Day 7: Depth of relationship
It wasn’t his first rodeo—as Jesse would say—but it was certainly the biggest. Gabe had been to San Diego Comic Con—or SDCC as Olivia liked to correct him—a million times as a fan. Never as an artist. Truth be told, it was overwhelming. He’d had millions of tables in a million Artist Allies, but never at the Granddaddy of cons. The last thing he wanted to do was fuck it up, but he felt like he was fucking it up.
Jesse’s commission slots for the whole con had filled up preview night. But his YouTube channel was crazy popular. Gabe didn’t fail to notice that a good ninety percent of the commissioners were cute guys. Lucky bastard. Talented and charming. Gabe envied him so much. He and Genji were off, probably playing all the trial video games on the other end of the Exhibit Hall.
Genji could have taken commissions, but he didn’t feel like it. He wanted to just enjoy Comic Con. Upside of a rich family. Gabe wished for that burden.
Olivia was off with Amélie networking. AKA posing for pictures. Hey, if their cosplay got at least some people to check out the website, Gabe would put up with them being gone all day from the table.
He blew a pile of eraser bits off his page and kept sketching. That left him to solo work the table for all of them, while working on his own commissions. And that was without counting his crippling anxiety. How could he have allowed Jesse to talk his way out of table duty? Gabe didn’t do people. Normally, Jesse would stay with him to be the face, letting Gabe sit politely and listen to the commission request without having to interact alone. But when he was on his own, he shut down, which brought him back to the whole fucking it up thing.
All the artists around him made eye contact with the passers by. They called out to people, invited them over to chat, called out great cosplayers and took their pictures and then showed off their prints of said character. They worked their booths, where Gabe just sat at a table drawing. But the thought of calling over a complete stranger and trying to talk them into parting with forty to sixty bucks for art prints made him freeze.
He should step up and sell. The money they made from Comic Con was going to launch their project. He needed to pull his weight, but talking to people made him want to throw up. Just a few more hours and Jesse would be back. He just had to hang on until—
Gabe startled and looked up to lock eyes with Captain America. For a split second, he thought maybe his Comic Con fantasy of characters coming to life had come true.
The costume was screen worthy. It was a perfect Captain America: The First Avenger World War Two getup. Not the more classic stars and stripes from later in the movie, but the leather jacket, motorcycle helmet, and kite shield of the Bucky rescue.
The cosplayer was just as perfect a match for the character as the costume. Perfect blue eyes, gold spun hair that poked out from under the helmet, pearly white teeth, and a blindingly handsome smile. Was Steve Rogers real and the comic books were a cover? Was it all a conspiracy?
“Um, hi?” Gabe said, unsure how to deal with the lethal combination of sexy and nerdy.
“Hi,” Cap repeated, smiling.
Anxiety grabbed Gabe’s diaphragm and squeezed, making it hard to breathe. “Uh, how can I help you, sir?”
Cap chuckled. “Captain Rogers, please. Sir is so formal.”
Was he serious? Or in character? Gabe could never tell with cosplayers. Some of them got really into it. “Alright, Captain Rogers.”
Cap’s grin widened. “Thanks for humoring me, but I was just kidding.”
“No problem.” Unless it was a problem? Did he want some art? Just browsing? Was he one of those people that wanted to talk? Oh God. What if he wanted to talk? What would they talk about?
“So, you’re the artist?” Cap asked, gesturing at the portfolios on the table.
“No.” Aw Hell. “Well, yes?”
Cap arched an eyebrow as he put a hand on the top portfolio.
“I mean, yes, I’m an artist, but that’s not my work. That’s Jesse’s. He’s one of the other artists that works with me.”
“A team? That’s cool. Mind if I browse?”
“Sure.” He was definity fucking things up.
Only two pages in an Cap whistled. “Woah. Look at those colors. Gorgeous!”
“Yeah, Jesse is a wizard with Copics. Anything with color really.”
