed, the scars of his lips dragging over her mouth and god, she wanted more of that too - more of his mouth, wet and warm,.

She rose enough for them to get their hands on her pants and then start pushing them down. Should’ve worn a skirt, a dress, anything that was easier to escape than jeans. His fingers on the skin they uncovered soothed away the irritation and stoked even more fire. But getting the jeans all the way off was hell. Capable swore and twisted around as she tried to get them past her knees. She toppled onto the gear stick, Nux laughing the whole time, their hands and mouths everywhere, her foot against the window, one of her sneakers getting tossed into the backseat -

But finally her pants were off and then, with Capable now in a half-recline on the driver's seat and Nux’s big hands on her calves and his eyes flashing in the little bit of moonlight, Capable decided to keep going. That was what the night was about, wasn’t it? Her driving where she wanted. Her moving toward whatever she wanted. Her getting what she wanted. Capable pushed down her underwear, too. Pushed them down, pulled them off.

He breathed her name but that was all he had time to do before she was on his lap again, clamoring for him.

One his hands on her back, bringing her closer and then Nux’s lips were on her neck, her shoulder, finally finally her breast. His tongue rolled over her nipple and Capable’s fingers brushed through his hair to bring him even closer. She thought she wouldn’dt be able to stand it, and then, then, then his other hand caressed up her thigh and his knuckles brushed her clit.

“Yes, Nux. Please - Nux, I love you -”

“You’re so fucking chrome, Capable. You sound fucking amazing right now. Love hearing you say my name -”

Her groan of approval was all the instruction he needed. His fingers circled her clit, stroking there until she wet and wild. His mouth was on her neck - lips and then, holy shit, teeth too - moving up her throat until he buried his face in her hair. Tangled up in the ecstasy of it were her memories of the last time they’d touched her other, wet and slippery in the shower, and then all the fantasies she’d imagined at night along, the plans and wants and desires of him for him, because of him. And when she slipped a finger inside of her, she couldn’t help it - hips rocking on their own accord to set the pace for him. Fuck and shiny and Nux -

The Monte Carlo steamed from them, windows fogged up and seats getting damp. And when Capable came, it was like she melted. She would have tumbled off his lap if Nux’s strong arms hadn’t kept her upright. His fingers slowed, slowed, but didn’t stop, stroking just enough to keep her engine running. She could feel his arousal - erection hard where her rubbed it against her thigh - and felt for the first time with him that no, this wasn’t enough. She needed wanted had to have more.

“I love you! I love you, Nux,” she panted against his bare skin. “Can we - I want to -” Her voice, usually her strongest tool, almost failed her. All breathy, soft, husky, and she could barely hear it over the pound of her pulse in her ears. So hard to say it, but she needed to - She needed to be able to say it so he could hear it. They’d gotten so good at it, asking and listening, but finding the words in the rolling sea of her thoughts was nearly impossible. His muscular arms held her in place as she fumbled and wiggled to get into position, her back braced against him. “Can we do more? I want - I want to make love to you, Nux. Can -”

He kissed her hard enough that she almost slipped off him. Unspoken but enthusiastic yes that she acknowledged by pulling fretfully at his pants, trying, failing to figure out just how in the hell the zipper worked. Suddenly Nux leaned forward, trying to kiss her and look over her shoulder at the same time.

“Nux, what -”

“Hold on.”

She twisted to see him yank open the glove compartment. Condoms fell out.

And out.

And out.

Slithering out, spilling out, a damn waterfall of condoms that kept coming and coming until there was a pile of them at their feet.

“Nux!” she exclaimed with laughing disbelief.

“What? Didn’t know which one to get so….”

“You got them all?” Capable giggled as she kissed him. “Mm, thanks, Nux.”

“Flavored, ribbed, glow-in-the-dark,” he listed. His voice was low and rough as he recited their options, and is ridiculous as the words were, Capable found herself getting more and more excited, revving again like the orgasm she’d just had was already a distant memory. “Ultra thin, extra thin, extra sensitive, ultra sensitive, there’s one that looks like tuxedo...”

“How many did you end up getting?” She released his earlobe long enough to ask. Nux rumbled a pleased noise in response and she added her own breathless purr of pleasure. “Guess we’ll be busy for a while.”

There was some fumbling to grab a condom and tear the package open, but then everything disappeared so it was just her and Nux and the pound of their hearts together. Her urged her on as she straddled him and Capable was quivering - shaking - for him and maybe he was too, every part of them desperate until finally finally finally she slid down on his cock and linked them together.

Nux’s arms around her waist held her still for a moment. His big palms were hot on her back and the hard muscles of his chest were tense. She could feel him straining but he didn’t move under her. Impatiently she rolled her hips and Nux inhaled a sharp, short breath.

“Want you so bad,” he told. “Think about you all the time. Awake, asleep, doesn’t matter - Always you.”

“Oh, sweetheart -”

He pressed his face against her neck. She could feel the delicious tickle of his lips as he asked, voice thick, “You sure? This is what you want?”

“God, fuck, yes, Nux. Do you?”

“Fuck, Capable, I want you. Feels so fucking good. You’re so fucking hot and tight and can’t believe I’m inside of you.” He pushed up and she groaned. “Like that?”

“Yeah -”

Another push and she rose up. She braced herself with one slippery hand on the window, trying to speed up their pace as they raced toward the end that she desperately had to reach. “Nux,” she said his name because she couldn’t think of anything but him. “Nux, Nux, Nux -”

And he understood her again, even without the right words to instruct him. His arm clamped around her and with another one of his strong, fluid motions he flipped them around again, just like he had at the night’s beginning, getting her under him. She felt one of his hands grope along her side, down to her thigh, and then he pulled at something next to her and the car seat reclined with a jerk. His cock stayed inside her the whole time but now that their angle had changed, he could thrust in deeper. Greedily she linked her ankles behind him to keep him close.

He pushed her chaotic hair out of her face and his beautiful eyes - big and shining in the moonlight - met hers. “Love you,” he panted. “Don’t know how long I can last, not with you so fucking shine - and holy shit, Capable, I love you. You feel amazing. You’re amazing. Can I? Can-”

“Yeah, yeah, Nux -”

Their rhythm stuttered, went wild, finally came to its crashing end. He groaned as he orgasmed, his arms and fingers tightening around her and Capable bit her lip, too overcome to even breath. Later she would think about his words, his voice, about it all, lying in her bed and reliving it all - the permeating pleasure of it, the motion of her body, the power of his, the gentle insistence of his mouth, the way his arms legs chest support her until she stopped thinking about where she ended and he began. Inside, pushing pressing thrusting, her legs spread open by his, thinking about bodies without those clinical terms from before: a vaginal canal, a penis, cervix, glans. But now all she could was hold him, nuzzle at the damp velvet of his skin, sigh against his mouth as he kissed her.

He pressed his forehead against hers for a moment before he moved off, out of her. Out of her, she thought again, and there was an emptiness in his absence that she’d never felt before. Quickly Capable retracted her legs and wiggled to the side of the seat to make room for him, yearning for his nearness again. Under her heavy eyelids she watched him tug off the condom and then open the door -

And fling the condom outside.

“Nux! You can’t do that!”

“What? Why? You want to keep it?”

“No,” she said with a tired chuckle. Some souvenir that would be. “Come here. They’re just bad for the environment.”

“No shit? Don’t tell Dag - She’ll shred me! Hold on, I’ll go find it -”

He partially climbed, mostly tumbled out of the car and into the night. Capable hung out of the open door and called him back, laughing the whole time, though she did get to admire the view of him, long legs and beautiful ass that was maybe a little pale. Not that she’d tell Toast. He clambered back in and rubbed his now-cold hands on her as Capable shrieked and flopped into the backseat to reclaim her clothes.

Messy and goofy and sweet and perfect and safe. Just what she had needed. He was just what she needed.

---

Look what you have done
You're my favorite song
Always on the tip of my tongue
You own me with whispers like poetry
Your mouth is a melody I memorize
Mmm, so sweet
I hear it echo everywhere I go
Day and night
- “Tip of My Tongue” by the Civil Wars

Chapter Text

I've lived my life in the sun
I've lived my life so hard
I lived my life and I'll die
Cause everything dies
But it don't seem right
- “May I Miss You” by Family of the Year

---

Whenever he could, Nux drove out to the Green Place. A couple of times he beat Capable there and ended up deputized by her sisters or the Vuvalini. There was always something to get done, and even though he didn’t have the expertise of any of the women, he was beginning to add to his list of skills. Once it was Furiosa who came down to the curb to meet him and he’d followed her up into a house and then up onto the roof. Some tools and some instructions were all she gave him and then he was planted between her and the cop. And it went fine. Better than fine. It went normal - or as normal as Nux could imagine. Skewed perspectives, another piece of Joe’s legacy. A boss and a bruiser, but no orders. Just working over the sounds of the Vuvalini on the porch below. He chatted about Doof’s concert and Scab’s Boys, Ace and the cars, Capable and her songs.

That story didn’t get farther than Slit, who tried to flatten him into the garage floor when Nux started talking to Jehu and Mack about Max. Fight hadn’t gotten too far before Slit fucked off to wherever he went when he left Gas Town. The Boys had their own stories about that, but Nux wasn’t interested in whatever Slit was doing in streets. What mattered was getting off them, getting out of Gas Town, getting to be with Capable.

He wasn’t doing enough, that’s what it felt like. There wasn’t enough time - Like they were getting toward the end of a race.

Had to keep going, had to keep up Capable. Cars and trucks and bikes were turning the garage into a parking lot and whenever he finished with one, Boys came in with two more. For all the work, he wasn’t making much, and when he did, it went back to the War Boys - Rictus kept grabbing whatever he could. Exhausted every night, he still had to maneuver some time to talk to Capable. Had to make time to get into the car with her again. Had to be close, had to feel her, had to see her in the light, too, with him inside her and -

“Nux! For fuck’s sake, wake up!”

Morsov shook him again, hard and fast enough that his teeth rattled in his skull. Reflexively Nux shoved himself out of the tight grip and shot up into a sitting position, ready to jump to his feet and start running. But the garage was quiet and still - except for Morsov.

“What -?”

“I said, Koshy’s being all fucking weird and swear to valhalla, if something happened to her I’m going to turn feral. Nux, fucking wake up!” Panic sweat out of Morsov like he was leeking it. His eyes were wide and white - nothing like his usual properness.

“I’m awake!” Nux scrubbed at his face. “The fuck’s going on?”

Morsov clapped him on the shoulder and turned away, already at the door as Nux climbed up to his feet. In the hallway Slit was leaning against the doorframe, but despite the relaxed pose, he was radiating the same agitation: lips pulled back in a sneer and eyes squinting. Morsov pushed past him without even a glance and Slit followed, leaving Nux to bring up the rear.

“If someone poisoned her or something- “

“You’re so fucking rusted, Morsov. She’s knocked up, right?”

“Yeah?”

“So she’s getting them out!”

Morsov stared at Slit in surprise, like his wheels were going off the road. He looked back at Nux, trying to get confirmation. “You think so?”

“I know so,” Slit replied with a snort.

It wasn’t just Dred, Rotor, and Mack in the garage - some of Gonner’s crew appeared and there were more Boys at the garage door, peering in over each other’s shoulders. Morsov shoved them aside to clear a path to a couple of spare tires lying on the floor of the garage. Curled up in one was one of Morsov’s cats, mouth opened as it panted. Someone else said rat poison and Nux heard a scuffle behind him. Scoffing and shoving, the rest of the Boys inched closer. Nux cleared his throat and bald heads swiveled toward him. “Guess she’s could be going into labor.”

“Knew it!” yelled Slit, chest puffed out.

“So what do we do?” Morsov asked with a final, peevish glance at Slit. “Call Capable, will you? See if she knows. Ace says he doesn’t know and I tried all the fucking Boys I could think of -”

Which explained the crowd.

“- I don’t know who the fuck else there is!”

Nux rubbed his hand over Morsov’s smooth scalp in solidarity. “Capable will know, mate. And she’ll be able to help.”
Relief loosened Morsov’s crossed arms. Lasted only one rusted second before the cat let out a yowl like someone was stabbing it. Sounded like murder and when they all surged forward, the inside of the tire almost looked like it it too - Blood and something spilling out and -

“Oh fucking hell!”

“Disgusting!”

“The fuck is that!?”

“Nux!”

Morsov grabbed Nux’s elbow and then jammed his hand into the pocket of Nux’s jacket. They fumbled together for his phone until the cool plastic case was clamped in Nux’s hand. Sandwiched between Slitt and Morsov, heat from both of them and both of them yelling, he barely heard Capable when she picked up.

“Morsov’s having kittens!”

Capable’s startled reply came through the rest of the noise. “What?”

“Fuck, I mean, you know Morsov has cats? One of them is knocked up and she’s having babies all over the fucking place! What do we do?”

“Oh shit, I don’t know, Nux! Get her to a vet?”

“Where’s a vet?!”

“Ok, ok, give me a sec - I’ll look it up.” Capable’s voice grew quiet and he could hear Toast in the background. “Oh, hold on. Toast wants to talk to you.”

“Toast! You got to help us out!”

As soon as she got onto the phone, Toast started giving him instructions and he repeated them as exact as he could over the sound of Morsov’s overheating motor. Slit leaned hard into him, rocking Nux off balance as he tried to grab the phone. Nux jerked back, Toast’s orders still coming over through the chaos.

“Go deal with Morsov before he blows a gasket. Give me the phone!”

“Fuck off, Slit!”

When he got the phone back to his ear, Toast was laughing. “Slit’s up to his usual antics, huh. Just watch the miracle of life. Maybe you Boys will learn something. Text Capable when it’s done, all right? We’ll work out something.”

Everyone crowded around, elbows and shoulders banging so they could move in close for a view. And cringing - Nux was compelled to witness it, cursing through the worst of it. But when it was over… The kittens were the smallest living things Nux had ever seen. Warmth spread through him. They were gray beans, barely bigger than mice, still slick but drying into fuzz fast. Almost didn’t seem real, the size of the parts, molded into perfection somehow. He thought of Capable again - his thoughts were always rolling back to her - and of Angharad, her own baby lost. Little things, soft things… He looked sideways at the Boys next to him, trying to get a read on them. Some of them rolled their eyes and reached for cigarettes, but Morsov was staring, and Stacks, and Drift, and even Tag. Vulnerable things.

“Holy shit, look at them.”

“Tiny! Shiny!”

“Never had them in the Pits!”

The buzz of his phone finally made him tear his attention away. Even though she had to study and go to work, Capable texted with more advice and then with news: they had a vet appointment, if Morsov was interested. Which of course he fucking was.

Carefully and slowly, murmuring under his breath as he did it, Morsov moved the cat and kittens into an empty box. Which pissed her off - She hissed at everyone else so Nux gave her room. Slit squatted down and Nux was going to tell his partner to find someone else to harass, but Slit just let his hands hang relaxed over his knees.

Nux opened the passenger door of the Monte Carlo - Morsov dropped in. Surprised - holy shit, what a day for the unexpected - Nux and Slit just stood there.

“That cats!” Morsov barked. “Come on!”

“Shit, yeah.” Nux spun to collect the box, but Slit was faster. Once Morsov had the mewling box, Nux eased the door closed.

“Guess we’re going into the city,” he said with a laugh to Slit. “Later, mate.”

“I’ll follow.”

Another damn surprise. “Why? I’m just meeting up with Capable.”

“And her crew, right? I’ll watch your back.”

Annoyed that Slit thought Capable and her family were some sort of threat, Nux didn’t respond to that. When he got in the car, he shot a quick warning to Capable in case Furiosa was going to be around before taking off on the most plodding drove of Nux’s entire life. Speed limit was too fast for Morsov, so they crawled their way into the city, Slit in the rearview mirror flipping them off all the miles into midtown.

Finally they got to the rendezvous spot - all in one piece, precious cargo undisturbed. Nux sat on the hood of the car, turned so he could look through the windshield at the cats. A car slowed and Capable’s brilliant red hair appeared as she leaned out of the window. Nux shot up to his feet, waving back at her. When they parked, a whole gang of women got out of the hatchback: Capable and Dag, Miss Giddy, Savannah Nix, and another one Nux didn’t recognize. She stared back at him with clear interest but he only glanced at her before his attention was pulled back to Capable.

“Hey sweetheart! Hi Morsov, congrats on becoming a new father!”

“Out of the way, Nux; I need to see the kittens!”

Savannah pulled out her phone and took a picture. “Hey, good to see you again! And Morsov! Hi! Remember me?”

Dag grabbed her by the arm. “Kittens! Let’s go! Pictures of kittens, not War Boys!”

“Nux, this is Piper. We were studying together.”

“Hi!” Piper eyed him and then took a pen out of her bag. Pointing at him with it, she said, “I know Toast, too - She said you’re the nadir of War Boys and the apex of boyfriends. Would you say that’s accurate?”

“Um… If Toast said so, then I guess?”

“Out of the mouth of babes,” Dag pronounced. “Seriously, hurry the hell up. I have a fever and the only prescription is kittens. Morsov! I told you you need to get your cats neutered!”

Everyone’s excited voices spilled out over the sidewalk. And Nux too, feeling like he was spilling out, couldn’t stop grinning or laughing. With Capable’s hand in his, Nux got pulled into it all, giving a blow-by-blow description of the birth as the women scrunched up their faces in laughing disgust. The kittens squirmed under the cat, who listened to it all with her ears folded back. Maybe it was fucking ridiculous, even Nux could see that, that Morsov had been demolished by cats. He’d had no damn clue that Morsov had ever thought of anything outside of the War Boys back when they’d lived in the Pits. He’d never seemed to think of anything at all - Morsov was just a series of automatic response. Almost reminded him of Slit - who’d parked his bike halfway down the block from them. Nux glanced over everyone’s heads toward him, but Slit’s attention was somewhere else.

“Miss Giddy knows a good vet,” Capable told them, looking at Morsov to check with him. “We already have an appointment. I’ll call you as soon as it’s over. And then it’s back to school.”

Morsov nodded his thanks and Nux banged against his shoulder before he went back to his girlfriend. “K. Thanks, Capable. Means a lot that you’re doing this. You sure you have time? You’re working tonight, right?”

“I’ll be fine.” She tilted her chin up for a kiss and Nux went to her gladly. Her mouth under his was as sweet as ever, and soft, and warm. When she stepped closer he took her into his arms. He would’ve held onto her forever but he heard Dag call and Capable slowly untangled herself. Before she released him, they put their heads together to whisper back and forth without anyone else overhearing. With her face so close and long red hair loose around her shoulders, it was easy to forget that world had anyone else in it - all he could see was Capable. Even with Dag yelling now - sounded almost like witchy curses - and Slit probably waiting just as impatiently. He kissed her soft cheek and then slid his mouth toward her ear, nose in the waves of her sweet-smelling hair.

“Can I come by later?” he murmured. “Want to be in you again. I can’t stop thinking about it. Want to hear you calling for me.”

“Nux,” she breathed and just her saying his name was enough to rev him. She kissed him again, then again, then again. “I have my period. Raincheck for tonight?”

He didn’t known the word she used, but it was easy enough to understand the rejection He nodded and Capable grinned before kissing him again. Miss Giddy hooted as Capable squeezed him tight - wished it was just the two of them again. The memories of their last night together - the night, the sky, the car, Capable, her holding him and being all around him - washed through him again, flooding his engine.

The other women - Dag included - were busy with Morsov and the cat. Feeling guilty that he’d left them in the lurch, Nux wrapped his arm around Capable and they walked together back to the car. Savannah had her cell phone held out almost like a gun, grilling Morsov. Buffed up and proper, Morsov stood out like a black-and-blue thumb. Slit would’ve chewed them out, but at least Morsov was relaxed, shoulders loose and weight shifting easily from leg to leg.

Took some work to get the cats into the hatchback. This time, as Morsov squeezed his bulk into the car, Nux exchanged a look with Capable. And grin. And snort of laughter. And then a couple of kisses. Miss Giddy raised her eyebrows but Nux could only shrug helplessly. Of all the War Boys Nux thought he was getting through to, Morsov was nearly at the bottom of the list. Perfect Morsov, working himself to the bone in Ace’s image! Here he was, smushed into a car with bumper stickers that said things like “Destroy power, not people,” “Dog is my co-pilot,” and “My other car’s a broom.” Dag on one side, Capable on the other with Savannah in her lap, and Piper in the front, leaning over with her pen out again.

Once they were gone, Slit rode over. The bike sounded good - of course; Nux was a blackthumb. Slit sighed as he looked down the empty street and whined, “Now you got Morsov fucking around.”

Nux shrugged off Slit’s complaint. “Thought you’d be happy to see him gone. Hey, you ever hear the word ‘raincheck?’”

Slit took out his phone and started typing on it. Wasn’t a War Boy message, since Nux hadn’t felt his own vibrate. Or maybe it was; maybe Slit was getting orders that Nux wasn’t part of. A few months ago an exclusion like that would’ve killed him, now Nux just watched his partner curiously.

“‘Raincheck?’”

