A HUGE thanks to Beta Reader BlueSky509 for helping with this story.
Hints of movement slink back into the shadows of rock outcrops as the motorbike comes to a rumbling stop in the sand. Whether real or imagined, the creatures in the shadows haunt the corners of Capable's vision, and she tries to push this fear toward the recesses of her spine.
She thanked the gods for the full moon. The universe was her only source of light for navigation here near the entrance of the canyon, its looming wall cast in deep indigo. This far out, the thrum of the celebrations at the Citadel had been replaced by the vacuum of night. Now no sound remained but the growl of her Gold Wing. The worn path before her up the canyon escarpment had been near impossible to find in the darkness, but she didn't dare use headlights. So far she had somehow managed to evade the Buzzards and their underground burrows, who preyed on passers-by in their spike vehicles like hyenas, and she sure as hell didn't want to get caught now. There wouldn't be much left of her or her rig if she did. It wouldn't be surprising if the low hum of her bike stirred some interest among sleeping camps, but with the vast space between the Citadel and canyon, and sand stifling most sound, pursuit would be difficult and thus unlikely.
Furiosa had mentioned offhand during their arduous journey the day earlier that the Buzzards tend to inhabit the north face and guard the entrance, so Capable had made sure to offset the pass by a half mile south. However, the Rock Riders could be anywhere up ahead – hidden in caves or on her very path – but if she was really going to go through with this, that was an unavoidable hazard. The route itself was nothing to dismiss, either. Glancing up, the path looked quite treacherous and steep, but at the halfway mark it appeared to level out. The plan was to summit and then make a gradual descent to the wreckage by traversing along the sandy dunes. Her eyes took in the immense rock formation. Its looming presence glared her down, mocking her. Capable tightened her dark scarf to conceal her conspicuous pale skin and grasped the handles. This was it. Kicking a large spray of sand in its wake, her ride shuddered to life into low gear as she carefully left the quiet safety of the dunes to ascend the rocky escarpment. As she moved up the ridge, the night wind spun up more wisps of sand, stinging her eyes and making her chastise herself for not bringing some goggles as planned. She had meant to grab Nux's pair that she had stashed in Joe's commandeered and battered Gigahorse, but in her rush to leave undetected, it had slipped her mind. Hell, after their ordeal today, there was already enough taking up the space.
She felt filthy. It had been barely 12 hours since their conquest of the Citadel, and it was nothing but bittersweet. All around her had been the roar of water and cheers, but it existed as an deafening echo outside herself. The louder the crowd had become, the faster the seed of a single thought – to return to that dreary grave – grew. Completely, utterly reckless, sneaking out like this. Her better judgement was screaming profanities at her, but she ignored it. Furiosa would probably be Furious–a. Capable smirked to herself as she skirted a boulder, trying hard to fill her head with anything but fear. Oh Capable, you're so droll.
Once halfway up the escarpment, she paused briefly on a ledge and looked up at the cloudless sky. Her star was still there, this time a little higher overhead. Upon leaving the safety of the Citadel, she had selected the brightest star that aligned with the entrance of the canyon. Since Capable knew she would be heading due east, she reasoned that it could be used as a rough navigation tool. Capable turned back to the dim glow of the Citadel. It would be higher in the sky as the morning arrived, pointing her way home when she got back in a few hours. If she got back. A small satellite crossed her star's path, shouting empty words that no one would ever hear.
A half hour or so had passed. With the hardest part of her route now far behind her, Capable was finding that she was getting the hang of her bike's personality over the rocky path. She had ridden often as a girl, long before being stolen away into her nightmare as a breeder, so she was glad that some memory hadn't faded from her muscles. She had Roads to thank for that, all those years dragging her on supply runs. Roads...However, this bike was HUGE. Capable had to lean forward in order to properly reach the handles, making her feel unbalanced when changing gears. A sick feeling returned at the thought of what might await her when the War Boys found out she had borrowed one of their rides. In the revelry, it really hadn't been that difficult. Fortunately the boy at the watch post was more than happy to allow her through for a bottle of guzzoline, also "borrowed" from the Gigahorse.