Capt kept flipping. A knot of stress formed in the pit of Gabe’s stomach. He should sell something. Jesse had a ton of prints made up, Gabe should be pushing them. After all, Cap had commented on them. But he shouldn’t push. A pushy salesmen could ruin a sale, right? He could do this. Just had to relax and nerd speak to a fellow nerd.
“So, uh, looking for a favorite character?”
“Yes and no,” Cap said, still flipping.
Okay enough said, Gabe had tried his best he was throwing in the towel. He hunched over his commission and went back to work, stress ball growing, breathing difficult, and shame mode fully engaged.
“Do you have a portfolio?”
Gabe nearly gave himself whiplash looking up so fast. Cap kept on beaming.
“I do.” Gabe shifted in his uncomfortable folding chair. Was he just being nice? Did Gabe seem that hard up for someone to look at his work? No one had asked to see his portfolio specifically. He had a chart of prints hanging besides Jesse’s that people had glanced at. Was it wrong that he wanted the cute cosplayer to like his art?
“Would you mind if I gave it a look?”
“Yeah. Sure.” That sounded flippant! Fix it! Fix it now! “I mean, of course, I’d be honored.” Honored? Really? That’s the word he picked out of all the words in existence? Where was Jesse when Gabe needed him to take over the table so Gabe could hide under it? He moved Jesse’s portfolio aside, then Olivia's hot purple and pink monstrosity, then Genji’s dragon print one, then Cap had a clear view of the plain black folder. “That’s mine.”
“Cool.” Cap opened it. “Woah. This is the best Wonder Woman I’ve seen.”
It really wasn’t. There were lots of artist who had captured her better.
“No one draws her in functional armor.”
Gabe stared at the hot cosplayer. “I—well—it’s just, everyone always wants to show off her body, but she’s not a model. She’s a warrior. She’d want a full set of protective armor. Not just blue panties and a metal bra.”
Cap laughed. “True. The detail work on the leather is top notch.”
Woah. Someone commenting on detail? “I’m… really proud of that. Took forever to research and get right.”
“It shows. Do you have prints available?”
“Not for her, sadly.” No one wanted authentic, fully armored Wonder Woman prints when a few booths down they could get her with mega milk titties spilling out of a three sizes too small “costume.”
“Shame. She’s gorgeous.” He turned the page. He blinked, handsome, plush lips making an “o.”
Gabe berated himself for checking out a customer’s lips like a weirdo.
“Nice landscape. Look at that horizon. Halo?”
“Destiny,” Gabe corrected.
“Not enough hours in the day between work and commissions.”
“Where do you work?”
Gabe shrugged. “Freelance mostly. I do a lot of clean up and corrections for a lot of publishers. Nothing that gets my name on the cover, but puts money in my pocket.”
“So cool! Have you worked on anything I’ve read?”
Translation: have you drawn for anything popular and cool. Gabe shrugged again. “Probably? I’m kind of like a janitor. I mop up lines, fix color continuity issues. Nuts and bolts stuff they don’t want to pay their A-listers to redo.”
“Woah. You’re crazy talented then. I mean, you have to work with so many different artist’s styles.”
“T-Thanks,” Gabe stammered, blushing.
Cap leafed through the next few pages. “Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn, Star Lord, Hellboy, Pacific Rim. You can do everything.”
Self consciousness ate away at Gabe’s mind. He was sitting in a football field sized room packed to the rafters with talent. Everyone could do anything here. “I’m just… kinda all over the place. Fandom-wise that is.”
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to find Pac Rim art at cons?”
Yeah, that’s why I had to draw the Jaegers, no one else would; was what Gabe wanted to say. Instead, what came out of his mouth was; “I drew the kaiju too.”
“Really?” Cap’s eyes lit up as he flipped to the next page with the kaiju lineup. “Holy shit! Are they to scale with each other?”
Gabe nodded. “Yeah. Took some doing to research how they’d all stack up, but I’m really proud of the results.”
“You should be! This is awesome!”
Gabe smiled. It was always nice to have someone like his art, but there was something extra special about someone liking the obscure thing no one else did.