“Yeah. Capable said it.” The only definition he could think of was making sure a car’s sealed up against water. Annoyed that he couldn’t make sense of it, Nux ran his hands over his hair. Maybe she needed to make sure she was checked for leaks? If she thought she wasn’t ready yet, he’d wait until she was, even if he didn’t understand her reasoning.

“Means you get a ticket for whatever it is for later. Like a show got rained out.”

Cheered up that she was just postponing, Nux smiled up at the barely clouded sky. What a lovely day! With a whistle he walked toward the river. There were old piers, half sunk or even completed rotted under the little waves that banged up against the cement piling. Nux leaned over the rusting railings and looked down into the water, but it was too deep to see much of anything. The river kept its secrets better than most.

“Prime and Rictus had it out, blood on both sides.”

Slit’s statement made Nux look up from the water’s endless movement. It took his eyes a second to adjust - and his brain, sloshing around now too. Joe and his underlings used to occupy so much of everything; there was so much more in his thoughts, his life, that for that second he wondered why Slit cared. He rubbed his hand over his hair then asked, “Who came out on top?”

“Rictus.” Slit tapped out a cigarette and brought it to his mouth, but then just let it hang there unlit.

“They take each other out, no one will lead!”

Slit rolled his shoulders back and didn’t answer, but Nux was too psyched up with imagining that possibility to care about his partner’s moping. Prime and Rictus fucking each other over - it’s be shine. Perfect. Then Furiosa wouldn’t have to get involved, then War Boys wouldn’t have to duke it out for the bosses. Going out with a whimper instead of a bang, the ultimate middle finger for Joe.

There was a silence between them, just the noises of the traffic and the river filling the space. Finally Slit crossed his arms over his chest. “I can. I will.”

Nux stuttered out, “What, be the next Joe?”

“Fuck yeah! I can do it.”

Energy surged through him and suddenly Nux striding over to his partner. “Slit. Fuck. No!”

Who was staring fiercely over the water, refusing to turn to look at him. Nux had to sidle around, and even then Slit met his eyes grudgingly. Stubbornly he stated, “I’m stronger than Prime, smarter than Rictus, faster than Ace.”

“Yeah, but -”

“You’ve been saying shit is wrong, haven’t you? Needs to be fixed? I will. Make us shine again.”

“It’s not just Joe! Or Rictus. Or fucking Prime. There shouldn’t be War Boys. At all!” Slit had been a wretch about Capable from the first day, but Nux had never had to deal with such an explicit argument from Slit before. It didn’t feel like Slit’s usual reactive assholeness - the way Slit had said it, it felt solid.

“Always been War Boys!”

“Hasn’t.” Even as he argued, Nux wondered if Slit was closer to being right than him. There weren’t always War Boys, there hadn’t always been Joe, but there’d been men like them. That things had been done that way - violence - Capable had said something like that.

Fuck! He bit back a groan of irritation and tried another approach. “What’s the point of staying in the Boys?”

Slit’s brows lowered over his narrowed eyes. “The point? War Boys took you in when you didn’t have any place else to go. War Boys protected you. You wanted to be a War Boy. I remember - You begged for it!”

“I was a kid! The fuck did I know?”

Joe’d never even noticed them, probably hadn’t known he or Slit had even existed, even though Slit had worked himself into like the shiniest example of a War Boy: shaved flawlessly and scars a clear announcement of his abilities. Nux’s hair and scruff were a radical statement in comparison. The rules split them into groups; rules made it easy to see who stepped out of line. When Nux thought about it - about Joe, about the Boys, about himself - he wanted to fang it. Thoughts went as wild as his heart beat. He wasn’t going back to the Boys. He’d outrace them all.

Slit started to pace, angry stomping steps back and forth. With a growl, he demanded, “What’re you going to do? Out on the streets by yourself you’re a walking target. Even your girl won’t let you mooch off her forever. Kick you out-”

“No!” Capable was opening up new roads, not blocking them off. Like always, just the thought of her propelled Nux on and he added excitedly, “I can make money. I can get a job. Or go to school or whatever I want!”

“You can do jack shit! You’ll rust away or you can be shine again.”

When he faced him again, Nux’s eyes fell on the puckered line of scar that twisted up Slit’s cheek. The first scar had happened before Nux had met him, when Slit was a kid - A kid, even younger than Cheedo. The second one, and Nux’s own scars, had come later, when they were full-fledged members in the blacks.

Shine again. Nux’s brain chugged over that. What did they have to do to be shine again? Payment in blood - what else could they trade with? “What do you want, Slit? Money? More cars? Rictus covered in chrome?”

“Me and you owning the Vault.”

That rocked him. Of course Slit didn’t know the truth about it - Couldn’t know it. Struggling to answer in a way that didn’t exposing Capable, Nux’s teeth clamped down on his lip and the shooting pain cleared through the words in his throat.

“You could bring Capable in,” Slit said through Nux’s silence. He continued, each word firm, laying out a roadmap. “Joe had girls, right? We can too. Bring her in, shine her up. Get her whatever she wants. Think about it, Nux! Everyone under us. Respect of the whole fucking city. Finally be someone.”

“Someone like Joe? Who got smashed up on the road? Who the EMTs wouldn’t save?”

Slit ignored the questions. “She’s hurting for money, right? And Buzzards are spreading. They aren’t going to fuck off from the university if you ask them nice. Build up the Boys and we can clear out the streets. You can protect her. And not just her - her whole family. You and me, Nux; we can protect the whole city.”

Instead of working for a few bucks that got taken from him anyway… Instead of sending Capable out onto the streets with only hope there to protect her… Instead of them all being hungry and cold… Capable’s shine made it through the muck of the quagmire and Nux shot back, “You know how Joe got all his stuff, right? He took it from us. Not just the War Boys, everyone in Citadel City. Stole it.”

“I can do it better.” Slit’s eyes met Nux’s. “I’m shiner than him now. I can do it right. We can.”

“The city needs to change -”

“We’ll change it!” Slit grabbed Nux’s jacket, held him in place and then shook him hard, fast, with his grin spread wide and teeth showing - trying to rile him. “The way it fucking should be! It’s needs someone driving it straight - You and me; your girl and her crew.”

“War Boys ruling again?”

Everything was a fucking fight with Slit. Maybe he could see enough to tell that he was losing the battle because Slit loosened his grip. “Like we’re meant to.”

Nux shoved Slit’s arms away. “You’re wrong, Slit! If you listened at all you’d get that. The War Boys only worked because they were jerry rigged to!”

“Fucking mediocre political discourse!”

Too revved into irritation, Nux barely noticed Slit’s insult. “After everything Capable’s done for me, you think I’m going to throw it back into her face? I love her, Slit! Don’t know why you don’t get it. Even if I didn’t agree with her, even if I was a fucking wretched idiot -”

“You are!”

All the years of being partners meant jack shit to Slit; getting to the top was all he cared about. Even fucking Stacks, part of Scab’s feral crew, at least wanted to listen. Maybe he and his crew would be at Doof’s show when Capable played, get a chance to see her on stage with her shining in the spotlight.

“Come on, Nux! All you got to do is follow me. Don’t worry about any other smeg. Look,” he said eagerly and when he moved toward Nux again, it was to throw his arm over his shoulders. His other hand rifled through his pocket and then pulled out a fistful of money. “I made this in one afternoon. Cleaned up the streets and no one got hurt. This isn’t even all of it.”

Bills, barely crinkled. Nux’s eyes widened in disbelief - more money than he’d ever laid eyes on before. But the initial surprise changed to suspicion. “What’d you do?”

“More than you. Ask Chee about it. It’s fucking better now on Bowerie. Bet this fucking wad of money on it!”

Cheedo? Confused, all he could do was repeat himself. “Slit, what’d you do?”

“I told you! This is it, Nux: valhalla’s in our reach. The War Boys made Citadel City and it’s nothing without us. Grind off the rust and it’ll be chrome.”

The sudden short buzz from a phone united them - War Boy orders coming through. Both of them pulled out their phones to read the message: meet in the usual spot. There wasn’t a decision to make about it; Nux wasn’t going to go back into War Boy territory and pretend that nothing changed. That he hadn’t changed. “You get in a fight on Bowerie? The place is clean, Slit. Leave it alone!”

“It’s clean now because I know what the fuck I’m doing!” Slit growled out the words. “Come on, we got to meet up. You’ll see - all of us together, you’ll see how shine the War Boys are.”

Getting into fights on the street and then getting paid for it; far as Slit was concerned, that was their only option. Like what’d happened to him that started it all: bashed up in a fight with the Buzzards, left behind for Capable to rescue him. There was no way Nux was going to go along with that - not anymore. “I’m not going.”

“You need to be there! Morsov’s fucking off with your girl - Both of you missing is asking for it.” He climbed on his bike still shouting, “You don’t know how lucky you are having me watch out for you!”

Nux stayed rooted in the cloud of exhaust, breathing hard until his heart finally wore itself back down.

Money. They needed money. That had been the only thing Slit was right about. They needed more and they needed it fast before Slit went out again, beating money out of the neighborhood.

He climbed into the Monte Carlo and steered it back to the main roads. The heat of the engine warmed the car - No question about it, winter was driving up fast. Soon it’d be cold nights on the floor with Slit and the cats. He felt a pang of empathy for the kittens with cage of the garage as their only home. Another reason to get money. Nux wondered if he could convince Morsov to give them up; Capable and her family would adopt the strays, he reckoned. The thought hadn’t come in explicitly, but part of him was already planning on spending more nights with her in her home, too. Sleeping through the icy winds and dark, warm with her against it all.

On Memorial he heard the roar of bikes and in his rearview mirror he saw the muted colors of Rock Riders. He could have floored it and left them far behind. One War Boy by himself, didn’t Slit warn him about that?

Fuck that.

Nux inched along with traffic and then opened his window to let his arm dangle out. It only took a couple of seconds for the gang to surround him like a cloud. The guy on the biggest bike rode close enough to yell through the window, “Look at this War Boy! Times got to be fucking tough if you’re riding all by your lonesome.”

“Looks like you guys are making it fine,” he said back amenably. “Got those engines from the Pits, right?”

“You here to take them back?”

Nux held his hands up from the steering wheel. “Not me.”

The light changed and some of the Riders revved their engines, but Nux and the leader stayed at the intersection. “What’re you doing out here?”

The guy wore huge goggles under a big ass helmet so his face was impossible to read. Unlike the Boys and the Buzzards, Riders didn’t have a color: they were a collection of worn-soft leathers and old racing gear, patched together like a Vuvalini jacket. If they were half as reliable as Capable and her crew… “Just met up with my girlfriend! You see her? Red hair, shine as anything. She’s this amazing singer. Capable - she was on CCUR a while ago.”

“Are you shitting me?”

Nux frowned. “Why’d I lie about that?”

“Fuck, I don’t know.” The guy rocked back and forth on his bike, then laughed suddenly, slapping his hands on his thighs. “You’re not a total shitheel for a War Boy.”

“I’m Nux.”

“Nux?” The leader rolled it over, hissed out the sounds as he tested it out. There was a pause after that, but then he nodded. “I’m Kabul. Mirri’s the one checking out the car and Powai’s the bastard eyeing you for dinner.”

It was the first time Nux had ever traded names with another gang. Something he’d never even thought of doing before he met Capable. War Boys knew War Boys, spoke to War Boys, listened to War Boys - like the whole world was just them. Everything was different now, bigger. Him too. This was a gamble, but the risk was calculated. “You want to see this thing in action again?”

“A race? You know we will!”

Nux leaned out the window. “How about we make it interesting?”

---

What is this, one cannot trust the other
They are such lonely brothers
What is this, try and run for cover
Each running from the other
- “What Is This” by Willy Mason

Chapter Text

Open windows, set the sail beneath my wings
We are the light that we are glowing in
She kissed my lips as fast as the wind
You and I, queens and kings
We are the sky
We are the ocean
- “Broken Feathers” by Harrison Storm

---

Messages popped up in quick succession, a buzz that vibrated up her chair from her bag. Capable glanced down at the phone where it lay on top of her books to make sure it wasn’t an emergency. The series of exclamation points could only come from one person: Nux. The urge was strong but Capable resisted interrupting her test and turned back to her paper. So close to being done. So close…

As soon as her test was done, she hurried out of the classroom and pulled out her phone. Dag quickly followed and they jumped up and down in the hallway – the quietest celebration full of whispered shrieks and fist pumps and high-fives and hugs and laughter that almost turned into tears. Done – first semester of school was done! She survived university, her birthday was coming up, and she had a boyfriend –

Who she needed to reply to. Grinning, she looked back down at her phone and opened up her messages. Nux wanted her to get back to him as soon as she could - He needed her in the city. And when she saw his reason why, she made a short noise of surprise, drawing Dag over.

“A race,” she read aloud to Dag, who draped herself over Capable’s shoulders.

“How sexy! Are you going to stand there waving a flag?”

Capable snorted a laugh. More texts from Nux came in, plenty of smiling faces and hearts, and then an influx from her family. Even Furiosa put aside her distaste of her cellphone to join in the conversations of congratulations.

yay you guys! youre the best!
next stop, dr. capable
dr. dag sounds like a dj name
Congrats to both of you. We’re all proud.
i want to go to university too :(:(
lets get pizza
no its dr. dags turn to choose: spag bol
my brain feels like spag bol
your butt looks like spag bol

She and Dag climbed on the bus together, but it was only a few stops to the hospital. Inside, Angharad was waiting for their report on their final; maybe she’d smile and tilt her head, maybe she squeeze their hands, maybe today was the day she’d sit up. Dag promised to give Angharad her love, then with another hug and a fond tug on Capable’s braid, Dag clomped down off the bus. Capable settled back down on her seat and looked at the window as the city faded into evening. The sinking sun set the sky on fire, and the orange light spilled out onto the buildings. Even the brown leaves clinging to the trees were beautiful. Painted by the light, they could be gold and rubies. The closer the bus took her to where she was meeting Nux, the more anticipation entered into her thoughts, wiggling in like a tune. Life could be beautiful.

Boyfriend and vacation and kittens! Silly things in the grand scheme of life, but for her, they had been nigh impossible concepts. Maybe they could go shopping together, find a sweater for Nux to wear. Or soft flannel pants. She imagined him in a peacoat and let that daydream carry her until her stop. It was a neighborhood she hadn’t been too before and the bus driver made a noise under her breath when Capable hopped out, but it seemed ok. By Citadel City standards, anyway.

It was quiet on Anarchie Road. No one was waiting - no Nux and no Rock Riders either. She pulled her coat closed and then sat at the not-completely-broken bench at the bus stop. A few more texts to and from her sisters kept her busy for a moment and then she opened her guitar case and took out her Swaisey. There was no point in trying to busk, not so late at night in such a remote place, but like always the guitar in her arms was a comfort. And something to do before the anticipation made her go berserk. She began to strum began to fiddle through another song she’d been trying to write, but didn’t get far before she heard the rumbling roar of motorcycles. Rock Riders stopped down the street from her but she could still hear their animated voices before the sounds softened. Another motorcycle pulled up; not part of the group, it parked close to the bus stop.

Capable waited for a moment, enjoying the rare peace of a Citadel City evening, and then started to sing.

Guys, what are we doing?
Can't live this way forever
Got to make ourselves some money
Or be thrown out with the bathwater
My sister and my brother
Look to me for answers
And our fathers and our mothers
Want to know they raised us right
Want to know they raised us right

She could hear the sound of heavy steps on the sidewalk even as she played, ears picking up the beats and thoughts listing the possibilities of who it could be. Too dark to see much of anything… But even that was a clue. War Boy. Not Nux, obviously, she told herself even though her heart leapt at the thought of him. Many of the streetlights were broken or their lights too soft to illuminate the pavement below them, but then a light in an apartment turned on, throwing the figure into view. It was Nux’s partner, Slit, sauntering toward her. It almost looked like he was smiling, but no, those were the scars twisting up his cheeks. He looked the same as always in all black and head and face shaved smooth, but then he did something different. It was sort of short and then he rubbed at the back of his neck, but there was no mistaking it - He waved at her.

“Hey,” she called out and gave him a wave in return before her hands went back to the strings.

His gaze moved around the street, then dipped down to look at the case at her feet. “Just you today?”

She nodded. “I figured I had time for a couple of songs while I waited. Where’s Nux? What’s the deal with this race?”

“Hell if I know,” he replied with a grunt. Again his stare roamed around, searching the streets for something. “Not safe for you to be out here on your own. Buzzards are out. And these fucking Rock Riders…”

“Mostly I’ve been dealing with War Boys.” She gave him a smile. “And they’re not all bad.”

“Should at least have back-up.”

It wasn’t Nux’s earnest worry of course, but it sounded like Slit was legitimately concerned. When he came with Nux and Morsov to drop off the kittens, Slit had kept his distance like they’d had the plague. Now here he was, engaging in normal conversation. Would the wonders never cease?

“I don’t usually play like this,” she explained. “Today’s special though, right? I should get us pumped with something… Damn, I need to learn more songs. Something rocking…”

“What’s that one?”

“The song I was just playing? They’re the Head and the Heart. Did you like it?” Surprised and pleased, she picked the song up again and under her fingers the guitar strings warmed. She could still hear the murmur of the guys down the street, but they seemed to quiet when she began. Slowly, relishing the words, she sang for all of them to hear.

Isn't that the good life is a simple one?
Sitting in the yard watching the leaves go by
Reading good books and playing songs
Watching the wind blow through your front yard
Don't follow your head
Follow your heart

Her fingers still moving, she asked, “You know Toast, right? I always think of her during that part. Sums up both of us: books and songs. Best things in life.”

“Mediocre,” Slit said gruffly. Capable was more amused than insulted, but she arched her eyebrow in umbrage and he had the decency to look abashed. As she started to put away her guitar, he wandered closer. “You’re done with school?”

“Yeah! Last final was today.”

“That’s… chrome. So what do you do now?”

It was sort of a weird phrasing and Capable continued to pack up, giving herself time to think before answering. “Some people take classes in the break, but I’m not going to. I’m sort of looking forward to having time off. I don’t know how much Nux tells you, but we’re planning some things - like a march. And we’re working on fixing up our neighborhood. And then I still have my job. And one of my sisters is in the hospital. So there’s all that… I’d like to actually go on some dates, you know? I guess I could try to fit in more classes and get it done sooner… I don’t know. I don’t think I’m that motivated. Or smart.”

“When you’re done with university, then what?”

She laughed a bit. “Damn, Slit, I don’t know! That’s years away. I’m not even sure what my major is. I mean, just going to school is sort of a big accomplishment for me! Finishing the semester is huge.”

Slit almost looked like he wanted to say something else - maybe. Nux with his beautiful big eyes and quick grins and interested questions was so much easier to talk to. Not that Slit was terrible. Maybe Nux had said something to him to make him be on his best War Boy behavior.

All those thoughts disappeared as soon she saw Nux, rushing like a gust of clean air that swept away the traffic’s fumes. The Monte Carlo pulled up, and he bounded over before she fully climbed to her feet and picked her up into his arms with a swing. A kiss, a kiss, never enough kisses and then his excited announcement, “Hey guys! They’re on their way, passed them on the road. This is going to be so fucking chrome!”

Slit’s grumble of a voice came up from behind them, “Need more back-up. I don’t like this.”

“It’s fine, Slit! Besides, I told you: they’re just picking the starting point. I get to map out the race.” She could feel the energy sparking in him and she got caught up too, grinning and even giving a squeal of glee when he hugged her tight.

The noises of the Rock Riders’ bikes was a roar that almost shook the street as more bikes joined the ones who’d been waiting. Engines humming, the Riders hooting and cheering, and then Nux’s voice, loud and clear over it all, “Kabul! This is my girlfriend! You got to hear her play!”

She couldn’t tell if they were the same guys they’d raced before and there was no time for introductions. They circled in the street, driving up onto the curb to lap around the bus stop too - Slit moved in close enough that she felt his leather jacket cool against her arm, but Nux’s grin didn’t falter. When he looked down at her, she could see the blue in his eyes as the headlights circled around them.

Kamicrazy!

She grabbed his jacket and pulled him down - his mouth was hot on hers and his body was hard, muscles coiled and ready to erupt. The tornado of bikes had made a whirlwind that caught them all up. One more kiss and Nux was gone, bounding down the sidewalk. He approached one of the Riders, saying something that she couldn’t hear over the cacophony but whatever it was, it went over well. The guy clapped him on the shoulder and even in the darkness she could see the flash of Nux’s smile. Suddenly they turned toward her and Nux waved exuberantly.

Tossing back a grin of her own, Capable once again grabbed her case and bag, but she’d barely made it halfway to the Monte Carlo when Nux stopped her. “I can’t come? Why?”

“Just in case,” Nux began, then snapped his jaw shut and flushed under her glare. “It’s fine! I’ll win the fuck out of this race. Just… you know, in case of the bronze or whatever. Fur-” He cast an apprehensive look over to Slit, then continued in a quieter voice. “You know Furiosa would shred me if anything happened to you. She’d resurrect me just to kill me again.”

“If it’s too dangerous for me then it’s too dangerous for you!”