Almost to the top, Capable thought as she maneuvered over a small pile of rocks, when suddenly the stones gave way under her back tire. Her massive bike toppled onto her and began to skid down the cliffside, pulling her with it. "Son of a...!"
Her bike accelerated as she frantically tried to jam her boot into the loose rocks to arrest their descent, feeling the burn of gravel and the heat of exhaust on her leg. After a terrifying drop, the ground leveled out and her back tire caught a small boulder, stopping them both in their tracks right before a long shadow carved into the canyon's wide ledge.
Capable picked herself and the bike up, and as she pulled chunks of gravel out of an ugly scrape in her knee, she glanced down to her left. That's no shadow. Her foot was a mere yard away from the mouth of a massive crevice into the belly of the canyon. She drew a few hitched breaths, and with the utmost concentration slowly placed her full weight onto her injured right leg, leaning away from the narrow fissure that threatened to suck her into the void. If her bike were to slide any further, she would have to let the crevice swallow it and try to leap out of the way. Hopefully it would not have to come to that.
She started the bike again to a slow purr, and was able to gently ascend forward to a more level ridge away from the crevice. Well that was stupid. Up to now she had been relying on the stars and moonlight alone not be spotted, and it hadn't occurred to her that her likely demise could involve careening into a crevice cloaked by shadow. Clearly there were greater dangers than wandering hyenas. I have to be more careful.
This touch with death was not enough to deter the single seed of thought that had brought her all the way here. In fact, it only helped nourish its growth with a stubborn determination that she was known for, even in her namesake. The crevice was now a distant thought as she ascended the worn trail under the watchful eye of her star. With another few revs of gas and a final push, she emerged on the top of the canyon ridge and was well on her way.
Rolling over dune after dune, Capable made her journey along the ridge following the path of destruction below. It seemed to go on endlessly, and as soon as a creeping concern emerged that she may have overshot her mark, she spotted the canyon arch in the distance. She switched off the ignition and scanned the area. The night wind was picking up, sending a spray of dune that obscured her vision.
There. She saw the carcass below, still smoldering, her belly exposed to the sky and trailer disemboweled from the collision. She had never imagined it would be this bad. Although Capable had watched as the great beast of a machine lurched intentionally to the right and begin to roll, she had closed her eyes right before impact with the ground and stone. There was nothing that could have willed her to witness it in full, in spite of her unspoken promise to Nux. A wave of guilt rushed over her at the thought of not fully completing her promise. She had done her duty as best she could. There was nothing more unbearable than watching a friend die.
Capable descended into the canyon valley, maneuvering around strewn debris, and brought her bike to a stop near the War Rig's carcass. The air was tart with iron and stung Capable's airways, and she spat out the lingering taste of fuel and day old flesh. The precious double V8 lay cast on the ground, a few meters away. Our savior.
Suddenly, Capable felt ill with regret. Knees beginning to buckle, she wanted to be anywhere else but this forsaken graveyard. Even in Immortan Joe's vaulted prison? Anywhere...The thought of seeing Nux's lifeless body (or – gods forbid – parts) was ghastly.
Why have I done this? Capable closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and found some resolve. Because it was the right thing to do. They each had Nux to thank for their lives and freedom – from revving the engine, to pulling them from the moor using the tree thingy, to his noble sacrifice in death – it was the honorable thing to do. Even if Nux's spirit was dining in Valhalla or wherever at this moment, his person needed to be where he was celebrated, too.
Gritting her teeth, Capable glanced around in the shadows with eyes better adjusted to the darkness, and made out a few lumpy shapes of bodies. There was a good chance he had been thrown from the wreckage. Clicking her tongue in frustration, it soon became clear that this wouldn't be cut and run. In spite of the temptation, she needed to resist using her headlights, or risk drawing attention to herself. She only had four or five hours left before daybreak to get back, so she would have to move fast. A topless body lay slumped over a twisted axle not far from the Doof Warrior's rig. Her heart jumped at the sight of white flesh, currently being gnawed at by something unseen, but the form was too small to be him.
