by Niki Thomaston
Fender led Glitch into the medical yard. There was a guy checking stock of the supplies walking around with a clip board. He nodded once to acknowledge Fender, but otherwise paid him little attention. Fender held open the door to one of the private offices and beckoned Glitch to enter.
The room was small, but it had all the makings of a proper medical station, thanks to Fender’s instructions. There was a tall cot in the middle of the room, which Fender lifted Glitch to sit upon. Grumbling profanities, Fender gathered tools from the drawers beside the small sink—needle, thread, gauze, alcohol pads, scissors—and set them on a tiny, metal rolling end table beside the cot.
“You ever had stitches?” he asked the boy as he wet a clean rag in the sink.
“Well, it’s gonna hurt.” Fender moved to stand before Glitch and began cleaning the wound. To his credit, Glitch didn’t even flinch. “I’ll work as quick as I can, but you gotta try not to move.”
There was still anger in his voice. He could tell it was making the kid nervous. But when Fender turned away to throw out the bloody cloth, he heard Glitch say, “Have you ever had stitches?”
“Yeah,” Fender answered as he rinsed off his hands. “Plenty of ’em. It was worse ’cause I had to do them myself.”
“Then I can handle it, too.”
Fender stopped. A smile threatened to force its way onto his face. He smothered it as best he could before he turned around.
He picked up the needle he’d set out, thankful that the last run got him the right supplies so that he wouldn’t have to sew the kid back together with clothing thread. He bent close. “Hold still. Okay, buddy?”
Glitch looked at him with wide eyes.
“What?” Fender asked.
“You… You called me buddy. My dad never called me anything like that.”
Fender stared back at him a minute. Something weird caught in his throat. He swallowed it and, brushing Glitch’s hair off his face and securing it with a bobby pin with his free hand, said, “Mine, neither.”
When he finally pushed the needle in, Glitch winced, but otherwise stayed still. Only his face betrayed signs of pain; his brows came together and the eye beneath the wound screwed shut.
“Talk to me, kiddo,” Fender said as he worked. “It’ll help get your mind off it.”
“W-why’d you need so many stitches? Did a grenade make you fly into a boulder, too?”
Fender let out a sharp breath of mirth. “Not quite.”
“Why were you fighting?”
“It’s dangerous out there.” Fender’s eyes flicked to the boy’s and back to the wound without lingering. “It’s not just the sun. People are dangerous. I took a lot of knife and bullet wounds before I joined up with the Icons. Still do. Just not as many. I get armor when I go out there now. Didn’t have that when I was on my own.”
Glitch sucked in his bottom lip and chewed it as Fender pulled the thread taut. Resolved to keep the kid talking, Fender asked, “Did you have fun with Crash on her route?”
“Y-yeah. She’s really nice. We talked a lot.”
“Yeah? What’d you talk about?”
“About the other caravans and dogs and robots and the war. Crash says that, before the war, everyone could go outside during the day. Is that true, Fender?”
“Yeah. That was before the ozone got all fucked up. The sun wasn’t as dangerous then.”
“Did you ever go outside during the daytime?”
Fender’s eyebrow raised in amusement. “The war was, like, a hundred years ago. How old do you think I am?”
“Oh.” Glitch’s hands tightened on his torn jeans as the needle went through his skin again. “What do you think people did back then?” he hurried to ask.
“What do you mean?”
“Like, in the day. What did they do?”
“I dunno. Probably some of the same shit we do outside, except they didn’t need so many flashlights. And they probably didn’t enjoy themselves as much.”
“According to Daemon’s old history books, before the war, people paid too much attention to technology. Their phones and stuff.”
This time Glitch’s brow furrowed in an attempt to understand. “Pho…nes?”
“Yeah. These machines you could use to call someone far away, or send them a message instantly.”
“You mean I coulda called Gestalt on a machine when he left the Library instead of tracking him all the way here?”
“Yeah. Except I guess people started using their phones too much and were ignoring the people right next to them. Part of why everything got so bad just before the bombs started falling.” Fender often wondered if things were worse now or back then. The more he read about it, the more he began to think he’d rather stay in post-apocalyptia.
“Don’t fidget.” Chastised, Glitch’s entire body tensed up. Fender held back the urge to laugh. “What else did Crash tell you?”
“She said that people had machines that could tell them which way to go when they got lost.”
Fender nodded. “Those same machines they used to call each other, they were portable, and they could be programmed to tell them where to go.”
“They wouldn’t have needed Roy’s maps then, huh?”
Fender thought about that for a moment, then shook his head. “I doubt they would have known how to read his maps. Probably they wouldn’t have known what they were.”
“What about the stars? Could they follow the stars instead?”
“Pfft. I doubt it. They couldn’t even see the stars at night.”
Glitch’s eyes went wide. “How come?”
“There were lights everywhere back then, not just from lamps like we have. There were so many lights on at night, the stars just got drowned out.”
“Wow!” Glitch’s little body twitched in excitement and nearly yanked the needle from Fender’s fingers. “Ouch!”
The boy’s eyes watered, which caused Fender great alarm, but he relaxed when it seemed that Glitch wasn’t going to cry after all. “What else you guys talk about?”
“Uhmm… She told me how Versteckt is her first boyfriend. Isn’t he Gestalt’s little brother?”
“I wish I had a big brother.” He grit his teeth as Fender pulled the thread taut again. “Gestalt’s kinda like a big brother, but I mean like a real big brother.”
“He’s not more like a dad?”
Glitch appeared to give this a long moment of thought before saying, “No, he’s definitely more like a big brother. He doesn’t feel like a dad. At least, not how I remember my dad being?”
The boy gave a shrug, a tiny one so that he didn’t interrupt Fender’s work. “I dunno. Gestalt’s better, though. He cares about me way more than my mom and dad did. If they came back to life somehow, I’d still want to stay with you guys.”