“I got seatbelts now, remember!” The quip failed to soften her frown, so Nux kissed her again, soft and light on her forehead, and said conciliatory, “I can’t do much but I can drive.” And then he caught her chin to tilt it up so she couldn’t avoid his eyes, big and blue and wide enough that she could see herself reflected back. He pleaded, voice thick and there was no way for her to refuse, “Let me do this for you. One last race.”

He was so fucking fast sometimes. Capable couldn’t find words to reply to that before he was vaulting away again.

“Start and end, same place!” one of the Rock Riders yelled to her mates. Two parked - well, not parked, more like just stopped in the middle of the street and leaned back, only missing a bag of popcorn to watch the spectacle - and the other two Rock Riders rode up behind their leader’s bike, their wheels spinning, burning the pavement up into plumes of smoke.

“Witness me, Capable!” he yelled back at, hands cupped around his mouth like a kid. She stood there with her guitar and her bag as Nux disappeared into his car.

“Come on!”

The voice startled her and Capable spun around - Slit was motioning to her and pointing at his own bike. Somehow she’d forgotten about him, lost him in the flurry. There was no place to safely leave her stuff so with a prayer to any sympathetic gods she stashed the guitar case and her backpack under a parked car and then ran to catch up with Slit. He shoved a helmet at her and she fumbled it between her sweaty palms. Riding on Skully’s bike down Green Place was one thing - Getting on Slit’s for some Citadel City grand prix was another beast entirely, and she was glad to have the protection.

“Come on!” he ordered again and put on his own helmet. Quickly she did the same and then awkwardly climbed onto the back of the bike. This time, when he had a command for her, Slit turned to talk instead of just barking it. “You been on a bike before? You got to hold onto me. Tight. Promise I won’t do anything salacious.”

The hell was she supposed to say to that? Too flabbergasted to reply, she rested her hands above his hips. But as soon as they started moving - a jump, a leap forward, holy shit! - she was grabbing on for dear life.

Down the street, wind yanking on her jacket and biting at her bare hands and thank god she had the helmet because her eyes would have been frozen open. When she peeled her eyes open, they were flying along with the Rock Riders. Slit gunned it and they passed them in a cloud of exhaust - her shrieking over the noise of the engine and Slit hollering over her. It was a damn din of exultation. A fucking riot in the street! Thank god the road was almost empty, Capable managed to think - Almost, but not quite because suddenly there was honking and someone yelling and she turned to see headlights so fucking close -

And then they were gone and it was just her and Slit and the tail lights far ahead of them -

Nux!

“Hold on!” Slit yelled and she almost couldn’t hear it, not with the wind and the engine and her heart pounding. She gripped him harder at the warning and Slit kicked the thing into overdrive and -

“I’m gonna fall off! Holy shit!”

“Fang it!”

Screeching around the corner, they were going too fast for her to see much of anything but the blur of the streetlamps as they raced past. In front of her Slit was hunched down - even so, his big body took the brunt of the wind, shielding her. Capable raised her head to look over his shoulders; there were the streaking tail lights like shooting stars. “Slit! Over there!”

“Fuck yeah! Ready?”

A word that she could barely process - but then down another street she saw the Monte Carlo. Moving - flying - too fast, too far away. The motor growled as Slit slowed - or maybe that was Slit - and he jerked the bike around, the back tire squealing screaming screeching against the pavement.

“Shit!” she yelled and the curse banged around in her helmet. This was completely fucking insane and her voice was raw from yelling already and how long had they been riding what the fuck kind of race was this - what if the cops came after them or what if they crashed -

They took off through an alley so narrow she could almost feel the bricks scrape her arms. He veered around trash cans and old tires, barely easing off the gas - They popped out the other side in time to see the Monte Carlo blast past.

“Go Nux!” she screamed at the top of lungs.

“Waste those wretches!” Slit yelled just as loud.

She sprang up, hands on Slit’s shoulders for support as she stood as tall as she could get. The Rock Rider was right beside the Monte Carlo - no, weaving ahead -

Slit started up again and she landed hard on her ass on the seat. Barely noticed it - she was yelling and pointing and Slit’s boot was crashing down hard on the acceleration.

There was no way to catch up to them. Maybe Slit’s bike couldn’t match the engines or he was going slow for her, either way they were trailing the race at a distance, both of them shouting at the tail lights before they disappeared around a turn, zoomed up a ramp to the highway. The other cars around them seemed like they were standing still. In fact the whole city was like - cemented in place as they bolted onward. It felt like barely a minute - really just seconds, just heart beats - but then they were back on the main street. Slit cut away, and they rode through a dark street while the roar of the race quieted behind rows of apartments, but then with a whoop of triumph, Slit spun his bike squealing around a corner. He yanked off his helmet and pointed, shouting at her to see -

As Nux sped over the finish line.

She half climbed, half fell off the bike in her haste to get to him. Tearing off the helmet, her hair was flung out around her face. She ran as fast as a race and collided hard against him. Nux caught her as they stumbled back, collapsing onto the seat, her head knocking his chin and his hands tangling in her hair, both of them gasping in laughter.

“You’re completely insane, Nux! That was amazing! So shiny! So chrome!”

“I did it, Capable! Did you see when I turned that corner and I took out three mailboxes in one swipe? And that fucking minivan!”

“Fucking nuts!” Slit’s cheer boomed over everything. Nux and Capable struggled up to their feet and Slit reached around her to pull Nux into an embrace. Beside them, Capable observed them together in silence, her crazy thoughts finally calming. Slit was all grins now as he rubbed Nux’s head - almost gently. Then he grabbed him, a headlock that Nux swore at, still laughing as he shoved Slit away.

Kabul held out his hand and Nux, free from Slit, moved forward to shake it. “Hot damn, son. Guess the War Boys aren’t dead after all!”

The other Riders cheered. “Fucking hell of a race!”

“Shit, that car is amazing!

Nux’s grin widened. “Told you! This thing is shine!”

“You War Boys are feral! Least you hold up your end of the bargain better than that boss of yours.” Kabul paused, waiting for something. As soon as Nux nodded, Kabul made a gesture to one of the other Rock Riders, who pulled a backpack from her shoulders and tossed it to him. “Us too.”

Curious, Capable leaned on Nux’s arm as he unzipped it.

Money.

A shitload of money.

In shock, she could only gawk as Nux pulled another bag from the backseat of his car. Her wide eyes met Slit’s and they gaped at each, momentarily connected by mutual incredulity.

With quick and efficient movements, Nux split the money between the two bags. Slit recovered first and reached down to pull out a block of bills, then handed them to her before he started flipping through his own. To check that they were real, she guessed, and flipped through too. Joe never let them hold any of his money, even as he flaunted his ill-gotten gains. And now here she was. Toast would compare her to a movie moll, and Dag would probably crack some inappropriate joke. And Angharad… All of her sisters, what would they say? What would Furiosa? Max?

When he was done, Slit jerked his head in a nod - cash passed the test. Once the bags were zipped up, Nux pulled them out and slammed the door. He handed one of them to Slit, who slung it immediately on his back and then stood with his feet planted and shoulders squared, daring the Rock Riders to try to take it back.

Who were hovering around the car. The one Nux had raced yanked off a glove to lay his hand flat on the hood. Capable’s breath went into her throat - maybe Slit had the right of it. But Nux’s grin was wide as the Monte Carlo’s grill. He shook the bag one more time and then turned to her. Somehow his grin managed to grow wider and those beautiful blue eyes sparked and sparkled.

“Happy birthday, Capable,” he said as he put the bag in her arms. “Love you.”

“Nux!” That was was all she could say - all of her thoughts were on him.

He stepped forward to kiss her - on the forehead since her mouth was hanging open. And then he turned back to the Rock Riders. “Here, Kabul.”

He tossed the keys -

And Kabul grabbed them out of the air.

Still processing it all, Capable’s brain chugged sluggishly. Nux had sold his car, she realized, feeling dim and dense. But Slit’s reaction was immediate; he barked an curse and lunched forward to grab Nux by the shoulder. “The fuck did you do?”

Capable instinctively moved forward to be by Nux’s side. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the Rock Riders rush back to their bikes. Even though they were ready to scatter, Kabul stayed in place, waiting like her to see what would happen.

“Sold it,” Nux answered. He was still grinning but it shifted into something sharper and his eyes hardened.

Somehow Slit seemed to get bigger - chest out and jaw squared in infuriation and she saw his knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on Nux’s jacket. “That car’s the War Boys'!”

“Let him go, Slit!”

At the sound of her voice, Slit’s dark glare jerked to her. His lips were pulled back - a scowl, a grimace, all teeth and scar - and with a hiss of breath he pushed Nux away. “You don’t get it!” he said, though it wasn’t clear who he was addressing. Nux was just as rigid as Slit, neither of them backing down, neither of them listening. “Making a deal with Rock Riders, selling the car - Rictus is going to shred you when he finds out! Even fucking Ace will!”

He wasn’t shouting but his voice was dark, rough, and cut through the night like a knife. Capable inhaled sharply and held the breath there in an attempt to stay calm. She was right - she knew it as sure as the sun would rise. Angharad never back down and neither would she. “The War Boys are wrong, Slit, and that’s exactly why! Joe made those rules to control you. Can you see how fucked up that is? Nux is your friend, Slit - Your partner. Don’t fight him, don’t yell at him; listen to him.”

“You don’t know what the Boys are like,” he shot back. “Can’t keep order by singing songs. Bosses on top don’t want to hear it. What’s next? Take stuff from Rictus? From Corpus?” He jabbed a finger toward the car and Kabul shifted his body weight. If there was a fight, what the hell was she supposed to do? But Slit stayed in place, swinging his bulk to face Nux again. “That’s what they’ll think and they’ll put a stop to it. You get that, Nux? You fucked us all over doing this!”

“So leave them,” Capable replied. Nux grabbed her hand and she squeezed his fingers, so warm around her own. Until that moment she had realized how cold she’d become, with the dark night’s air seeping through her pants and sweater, maybe even through her skin and muscles straight to the pieces inside.Maybe the War Boys needed to escape, just like she had with her sisters. “Come stay with us. If you’re not safe -”

“I’m not a filthy coward!” He yanked backward, stepped off the curb and away from her reaching hand. “And neither is Nux.”

Looking up at Nux, she could see his lips pressed down in a hard line but other than that, Nux hadn’t reacted to Slit’s bait. “Come on, mate, just listen for once. You know I built that car from the wheels up. It’s mine and I can do whatever the hell I want -”

Slit spun away and climbed onto his bike. “Cleaning up another one of your fucking messes!” He didn’t look back as he started it and then, tires squealing, disappeared down the street.

One of the Rock Riders let out a long, low whistled and the other ones laughed. “There goes your ride, Nux!” one of them shouted and she felt a breeze ruffle at her damp hair, as though everyone had let out a breath of relief.

“Stranded,” he agreed.

“You can come home with me,” she offered. “I’ll call someone to pick us up.”

“Maybe later. I want to make sure Slit hands out the money. It’s for Morsov and the either guys in the garage, not just that schlanger.” He kissed her to make up for the refusal. “You need to get back. Not safe walking around with all this.”

All this - all the money that was still in her arms. “Nux, I can’t believe you sold the Monte Carlo. What are you going to do now?”

“It’s just a car…” He said bravely, but maybe there was a wavering note in that statement.

Capable pulled him down for another kiss, bringing him close in an attempt to tell him, show him, how much she appreciated what he had done. “I can’t believe you did this!”

“So you’re happy?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” she murmured back. “I love you. Thank you.”

“You want a ride, War Boy?” one of the Rock Riders yelled, interrupting their moment.

Another bus was coming, so quickly she reclaimed her backpack and guitar - still safe, thankfully, and then slung the bag of money around her middle and held it like she was cradling a pregnant stomach. She started to laugh at the unbelievable fortune of it and Nux, with a few more wistful glances at Kabul and the Monte Carlo, smiled too.

“Thank you, Nux! Holy shit, wow, I can’t believe this. You’re amazing! That race and then this… Thai dinners for a month!” she said, patting the bag.

“And Chinese!” Nux joined in happily. “And movies!”

“Maybe a new showerhead!”

“Socks!”

Shit, she should buy him some socks. “One pair for every day of the year! Collars for the kittens!”

“Muffler for Furiosa’s truck!”

“Guitar picks for everyone!”

Nux kissed her through the mess of bags. He stood protectively at the bus stop and then helped her up the steps. As soon as she collapsed down into a seat, she turned to look at him out of the window. One of the Rock Riders had ridden up and Nux gave her a final wave before he swung his long leg over the bike and sat on the back.

She hugged the bag against her chest and drew up her knees. All this money… Her family was going to be in shock. They didn’t need it to survive, but there was no way she could deny that it was a major help. Shaking her head wonderingly, she marvelled again at Nux - who was riding off, back to Gas Town. Guilt suddenly struck her a physical pang - she hadn’t done enough to thank him. She should’ve said more, should’ve insisted that he come back with her.

Well, she’d just have to show her appreciation next time they met, then.

---

And the sun sinks over the big smoke
The sky explodes on the shuddering lake
There's a new wild feeling dancing in the air
There's a new wild everywhere
- “New Wild Everywhere” by Great Lake Swimmers

Chapter Text

Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven
You can justify it in the end
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away
- “One Tin Soldier” by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter

---

Felt like it was a summer noon and not a darkening autumn evening. Nux was running hot as he rode on the back of Powai’s bike. He grinned up at the buildings of Citadel City, chrome and almost too shine to look at. “I did it!” He yelled at a commuter bus, everyone inside staring down at him and the Rock Rider before they zoomed passed. “Glory me!”

He won the fucking race, got the fucking money, solved a bunch of fucking problems in one quick burst. The Monte Carlo was gone but not forgotten, a worthy sacrifice for Capable’s family. And Nux’s family - With the money, Morsov’s cats were set for all of their lives, and they could pay off whoever the hell came calling, and Slit wouldn’t have to prowl the streets. Nux had fixed it all with Capable as his witness.

Capable, Capable - her name was an echo in his thoughts. He’d finally been able to do something for her. Love of his life, love of his world, and she loved him too, and now she had a thousand bills as proof of the strength of his devotion.

The road ahead was like melted gold all the way through the city.

Screeching tires behind him made Nux turn around. Headlights and horns - a few and then more. In an instant everything was threatened. Shit. Even he knew what it was.

War Boys on the hunt.

“We got to get out of here!” he yelled over Powai’s shoulder, and he hunched down and sped up - he saw them too or else he was only obeying Nux’s order. But one bike wasn’t a match for them -

A car pulled up in front and two more on either side. Boxed in, Rider could only slow down - he knew he no choice, even though Nux’s teeth were clenched and his blood pounded like nitro through his veins. They all stopped at once, tires squealing on the pavement. Doors opened and the bang of them slamming shut sounded like gunshot. Multiple crews of War Boys sprung out from everywhere and in a second he and Powai were swarmed.

“The fuck’s going on here?”

“Traitoring us with a Rock Rider?”

As soon as Nux jumped off the bike, Powai swung around, tires screaming, and aimed for a gap between the cars. Nux didn’t see if he made it - Fight was fast, the Boys moving in tangent like well-oiled parts. Black Stump grabbed Nux - arms wrenched back, shoulders pulled back - and Butchey hit him hard across the face - getting cheek, nose, mouth.

“Look at you! Mediocre!”

“Oi, don’t work him over too hard,” Nogo warned and yanked back on Butchey’s shoulder. “Slit’ll shred you.”

Nux ran his tongue over his teeth. When he glared at Butchey, the other Boy grimaced, averted his eyes. He frisked him anyway, tossing out Nux’s knife, some tools, Capable’s CD onto the ground. When he grabbed Nux’s cell phone, Nux jerked forward to reclaim it. “Oi, that’s mine!”

All the messages from Capable were there. From the start he knew that some day he might lose the phone, but when Butchey took it, it felt like a fucking punch. His phone, his connection to Capable, to that whole world. If he didn’t have it, she wouldn’t be able to get in touch with him - something like a panic spread and Nux shoved off Tag, struggling to get to Butchey.

“What you got on here? Giving Rock Riders intel?” He flung it to the ground - the case cracked but maybe everything inside it was still fine. Capable’s words in there - Nux stared like they might come leaking out. “You think you’re better than us, don’t you? Get away with whatever the fuck you want?”

He wasn’t fast, not like Slit pulling out a gun, but Nux was too far away to grab him, yank him back, break his fingers to disarm him - Butchey yanked his gun out from under his jacket, arm straight, barely had to aim that close, and fired.

Phone shattered, splintering pieces up in a rain of plastic.

A second of silence then cheers and jeers and over the voices, squeals - Powai had only needed that second to get past the War Boys. Butchey swung around and aimed but this time Nux reached him and shoved his arm down.

“What the hell are you doing?” Nux yelled.

“You fucking wretch!” Butchey shrieked just as loud. Elbow swinging and gun coming around and Nux grabbed for it - All fucking chaos. Behind them came the bang bang bang of someone else trying to get the shot.

“Wait until the bosses hear about this!”

“Get him, Butchey!”

“Oi, someone call Gonner.”

“Fuck you, Ballast, I saw him first - We’re bringing him in!”

“No way, he’s going to Prime!”

It was a fucking mess of War Boys. Nux pulled Dukes free from Torn and rammed Ballast aside so Solder could climb back up to his feet. A sudden siren got everyone moving as one and they ran back to their cars. But in the shuffle Boys from different crews got mixed together.

Shoved into the back of the car like luggage, arms pinned by Jonesy and Cleanbomb, Nux could only watch it all. Boys were hanging out their windows as the cars took off - jerky, shifting up too high too fast, holy shit Ballast was rough on the clutch. Hollering at people on the sidewalk, guns still out - Nux had never seen it from the other side. The night Capable and her sisters had escaped, they’d had the whole gang on their tail.

She’d gotten away on the bus. He knew that Furiosa would insist on protecting her as soon as she heard about the money. Furiosa had her back, protection better than any bullet-proof vest. Capable had gotten away and that was the most important. She’d escaped and she had money and she had Furiosa and her family and crew.

He heard a buzz - phones vibrating against guns, knives, keys. The Boys pulled out their phones

“Where we going?” he asked anyone listening. “Wrong way for the Pits.”

“None of your business, filth.”

“Not Gas Town,” he continued like Ballast had been silent instead of acting like an asshole. “This is bullshit. Let me out.”

“Knew you were trouble from day one,” Tag said, twisting around from the front seat. “Soft War Boy!”

“Soft?” Nux said with a scoff. “For going on my own? Thinking for myself?”

His lips up in a sneer, Cleanbomb spat out, “With your girl?”

“Capable,” Nux said her name loud enough that everyone in the car had to learn it. “You know how much she’s shown me? We went to two places on Bowerie and got Chinese near the university. And the university! It’s so fucking chrome, guys. It’s huge inside. I got to sit in a class with her and it wasn’t anything like the school I went to. You guys should go - see for yourselves what we can be.”

“Fuck that - I follow the bosses. That’s what War 9Boys are supposed to do that and not fuck around with wretches off the street. I don’t want to get rusted.”

Nux swallowed back a curse. Just like Slit - he’d poke out his eyes so he wouldn’t have to witness the truth. “Don’t call Capable a wretch,” he warned instead.

“Or what? You got nothing on you, Nux. No gun, no knife, not even keys! Soft!”

“I don’t need them! I know about Citadel City now - the real shiny thing and not the shit Joe let us see! Times are fucking changing, and if you don’t change you’ll be left in the fucking dust.” Just like her song! Nux was pulled back by Cleanbomb and Jonesy, and Tag turned away with a snarl. Nux stared out the windshield, eyes on the road and not on the War Boys. They sped down the street toward War Boy territory, and soon he saw the still dark sign for the Vault rise up against the pollution-lit sky.

There were Boys around milling about in the empty lot nearby. They moved aside when Ballast pulled up, a circle around the car as Cleanbomb and Jonesy climbed out - instantly Nux lurched forward to get in the front seat. If he could get his hands around the wheel -

“Come on, Nuxy,” Cleanbomb said as he grabbed Nux by the shoulder. With a curse Nux was wrenched out of the car. Still gripping him, the War Boy gave him a shake. “Shouldn’t even be wearing the blacks if you’re a not a Boy anymore.”

He went slack as Cleanbomb tore Nux’s jacket off his shoulders. Clearly expecting a fight, he looked almost disappointed as he tossed Nux’s jacket aside. Nux caught his eye and Cleanbomb returned the stare before jerking his head away toward Ballast. Wasn’t worth it, Nux thought to himself as he rolled his gaze away. He picked out Slit in the crowd, louder than the rest as usual. He was grimacing, his scars were pulled as wide as possible - much worse than the scars on Black Stump and Wedge, who were tripping at his heels. He said something and more Boys sprang up to him - and Nux lost sight of him.

Someone knocked his arm and Nux quickly shifted, backing against the car. But it was just Drift; not really a friendly face, but Nux saw saw no fight in the War Boy’s eyes.

“What the fuck, mate?” Drift asked, voice low. “Where’s your car?”

He had a chance to lie. A chance to escape. A chance to turn everything around. There was no way he’d do that, not now with Capable at his back. Nux announced, “I sold it.”