This was not what she had anticipated. Why the hell did War Boys have to look the same?
Her eyes stung even more from the dust, which was now spinning in tendrils within the canyon's enclosed valley.
Well maybe he wasn't thrown. Reluctantly, she turned her attention to the War Rig and inched towards it until she was a few feet away, then crouched to peek into the overturned cabin. There. Wedged at the backseat on his side. She could make out in the dim light the shape of a pale back streaked with fluid and shadows. So he hadn't been thrown. Poor Rev-head. What have you done to yourself?
The window was completely smashed and fortunately there would be enough space to crawl inside. Capable wrapped two pieces of thick cloth from the ride around her wrists. The air was a sick cloud of death. This was no place for a wife. Fortunately, that woman was long gone the moment she had hid into the belly of the war beast. Capable took a deep breath, clenched her fists, and crawled inside.
After many minutes passed of cutting knees on glass, panting, and struggling in near total darkness, Capable had managed to pull Nux's upper half through the windshield. With a final heave, the rest of him also emerged from the vehicle, and Capable dragged him into a sandy spot close to her bike. His body rocked almost in slow motion as she lowered his shoulders to the ground. Here she was able to get a better look at him. A ring of glass lay in the sand near his head like a ghastly crown. Under the dim moonlight, she saw a face completely crusted in black blood that could have been war paint, in some better time. A rib protruded from his side, seeping greyness into the sand.
Capable crouched in a tight ball at the crown of his head. Staring down, she spoke in a half-whisper through clenched teeth while her head screamed: "Godammit Nux, What have you done to yourself. Hell, I'm not ready for this. I can't see you like this. Why the fuck did I come here?! This isn't how I wanted to see you again! Not like this! Why couldn't you have been burnt or blown to nothingness instead. Now this is how I have to remember you? Godammit Nux, why did you do this to me?" Tears dripped and splattered in the dust and pooled on his still cheek. Tightness filled her chest and Capable stifled a sob, swallowing it to her center where everything needed to be kept boxed away, lest draw attention to herself. Survival depended on that resolve.
After giving herself a few moments, Capable stood up again and glanced around with a new determination. Well I'm here now. Might as well get him on the bike. This was not going to be easy, and the new position of the shadows meant time was growing short. One good thing was that she was glad to have had the foresight of bringing lots of rope. Crouching on her knees, Capable reached under his arms again and lifted, pulling his head and shoulders onto her lap. Oof! Letting him rest for a moment, she thought carefully about the plan of action; she needed to save her strength in order to be able to leverage his body onto the bike behind her. For a moment she scowled at the thought that Furiosa or Toast would be able to do this, no problem. She was already spent from getting him out the cabin, so she probably only had it in her for one good go. Her head spun with this realization. However, something else was unsettling her. For a corpse, he was surprisingly limber...and...warm.
Before the thought could fully register, a rasping noise escaped the body and echoed in the narrow canyon walls with chilling resonance. Capable jumped backwards, dropping Nux's upper half down into the sand with a dull thud.
Capable gathered her sensed and leaped onto all fours to get a better look at his face in the darkness. She pushed the tangle of braids out of her eyes. Again, she heard the noise like a bubbling suction of his…body decaying? No! A strained, wet breath.
It's not possible. Capable leaned over and touched the stained face hidden behind a mask of dirt and dried blood. He's...
Something somewhere must have registered, since his eyes opened the smallest of slivers where she could just make out the reflection of starlight.
Not possible. He can't be. It's not...And then, before Capable's eyes, Nux returned to the world when the side of his lip turned up in a slight smile. Her resolve was all but lost, for thick, aching sobs pushed forth from the deepest pool in her being. She threw herself forward, tightly wrapping her arms along his chest and jaw as she pressed her face into his warm wet neck, as close as she could get. Her lips made their way from his jawline to cheek and finally to his blood-caked mouth. Holding herself there, she cried into him, and the canyon cried back to her.