“I’ve got to get prints of both. Please tell me you have them.”
Gabe smiled. “I do. Twenty each.” He probably shouldn’t have prints of them, but his stubborn love of the movie always kept them stocked.
Yes! He’d made a sale! Suck it Olivia, he could make a sale on his own! He got into his print folder and fished out the art.
“Would you like me to sign it?” he asked.
“Of course. I’m going to hang them up and gloat about how a famous artist signed my prints before he was famous.”
Gabe uncapped a Sharpie and concentrated on signing to hide his red face and sweaty palms. What the hell did he do with all this praise? He didn’t deserve it. It’s not like he’d done anything on his own yet. He only cleaned up other artists’ messes.
“Thanks, I do the best I can,” was all he could think to say. Gracious of the sentiment, but not egotistical.
Cap got to the end of the book and stopped cold. Gabe glanced over, trying to be subtle, but dying to know what piece had caught the Captain’s attention.
“Who’s this?” Cap spun the portfolio around.
Gabe’s heart did something funny. It felt like a jumping into his throat, while simultaneously falling to the pit of his stomach, leaving him in a weird sort of in between elation and fear. He’d honestly forgotten he’d left that piece in there. “That’s Ángel Reina .”
“What’s he from?” Cap asked. The questions sounded oddly serious.
“He’s an original character,” Gabe said. “From my comic I’m working on.”
“Your own comic? Tell me more.”
A bolt of fear zinged down Gabe’s back. “It’s…not ready yet. I’ve been hard at work on it though.” For a year. A year designing uniforms and characters and locations, but nothing ever felt right. Something was just… missing.
“I’m a writer myself, working on my own book.”
“Really? I thought you were an artist, Captain Rogers.” Gabe couldn't help be tease.
“If only I was as good as him. I couldn’t draw a stick if I tried.”
“Well, what does Captain America write?”
Was it the light? Or was Cap blushing?”
“Not much of my own at the moment. Lots of fanfic though.”
Gabe wondered what fandoms he wrote for. And even more interested in what parings he wrote for. Was he team Stucky? Stony? Thundershield? “Anything I might have read?”
“Haven’t posted them,” Cap said. “But I’m really interested in your original work. I don’t suppose I could get a teaser?” He pointed at Ángel. “I mean, how could I not want to know more about him?”
Gabe swallowed and looked down at his character. The art was a few months old now, so he’d fleshed out some of the details that were missing here. But Ángel Reina himself hadn’t changed much from his first few incarnations.
He was tall, brown, and handsome as sin. But not a pretty boy. He was a soldier, and his story was spelled out in the scars that marred his face. And not the common slash down the cheek. There were two diagonal ones on his right cheekbone, two on his lips, a few on the eyebrows and hairline. He looked like he’d been to hell and back, because he had. Ángel was badass, and Gabe would unleash him onto the world… sometime. But he wasn’t ready yet.
“Please?” Cap asked. “Swear I won’t breathe a word.”
Since he seemed so interested.... He should try to make a fan, right? “Okay. His story takes place in the near future, about 2060 or so. Humans created a slave class of robots called Omnics. Their AI overlords, God Programs, brainwashed them and turned them into killing machines, plunging the world into war.”
“Cool! And Ángel is the hero?”
“Not exactly,” Gabe said. This was where things always started to fall to pieces on him. “See, the countries of the world all tried different things to combat the legions of omnics. The US created a Captain America-like enhanced soldier army. Ángel here was their Black Ops division leader… or something.”
“Or something?” Cap asked.
“That’s the part I’m working on,” Gabe told him. “Something about him doesn’t feel right.” He pulled his portfolio closer and glared down at Ángel like he’d done countless times.
Ángel had one combat boot stomped down on an omnic head, ass to the viewer, looking over his shoulder, mysterious and sexy as hell. You could just see his scars, his gaze smoldered. Everything about his look felt right. But yet, some unnameable thing felt wrong. Like he was missing a vital part of himself that Gabe hadn’t figured out yet. Without it, he was just a sexy beefcake in skin-tight pants, a black hoodie, and body armor.