That got attention, Boys pouring into the field, moving closer. “Why should Rictus get it?” No one had an answer to that - course they didn’t, because there was no fucking reason. Nux jabbed his finger up, over toward the burnt out sign for the Vault. Even though it was empty, even though it was closed, they still weren’t allowed in. The absolute fucking opposite of Capable and her home: doors open for him any time, any day, even in his blacks. Capable, who understood all about Joe before Nux could even put two thoughts together. “He gets everything, you guys see that. We do the work and he spends the money that we die for!”

They shuffled around, away, like they had Nogo had been talking in the garage. But Nux didn’t let up, kept pushing. “There’s a better life in Citadel City! Something’s that’s really chrome, not like the slivers we get. Capable’s been showing me: there are all these people, and neighborhoods, and streets - more places then Joe ever let us go. Why the hell are we still here? He’s dead; he doesn’t own us anymore!”

“Yeah? What about Rictus? Prime? Even fucking Corpus?”

“None of them give a shit about us. You ever think about everything we’ve given up for them? Cars, yeah, but what about other stuff? Why do they get to steer our lives? Thanks to them, we’re just as fucked over as any wretch on the street!”

“You calling us wretches?!”

“We’re shinier than anyone else!”

Cleanbomb practically echoed Tag and the other Boys did it too, spreading the words like a fucking wildfire. Had he said empty shit like that to Capable when they first met? “Then how come we’re hungry all the time? And cold? And cut up? Or fucked up by the bronze? There’s a better place - a better way. Capable and her family are changing everything.”

“Nux!” A hand on his shoulder pulled him back - Morsov’s eyes were wide enough that Nux could see the whites. “You got to get out of here! We’ll cover you until you get the Monte Carlo back -”

“I sold it! It’s gone, Morsov!” With Morsov breaking up the group, Nux had a chance to whip his head around. “Where’s Slit? Did you talk to him?”

Morsov frowned but before he could reply Dred and Rotor crashed through. Low and strained, Rotor whispered, “Ace is trying to deal with Rictus but he’s getting all kamicrazy! The hell is going on?”

“Should’ve known you ferals were rusted. Ace can’t keep shit together without Furiosa!”

“Fuck off! Stay away from Nux!” Dred shoved Jonesy away. Hissing, Jonesy pushed back, hard enough that they all banged together.

“Bunch of traitors! First she goes rogue, now him! You following them, Dred?”

Suddenly Mack was there, too; Ace’s entire crew were shouting - at each other, at Gonner’s crew, at Prime’s crew, louder than Nux. Shouting and swearing, loud as hell and different than all the noise in the Pits.

“Tell the bosses!”

“Tell Rictus!”

“What the hell is going on?”

“Oi, Rictus! Some War Boy stole your car!”

“Who stole my car?” And then, over all that, Rictus appeared. Taller than them all, like he was standing on someone, with a voice the same size as the rest of him. Rictus didn’t have Joe’s brain, but he’d gotten his fierceness; he wa loud as hell, with confusion running in his voice like lead in guzzoline. With a bellow Rictus started to shove through the Boys, like kicking aside trash.

“Someone fix this!” his voice howled over all the others. Rictus reached a massive arm through the crowd and Nux saw him grab a War Boy, hoist him up. It was Stacks - struggling and cursing against Rictus’ grip.

“Let me go!”

“I told you - get my car back!”

“We don’t follow you, Rictus!” he spat back and his crew behind him surged forward to pull Stacks free.

“Scab’s dead - you belong to me!”

“We don’t belong to anybody!” Nux yelled over the crowd.

“Shut up!” Something bashed into Nux’s shoulder. Slit had gotten through; behind him was a wall of Boys.

Including Ballast.

“You’re in for it now,” Ballast told him gleefully. “Where you gonna go now? Boss! Boss! Here’s the Boy who stole the car!”

Rictus’ colossal head raised and Nux saw the beady eyes fix on him.

Before Nux could do anything, Slit grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed down hard to keep Nux in place, “I’ll take care of him, Rictus!”

“What? Slit!” Nux gaped at his partner, the shock of his treachery keeping Nux in place more than the hand heavy on his shoulder. Everything that he’d been talking about - He knew Slit didn’t want to listen, but the throw it back at him like a punch -

“Fight!”

“Get him, Slit!”

“Witness!”

“Show him what we do to traitors!”

Nux shoved off Slit’s arm. There had to be something he could say to get through to him. “Come on, Slit! You want to lead, right? Then do it! Fuck following Rictus!”

“Shut up!” was the only thing Slit shouted back.

Boys were around for him, and as he swiveled his head back and forth to look for a way to make a break for it, Slit took advantage of his distraction. The punch caught im on the side of the jaw, snapping his head back and scraping his teeth. When Slit pulled his fist back there was an opening - he could punch back, get Slit in the throat, in the stomach, weak spots that stood out like targets. Nux hesitated instead, fists up for defense, and over them he saw Slit’s teeth-clenching grimace.

Punch, punch, a throw gone wide as Nux ducked it. Around them Boys parted like water.

He caught Slit’s arm and shoved him back and Slit grinned, teeth bright in the headlights. Whe Slit barrelled toward him again, Nux pushed him back. Taller, faster, he had some advantages on Slit, and Nux knocked him off balance when he caught Slit’s shoulder and shoved.

Boys were screaming as they cheered. Slit shoved back anyone who tried to step into the fight, tried to steal some of Slit’s shine. Another chance to show off, another chance to fall deeper into War Boy shit. Mostly running on instinct, there were still emotions tumbling through Nux’s brain - pissed, pissed at Slit and Rictus and all the fucking Boys. And himself - this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. If only Capable were there to set it right. Or Furiosa. But it was just him, him alone, without even his partner.

Not everyone was against him. Out of the corner of his eye he recognized Wedge and Drift, both of them holding back other Boys. And Scab’s Boys were another blockade holding back Rictus and Prime.

He deflected another punch, arms up, twisting away, but a boot caught him behind the knee. Another under his feet tripped him - Slit, moving fast, striking fast, grabbed Nux before he could fall -

No, pushed shoved hit him down -

Nux crashed against the hard packed dirt. A breath, a blink, but black the edge of his vision only sharpened, didn’t disappear. A boot bashed into his side before he could get back up and in a painful rush his breath left him, lungs scrunched and cowering in his ribs. A second kick from the other side was agony. Scrambling up, he was almost on his feet when Slit dropped down on him. His fists in Nux’s t-shirt, he pulled him up, face to face.

“You’ll never get it! You’re the one that doesn’t understand.” Slit shoved him back down but Nux braced himself, hands on the hard packed dirt and the cigarettes and beer caps ground in there. The sharp pain of that kept him focused, got his blood pumping nitro through the loud confusion of it all.

“The War Boys are over, Slit!”

Slit rose tall and furious. “Get up!” he yelled down at him. “Get up!”

Before anyone else could take a shot at him, Nux hauled himself up to his feet. He was still getting his footing when Slit pushed him again. Stumbling, he was too mediocre to defend himself from another blow. His feet felt too fucking big and his head too fucking heavy, off-balance and off-kilter. He had to keep his eyes on Slit, had to watch out for another assault. The rest of the Boys blurred together as he struggled to get his eyes up. Shove - Shove - Shove on his ribs like fire - Shove

“Fight back, for fuck’s sake!”

“No!”

“You scared, Nux? Weak? Soft? Hit me!”

“Slit -”

“Fight back, you fucking coward! Capable won’t have anything left of you if you don't fight back!”

Suddenly Slit lunged to the left, cutting Nux off from a gap in the group. And then to the right. As fast as Nux could he dodged Slit’s swinging fists. Moving back, boots crunching on glass and trash, Boys behind him parting as the fight spilled onto the street.

When he banged against the cool frame of a car, a breath of relief escaped his bloodied lips. He flattened his hand against the smooth metal, sliding over quickly to find the handle. He flung the door open and toppled inside and lurched forward to quickly slam and lock it shut.

For a second he just breathed. But just a second, then Nux was in furious motion. He spidered through the car, sore knees banging on the seats as he locked each door. Realizing that he had no way in, Slit banged savagely on the window enough to make the car shake. Seconds, all Nux had were seconds before Slit broke through a window.

He knew this car - he’d worked on it. In the front seat, Nux’s hands moved swiftly over the steering wheel to the column and he didn’t even need to look as he pulled out wires. There was a knife in the ashtray and Nux flicked it open with a neat motion then quickly cut the wires to hotwire the car.

The smacking of hands on the windows stopped and in the mirrors he saw Slit and the other War Boys take off. He caught a look of himself, too: black eye, blood smeared, open cut he wasn’t sure when he got. He didn’t pause to take a full inventory of his injuries; he had a moment of freedom, had a car, had the open road.

He buckled the seatbelt that he himself had installed and the floored it.

Noises behind him: shots, engines, yelling. He shifted up, motor responding like it was as ready as him. Boys were getting in their cars and soon their bright headlights filled his mirrors.

Up to third, up to fourth, just as fast as the Rock Rider’s race. If he had his Monte Carlo he’d lose them all for sure; Wedge’s car was a Lenco with transmission like a brute.

He was leaning on the horn, practically lying on it - loud warning for everyone to get the hell out of the way. Ahead of some some cars yanked to the side of the road. “Out of the way,” he yelled at them as he pulled aside, ahead of them.

The honking behind him was faint, faded as he put more and more pavement between him and the War Boys, but they were still coming. He could feel like like a hot breath on the back of his neck. They were coming -

Slit was coming. Nux saw the familiar headlight as Slit reached the front of the pack. Weaving back and forth around the other cars, Slit was tail Nux couldn’t shake.

“The fuck, Slit,” Nux growled to himself. He swerved off Broadway to emptier streets. He didn’t need to slow but Slit did or run the risk of wiping out.

It worked and the beam of light faded -

Two more filled Nux’s mirrors. Rictus. Rictus had caught up. Rictus was right behind him.

This was what Capable must have felt. Only worse, so fucking worse for her and her sisters. In a van, just waiting to see what happened like they were trapped all over again. At least he had the wheel in his hands. He could make a choice.

Get them out of Citadel City before they hurt anyone. The decision was clear even though he felt the distance like a pull. Capable was in the opposite direction and he wanted to go to her with an intensity that blotted out almost all other thought. Almost all - Nux knew that a drive through midtown, downtown, was too dangerous. Too many people on the sidewalks, too many slow cars and flimsy bikes. He had to get away from the crowds, away from the tens, dozens, hundreds of victims that were in danger of getting caught under the War Boys’ wheels.

Rictus’ big fucking foot was heavy on the gas. His brights blared in Nux’s rearview mirror, a blinding flash whenever Rictus jerked closer to Nux’s tail. Trying to hit him - obvious, War Boy tactic - but Nux was faster. Even in the v6 Lenco, he was a better driver. Best driver. All the years of working in and under cars, all the miles spent on Citadel City roads, and now, all the lessons from Capable. Look at the drivers, not just the cars. People. Not just the ones driving, the ones on the sidewalks, the ones on bikes, the ones in the crosswalks. Nux swerved away and eased up on the pedal

The second race in as many hours: Nux at the head, driving toward the highway, Rictus behind him, the War Boys coming and coming and coming.

Nux pulled onto the highway, driving in the shoulder to fly past the late-night commuters. His breath was coming out harder now. And then, appearing like a ghost at the side of the road, a white road sign flashed in his headlights. Route 91 - Fury Road.

They were back on the the same road that they’d hit that fucking fateful night when he’d been coming after Capable without even knowing it. Nux’s teeth were clenched down so hard that they hurt, catching his already scarred lips

Fury Road was a straight shot - mostly. Nux had mapped the city as a pup and knew the streets the lined it as well as the lines on his hands. Knew there was a curve coming, a bend, even if the yellow warning signs were spray-painted over or chopped down completely. Knew it was coming. Sirens were coming too - Cops finally catching up.

Stalling all his War Boy instincts to floor it, Nux slowed. If it’d been another race, that was a guaranteed loss. His brake lights flashed as he eased the brakes - red as bright as any fire, a sign to all of them behind him that he giving up the race. Even so, he still slid against the door with a hard bang against his sore shoulder.

Rictus zoomed by as Nux swerved to the side but still heard the engine roar like it was on top of him. Maybe Rictus was hollering out the window that Nux was rust, mediocre, soft for giving up -

The curve was too sharp. It was seconds, maybe less, but Nux could see it all, brains racing to keep up with the action -

Rictus hit it too fast. Overcorrected, smoke and more smoke - friction burning the rubber, brake pads squealing.

Fishtailed.

Flipped.

Crashed.

“Fuck!” Nux slammed on the brakes and his car screamed as he swerved, The seat belt across his chest dug against him - no jacket now for extra protection, it was a sharp strap holding him to the seat and even with it he rammed against the steering wheel. Smoke, not just from the tires. Screaming, not just from the brakes. The other cars in the road skidded around and Nux jerked the wheel back and forth, missed them all, and banged onto the grass and dirt on the shoulder. Ribs felt like they shattered and his hands fumbled at the belt buckle then for the door.

There was no way he could drive away from the crash even if the car wasn’t grounded. Road in front of him blocked, War Boys piling on behind him, and each breath was wet and hot as it wheezed through his bloody mouth. He stumbled out of the Lenco and took wobbling steps toward the brash. Was that Rictus lying on the pavement? Or maybe he was still in the car. Either way, he wouldn’t be walking away. Engine melting, gas fueling it… The fire was hypnotizing - unable to look away from it he lost his footing and stumbled, feet slipping on the grass. Glass there, sharp against his palms, but he barely registered it.

The headlights from the War Boys turned the night into day.

Cars were pulling over, rubbernecks and Boys, and once again there were voices around him. He couldn’t pick out the words and didn’t turn around to join them. Capable, Capable, he had to get to her. But how could he? No car now. No phone. No money.

It didn’t matter. He didn’t matter. If the Boys got him, the cops - it was all the same. Capable had given him a full life in the time since he’d met her. And now she had money and now Rictus was dead! If Rictus had listened, if Rictus hadn’t wanted to race, if Rictus had changed the road would be a different place. Nux wouldn’t have had to drive, Rictus wouldn’t have had to die.

Capable, he thought over everything else. Capable, Capable - The fire was almost as bright as her hair. The sirens from the cops sounded like it was coming through water. Like the river had flooded up past its banks, onto the street and filling up everything. He was boxed in again: Boys behind him, bronze coming toward him; he and Rictus’ car were in the center of it all, right where everything was about to collide.

A car screeched right next to him, close enough that dirt flung up and spattered at Nux’s bare arms. Slowly he turned toward it, hands already up to surrender to whatever his fate was. Too tired to steal another car, too tired to try to argue, Nux just wanted to close his eyes, conjure images of Capable until his brain ran out of juice. His lids fluttered -

And then opened wide.

“Get in,” Max Rockatansky shouted as he threw open the door and Nux fell into the passenger seat.

---

The red winged blackbird met me at the corner of the world to come
Said, “You've been undone so many times I want to find out
Who you are and where your family comes from”
So he drank my past like the finest of wines
And he ate up my history like he'd never been so hungry
Then he looked me in the eye and we made our goodbyes
- “Morningside” by Dana Sipos

Chapter Text

Where can a teacher go?
Wherever she thinks people need the things she knows
Hey those books you gave us look good on the shelves at home
And they'll burn warm in the fireplace, teacher
When in Rome
- “When in Rome” by Nickel Creek

----

Slunk low in the passenger seat, Nux couldn’t really see out of the window. He could feel the speed of the car, engine whirring and wheels spinning, the grind of the tires over the pavement as they sped away from the cars, the cops, and all the War Boys on Fury Road. His energy leaked out and away. Fuck he wanted to sleep - get in Capable’s bed with her arms and blankets around him. Bury himself in her so the whole world was just her and the sounds of her breathing, no more sirens or crashes.

He stirred when he felt the car slow; Max pulled into a parking lot of a small strip mall. Dragging his eyelids up, Nux read the letters on an almost blindingly bright sign: 24-hour Ur ent Care.

“I’m fine,” he said and sank back down. “Take me to Green Place?”

“Doctor first.”

“All right. Least let me call Capable. Can I use your cell?”

“Don’t have one. Come on.”

“No phone?” Nux shook his head in surprise and instantly fucking regretted the motion and drooped lower in the seat. But as his eyes closed, suddenly there was something grabbing at him. Max pulled him up, and then the pavement was under his feet. The cop half carried him in, steady thump of boots on the ground that beat out any more thoughts. If he’d been feeling better, he could’ve thrown off Max’s grip, found the keys and taken the hell off. Or hot wired the car. If he still had his knife. Did he? Nux’s thoughts were slow and sticky like they were driving through mud as he tried to remember. Had he left it in the Wedge's Lenco? It was a good knife - he’d had it for a few years, the grip worn down to fit his palm, decorated to show its ownership.

In the light of the clinic, Nux finally got a good look at Max, tired eyes noticing that the cop wasn’t in uniform. What had he been doing out on the road? “Was there an APB?”

“Yeah. I was close. Been, uh, keeping on eye on Rictus.”

“Furiosa has a police scanner. She’ll know what happened. I got to talk to Capable so she doesn’t worry.”

“You need to take care of yourself first.”

Once they were inside, Nux was deposited on a hard plastic chair. Before he could get his shitty brain to come up with another argument or get his dry mouth to say he didn’t need to see some rusted doctor, the cop was gone, striding off to the front desk. With a sigh Nux leaned back in the seat and through slitted eyes slowly took in his surroundings. Around him were homeless wretches, some drunk and some detoxing. A baby crying in its mother’s lap barely made any noise - or maybe Nux had fucked up his hearing.

He watched the cop lumber to the counter. The words were too low for Nux to make out at first, but the longer the conversation went on, the louder it got.

“We don’t want any trouble. There’s never just one War Boy.”

“Maybe you should bring him to St. George. They have a trauma clinic there.”

Max reached into his jacket and pulled something out. Gun? Nux thought with confusion, but then Max put his badge on the countertop. “He won’t cause trouble, but I will.”

“Just take him,” the woman muttered to the other. She had a clipboard in her hands that she held up like a shield. With a jerk of his head, Max called Nux over and as he got close to them, Nux could see the agitated expression on her face. Fear and disgust, and pissed off - at both of them. He glanced back to the door, tried brain trying to suss out how much time he'd have to get out before the cop caught him - Rockatansky had a shit knee - maybe Nux could get to the car first…

"Come on," Max said and clamped a hand on Nux's shoulder. He steered him down the hall and into a room.

The lights were the whitest white he’d ever seen, worse than those in Angharad’s room. Under them Nux felt even shittier, and they made each scratch and scrape stand out in detail – every stain and smear impossible to hide.

The doctor sat on a stool with wheels and dragged it and herself over to Nux’s side. She stopped a safe distance away and then said in a voice that sounded like Toast when she wasn’t impressed, “I’ve never seen a War Boy in a clinic.”

“I’m out. I’m not a War Boy anymore.” All the other times he said it, it was issuing a challenge. Now it felt strange in his mouth, something too big to swallow.

“What happened?”

He eased himself out of his shirt and held still for the doctor to feel up his ribs. If only it were Capable taking care of him, he thought again. Like she had when he’d run into her at her school, way back at the beginning of the year. “Got in a fight.”

“I can help you better if you tell the truth.”

“A couple of fights,” Nux amended, which was sort of what had happened. He shrugged away the rest of the story, but then added so Max couldn’t call him a liar, “There was a car crash too, but I steered clear of most of it.”

“This is just an overview, but you have bruised ribs, multiple lacerations, blunt force trauma to your face.”

“Concussion?”

“No, no physical signs of a concussion.”

“Then I’m fine.” He rolled his eyes to Max. “Told you so. I can sleep it off.”

“You’re getting patched up,” Max said.

So Nux sat through all that while they picked at any part that bled. The stitches were overkill and then all the bandages - They itched and scratched and holy shit was everything white. And tight; the ones around his chest were practically chains squeezing him. If Joe caught him soft like this…

No, he thought, slamming the brakes on that. No more Joe. The War Boys were all behind him now.

There was another hushed argument that resulted in another longer examination and a trip to yet another room. Fortunately the scan didn’t take long and Nux was hustled back to a chair. Just when he thought they were all finally finished, Max's hand came down on his shoulder again, keeping him in place. The doctor opened the door and accepted a tray of something - Nux squinted but couldn't read the labels on the tiny vials.

“Shots. DTaP first, then MMR, then hepatitis A, then hepatitis B.” The doctor picked up syringe. "And a flu shot, since you're here."

Nux looked placatingly up at Max, who retracted his hand. "I'll be in the car," he said as he made his escape. Nux was about to flip him off when the doctor caught his arm.

Everyone was in a hurry to be fucking done with it all; Nux only half listened as the doctor half explained about follow-ups. Outside again, the night seemed somehow darker than before. Nux stood at the edge of the lot, the uneven lighting from the clinic sending shadows jutting out across the pavement like stripes. The air was cool, dry, still - but tasted like stale cigarettes and the biting tang of chemicals from the clinic.