“Jeeze…” It was a heavy thing for a child to consider, but Fender couldn’t help feeling like he’d have said the same thing about his own parents when he was that age. He was starting to understand that his childhood and Glitch’s were more similar than he wanted to admit. He wasn’t trying to get attached to the kid, but if he kept needing stitches like this…
“Plus,” Glitch went on suddenly, breaking Fender from his thoughts, “a dad you gotta call Dad, but I like calling Gestalt Gestalt.”
Fender chuckled. “For sure.”
Glitch’s face exploded into a bright smile, as if making Fender laugh even that little bit was some huge triumph. Fender tried to ignore it and was grateful when it died down as the boy got lost in thought again.
“What’s up, kiddo?”
“Crash was saying how whenever she’s here her and Versteckt are always together. It made me think about you and Gestalt. So… I wanted to ask…”
Ah, fuck. Fender knew where this was going. Discomfort Town, U.S.A. He kept his face even. Maybe he could pretend to be so focused he didn’t hear the question.
“Are you and Gestalt like… boyfriend and girlfriend, but two boys?”
Fender stopped working for a moment, a little floored by how clueless the kid sounded. He couldn’t ignore that. “Boyfriends…”
Fender pulled the thread through another hole. “Yeah, we are.”
“Is that why he left the Library? To come be with you?”
“Kinda.” The events were a bit more complicated than that. Gestalt hadn’t wanted to come, but Fender managed to bribe him. However, he didn’t exactly relish the idea of explaining bribery to a kid, so he simply said, “He was gonna go back, though. He didn’t want to leave you. I didn’t know about that until later, when you showed up.” He chuckled again. “Still trying to figure out how you tracked him from six hours away…”
“I was lonely. He was the only one at the Library who paid attention to me.” He was fidgeting again, and Fender ended up jabbing him in the eyebrow with the needle. “Oww.”
“Okay.” He tensed up again and pouted. But before long he spoke. “Fender?”
“I didn’t know.”
“That you and Gestalt were boyfriends.”
An eyebrow raised. “We sleep in the same bed. That didn’t tip you off?”
“I dunno. I just thought, maybe, you were just super close. Like brothers. Or, maybe, you were scared of the dark and couldn’t sleep without Gestalt.”
“Nah. We— Hey!” Fender’s eyes found those innocent hazel ones. “The fuck do I gotta be the one scared of the fucking dark?”
“I dunno. Gestalt doesn’t seem like he’s scared of anything.”
“Oh, and I fucking do? That’s fucking bullshit.”
Glitch gave a bright smile. “How come no one ever told me about you guys being boyfriends?”
“I don’t fucking know. ‘Cause it’s a relationship thing. Crash is the only person I know who thinks discussing that shit with a kid isn’t weird.”
“You didn’t have to hide it.”
“Well, you guys never kiss or anything. When my mom and dad would fight they’d kiss afterwards and I knew everything was okay.”
“Look, I’m not making out with my boyfriend in front of a six-year-old.”
“I’m six-and-a-half,” Glitch argued with a pout.
“And I’m twenty-seven-and-three-quarters, but do you care about the details? No. All that matters to you is that I’m old as fuck.” He pushed the needle through again. Not much longer now. “Half or no half, you’re too young to have to worry about this shit.”
Fender finished up the last few stitches and was about to cut the thread when Glitch sighed.
“Well, since I know you’re boyfriends now, I guess I should stop breaking into your room after bedtime so you can have sex.”
Fender nearly dropped the scissors. “What!?”
“Sex is what adults do when they love each other, right?” His little face was the picture of innocence. “It’s where babies come from. I learned about it from some of the books at the Library. But…” His brow furrowed in confusion. “Since you’re both boys, where do you
“Nope. I’m done with this conversation.” Fender snipped the thread and stood up straight. “When you’re older, if you start liking guys, you’ll find out on your own. If you end up liking girls, it’ll be a mystery forever.”
Fender turned to the metal table and started cleaning up.
“It’s closed already?” Glitch asked. Fender turned to find the boy’s little hands reaching up to the wound.
“Hey, don’t touch it.”
Glitch turned wide eyes to the man and put his hands in his lap. Fender moved toward the sink to wash his hands and said, “You gotta let me know if you feel weird. If it gets infected I’ll have to chop your forehead off.”
“You… You what!? Noooooooo!!!”
A pre-cry hiccup made Fender spin around in a panic. “Shit, I’m kidding. Don’t start crying. I’m not equipped to handle that.”
Glitch sniffled, his eyes already brimming with tears. “But you said—”
“I was kidding. Kidding!”
“Yeah. Yes.” As Glitch calmed down, Fender let out a sigh that drained him. He leaned back to rest against the counter. “But seriously, no touching. Infection is not good. Okay?”
“Will my face fall off?”
“I don’t like that.”
“No one will. And I’ll have to fight Gestalt for letting you go out there.”
Glitch blinked at him. “He’ll just shoot you.”
“Hey! Nice vote of confidence, kid.”
“He’s really good at shooting. He can shoot from a million miles away.”
“So don’t fight, okay? I don’t want you to get shot, Fender. ‘Cause I don’t know how to do stitches.”
“Heh. Okay, okay. I’ll lay off him this once. But you better go tell him he owes you for this.”
Fender stood up again and went back to cleaning up the mess he’d made. “You feel all right for training or do you wanna take the day off?”
“Go on, then. Go report to Versteckt. Tell him I said you’re good to go.”
Glitch hopped off the chair and scampered toward the door. Just as he opened it, Fender called, “And keep your fingers off your face, yeah?” The door slammed shut and Fender sighed, shaking his head. “He’s not gonna keep his fingers off his face.”