Finally pulling herself away, Capable rubbed her own eyes furiously. The dirt, dust, and tears had mixed and made her own vision difficult. She wanted to look, to see him, to make sure what was in front of her was real, but her eyes stung and her body convulsed. She tried to mouth words but another sob took its place. The face below blinked again and looked up to her rubbing her eyes. A few labored breaths, then a slurred mumble came from his charred lips. Capable stopped crying and leaned in until their faces nearly touched again. "What? I couldn't hear you. Please say it again."
The voice was barely a whisper, but it was a voice. His voice.
Capable gaped at the broken and bloody face, and let out a small laugh through tears as she straightened up again. She could sense her heart begin to race until it hurt. Nux was alive. Her Nux. She watched amazed as his chest rose and fell in labored but very real breaths. It was not until this moment that she realized that this was the sight she had wanted to see more than anything she had ever come to known. His soft breaths were what made every struggle up to now worth it. Capable continued to watch in awe at this motion until she shook herself out of this stupor to stumble back to the bike and grab a pouch containing Mother's Milk. She moved to Nux's side and carefully brought it to his lips. With the first pour he coughed but soon managed to swallow a few mouthfuls.
How could this be real? Where could she go from here, if this was possible? As she rose up, the sand under her feet shifted differently. The air felt lighter, like the canyon was giving her some space to breathe. The world was born anew. Suddenly Capable felt ready to take on all of Gas Town, to destroy every Immortan that could terrorize and brutalize it's people...Then again, she could do all those things later. Some other time. Right now, she just wanted to bask in his life, and try to make it last a little longer. She crouched down close and placed a hand on his face to sense that glimmer of warmth. His breathing was stronger now, and Capable felt some odd confidence that she still had time with him. Maybe more. After fully inspecting his person for injuries, Capable was surprised and incredibly relived to find that he wasn't yet in his death throes. His right leg was clearly broken below the knee, and a large chunk of skin and muscle was missing from the thigh and calf. She was surprised he hadn't bled out, so the impact must have missed important arteries. She put pressure on the wound by wrapping it with her head scarf. In addition to his ribs, there was no accounting for the internal damage or spine injuries – and dropping him probably didn't help – but considering he was still alive after 12 long hours meant his life might still be salvageable. However, there's still a rough and dangerous journey ahead of us, and who knows much more damage it would do.
He began to drift off, so she nudged his his shoulder. "Can you feel your legs? Nux!"
The starlight highlighted Nux's grimace. "Just...the...one. My leg hurts bad."
Capable looked down and saw one foot clearly moving, while the other was twisted at an unusual angle below the knee. So he wasn't paralyzed. Yet, at least. The broken leg was another story. There was enough debris and rope around, so she ran from Nux's side and set to work as he drifted off again. Her head raced with thoughts that trampled over each other. I still can't believe it! Oh that's a bad bruise, I hope it's not internal...How to get him back without making the hidden injuries worse? Did he damage his spine? The leg looks bad...Will he be able to walk again? I don't remember him having such soft skin...Will he even want to live? What about the cancer? No, don't think of that...He's alive! O gods, he's alive! Wait until everyone finds out! Her stomach twisted...but will he remember our journey? Will he remember me? While tying the final strip of rubber to secure a piece a radiator as a splint, a low hum came from the north. She paused, then continued tying, until it happened again. Capable froze, hoping it was just a generator...but no, there was no mistaking the rumble of a vehicle.
Capable yanked the last piece to rubber to tightly secure the splint, jolting Nux awake with a groan of pain. Before he could protest, she began to drag him towards the bike and readied herself to lift. "C'mon. We're gonna to get you back. Now." Her heart pumped faster as the buzz of the distant hyenas or buzzards or vultures grew steadily into a drone. The echo of the canyon made it impossible to tell distance – they could be miles or meters away, but she expected them to appear around the corner at any moment. With rope at hand, she readied herself for the big lift. I'll throw him over the bike if I have too! As the growl of motors increased, she knew they didn't have much of a chance. It was fool's bet. But now, with renewed determination of it not being just her and body, but us, goddammit she was going to try.