As he got to the car, he heard the police radio was buzzing with voices. Max clicked it off when Nux opened the door, but whatever had been on before had been bad news - Max was frowning deeper than before.

"The War Boys are all over the city."

He wasn’t surprised that they went kamicrazy. "Like after Joe died. And Scab too."

Max cleared his throat before he said, “Mayor called an emergency meeting. Kalashnikov got permission to order a curfew. No one’s supposed to be on the streets.”

He was ducking out of their deal. “You’re a cop; who the fuck cares? Take twenty minutes. Fifteen if you fang it.”

“Hm. My apartment’s close. You stay in tonight. You can call Capable from there,” he said like it was a peace offering.

"Mediocre. You’re not taking me in, right?” he asked when the belated concern finally bubbled up through the muck in his head.

“No.”

Nux was too spent to get worked up over that rusted reassurance. He looked out the window instead - flashes of red and blue lights lit up the streets like fireworks, and as they drove through one intersection, he saw silhouettes against a backdrop of cop cars. The city wasn’t empty, no matter what the mayor and commissioner wanted. Plenty of homeless wretches at bus stops, in alleys, rolling their carts into dark dead ends. Maybe they’d reclaim the Pits for real, now that Rictus was gone.

What would the Boys do without Rictus? There was some other Moore somewhere, but Nux had never seen him. For once he wished he’d paid more attention to that part of the gang - the rules, the bosses, the way information trickled down - so at least he could give Furiosa some sort of decent intel. Slit had given a shit about that, not him.

At least Max hadn’t lied to him – it didn’t take long to get to his apartment complex. The lamppost there was busted and the parking lot darkened after Max cut the ignition. Even the building was black; only one sallow light was on in all the windows. Nothing like Green Place. Their steps were heavy on the stairs up to Max’s apartment, banging over the soft hiss of plastic bags blowing across the sidewalk. For a second Nux froze - gunshots, it sounded like gunshots - and reactions took over: reach into his jacket, get his gun, duck away -

His held his breath until his heart banged painfully against his lungs and let it out in a long stream of air, a tire punctured and deflating. No jacket, no gun, and no shots. The night was just him and the cop, jingling his keys in the dark. He almost sagged against the iron railing, almost fell against the broad back of the cop. But then finally the lock turned over and the door to the apartment opened.

Small and nearly bare, it was easy for Nux to spot the phone inside the apartment, even before Max had turned on all the lights. Without pausing he went to it, grabbed the receiver, and dialed so fast the first time he missed a digit. But then the phone rang and then Capable picked up and her voice made him feel better than any bandages, any needles, anything could.

"Hello?”

"Capable!" He almost choked on her name, rushing it out like it was him flooring it to get to her.

"Nux! Oh my god, Nux. How are you? What happened? Are you ok?"

There were so many things to say and Nux cursed at himself for being too stupid to get it all right. He pressed his palm against his forehead. "Rictus is dead. Rockatansky picked me up."

Just that sliver of what happened made him feel brittle, made him scarred, like he was in another collision everything from that night hit him at once. Even from across the city Capable was supporting him, and maybe that was the reason he could finally break down - because she’d catch him. Eyes stung as tears welled there and his throat closed up and nose started to run. Nux wept as Capable spoke to him softly, sniffling too.

“We were so worried! I was so worried! I kept trying your cell and it went right to voicemail and I swear to god, Nux, I wanted to go find you.”

“I did it because of you,” he blurted out. “I didn’t fight him. Rictus. Swear I didn’t. I was just driving but he was chasing, you know. He didn’t have to, but he did. He could’ve stopped, but he didn’t. Shit, that doesn’t make sense. I’m all fucked up. The doctor patched me, but it didn’t do shit.”

“Nux,” she said, that voice cooling and warming him all at once. “Nux, it’s ok. You’re safe now with Max, right? It’s ok. You’re ok.”

There was a pause of just their breathing, and once again he wished he was in her bed. He’d rest his head on her chest, hear her breaths and heartbeat right there instead of through the hard plastic of the phone.

“And the money’s here, Nux. Furiosa picked me up from the bus. We got home with it, no problem. Is that what started all this? Did the War Boys try to take the money from Slit or something?”

The money, how the hell had he forgotten about that? The race, the Rock Riders - they felt a million miles away. “I don’t know.”

“It’s fine,” she said quickly. “We can talk about it later. Or never. Whatever you want, sweetheart. Oh fuck, I’m so glad your safe. I love you, Nux. I love you.”

When they finally hung up, Nux was nearly asleep on his feet. Numbly he shuffled to the couch and laid down on the pillows and blanket that the cop had left. Max’s bedroom door was closed but a sliver of light slipped out from under it. It cast strange shadows around the unfamiliar room. Sniffling a bit, Nux scrunched his legs up, trying to fit on the small couch. Barely better than his mattress, he thought miserably to himself.

He fell asleep anyway and when he finally woke, ray of pale sunlight struggled through the slots in the window blinds. After kicking off the blanket he sat for a moment, feeling like his engine wasn’t turning over. Eventually he stumbled to the bathroom.

He was still in his blacks. Of course he was - that wasn’t a revelation. Just like the bandages, there was a wrongness to it now, and Nux grimaced at his reflection in the mirror. Maybe it was better that he hadn’t gone to Capable; as wretched as he looked, he’d make her upset. The black eye was the worst, then the chipped tooth that at least he hadn’t lost completely. He washed his face and splashed water on whatever wasn’t covered in bandages.

Wiping his hands on his shirt, he came out as quietly as possible so he wouldn’t disturb the cop. The phone receiver was gone and the door to Max’s bedroom was closed. Nux kept his footsteps light as he inched closer - Max was talking to someone.

“I’m not bringing him to the station, Fifi.”

Max hadn’t traitored him. Capable had told him all about what Max had done for her and her family, and Furiosa had made it clear enough that she trusted him, but Nux wasn't sure. A cop was a cop, even when he wasn’t in uniform. The Road Warriors were almost a gang themselves.

“Not a suspect. A witness.”

He eased away. When he got to the front of the apartment, Nux grabbed the car keys from where they hung on a nail and slid into his boots before quietly opening the front door. His head was feeling better, working better, too, but he still felt rattled from the night before, and so he went outside without any real plan. But at least he had keys. The Interceptor gleamed dully in the early morning sunlight and he went to it and leaned against it as breathed in the early morning air and listened to the city Cars were moving - the police couldn’t keep people off the streets forever.

Nux popped the hood of the Interceptor. Letting habit drive his actions, he went to work inspecting the engine, the transmission, even the oil. Which needed a change - How could Max treat the v8 engine so bad? It took couple of minutes for Nux to break into the basement of the apartment complex, but once he did he quickly found canisters of oil and a pan among the trashcans and random crap.

Even with the car raised up on a jack, sliding on his back under the car hurt like hell, and Nux swore through clenched teeth as he rooted around for the oil tank. Hands weren’t as shaky as they’d been in the night. At least he didn’t drop the plug in the pan, he thought as the old oil drained out. It was more of a token than a payment for what Max had done for him, but at least it was something.

A crash and clatter of feet broke through the early morning quiet, and Nux wiggled out from under the car. Max was rushing down the stairs, but when he saw Nux, he halted and the wide-eyed look softened.

“Your oil needed changing,” he explained, pointing to the pan full of black sludge. “Engine like this deserves the best - Get something better and I’ll change it out. I can realign the wheels, too; they need it. Whole car could use a tune up, really: flush the radiator, replace the filters, brake pads look all right, but I can swap them out.”

Max stepped down the last couple of stairs and then looked around the lot. Not that there was much to see; here were hardly any other cars, and the other ones were shitty: an old van, three sedans, and a bicycle. The Interceptor was chrome surrounded by rust. After rubbing his chin for a moment, Max said gruffly, “Thanks. You’re, uh, a revhead.”

“Yeah. Blackthumb, too. This is just easy shit, though. You should do it yourself.” When Max squinted at that, Nux added, “I can show you.”

“Hm. Did you eat?”

“No.”

“Come on.”

Nux closed the hood and dumped the oil into a trashcan of newspapers. The bandages on his hands were dirty - good enough excuse to peel them off.

“And go wash up,” Max said over his shoulder.

When Nux came out of the bathroom, Max was mixing something in a bowl and pouring into a frying pan. The kitchen was smaller than the one in Capable’s house and just as bleak as the rest of the apartment. Even Ace’s crew had filled up their garage with more. A potted plant on the window sill above the sink was about all that the cop had for decoration. Maybe it was from Dag; another one of her attempts to green up the city.

“I’ll fix up your car,” he offered to Max’s turned back. “I can’t do much, not right now anyway, but I can do that.” Max’s charity hadn’t felt like a burden. Nux had worried about accepting Furiosa’s offers; she was a boss in everything but name. Indebted to someone like that could be a life sentence, a bankruptcy that even blood couldn’t pay off. The cop had power, even Nux understood that, but he didn’t want the authority of it. Coming to his place, sleeping weak and vulnerable, and now about to eat, Nux hadn’t really questioned any of it.

“Hm.”

“I owe you,” he insisted. He ducked his head and added, words coming out shyly, “You didn’t need to pick me up but you did. Thank you.”

Max cleared his throat and glanced over his shoulder. Nux waited expectantly for Max to give him another order, maybe tell him what he wanted done to the car, but then Max gave a shrugging sort of motion. “So, uh, how’re you feeling?”

“Mediocre.” He looked down at his hands - still some grit in the scrapes there. “Didn’t want it to happen like that. I should’ve done it better. But I didn’t get a bullet to the back of the skull, so I guess it’s shine, right? I don’t know how I feel. Didn’t have to deal with this before. Should I be glad that Rictus is dead?”

“I meant your…” He made another mumbly noise before going back to the frying pan. “How are you feeling physically?”

“All right.”

“Hurt?”

“No more than yesterday,” Nux replied as he stretched experimentally. For once his partner’s temper worked against him; Slit must have been too pissed to aim straight.

That satisfied the cop. “Plates. In here.”

The food smelled good enough, but the way it looked… Nux reluctantly obeyed. Maybe Max was actually going to kill him - save a bullet and use suspect food instead. “What’s that?” he asked as he looked over Max’s shoulder.

“Four eggs, scramble them, had a red pepper cut up from couple days ago and some mushrooms. Vuvalini keep giving them to me. Fold it over: omelet.” Max shuffled around, pointing with the big, flat spoon in his hand. “Sit.”

“What about Capable?”

“Eat first.”

Nux sighed, expelling all his gratitude so impatience could fill him back up. “I could’ve taken the Interceptor,” he pointed out. “Not threatening,” he added at Max’s glare, “just saying that I’ve been waiting. I want to be with her.”

“Eat.”

Nux threw himself down in a chair and grimaced at the shot of pain. But that faded as hunger raced up to him, knocked him hard, and suddenly he couldn’t eat the omelet fast enough. By the look on the cop’s face, he’d been betting on that.

“So last night…” Max said, then paused for a bit before finally asking, “Want to tell me what happened?”

“Started out wild. I had this… guess it wasn’t much of a plan. Probably should’ve talked it over with Capable. Or Furiosa. I wanted to finally do something - something on my own, something big. Something that no one could take back. Told you, I know cars. So I had this idea - for a race.” He cut out some parts of the story, but the cop didn’t interrupt to ask about how much money he got for the Monte Carlo or just how long and fast the race had been. “Glad the Riders have the car instead of Rictus. It’d be nothing but scrap. Crazy, right? Rock Riders treating a car better than Boys?” He paused to take another bite of breakfast and chewed slowly. “I thought they might have been listening. Some of them,” he corrected himself, thinking of Butchey and his group. “But Rictus still led them after me.”

Max pushed a mushroom around his plate before he set down his fork. “Why now?”

Mouth full, Nux could only shrug and shake his head in confusion.

“You’ve been in the gang for years. What happened last night to make you try to leave?”

“This going in your report, Officer?”

Max sighed. “It might. If it, uh, has to. But I told you: I’m not bringing you in.”

“I couldn’t stay in there forever. Couldn’t,” he repeated forcefully. “Not after everything Capable told me about. And showed me.” He snorted a laugh. “And they wouldn’t keep me anyway. You’ve heard her songs, right? Times are changing - she’s changing them - and I don’t want to be left behind.”

“So what’s your plan now?”

That was easy to answer. “Stay with Capable! For as long as she’ll let me.”

“Then go to school,” Max added. “Hm. Remember you saying that.”

“Yeah!” For the first time that morning, Nux felt upbeat. “Furiosa said I could, right? Don’t know what I’ll study, but Capable said you don’t need to declare it right away. Got time to figure it all out.”

“Good.”

Nux studied the cop as they finished eating. His hair was sticking up in the back and he was shittily shaved (an observation which made Nux rub the stubble growing along his jaw). There were shadows under his eyes, bags too; evidence of his own bad night. If they’d risked it and gone to Green Place, Capable’s family would’ve made up a bed for Max. Maybe then they both would’ve had an easier time sleeping it off. Thinking once again about Capable’s neighborhood made Nux ask, “So how come you don’t live on Green Place?”

Max grunted and the kitchen fell silent. And sort of cold. Nux fiddled absently with his fork, debating and then deciding to push it with another question, “Did you do something fucked as a cop? Worse than what they usually do?”

More silence - Max looked like he wanted to die. Or for Nux to.

“Look, I just wanted to know…” the boldness left him and Nux ducked his head. There had been a worry chewing at him, one that he hadn’t even been able to ask Capable over the phone. He needed honesty, suicidal as it could be, and she’d soften the blow because she loved him. But he needed to know. “Do you think that I’m… Am I redeemed?”

“From being a War Boy?”

“Yeah.” A flinch flickered through him as he wondered if he’d tripped up again, fell back into War Boy habits. Worth, that had been Joe’s credo. Still, he couldn’t stop babbling about it, “Everything I did for Joe when Capable was…”

“I don’t know.”

Nux felt his eyes sting as they welled. It was a rusted question, he berated himself, and he should’ve expected a tough reply from the cop.

“But Capable chose you. Hm. She chose you, knowing all of it. So.”

“So?” he prompted.

“So we’ll go to Green Place.”

A smile broke across Nux’s face and he laughed, relieved and that happiness growing. She’d chosen him, he repeated to himself, course she fucking had. Even when he was an idiot and wore the blacks with all the pride that ignorance carried.

Done with breakfast and conversation, Max asked Nux to clean up while he showered. Nux grabbed the phone to call Capable and cradled it awkwardly against his shoulder as he stuffed their plates into the small dishwasher. It was still early but she picked up anyway, and her voice was brighter than the sunshine streaming in.

That was what mattered, he thought as he heard the other girls’ voices, their own questions tumbling over Capable’s. It wasn’t just leaving behind something, it was starting something too; he didn’t lose, he gained. That’s what Slit didn’t understand, maybe never would.

“Don’t really know why Max helped me,” he confided quietly.

“You know, hold on - Guys, can I talk to him alone, please? Anyway, I thought that Furiosa was like that too. It was like she didn’t really want to help us. I thought maybe she was doing it just to get revenge, but she stayed after Joe died. She stayed with us.”

“He could’ve driven away,” Nux said. “Or kicked me out in front of a police station. That probably would’ve been the lawful thing to do.”

Capable made a humming noise. “It’s like she had an obligation.”

“To help you guys?”

“Yeah, but more than that.” She paused, mulling it over. “...To be good.”

Nux readjusted the phone so he could look over his shoulder. The bathroom door was still shut. “You think he wishes he hadn’t gotten involved?”

“Maybe, but he keeps getting involved, right? He helped us. And now he helped you.”

The door opened and Nux quickly directed the conversation back to his favorite topic: how much he missed Capable. After still-not-enough I-love-yous, Nux let Max talk briefly to Furiosa, and then it was back to the Interceptor.

The v8 engine barely got out of second gear as they made their way through the city. When they got on the highway, Nux leaned against the window, glass cool on his skin, and idly watched the buildings move by. “This is the way to the Pits,” he said as they came up on the exit. “Think the cops are all over it again?”

“Might be.”

“What are the cops going to do with the Boys?”

“I don’t know.”

Nux watched Max as he drove. Sure movements, no over corrections, and easy on the clutch; he was a good enough driver, even if he did cruise agonizingly slow at speed limit. The sky outside was blue now, with only a few clouds sweeping by, fast like they were caught in a current. He’d never really been chauffeured around, except when Capable had driven. He was getting used to it, letting his eyes drift off the road for once. Even though he know every road in the city, he still wasn’t sure where the cop was driving. Curious, he tried to match Max to the map in his head: not to War Boy territory and not to Capable’s part of Citadel City.

“Where –“ he started to demand when Max turned down a small street.

“Dentist.”

“What?!” Nux glared with open-mouthed shock. And then closed it when he remembered he’d banged up his tooth. After a few groaned curses, he tried to console himself - Couldn’t be worse than the doctor.

It was way fucking worse than the doctor.

At least their needles had been at the end. At least they didn’t have a tray full of pliers and drills like some fucking Buzzard chop shop. At least they didn’t leave him panting and bleeding like he’d barely crawled out of another fight. Fucking dentists!

Afterward he didn’t have the energy to curse Max out. In the Interceptor again, the car was feeling more like an ambulance than a racer. Reaching back, he found the seat recliner handle and lowered it down until it was practically supine, then lay there miserable. Maybe he should’ve just died on Fury Road, he thought, drowning in self pity and weird-tasting spit.

“One more stop to go.”

“What the hell? I went to the doctor and the dentist - I’m fucking done, mate.” Sputtering over the discomfort of his swollen mouth, Nux spat out, “Either charge me and take me in to the station or let me go. This is… entrapment or some shit!”

“Not entrapment,” Max responded calmly. “Last stop.”

Groaning in grudging consent, Nux rubbed his hand over his still numb lips and plucked at the scars there. “False arrest,” he muttered. “Torture. Kidnapping.”

“You needed medical attention.”

“Like a hole in my head!”

“Now you’re all set,” Max replied, totally unconcerned. “Go to Capable with a clean bill of health.”

“So where we going now? Green Place or… organ harvesting?”

“Hm.”

Nux sighed and closed his eyes against the late morning sun. Max turned up the police radio and the crackling voices of HQ and other vehicles filled up the car so Nux couldn’t complain anymore.

War Boys were still being pursued, and by the sound of the chatter, route 91 was still a mess. Cops were patrolling in the neighborhoods around Fury Road, picking up suspects like they were making a collection. That could have been him, Nux thought. He’d considered it before, soon after meeting Capable: the fate in front of him was death on the road, one way or the other. Best option, he’d always though; dying in a car was miles beyond succumbing to some softness.

“Hey,” he said as he recognized their route. “Bartertown’s around here.”

There was a mumble and nod from Max.

The big-ass building rose up into the skyline. “I’m banned for life!”

“This’ll be your fresh start. Have Capable and um, the other girls help you with the rest.”

“Yeah?” Nux said in surprise. Above them the sign blinked on and off, like a traffic signal welcoming him in. “Yeah. Thanks, uh, Officer Rockatansky. I mean it.”

“Hm. You can call me Max.”

Probably no one would recognize him, but Nux still hesitated at the wide sliding doors. Max didn’t, just shuffled through with a bit of a limp until he reached the carts. The store opened up and up and up, and Nux gaped at it. It’d been awhile since he’d stepped foot in Bartertown - he’d forgotten about the high ceilings and awful lighting, things stuffed into every corner.

Max wheeled past furniture set up in long rows, whole fucking tables and couches, like a house had puked it all up there. TVs longer than he was tall, holy shit, just sitting there black and shiny.

When they got to the clothes, Max paused, head up as he read the massive hanging signs. “Hm. Men’s.” He motioned to it before shoving the cart down the aisle past the pink ocean of kids’ clothes, then women’s stuff that spread out as long as a city block. If Max hadn’t been leading, Nux would’ve gotten lost in it all. Jackets and shoes and piles of bras on the floor, carts with mountains of pants hanging out, mannequins wearing layers of everything or nothing at all.

“Pick out some stuff for yourself,” Max instructed, with a jerky motion toward the clothes. He left the cart and took off down another aisle. “I’ll be back.”

Glory - The colors! It was like a rainbow fucking exploded! Nux stood for a moment, mouth open like an ingrate, and gazed, just gazed at it all. Red pants, plaid pants, shirts with fucking sparkles on them, sweatshirts with crazy stuff across the chest, jackets with patches already sewn on - it was a treasure trove of clothes.

Grinning the whole time, he moved up and down the aisle, dragging his fingers over everything. When he came to a table of jeans, he stopped to admire them. But as he gingerly pulled out a pair, other ones slipped down to the ground and he had to lurch to hurriedly clean them up again. Max was already out of sight but there were some other people with carts - one lady stared before steering clear.

How the hell was he supposed to know what fit him? Or what would look good? How expensive were they? It was like picking out coffee again, with a thousand rules in place that he didn’t know about. Suddenly the long aisles looked like a labyrinth and the piles of clothes all looked like they were going to topple. Buried in shirts, what a fucking way to go.

“Hey.”

Max’s voice was at Nux’s elbow and he snapped to attention. Flushing, he rubbed his hand over his hair. “Hey,” he replied weakly. “So I’m still looking.”