“Like he’s a puzzle missing a vital piece?”
Cap’s voice pulled Gabe back to reality. “Yeah, exactly like that. Something that pulls him and the story together.”
“And until you find it, nothing feels like it’s what you want for him.”
Okay, that was spooky. “How do you know all of this?”
“I’ve been having the same issue with my novel.” Cap gave Gabe another smile. “Drawback of being creative, right?”
Gabe smiled back. “Too true.”
“Does Ángel have any teammates?”
“Uh. He never struck me as a teammate type. More of a lone wolf.”
“Not even other enhanced soldiers? Seems a little odd.”
That… was a good question. Why was Ángel alone? “I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Well, he’s a leader right? A leader has to have a team.”
“Yeah, but he’s not great with people.”
“That could be good for the story.” Cap tapped his fingers on the table. “It could be one of his flaws he has to work on. Brilliant leader, hard time connecting to others. Maybe he finds it hard to hold a team together. But this isn’t just officer training. If he doesn’t overcome his flaw and keep his team alive, the omnics win.”
Gabe rubbed his hand over his beard and goatee. That sounded really awesome. And it felt… right. Ángel was a lone wolf, but forced into a position where he had to be in a pack. That would put a lot more tension into the story and raise the stakes.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to get all writer-y on you.” Cap shook his head. “I just get really into character development, you know?”
“No, it’s all good. That really helped.”
“At least me speaking without thinking worked out for once,” Cap said. “It wasn’t my place.”
“No, no,” Gabe said, his creative juices churning, mulling over the character flaw. “Really, thank you. I was stuck. This might get me going again.”
“Cool.” A phone dinged. Cap opened one of the pouches on his belt and pulled out a phone. He texted something quickly and put the phone back. “Sorry about that. I have to get going. But do you still have any commission slots open?”
There was, but for tomorrow. But as Jesse always said; ‘anything for a cute cosplayer.’ If Gabe told him no, Cap might vanish forever. But, if he said yes, Cap would have to come back tomorrow. “Yep. Last one of the day,” Gabe lied. “Ten for a single character line art, twenty for a cleaned up sketch. Ten for each additional character.”
“Single character, cleaned up sketch,” Cap said. He pointed at Ángel. “Of him.”
Gabe’s heart pounded. Someone wanted his unknown, original character? He might get down on a knee and propose. “Sure. Anything special you want?”
“Hm.” Cap cocked his head to the side and grinned. “Give him a beard like yours. Looks really handsome. I bet he could pull it off.”
Gabe’s temperature shot through the roof. Was Cap saying he was handsome? That just his beard was handsome? Or was he calling Ángel handsome? Both of them were handsome? Just the beard? “Um, yes, sure, thanks. I’ll do that.” Now he was rambling. Be a professional! “I’ll have it done around this time tomorrow.” He pulled out his phone and opened a note, quickly typing in the request. “If I could just get your number, I’ll text you when it’s ready to be picked up.”
“Sure.” Cap leaned over and took the phone, fingers lingering on Gabe’s. “Is this just a ploy to get my digits?”
Gabe shook his head and bit his tongue to keep himself from from saying something stupid.
Cap grinned as he typed, then handed the phone back. “I look forward to your text.”
“Me too. I mean, I look forward to telling you that your commission is done.”
“Would you mind holding onto my other prints until I pick it up? I didn’t bring a top loader to keep them nice.”
“See you tomorrow.” Cap said. He turned to leave, then came back. “Sorry, I never introduced myself.” He extended his hand. “Jack Morrison.”
Something sparked in the back of Gabe’s mind. It had no name, but there was a sense of… familiarity. Like he knew the name well despite having near heard it in his life. He took the hand. “Gabriel Reyes.”
“Nice to meet you, Gabriel,” Jack said. Something flashed through his eyes.
“Please, call me Gabe.”
Jack grinned. “See you soon, Gabe.”
With that, Jack left, disappearing into the crowd. Gabe watched the direction he’d gone for a moment before settling back into this chair.