“Hm.” Max dumped an armful of stuff into the cart: toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, razors, a little bag to stuff them all into.

“Wish Capable was here. There’s so many things to choose - I don’t know how to. Sounds mediocre, doesn’t it?”

“All right,” Max said, and it was sort of gentle. He positioned himself in front of the wall of socks and then finally pulled down a couple of bags. “Start with socks. Everybody needs socks.” With Nux following behind him, he moved over to the wall of underwear. Another few seconds of taking it all in, then he grabbed a bag of boxers. “What, uh, style?”

“The ones with skulls on them!”

Max made some sort of grumbling noise but grabbed those, then picked out a couple of bags of black underwear. “Good enough,” he said and pushed the cart down the aisle.

It was showing off just how soft he was yet again, but Nux still asked the cop, “How do you know what size and shit?”

Max didn’t laugh, didn’t snort, just started to explain about inches and diameters and small, medium, large, and cotton shrinking in the washing machine.
“I know that,” Nux cut in as they looped through the shirts. “Because of Capable. She works in a laundry mat. Working and school and Angharad and her crew and all those houses… And she picks out fucking cute clothes.” Most talented girlfriend in the world.

“What kind do you want?”

“Blue, because Capable likes it. And I don’t know. A bunch of colors and fabrics and stuff, so no one will ever think I’m a War Boy again.” He hadn’t really meant for the last part to come out, but it had in a rush, mouth racing before his brain could catch up. Glancing down at Max, he saw that again the cop was quiet - no scorn.

“Couple of t-shirts. Couple pairs of jeans. Hm. Sweatshirt.” He looked up and gave Nux something that might have been a smile. Go, try these on.”

In the changing room, Nux lifted his shirt up slowly, wincing when it snagged on his chest bandages. The scent of smoke and sweat rose up and he made a face at himself. Pants off too and then he was naked in front of the mirror, pale and busted against the bright red stall. Jeans on first, weirdly tight and hard like pants from the Pits never were. Those were always flexible, broken in by whatever Boy had them last.

The neckline was almost cut low enough to make the top of his tattoo visible. “Shiny,” he breathed and grinned at his reflection. Nux popped out of the stall and stood in front of Max. “What do you think?”

“Mm.”

“Hold on, let me try the other one.”

When he came out in the green shirt, Max was rubbing at his chin.

“Look to much like something Dag grew in her garden?” Nux asked as he tugged at the collar. “When I was at CCU, there all these people in all sorts of shit. Stripes, spots, lightning bolts, flannel in pink and yellow that looked fucking awful…” He pulled at the hem of the shirt, holding it out as he looked disbelievingly at it.

“We’ll get it. Change back.”

Back into his blacks. Nux frowned but nodded before obeying the order. Busy thinking about how he’d change into the new clothes in the parking lot, Nux didn’t realize that Max was leading them deeper into the store until after he spotted a sign for the registers – in the opposite direction.

“What else are we getting?” Nux asked as he grabbed the cart. He pushed it and then leaned on it as it rolled along.

“Over here,” Max replied and pointed to yet another section in the unlimited expanse of the store.

Cellphones.

“Maybe I did die and go to valhalla,” Nux breathed as Max put a phone into his hand.

He cradled in his hand, staring at it with delighted wonder. It was light, delicate, but bigger than the flip phones he’d always used. No buttons that he could see - just black flatness, like a tiny piece of perfect pavement in his palm.

Another fucking surprise came when the sales lady motioned him to the counter and Max put down a second phone. They got a lesson together - Max muttering under his breath and shaking his head at all of it - but Nux drank it in. She was missing a couple of fingers, blown off or chopped, but still handled the phone with quick, sure movements. As soon as she explained texts, Nux jumped on it. He typed in Capable’s number, fingers sliding over the phone’s slick glass - he’d memorized it that first night, each number like a point on the map, leading him to her.

“You’re going to have to charge it first,” the lady said. Her voice shook with apology, maybe even anxiety, at having to correct to him.

“Can’t send a text?”

She scratched at her forehead. “Well, I mean, yes, but. You’re hooked up to the network. But that is, see, we recommend that you first charge to full -”

Waiting had gone from painful to impossible. He had a connection now, like an arm outstretched. The burner phone that he’d bought - at the time it’d been a chrome treasure, a prize and a promise encased together. When Ace had insisted on getting that phone’s number, that open road between Nux and Capable suddenly had roadblocks: the War Boys had taken it over, claimed another thing. Anger at that - at the way the War Boys worked, at the way he’d helped them do it - burned like nitro through him. But the brightness of the screen pulled him back out of that blackness.

capable! :D :D :D
at bartertown
its nux
phone!

He was grinning and it hurt a bit, black eye finally aching. Not that it mattered. None of that did - bones broken or blood busting out, phone dimming and dying, bandages obstacling movements - he was speeding past all of those. Now the road clear was clear.

And then the screen turned off.

“Smeg,” he groaned and then collapsed on the counter, struck as dead as his phone by this act of traitorship.

Max patted him sympathetically on the shoulder but refused to hand over his phone for Nux to text Capable again. There was more set up, papers for Max to sign while Nux lay heartbroken on a nearby bench, and then another ten thousand years as Max pulled a catalog out of somewhere and studied it like he was about to take an exam.

“What’re you looking at?” Nux asked at last.

“Furniture. Something they don’t have in stock.”

“Cruel and unusual punishment, remember?” Nux said and Max slowly folded the booklet to tuck into his jacket. “I need to get to a charger. I need to get to Green Place. I need to get to Capable!”

All Max did was grunt at that. Nux was up on his feet already, one hand on the cart, just waiting for the order to move. Max rubbed at his chin and then looked down at his shoes. “You going to stay with her?”

“Yeah! I love her!”

“Live where?”

“In her house,” Nux answered without pause, but then frowned. Capable’s house was already crowded and Angharad would be coming home too, sometime. But they had money now, and school was over so there was time, too - They would be building, and this time he would help. “Not a lot of room in there, you reckon? Cheedo and me, we worked on that bathroom, remember? I can do that. Do what they need. Different than cars, but I’ll learn.”

Max didn’t say anything to that, but Nux barely registered the cop’s distant stare. He continued, “Like Savannah Nix said - Capable put the light on. You know? Nothing shinier than that. And so I’m going to her. Finally off the road.”

“Used to think that any longer on the road and I’d be one of them.” When Max caught Nux’s puzzled look, he added, “Crazies.”

Maybe Max meant the wretched - people with no allegiances, who ran on fumes when they couldn’t afford gas. The other gangs were a pain in the ass but manageable, even after Joe died. But wretches on their own were mad - no partners, no crews for defense or for orders, so they did whatever the fuck they wanted, no matter how smeg-brained insane it was. A cop going feral would be like a bomb, damage in all directions, unavoidable shrapnel. Max slowly stood, easing his shit knee and Nux moved away from the cart so Max could take it.

Hopefully Max wouldn't go mad.

At the check-out, Nux grabbed the bags before Max finished paying and took off through the doors to the parking lot. The Bartertown guards let him out with just a few muttered threats and then Nux was free. With Max limping slow as tar, he had plenty of time to strip and change.

“Ow, fuck. Fucking fuck fuck -” He tripped out of his black pants and yanked a pair jeans out. Shirt, shirt… Which one did he want to wear first? The bandages around his ribs loosened and when he pulled his black tee over his head, he felt blood smear on his face. “Come on, fuck you -

The pavement under his feet was mostly gravel and glass, and he hopped around, cursing as he cut himself even more. His pants were off when he remembered he had new underwear. Barefoot and bare-ass naked he hopped around trying to tear open the bag. Someone whistled and yelled something, and Nux waved a middle finger in their general direction - Wasn’t Max, who was still shuffling out of Bartertown. Pants on, he was half stuck in his new shirt - pulled it over his head, jammed his arm, hurt his ribs so he had to pause to gasp for air, breaths like fire - when he heard feral honking. Then voices - girls’, loud and excited - and the thinner growls of motorcycle engines. Surrounded by Vuvalini, Furiosa’s truck pulled up and over, and the door flung open. He got his arm through the sleeve just in time.

Capable jumped out.

The War Boys and their guns, their cars, their hunts - It was like they were caught in a maze, driving in circle with crashing the only way out. A tiny, enclosed world full of tiny, closed-off people - or not really people at all, not after Joe was done fucking with them.

Holy shit, he loved her. Blazing brighter than valhalla, there she was. He loved her, loved her, loved her, more than cars, more than glory, more than life itself.

Running, grinning, gunning it with Furiosa and her family, a couple of Vuvalini on their bikes, and Max with the cart, everyone watching - Capable grabbed him and kissed him, and once Max fucking finally made it to the Interceptor, they went home.

---

Cause I know my weakness, know my voice
And I'll believe in grace and choice
And I know perhaps my heart is fast
But I'll be born without a mask
- “Babel” by Mumford and Sons

Chapter Text

War is over
I'm no longer a soldier
As I roll, roll back to your side
Heart is pounding
The beat for you resounding
As I roll, roll back to your side
- “Rollin’ Over” by Skinny Lister

---

Home. Their house on Green Place was bursting at the seams from them all, but just like her thrift store sweaters, they patched it to make it fit. It was noisier than ever - an impressive achievement, since it had already been full of her guitar, the radio, the TV, everyone shouting and laughing and crying - and brighter than ever, too, with more lights on the street, more cars and motorcycles and houses with more of the Vuvalini crew moving in.

And Nux.

It’d been a simple dinner, more like a collection of appetizers, finger food that was easy to share. It’d been a day of crowded business - pick up Nux and Max, drop Val off at work, visit Angharad at the hospital - and no one had energy to cook. But that was fine. They had homemade hummus and carrots and celery to dunk into it, reheated soup, crackers and cheese, pasta salad by Skully. They had to bring their chairs in close for everyone to fit at the table, and even so Capable ended up half in Nux’s lap. As soon as they got some food in them, the conversation became a little more energetic. Even though he’d told them about it already, they pelted Nux with questions about what had happened, what he had done.

Furiosa put her hand on his head. Not ruffling his hair, not patting, just a moment of resting it there. Like a benediction.

“So what’s your next step?” Seeds asked. Her plate was piled high with food and she seemed more interested in that than her question, tossing it out for whoever to answer.

Back and forth, people turned to look at each other until everyone was focused on Furiosa.

“Storefronts,” she answered. “Fix them up, rent them out.”

“You keep going.” Max was doing his almost-smile as he spoke.

Furiosa stared back at him, her own expression soft.

The money from Nux gave them new options for building and soon ideas were flying back and forth - they could install a huge pool, build a gazebo in the back, put in stained glass windows. The proposals grew wilder - and more expensive - until Capable brought up Angharad. “A ramp for Angharad? Or a special bed or something?”

“Or different bathtub. I saw this one has a little door so you don’t have climb over it.” Cheedo said. “Hey Nux, do you have your phone on you?” He passed it across the table, and she started typing. “This one’s way better than mine. You should lock it, by the way. Ok, anyway, see?”

“Wait, show me how you did that?” Nux leaned over Dag, his brows scrunched in concentration.

Surreptitiously Capable took out her phone and snapped a picture: Nux and Cheedo bent over his phone, with Dag doing bunny ears behind them.

After dinner Max left first - That hadn’t changed, Capable thought as she watched his broad back disappear down the porch stairs. Clean-up was quick, even with Nux leaning against her, his long arms draped over her shoulders. As soon as the last dish was put away, Nux swung her around, his strong arms under her knees and around her back. She squealed with laughter as he dropped down on the couch. She curled up, tucking her feet in just in time to make room for Dag and Cheedo to squeeze in. For a while they were practically a pile there, but eventually she and Nux spilled off onto the floor, bringing pillows and a blanket with them so they could cuddle up.

Like a nest, she thought as he sunk down to lie on her lap. All softness and warmth. As long as his legs were, he had to scrunch up to fit. Cute, sweet - Nothing at all like the War Boys she’d known. Except for the cuts and bruises on his face. Capable sighed, blowing strands of hair out of her face. Her emotions were rolling back and forth between extremes again - the fear and anger from the night before, but then the utter relief that he had made it home, which crashed over everything else like a wave.

“Still can’t believe this is real,” he said.

“Do you want to go upstairs?” she asked him. “We can talk alone.”

“Later? Do want to, but I like this.”

Toast brought down some zines and Cheedo and Dag played with Nux’s phone. Behind the quiet conversations, the strains of some classical piece on the radio drifted from the kitchen.

She hummed along; Brahms, she recognized the composer at last. Even as muted as it was, the song was enchanting - haunting. Each note rising, swelling, to create a song incredibly beautiful. And sad.

Protectively, she tightened her grip on Nux. After everything she’d said to Toast and Furiosa about the War Boys, she couldn’t spin 180 on them. Even if the schlangers had given Nux a black eye and stitches. Maybe it was time to settle on some songs, time to really get rocking - Give them no excuse not to change with the times.

The buzz of her phone drew her attention and hands away from Nux. Doof had texted her, she saw with a bit of surprise. They’d been texting little, just quick ideas back and forth and trying fit playing into their schedules. But this message was asking if everything was ok where they were. Maybe he’d heard about Rictus and the chase, too.

If you see nux tell him rock on

“War Boys aren’t going to fall asleep to lullabies,” Toast said, apparently thinking along a similar line.

Nux murmured in her arms, possibly disagreeing with Toast’s statement. Or possibly he was falling asleep.

“If you’re trying to get anything through their thick skulls, you’re going to have to make a big impression.” Toast waved a zine like she was swatting ideas out of the air. “Or hit them with a 2x4.”

“So I’m hearing that I should shelve Peter, Paul, and Mary.”

“Well yeah. For a multitude of reasons.”

“Hey, Puff the Magic Dragon is a classic,” Dag interjected.

“Song about a dragon?” Nux asked. “Sounds chrome.”

Dag flung back her hair as she laughed. She’d dyed it orange and red, and faded flames flashed. “See? Nux gets it.”

“Does it burn down the countryside or something?”

“Nux does not get it,” Toast retorted.

Nux’s smile was easy, lopsided. He cracked open his eyes, the blue brillant under his dark eyelashes. “Doesn’t seem like your usual songs, Capable.”

Again she thought of Doof and with a giggle she mused, “Maybe I should write metal songs: dragons, warriors in the mountains, something about thunder…”

“I think I have a zine about that,” Toast muttered. She shifted through the pile and pulled out one with a hand-colored cover. “Yeah, so this piece of art is a unicorn fighting a wyvern. Pretty inspiring.”

Nux whistled, impressed. Maybe it was more fantastic than the one they were compiling, but Capable liked theirs better. “Ours is almost done, Nux. You should write up something, too. What was your idea? About easy car maintenance? Something that people can do on their own to save money.”

“Siphon gas,” Nux suggested lazily and Capable groaned and bent down to kiss him.

“Not a War Boy anymore,” she reminded him with a smile.

“Gas companies are evil - I support any Robin Hood shenanigans.” Dag announced and flashed a sneaky grin when Capable rolled her eyes.

Toast passed around some of the zines and with a notebook on her lap, wrote down ideas that came out of the excited chatter. Capable wanted to get her guitar but Nux was far too comfortable in her lap to extract. Not that it was hard to content herself with stroking him instead of strings, moving gently down his cheek to the angle of his jaw or tousling the silk of his hair.

“Nux, now that you’re here, maybe you can drive us around. We need to start hanging posters for the march.”

“You guys have posters?” Nux asked Toast as he looked up excitedly. Capable had kept him updated on all of their work getting the march ready - and all of her worries and then self-motivating speeches about what they needed to make happen. He hadn’t seen the final design, though. It had come from Toast, who pulled together a cool image and one of Angharad’s slogans. They were using it for the cover of their zine, too.

“Nothing fancy,” Toast said with a shrug. “I just printed them at the library at school. There’s one machine in the back of the stacks that doesn’t charge you for copies.”

Everything was put on hold when Mama Cat squeezed through the crack in the closet door and snuck away from her kittens to get food and water from her dishes in the kitchen. Rolling out of her lap, Nux stretched over to open the door some more and peek in. Tucked in the corner was a box they’d lined with soft towels - The kitty cabana. Capable crept up beside him and leaned against his arm. Nux’s eyes were wide, but then they softened as he breathed a quiet laugh.

“Kittens instead of War Pups,” he murmured. “Good trade-in.”

“Kittens are so much cuter than the screaming abominations that are human babies,” Dag said after Nux closed the door again. “Wouldn’t mind being pregnant if I got kittens out of the deal.”

Talking about pregnancy used to make Capable curl in her legs, protecting and blocking at the mention of it. Even the thought of it made her insides tighten, like she could make her uterus squeeze itself clean. Dag had never regretted her abortion; Capable didn’t want to get that far. But now Nux laughed and reclined against her again, and Toast grumbled something about how that would be the true abomination, and there was nothing to fear, nothing to fight.

Cheedo linked her fingers with Dag’s and leaned on her shoulder. “Let’s spend all of the money on the kittens.”

Capable nodded along. “A huge cat tower. Cat castle.”

“Catnip mice for miles,” Toast added. “A feline festival of benefaction.”

“Hope the other ones are alright,” Nux fretted. He reached up to wrap his arms around her, fingers tangling in her hair. When she bent down to him again, he murmured, “And Ace’s crew.”

“Me too, sweetheart.”

A light kiss turned deeper as Nux pulled her closer. Her hair fell like around their faces, and the tangled blanket of it offered a bit of privacy. God, his kisses, the way his mouth moved, all his energy and heat.

“Hey Dag,” Cheedo’s voice popped up suddenly, “will you do me now? I mean my ears.”

“Yep! Let’s take a stab at it. That pun was for you, Toast. Give me hand getting everything ready, sweetling?”

Swept up in the kiss, Capable was barely aware of anything else in the room. Even sore and aching as he must have been, Nux kissed her with the same heat, same desire, same energy that turned her equal parts senseless and sensual. He was hers now - but as a relationship based on intimacy, not dominance. As hard as it had been, as painful, as dangerous; as complacent as he could have been; as much as the War Boys had created him, Nux had left. And he’d chosen her.

Back with bags of frozen carrots, paper towels, and a needle - a very precise surgery - Dag and Cheedo set up shop on the couch. The two of them shared a quick, confirming look before Dag poked at Nux with her barefoot. “Oi, you still with us, Nux? Or did Capable suck your soul out?”

Capable gently nudged at Nux and he eased himself up obligingly. With a flourish Dag presented a small black box while Cheedo wiggled in excitement next to her.

Puzzled, Nux was slow to react, taking a second before he held out his hand. “For me?’

“Yeah, mate. If you want it.”

“Yeah! Thank you!”

“And we didn’t use your big ol’ bag of cash for it.”

“It’s yours,” he said, with that smile that was part shy, part proud. “Birthday present,” he paused to glance at Capable, “and thanks.”

“Well, you’re set for a while if we start charging you rent,” Toast said wryly.

“You said something a while ago,” Cheedo explained. She leaned forward excitedly, hair spilling over her shoulders and into her face as she rocked forward. “So I thought this would be sort of cool.”

“Wow, thank you,” he said again. He still hadn’t opened the box, too busy marveling - and blushing, Capable thought, judging by how pink the back of his ears had gotten. He’d told her before that War Boys didn’t get gifts. She wondered how overwhelming his last couple of days had been. Nux met everything with his wide-eyed enthusiasm, despite having a black eye at the moment, but Capable knew his complexity, had seen his sensitivity. Like her, there were wounds that he suffered that wouldn’t be healed with stitches and bandages. He had to be overwhelmed, like she had been in the tumultuous days following their run down route 91. Scattered, shattered emotions that ran rampant, up and down the scale from elation to despondency.

Her arms wrapped around him, she propped her chin on his shoulder to watch as he opened the present. A pair of skull earrings glinted in the light, their tiny faces grinning up at him.

She released her hold on him and Nux sat on the couch, flanked by Cheedo and Dag. She thought again about how he neatly fit into her family. She was probably smiling like a dope, fond and indulgent, and when she glanced over at Toast, Capable half expected her to be arching a brow or shaking her head in sarcastic disgust. But instead she staring at Nux with a concentration that was almost single-minded as he gamely iced his ears with bags of frozen vegetables. With him in their room, their opportunities for conversations alone was decreased almost into nothing. Maybe Toast preferred it that way - at least with Nux there, they couldn’t talk, couldn’t argue.

Maybe Toast thought it was ephemeral; Nux was a interloper, but one that would move on, move out. Restless War Boys on the road, speeding through their lives. Toast valued her privacy - hoarded it, was what Nux thought. And now Capable had planted him in their room, the haven from most of the noise and distraction of the house.

But Capable hadn’t given any thought to long-term plans. She was still riding out her happiness, like a long, sustaining note.

“Ready?” Cheedo asked breathlessly. “It only hurts for like, a few seconds.”

“After what he’s used to, I think he can handle getting his ears pierced,” Toast remarked dryly.

“Pain’s just a feeling,” Nux said. He prodded the puffy skin under his eye and gave a shrug. “Easy to deal with.”

Her heart ached at that statement, tossed out so casually.

“Yeah, I know,” Cheedo said with a frown. “But this is sort of different, right? Doing something that hurts on purpose. He can say no and avoid it. You can totally say no, Nux.”

“Chest tattoo had to sting,” Toast commented and Nux nodded.

“Worth it!”

“Besides,” she continued in the same flat tone, “You wouldn’t get far in the War Boys if you didn’t get off on pain.”

“Sounds like an exciting branch-off of Joe’s sadism,” Dag said, jabbing her needle at some imagined foe.

“Or masochism. You know what that word means, Nux? Doesn’t matter who you do it to, right?”

Nux licked at his lips. There was a scratch there and the skin was puffy, and under those fresh wounds were the scars. Capable knew about those scars - she traced over them, kissed them like her lips could fix his skin. They’d had long conversations over the phone at night when they couldn’t leave their parts of the city. Sometimes she climbed onto the roof, sometimes she went into the back of the yard where only the buzzing night bugs would hear her; he walked the uneven paved streets of Gas Town or sat in his car. She’d told him about Joe; he told her about being a pup. Smart as she was, Toast must have figured out what he had confided to Capable - He’d cut himself.

“Like Angharad,” Cheedo said in a soft voice.

Toast shook her head. “She did it out of contempt, not devotion.”

“Joe made everyone hurt,” Capable said. Angharad had sliced her cheeks once; “Different ways but the end’s the same. Scars.”

Nux shifted, eyes moving over Capable and her sisters. When the silence started to stretch he cleared his throat. “These’ll heal, right? If I don’t like them? Holes won’t get bigger.”

“We won’t know until we try!” Dag said with a laugh, the situation diffusing. “On the count of three.”

“Yeah!” Nux leaned down so Dag could pull at his ear lobe. “One -”

Dag jammed the needle through.

“Shit! What happened to two?”

“Hold still! Hole’s all set, here comes the earring.”

“You ok, sweetheart?”

“Yeah. This is nothing.”

Capable quickly rummaged through her purse until she found her make-up bag. Once her hand curled around her mirror she tossed to him. “What do you think, Nux?”

The hair, the clothes, and now the earrings: a new identity forged out of the fires that once threatened to consume them. Maybe that was too dramatic, she thought to herself, and giggled along with Nux’s delighted grin.

“You look good, Nux!”

“Very shiny, very chrome.”

“Not bad,” Dag said with an appraising nod. “Skulls were definitely the right choice.”

“This is fucking shiny as fuck! How about eyebrows? Nose?” He fell off the couch back down to where Capable was kneeling and kissed her on her laughing mouth. “This other gang, schlangers had metal everywhere! Nipples like… fucking tassels or shit! This one asshole slid metal through his skin everywhere. Always thought tattoos were chromer, but the earrings are shine.”

Dag and Cheedo arranged themself on the couch. Cheedo pulled her long hair back into a ponytail, up high so Dag could get at her ears. Even without make-up, it was obvious that she was growing up. Those straddling years between childhood and adulthood had been such a mix for Capable - awkwardness one moment transformed into poise then shrunk back into uncertainty. With all the trappings of adulthood she’d snuck into bars, nightclubs, down neon-lit streets in War Boy territory. A trap, she thought to herself, as she watched Cheedo. But not a trap that would catch Cheedo. Or any of them, ever again.

After a couple minutes of icing and pep talks, Cheedo was ready. Stretching up, Capable held out her hand for Cheedo to squeeze and -

“One done!”

“Looks good, Cheedo,” Nux said. “Not much blood.”

“I kind of like the asymmetrical look,” Dag said as she cupped Cheedo’s chin and tilted her head. “What do you think? Still want me to do the other ear?”

With Nux’s phone’s camera, Cheedo admired her new piercing. Capable and Toast agreed with Dag - She looked great and they puffed up like proud parents. They took more pictures and Cheedo fiddled with Nux’s phone while he look curiously over her shoulder.

The past couple of days caught up with him at last, and when the shadows under his eyes made the bruising look even worse, Capable tugged on his arm to get him upstairs. She’d wanted to take another shower with him, help him wash around his stitches, but as he sagged into her room and onto the bed, it was obvious that he was too exhausted to do much of anything.

So she helped him peel off his socks and jeans, but Nux was loathe to relinquish his phone.

“Hold on, look at what Cheedo put as my background.”

“What?”

“Check it out.”

It was her in mid laugh, holding a fork of salad. “I’m deleting it.”

“No, I love it!”

She had to wrestle it away and won probably because Nux was half asleep already. She held him as he sank into slumber.

Like it had been for them after they left Joe, after the crash, after their slow retreat from the hospital, Max’s apartment was a liminal space, like a limbo for their lost souls. Nux had had time to be alone - really alone, if she knew Max and his unwillingness to let anyone close - no one on his mattress, no phone buzzing with messages, cars coming and going.

She knew he had wanted to come right to her - and god, waiting for his call had been a special hell, so damn reminiscent of hiding in the back of Furiosa’s rig, blind and deaf and helpless as someone else controlled all their movements. But Max had stepped in, appearing in their lives as though summoned by magic. And he’d faded away again, with just as little explanation.

Who was he, she wondered again. Why did he keep circling? Dag would say the answer was easy enough: Furiosa, and the flame he carried for her. And that did make sense; Furiosa was a hero, incredible in ways that most people could barely dream of. Even though they disagreed on some things, above all other feelings was Capable’s admiration of Furiosa. And love. Capable mused over it as she stroked down Nux’s muscular arm. Though love had come later; even when they didn’t know her, and trust was a thin string close to snapping, they had admired her: strong and hard, spartan in their rooms of dresses purses, and dazzling shoes.

She danced her fingers up to his shoulder. Every touch was feather-light: he was bruised, light purples maring the silk of his skin. She could almost feel each one herself. He stirred but didn’t wake; under his eyes were shadows like bruises themselves. She wanted to kiss him, hold him, stroke him…

When he was feeling better, she told herself. Her traitorous body refused to obey her - it was hard keeping her thoughts on the straight and narrow when he was beside her, warm and firm, one arm around her, his legs stretched out to the end of the mattress.

He’d paid a price coming to her, more dear than the literal money that he’d given for her to spirit away. She never regretted leaving behind her old life - Joe’s life. It was a nightmare she had finally woke from. Thinking about it now, in the safety of her room with Nux around her, she didn’t even shiver. But Nux’s identity was tied to his past. Partners, that was what his friends were to him. Brothers. Maybe it was like exile. Excommunication. Dwelling on that, she imagined Angharad in her hospital bed. Would she say it was worth it?

She raised herself up to gaze at his peacefully sleeping face.

He had time to figure it out, now. They both did.

Carefully she extricated herself from him. He probably wouldn’t have woken even if she started jumping on the bed, she thought as he buried himself against the now-free pillow. And even if she did wake him, he’d smile and roll over, make room for her again, return her kisses. Before she indulges those devious desires, Capable’s restless hands turned on the small lamp by her bed and then reached for her guitar. Plugged into her headphones, she could play quietly enough that she would disturb him or anyone else in the house. The song she’d played during Savannah’s broadcast floated through her thoughts - a sweet tune about the joy of contentedness. Not every song had to change the world; some could comfort, some could celebrate.

Over the strings and up the neck of her guitar, her fingers slid and skipped and strummed

Deep into the song, she almost didn’t hear Toast. “Oh shit,” she hissed and yanked off her headphones. “Sorry - didn’t hear you knocking.”

“I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t walking in on something,” she replied in a quiet voice.

“It’s safe.”

Toast moved quietly across and piled her books and zines on their bureau before settling herself in her bed. If she was annoyed that she had to mute her habits - again - because of Nux, she didn’t show it. Though that was sort of proof in and of itself, Capable reflected guiltily. The best poker face of all of them, she mastered the unimpressed impassivity that they all had to wear around Joe and his cronies. But she didn’t need to still wear it, Capable thought, but swallowed the comment before it was spoken. Time. Toast had time, too. And like Angharad, there was still healing to do.

“So what do you think of the War Boys now?”

Capable’s eyebrows raised in surprise at the sudden question. “That Joe was a fucking asshole.”

“Are you glad Rictus is dead?”

He’d never touched them, but that was probably more Joe’s rules than any innate altruism. “Yeah, I think so. You?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you think Angharad will say?”

Capable’s attention piqued at Toast’s choice of tense - future. She always selected her words carefully. Did she really think it was just a matter of time before Angharad would be back with them? Capable reined in her optimism before it went wild.

“About what part?” she asked wryly.

Toast snorted a laugh. “Right? So much has happened in the last few weeks. At least we’re done with the War Boys now.”

Capable made a noise of acknowledgement although she disagreed. There was Doof to play with and maybe War Boys to face, and unless she stayed out the city like Furiosa, there were plenty of chances that she’d cross paths with them. She hadn’t completely worked out her feelings on that: if she ran into the rest of Nux’s crew, would she take a swing at them? Ignore them? Drag them back to Green Place?

She scrubbed her hands over her face. “Thanks for letting Nux stay with us. I know this has got to be a pain in the ass for you.”

“Where else would he go? It’s fine. Just warn me if you guys are occupying the room. Don’t want to shock my virgin eyes.”

“Think you’ll ever bring your guy over?”

“He’s not mine.”

“Friend? Acquaintance?”

“It was just a fling. A liaison.”

Capable tried teasing, “A liaison dangerouse?”

“More like a liaison stupide.” Toast twisted her mouth up, but it was no smile. Not even really a smirk, it looked like a grimace. But at least she had bantered back.

So Capable change the subject to something a little less personal. Only a very little less. Circling to her earlier thoughts, she said, “So, Max. Do you think he’ll stay around now?”

“Hm, what? Max?” Nux stretched and yawned, than flinched and cursed as he pulled at something still sore.

She put her guitar back on its stand and pulled off her headphones, then rolled over to face him. She couldn’t resist touching him again, now that he was awake. Her fingers followed the curve of his cheek down the line of his jaw, the prickles of newly-grown scruff tickling at her skin. “Sorry, sweetheart. Didn't mean to wake you.”

He caught her hand and pressed a kiss against her palm. “You guys are talking about Max?”

“Yeah,” Toast said, and Nux and Capable sat up to face her. “Did he say anything about… anything?”

“He said some stuff. Not much about the bronze, though. Mostly he wanted to know what I was going to do. Maybe he was worried I’d go back to the Boys?”

“Maybe. We don’t really know much about Max,” Capable told him. “Max Rockatansky is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”

“He had a wife and son.”

Capable’s eyebrows shot up and she gaped at Toast. He’d always been alone - even thinking about him having a family seemed strange. To have such important people in his life but not to show any of it, she could barely fathom it. “What? Really?”

“Didn’t see any pictures,” Nux said doubtfully. “His apartment is barebones. Thought cops were rich.”

“I looked him up, ages ago,” Toast continued. She stared back at Capable, that same flat expression. “Weren’t you curious about him?”

“Yeah, but…” He was a friend - more than that, Max was an integral part of whatever it was that they were - family, Capable would call it, although Toast would disagree with that, too. He wasn’t a research project, something to investigate like a homework assignment. “I don’t know. I didn’t think he’d lie about -”

“He never lied,” Toast said quickly.

“Lying by omission,” Capable replied and Toast shrugged. “Did something bad happen to them?”

“They’re dead. Killed by some gang. It was years ago.”

Nux shifted so he could bury his face in her hair and she leaned against him, his strong arms supporting her. Max had helped put their family together, and his own was lost. She wondered how it happened, playing over dozens of possibilities until her brain got stuck on the one she knew best: driving, the vehicle a prison and escape all in one, the road unforgiving under them.

“Does Furiosa know?” she asked and this time Toast frowned as she pondered.

She puffed out her cheeks and then exhaled a long breath. “Probably. She has her eyes on everything. Maybe Val found out. Or maybe Max told her.”

“Shit. Poor Max.” Insignificant words. She sagged under this new knowledge and turned away from Nux to look out the window, into the night. Very little to see - mostly just the reflection of the room in the glass. Like usual, her own words failed her and it was the lyrics of a song that filled the silence in her head. If she hadn’t set aside her guitar, she would’ve sung them. “You're weighed down / You're full of something / You're underneath it all.”

“He’s doing all right,” Nux said quietly. His breath was warm against her skin as he nuzzled her, reassured her. “

What had happened to Max’s wife and child? Were they in the hospital?

Where did War Boys go when they died? The city morgue? Did Citadel City even bother with autopsies, with investigations, with case files if the victims were gang members? If Nux had died, would she have been called in to identify his body? She shivered at that thought, imaging a cold white room, drains set into the tiled floor. Or would he have been shuttled off, shoveled into a pit somewhere outside of city limits?

“We can worry about it tomorrow.” Toast slid under her covers and turned to face the wall.

After turning off her light, Capable lay beside Nux, the two of them shifting and adjusting to get as close to each other as possible.

“If Max didn’t come along, I might’ve died,” he said quietly and he gripped her even tighter, drawing her head down against his chest. She could hear the rhythm of his heart there, the steady beat to some otherwise silent song. “Thank you, Capable.”

With his face buried against her, his words were muffled, But she could still hear him as he said quietly, “Without you, wouldn’t have really lived at all.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Nux was beside her and Toast was at least trying to make things normal, even if it was still a bridge they needed to mend. Tiredness washed over her. An easy sleep, softly slipping in.

Like Seeds’ river, flowing onward despite the dams and damnation.

---

Shake off your shoes
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes
But forget not where you’ve been
Shake off your shoes
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground
- “Take Up Your Spade” by Sara Watkins

Chapter Text

I sat back in the grass inside a galaxy of gnats
And I let the bats in my brain loose
I could see clearly a raven landing near me
Waving a white feather
Calling for a truce
- “White Feather” by Amanda Shires

---

Toast’s design for the march looked amazing. They could add marketing maven to her lists of accomplishments; she did some image editing at the university’s library and came home with an advertisement that no one would be able to ignore.

Flood the Citadel!

They had a rallying cry, they had a date, and they were getting it out there.

They plastered the posters across the city: at the university library and cafe, and at least one in everyone hallways; Giddy’s windows were practically covered with them; Marcy’s Mug agreed to one hung neatly by the register; and Toast went out with her backpack full in the morning and came home at night with it empty and needing another roll of tape.

They printed out flyers. Cheedo brought them with her to class and handed them out to all the other students, Dag brought them with her to the laundromat and folded them into people’s clothes until their boss caught on, and Capable and Nux put them under window wipers up and down almost every street in the city.

Even that had been sort of fun. He’d taken off on one side, running as fast as he could and she’d raced along the other trying to keep. Sometimes he’d yell out the model of car, if it was shine - “Holy shit, this asshole has a 1968 Jeepster!” - and she read off bumper stickers - “My dingo ate your honor student!” - and it was all ridiculous and amazing.

Savannah mentioned it on every broadcast. And with Nux’s money, they took out ads in the local papers, even the flimsy local amateur ones that sat outside grocery stores.

Even though the semester was over, there were always some people around CCU for summer classes, research work, and whatever else went on in the big building, so one morning when the weather was nice - cold, but nice - she and Nux stuffed their arms into borrowed sweaters and jumped into Furiosa’s truck, Capable’s guitar in the backseat.

With her phone in one hand and Seeds’ map in the other, Capable plotted out the route for the march. Driving as she gave directions, Nux nodded along and occasionally offered advice on a different street. “That’s Buzzard territory. Might want to avoid them.”

“Ok, what about if we went by the river first? Down here?”

“Yeah, that sounds good. I got in a shitty crash there years ago. Think the street lamps still bent from it! Want to see?”

She nodded, but she turned in her seat to face him, more interested in admiring him than watching traffic. Furiosa’s truck wasn’t his peppy Monte Carlo but Nux seemed happy to be driving. It was heartpoundingly crazy how handsome he was, especially as he grinned. It wasn’t possible to fall in love every day with the same person, was it? His wounds from his fight and flight from the War Boys were fading and his dark hair was growing in thick, getting long around his ears. Which still had the skull earrings glinting in the sunlight.

She wished they could drive forever, continue on the highway that stretched out and out and out, out from the city and into the country. It didn’t matter where they went, she thought as she stretched her arm to slide her fingers over the back of his neck, as long as they went together. Just the two of them, warm and safe while the buildings and trees blurred past their window.

“Hey, you got a text,” she said when she heard a phone buzz and tore her gaze away from him to reach for his phone. Cheedo had set it up for him so each contact had its own image, and she saw the picture of a dog in a police hat pop up on the screen. “It’s Max.”

“Whatever he thinks I did, I didn’t,” he said quickly and she giggled. “Can you see what he wants?”

She opened his text. “He wants to know if you have time to help him with something. No details - Typical Max.”

“Maybe after busking?”

“Why don’t you just go now? It’s ok, I’ll be fine. Don’t forget that Dag’s already there. She’s just printing out more flyers at the library.”

Nux glanced sideways at her, lips pulling down into a frown. When he shrugged, she knew he was wavering.

“Max doesn't usually ask for help; he must really need it,” she continued cheerfully. “I’m really glad you two are getting along.”

They stopped at a light and Nux leaned on the steering wheel, then turned his head toward her. “You sure?” he asked, his big blue eyes searching her face.

She hadn’t said the real reason she wanted him off the streets: War Boys. But something about those wide, gorgeous eyes pulled the confession out of her. “You’ll be safe with him. Hey, listen, we all promised Furiosa we wouldn’t go looking for trouble, right? I just… I don’t want anything to happen when we’re just getting started. I love you, Nux.”

“But then you’ll be alone.”

“For like, 15 minutes. The War Boys aren’t interested in me. I’ll be fine,” she repeated. “Go help Max.”

And as he drove her to the university, their chatting turned to their plans for the evening. Go to the movies, get a drink, order take-out. Or bar Toast from the bedroom for a while. Now they had time. And money. And even though it was cold and she couldn’t wear cute dresses for him, he seemed just as smitten with her goofy pom pom hat and Mari-knitted scarf.

When they got to CCU, he pulled up near the subway and she hopped down onto the curb then hurried around to the driver’s side for a kiss goodbye. “Whatever we end up doing will be fun,” she said and he gently wrapped a tendril of her hair around his finger to pull her back for another kiss.

“Be careful,” he called after her as she walked toward the subway stairs.

“This is my territory now! And Dag’s on her way!”

He leaned out of the open window as he waved and she blew him a kiss back before she swung her guitar case on her shoulders and went down to her favorite place to busk. Setting up, she placed her last few flyers next to her open guitar case. There, she thought with satisfaction as she took her spot, everything was ready.

Don't scab for the bosses
Don't listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize
Which side are you on?

It was an old American union song, written by an activist poet married to a coal miner. In Citadel City there were bosses and poor folks, corruption and low wages, lungs blackened - by smog this time, and not coal dust.

Organize! She sang the word loud enough to make it echo down to the subway tracks. Come together. Walk together. Like her and her sisters. Like her and Furiosa. Like her and Nux. This song was a march itself, with each note and each word a deliberate choice. A deliberate step.

When she was done, Capable loosened her grip on her guitar and let the neck slide down. After a deep breath she reached for her bottle of water. As she gulped down cold water she looked around the passageway. She heard a train pull in and then the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Commuters.

But way more than she expected. Some of them looked at her as they exited the station, but mostly they filed quickly past.

Some of them ran.

Capable cursed to herself and grabbed her phone, ready to make a phone call if shit got real. But she didn’t take off along with everyone else. Buzzards and War Boys, she dealt with them both. Whichever it was, they hadn’t scared her away before.

“Hey, it’s that fucking girl!”

Pounding on the stairs and then figures in brown. So it was Buzzards!

Everyone else had ran away, but she wasn’t afraid, Capable thought as she stood her ground, puffed up in her big jacket. Her best fuck-you-face-a-la-Toast was wasted on them - The two of them barely had time to flip her off as they sprinted by.

But one of them twisted to look over his shoulder. “Fuck you, bitch!”

“Fuck you!” she yelled back. “Stop interrupting my set!”

“Oh shit! You guys hear that?” That was a different voice - excited, not angry.

Bald heads, black leather jackets, black pants - War Boys! Just her damn luck. Two of them, neither of whom she recognized, but they both grinned at her. It wasn’t super reassuring, and she didn’t smile back - Not that they seemed to care. They veered from their course to move closer to her, darkness closing in.

“Knew it was Nux’s girl! Hi Capable! You look chrome as hell!”

She inhaled sharply, mind racing as she debated how to respond to him. Before she could say anything, the other War Boy looked up suddenly in the direction the Buzzards had fled. He grabbed his partner’s jacket, yanking him along. “Come on!”

“Bye Capable! Gonna go fuck up some Buzzards!”

The flickering neon lights above them cast strangely moving shadows. Suddening there was a glimmer in one of the War Boy’s hands - a knife. She saw him flick it over his knuckles before he turned away to follow the Buzzards.

“Wait!” she called after them, trying to give the Buzzards some more time. “Who are you guys? What’re your names?”

They were gone before she could decide what to do - call the cops, call Dag, maybe swing her guitar around and play them off.

The War Boys weren’t her problem. Neither were the Buzzards. Still, she hoped that the Buzzards - assholes that they were - managed to get away. At least the university was there, with the security guards and all the other people. It offered some protection.

She started to text Dag, warning her sister to keep an eye out for the gangs.

look out for trouble

Before she finished the message, more heavy steps beat their way over to her. She pressed send just as the guy turned the corner.

Slit.

This time she knew exactly what to do. She started the song again, even louder this time.

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

He lit a cigarette and blew smoke out of his nostrils like some evil dragon. It wasn’t anything like playing for Nux. Dark circles around his eyes and the red lines of his scars stood out against his sallow skin. Slit didn’t look surprised to see her, but he looked even more pissed than usual, definitely more than the last time they’d met. There was no friendliness now. His contempt was fucking palpable, and the War Boy blacks were as dark as ever.

“I’m not fucking snitching,” she declared. She didn’t wait for the notes to fade, just snapped out the words.

At first he didn’t say anything and she was almost relieved that there wouldn’t be an argument. Her thoughts were still muddled - what the hell was she supposed to say to him? Anger roiling through her, but there was nervousness bubbling in her blood too. What did Slit think of her now? She’d stolen Nux - that’s probably what he thought. Swindled the War Boys. Their stare-down finally ended when he spat out, “Rictus is dead. You won.”

“Ok, first off, this isn’t a zero-sum game. And second, come on!” Flustered and frustrated, Capable had pause for a second to get her thoughts back in order. “It wasn’t about killing Rictus. I wanted Nux out of the War Boys - out of a shitty, painful, violent gang. It was the fucking War Boys that almost killed him. You almost killed him!”

Slit looked down his nose at her, eyes narrowed like he was inspecting something suspicious. Like they hadn’t hung out, like they had jack shit in common, like Nux wasn’t part of both their lives. “You’re the reason he got fucked.”

Fucking shitty War Boys! “Me?” she asked in incensed disbelief.

“You and your buzzardshit ideas. Who else are you going to throw under the bus for them?”

“You don’t know the first thing about sacrifice.” Like Slit could ever know what she went through. What Angharad went through. What they’d lost. What had been taken from them.

“Why the hell are you still out here? What fucking more do you want?”

“I want to be able to hang out in the subway without gang fights going on! I want the city to be clean! I want to the police to enforce justice and not shitty laws!” Her voice kept rising, and with it, her temper. “You beat the shit out of my boyfriend, Slit! And if you came here to pick a fight with me, well - Fuck off! You can listen or you can get out of my way.”

“So where’s all your love and understanding now?” he jeered.

“And I don’t want fucking men to interrupt me!”

That shut him up. Slit even had the decency to look abashed, eyes dropping and his awful scars dipping into a frown. But he didn’t apologize and the moment didn’t last. He flicked his cigarette away, and it bounced against the tile before rolling into some trash.

She strummed loudly, angry notes and resisted the urge to stamp out the cigarette butt. “I don’t know what you want, Slit. If you think I’m going to tell you where Nux is or something, you can just fuck right off.”

“He’ll come crawling back.”

She smacked the flyers, trying to grab one, and one finally stuck to her sweaty hand. “Here,” she said and strode forward. Slit took a step back but it wasn’t a quick enough retreat - she jammed it at him, holding it up so he couldn’t avoid it. “Not crawling - Marching. That’s where he’ll be, with all of us. We’re marching to city hall. Everyone’s invited - Even you. Especially you.”

He grabbed it, crumbled it. “Walking targets!”

“So tell your War Boys to leave their guns at home!”

“The Buzzards -”

“You think that because I’m not violent, I’m weak. We’re not doing things the War Boy way. Citadel City isn’t yours and you don’t get to make the rules.”

“The Buzzards aren’t going to step aside because you ask nice!” he said grimly like she hadn’t interrupted him. “Cops won’t. Your radio said they’re getting new gear - You hear that? Guitar won’t deflect shit if they shoot you!”

“We’re changing it,” she said stubbornly. “And if that means getting rid of Kalashnikov, then that’s what we’ll do.”

“Things don’t change!”

He said it like a matra, words ringing with a cold immutability of certainty. “Nux has a chance to be something else. Someone else.” Capable swallowed back her anger to extend another peace offering to the War Boy. “You do too.”

“I’m not a traitor!” he barked back.

“A traitor to what? To who? You’re doing this to yourself. There’s no one holding a gun to your head, right?” Again she thought of Nux, how he’d been through just that. “Right now it’s just me and you. And all I’m doing is asking you to listen.”

“You’re the one not listening,” he said, and she thought there was a note of anguish in those words. “He could’ve had it all. We could’ve!”

They glared at each other.

“He’s a dead man walking out there.”

That was exactly what she was afraid of. Capable inhaled a sharp breath and the subway’s already cold air felt like it was freezing her lungs. But Slit hadn’t said it like a threat. Again she ears pricked at the emotion there. Maybe it was fear. Partners, that’s what he and Nux had been. Brothers.

“No he’s not,” she said. “I’m protecting him.”

“You’re a fucking joke! You hiding a rifle in that guitar case of yours?”

“You know I’m not!”

“Then where’s my ‘thank-you’?”

“For what!?”

“You don’t know shit about Citadel City!” He was already turning away, done with her. With his phone pressed against his ear, he ignored her for whatever War Boy business he was there on. She stomped over to the smoldering pile of trash and stamped out the cigarette maybe a little too forcefully.

“Fuck you, Slit,” she sang to the tune of a Pete Seeger song, which the late, great singer probably wouldn’t have appreciated. “War Boys are fucking bullshit and you’re totally wrong. If I had a hammer, I’d fucking hammer the War Boys into pieces. If I had a bell, I’d fucking ring it in your faces all the time. Any Rock Riders around? Fill up my rusted bingo card!”

If she had a song…

Her phone buzzed - Dag was texting, checking in on her. Capable sent back a smiley face so her sister wouldn’t worry. Because she was fine. Pissed off, but fine. She had time to cool down and was just stewing when Daag came jogging down the subway stairs. The shitty printer at the library had basically exploded, she explained, but she had the flyers all ready: colorful and awesome and bold and bright.

“No Nux?” she asked as she took her place next to Capable.

“He’s with Max. I was afraid that War Boys might be hanging around and...”

“Yeah, got your message. I didn’t see anything happening around school though. You’re alright?”

Capable nodded slowly, debating if she should tell Dag about her most recent run-in with Slit. More things for them to worry about, After a sigh she told her sister about it, who raised her hands up toward the ceiling like she was praying to the heavens.

“Ok, from now on, we pepper spray first and ask questions later.”

Capable breathed a quiet laugh. Dag must have realized that her thoughts were elsewhere, because she picked a simple song for Capable to play and playfully sashayed her way in front to take lead vocals. Capable tried to focus on the swish of Dag’s pink hair, but then she gave up, let her playing turn into an easy strum.

Like always, the music helped. Her mind didn’t go blank - it couldn’t, not with the notes ringing around her - but it opened up, letting ideas float with the music. And when they were done, she had the first few notes of a plan. If she had a song, she thought again. Well she did. She had music. And getting louder - Hadn’t she been considering that for ages? Make it so no one could ignore her - It’d almost become a rallying cry.

“You have a glint in your eye,” Dag said as they packed up. “I love it. So what are you about to conquer now?”

“Don’t count your eggs before they hatch,” Capable warned. “Count my eggs. Whatever.”

Doof’s number was still in her phone. She hadn’t called him yet, too busy with school at first, and then Nux, and then the march. And also because she was worried that it was possible he hadn’t meant his offer, that it has just been something he’d tossed out spur of the moment while he was still riding high from the concert.

“So what are you thinking?”

Capable took out her phone again. “I’m going to make a call. And then we’ll see what happens.” A deep breath, a quick grin at Dag, and then all there was left to do was call him.

“Hey, Capable!”

“Hey Doof!” she chirped back in surprise. His phone had probably identified her for him and he’d still picked up - That was a good sign. She caught Dag’s inquisitive look and gave her a thumbs-up. Which wasn’t enough to assuage her curiosity; Dag latched onto her arm, sharp chin on Capable’s shoulder, and leaned in as close as possible to eavesdrop.

“Heard Savannah talk about some march you’re doing. Sounds shine.”

“You should come!” She had a terrible vision of it just being her, standing alone. “We need people to show up.”

“It’s going to be awesome!” Dag whispered fervently.

Doof was noncommittal. “Crowds are hard for me, you know? But I’ll think about it. You working on getting it ready?”

“Yeah, getting ready for all hell to break loose,” she joked and Dag whooped quietly. “I’m getting sort of antsy about it.”

“I hear you. You know the best cure for that sort of shit - Want to jam for a while?”

“Yeah!” she said instantly, then tried to dial it back. “Yeah, cool. That’s actually why I called.”

“Sure, man, let’s do it. I’m just working on a couple new songs. Wanted to have them ready before my next show, but you know how it is. Sometimes the shit doesn’t flow.”

“Can I hear them?”

“They’re still sort of wretch, but yeah, sure. Maybe you can give me your input. Folk me like a hurricane.”

Everything had been coming up roses for her, watered by the deluge of bad luck that had flooded her life for so long. Dag and her guitar in her arms, Nux and Max having some Laurel and Hardy misadventures, Angharad overcoming everything at the hospital, and no matter what Slit claimed, the streets were clearing, cleaned up all the way home to the Green Place. She gave Dag a twirl and an imagined middle finger to the War Boys. “Yeah, let’s hang out. When’s good for you? And hey,” she added, taking another step toward her goal, “when’s your next show?”

“Couple of weeks. Got the dates somewhere - Hey, Ali! Ali! Ah, fuck it, don’t know where he is. He takes care of all of that.”

“No worries,” she assured him. She scribbled his address on the back of a flyer and Dag carefully folded it and put it into Capable’s bag. “Thanks, Doof. See you soon.”

“Yeah, mate. Oh, and hey, when you see Nux, tell him if he ever needs a gig, let me know. Doof Wagon needs a driver and he’s the best!”

“You got your car back?”

“No, and it’s breaking my heart,” he admitted. “But if I did…”

“I’ll pass it on,” she promised; it was a nice thought, anyway. When she hung up and slipped her phone into her pocket, she and Dag jumped up in down in an excited dance until Dag breathlessly asked what the hell was going on and if Doof had any cute roadies hanging around.

They didn’t need to wait long at school for Nux to pick them up. When he pulled up, he slid aside to give Capable the wheel. It was dark as she drove back to Green Place but once they pulled onto their street, lights from the houses lit up the cold night. Cruising slowly toward home, she saw Furiosa walking on one of the yards and when she waved, Capable pulled over to the curb. As she did, a guy stepped off of the porch behind Furiosa.

They rolled down their windows and leaned out, everyone curious.

“We finally got a tenant,” Furiosa said, jerking her thumb back at him. “Meet your new neighbor.”

The man grinned. With his jacket hood up and sunglasses on, despite the late hour, she couldn’t see much of his face. Maybe sensing their apprehension, he approached and stuck out his hand. “Name’s Griffa. Max recommended I check the place out. I’m his friend. Well, maybe it’s one-sided. He’s my friend, true enough.”

Still on the porch were Hawke and Skully, and they waved at the truck. Capable could see tool belts around their waists - They were probably getting the last bit of the house squared away. It was happening, it was finally happening - Green Place wasn’t just an empty street. Tenants. People. Community.

Furiosa’s arms were crossed over her chest, but she was smiling. There was a smudge of paint high on her cheek and sawdust in the bristles of her hair. Hard labor. Hard work that was paying off.

“Don’t go running off anywhere,” Furiosa said to Capable. Her gaze traveled over to Nux. “I want to talk to both of you.”

Capable nodded. “We were going to make something to eat. Kitchen?”

“I’ll be there in a bit.” She banged her fist on the door before heading back into the house.

Dag grabbed Capable’s guitar for her, which meant that Capable had a hand free to hold onto Nux. Which wasn’t enough for him: he tugged her into his arms and buried his face in her hair. Climbing up the stairs with him plastered against her was a hilariously arduous journey, but they finally made it to the top, two triumphant mountaineers.

In the kitchen they joined Dag in setting the table. The scent of reheating leftovers roused Cheedo from her and Dag’s bedroom and she came down with slow thumps on the stairs, her head bowed down over her cellphone.

“Hey, check it out! People are liking the post I made about the march! Think it’s because of your pic, Capable.”

“My pic?”

“Yeah, the one I took of you with your guitar. You’re so sexy,” she added with a grin. “Right Nux?”

“Yep!”

“You can’t really see your face, right? Because of the guitar neck? So you don’t have to worry about stalkers or whatever. But anyway, I thought it was cool! Word’s spreading!”

“Can you ask Seeds or any of the other Vuvalini if you can take their pictures, too?” Capable asked Cheedo. “They should be up there too..”

Cheedo nodded distractly. “Yeah I’ll keep spamming. Nux, make sure you like the post, too. Here, I’ll show you. Give me your phone?”

They devoured the leftover quiche and Thai food, then raided the fridge and found a container of still-good pasta salad and a couple of hard-boiled eggs. Quite the feast, she thought as Cheedo and Nux piled up the plates. Behind them Dag put the kettle on the stove and started rummaging around for tea. Taking out her phone, she checked for a message from Toast, but there were no new texts. Toast was probably with Val, probably busy. Maybe Dag could read tea leaves about her.

The back door creaked as Furiosa opened it. Grabbing a clean glass out of the dish rack, she filled it at the sink twice, head tossed back as she drank, before she finally came to the table. Long day for her, apparently, but she still looked satisfied. When the kettle whistled, she accepted a mug of tea too, warming her hands on it.

“So Griffa’s alright?” Capable asked.

“Passed his background check,” Furiosa said with a wry smile. “I think he’ll fit in. Especially with you, Dag. You can talk magic and myths together.”

“Myths?” Dag echoed thoughtfully. Cultural anthropology was one of the things she wanted to study in school and she’d been talking about making it her major.

“Ask him about it Alright, Nux - Let’s talk.”

Right down to business. Cheedo and Dag shared a look. “Need us to vacate the premise?” Dag asked.

Furiosa’s steely gaze focused on Nux. “Up to you, Nux. It’s nothing bad; you aren’t in trouble.”

“You guys can stay if you want,” he said. Under the table his hand touched her knee and Capable slid her fingers over his.

“We can’t take all this money.”

Capable knew how Furiosa felt about the backpack of cash. She’d gotten an earful from the older woman about it. More than an earful - a lecture that lasted all the way from the bus stop where she picked Capable to home. Racing, gambling, dealing with gangs, carrying cash when she could get mugged or worse - a list of stupid decisions that Capable acknowledged but didn’t apologize for. Maybe Furiosa was worried that Capable was slipping deeper into the grasp of the War Boy world, but nothing could have been farther than the truth. The money, each bill, was testament that Nux was getting out. And a means. And the fact that he’d given the other half to his friends… What more proof could Furiosa ask for?

Nux squeezed Capable’s knee. “But I want you guys to have it. You need it.”

“It was your car,” Furiosa said. Of all of them, she had to understand the most what a sacrifice that was for Nux. He’d explained it to Capable the first time he’d given her a ride, back after their first date: the freedom of it, the power. She knew that the war Boys had precious little for their own; a car was a status symbol and security, it was an option and opportunity, it was probably a haven, too.

Like her guitar.

Nux opened his mouth to argue but Furiosa charged on, “I’m not a boss anymore. You don’t need to pay dues.”

Capable’s eyebrows raised in surprise and she turned quickly to look at Nux. He flushed at Furiosa’s statement - Maybe there was truth in it. Something Capable hadn’t even thought of. Money for protection, money as a payoff. Maybe Toast was right and War Boy habits died hard. Capable wonder what Slit had done with the other half of the payoff. Had he handed it over to a boss?

“It’s not like that,” he said firmly.

“Don’t need to bribe, either.”

“Then how about rent?” he replied. His ears were still red but Nux met Furiosa’s cool gaze without faltering. Toast had suggested rent as a joke, but like always there was truth in her cynicism. “Even if shit didn’t go south with the War Boys and I was still with them, I’d still give you the money. It’s fair, right? If I get to be part of Green Place, then I want to help it.”

She tilted her head back as she laughed. “Fine. You win, Nux. Tell you what, we’ll have a sit down with Stega and start figuring out your finances. She got us set up with whatever accounts - checking, saving, investment. She’ll give you a hand.”

“Yeah, shine. Thanks, Furiosa. I’ll be an investment banker in no time.”

This time she shook her head when she laughed. “So tell me - what did you do with Max?”

Capable stroked the back of Nux’s hand as he told them about Max and the ordeal of moving a couch. With his bad knee, he needed all the help he could get hauling around furniture. Getting a couch out of his tiny apartment and down the stairs must have been a pain in the ass. And joints. She remembered that couch sagging under the weight of all of them, her and her sisters squeezed together after they’d been released from the hospital.

He should move in, Capable thought as she listened. Leave behind that dark, dank place.

Which was the same thing Dag was thinking. “If we’re letting men in, Max should’ve been the first,” she said with a meaningful glance at Furiosa.

“He’s helped a ton,” Cheedo added. She scrolled through her phone until she found what she was looking for; holding it up, they all leaned in to look at a picture she’d snapped of Max balancing a 2x4 on his shoulder. “He’s totally earned a house.”

“Maybe he’s like a vampire and you need to invite him in.” This time, Dag’s pointed look at Furiosa was met with a roll of eyes.

“We don’t have to move at the same speed,” she said. “And maybe he doesn’t want to live here.”

“Why not?” Dag demanded. “We’re amazing. Cheedo, back me up here.”

“I’d want to live with us. You know, if I didn’t already.”

“I want to live here,” Nux added with a grin.

Cheedo updated them on Angharad and Capable was excited about the progress she’d been making. Keeping her eyes open, following movements, listening. Furiosa had news on the houses and their changes, too. They already had everyone in Vuvalini Construction living on Green Place, and now they had Griffa and Nux. Still empty houses, though.

Nux couldn’t stay in her room forever. Toast would never forgive her. Maybe Furiosa had a specific house she wanted him to stay in. Maybe Capable would move in with him.

Living with him, what would it be like?

When they were done with dinner she and Nux drifted upstairs, both hoping to have some time alone before Toast came back. Capable lovingly put her guitar back on its stand and then leaned back against her pillows, eyes struggling to stay open. She could hear Nux puttering in the bathroom, the familiar sounds of the faucet and the creak of the floorboards under his feet. When he opened the door, he was singing a bit and his soft voice carried down the hall.

She pulled up her legs just in time - Nux dove onto the bed and grabbed her as she giggled.

Nux pushed up her shirt and rubbed his face against his stomach. She squealed and wiggled as he kissed her. He hadn’t shaved in the bathroom so evrything tickled.

“Hey, hey! That is not fair, that tickles! Hey Nux, come here.”

He propped himself on his elbows to look at her. His amazing blue eyes were practically twinkling and she had to contort herself up to give him a kiss before talking.

“So, living on Green Place. You sure you want to?”

“Yeah!”

As simple as that! Capable smiled back at him and then flopped down onto her pillow. Her eyes fluttered shut as Nux went back to kissing - and rubbing, and pushing aside her clothes. The small window by her bed was open a crack and the cold autumnal air was refreshing as it cut through the stuffy room.

“I want my own place, filled with my own stuff,” he said, lifting his head to regard her seriously. “Stuff I picked out, you know? And not out of the trash. I want to build, like you guys did.” he rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. With his other hand he continued his caresses, drawing little circles and swirls and leaving goosebumps in his wake.

“I don’t know what places are ready,” she admitted, a little guiltily. In the past few weeks she hadn’t been helping with the construction as much as she should have been. “Want to do a walk through with Furiosa?”

“Yeah. See which one she’ll let me rent.” He paused and his fingers did too, touching her but still. Through the fringe of his eyelashes, his eyes were soft, shy. “You think you’d want to move in with me?”

And sweet. God, he was sweet. She kissed him again and this time pulled him down with her, arms around his shoulders so that she held him close against her.

“Doesn’t have to be right now,” he murmured into her hair. “When Angharad’s back or next year or whatever.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” she said this time. “We’ll get our own place. We’ll build it.”

She started to laugh when he kissed her again, giggling like a kid until Nux laughed too. Kissing and laughing, curled up against the dark and the cold, she couldn’t think of a better way to end the day. Or start the next part of her life. Wrapped in her blanket and him, she started to get sleepy, the events of the day catching up with her at last. In a slow, drowsy voice she told Nux about her phone call to Doof. Her run-in with Slit was abridged down to harmlessness and luckily Nux was too excited about Doof to press her on the War Boys, turning the subject back to the other guitarist and what he and Capable could do together whenever there was a lull in the conversation.

Which there were, getting longer and quieter the more tired they got. It didn’t matter how cold it got outside, she was warm and safe in bed with him.

---

Saw a field of wheat that swayed
Rolling like an ocean wave
Sprays of gold instead of gray
I want to move that way with you

Love is patient and kind
Love is patient and kind
Hallelujah for a friend to remind me
That love is patient and kind
- “In flight” by Lowland Hum