His mind churned. Absently, he picked up his sketchbook and flipped to a new page. He dug into his case and pulled out his soft sketching pencil. He put it to the page and started outlining a figure.
Ángel with a team. What would he need to take on the omnics? He was the firepower. He would need a sniper for sure, to cover the team and be their eyes. A tech person, maybe someone who could build weapons, or disassemble omnics. They’d definitely need some muscle. And a field medic. That would put them at the classic five person team.
His hand moved across the page almost with a mind of its own. It was fine to give everyone a job, but how did the job define their characters? Should he go the stereotypical route with everyone? They’d all be enhanced SEP soldiers… or would they? Having a team of Captain Americas screamed overpowered. Where was the tension? What was wrong with the team idea? Or was it; what was wrong with SEP? He wanted it to be a process, not instant transformations. It would take time, and it would weed out people, just like the SEALs or Marines. Specialized training on top of that.
He fleshed out the figure absently. Ángel’s eyes seemed less smolder-y with anti-hero angst and more… playful? Was that the right world? This wasn’t the final, he’d fix it later in clean up.
SEP would take time and weed out people. Meaning, only a handful—maybe not even that—would make it through. Yes? Yes! Not an army of enhanced soldiers, but a specialized Delta Force used in conjunction with regular troops. They wouldn’t need a Black Ops division because the whole thing was inherently special forces and Black Ops rolled into one.
Ángel gained his trademark hoodie and beanie on the page. Normally, Gabe would draw him in his tactical vest, but this didn’t feel like a going out to battle picture. No, from his relaxed pose, it felt more like he was returning from a mission. Gabe added some dirt and bloodstains to the heavy combat boots and tight pants.
So if SEP soldiers were few, did it make sense to have them in teams of five? With so many battles and fronts to fight on, they would be stretched to the breaking point. The war had been swift and sudden. Special force teams would need time to gel, learn to work as one. Would they have that time needed to be effective?
Gabe added in Ángel’s shotguns, one resting on his shoulder, the other held in a loose grip, pointing at the floor. Casual. Ángel had his guard down here. Strange. Gabe had never drawn him like that before.
If SEP wasn’t split into teams, he was back to a lone wolf. Or was he? What if they were shuffled around in small groups, based on skills required for missions? It was an idea… but still something nagged at him. He was closer, a lot closer, but still, he was missing something. He pressed too hard and snapped the tip off his pencil.
“Damn.” He grabbed his sharpener and got the edge back. “What are you not telling me?” He muttered at the page.
Ángel remained silent, coy smirk on this scarred face. Jack’s request came back to Gabe and he blushed. Gabe had only grown the beard to hide his baby face. Would Ángel look good with one? He sketched in the outline of the beard and paused.
Ángel gained ten years with a few pencil strokes. There was no mistaking him for a pretty boy now. He looked mature, fierce, and—if it was even possible—more handsome. Hot damn. Gabe filled in the neat beard, keeping it trim. Jack had been right. Ángel pulled of the beard amazingly well.
Why was there so much space on the page? Gabe had allowed for a border, the big guns, but there was just a block of empty space beside the subject. Gabe looked at his drawing. Something made him leave it. Was it for words? He wasn’t big on speech bubbles in commissions. Given the border spacing, it was almost like he’d subconsciously left room for—
Gears locked into place. Switches flipped. The lightbulb blazed brightly above his head. Ya era hora, idiota. Ángel’s grin seemed to mock him.
Ángel had a partner!
Gabe could only stare at the page, willing this mysterious new character to reveal him or herself. Ángel kept on smiling knowingly, keeping secrets to himself. Suddenly, Gabe felt like a hunter in a forest. He knew what he sought was close by, he just had to find the right tracks to follow.
The basics might flush them out. Male or female? The comic needed more females in it. A kick ass woman super soldier could be a good foil for Ángel. He tried to picture Ángel with the mystery character as a woman. He worked with her fine, but there just wasn’t that spark Gabe was searching for. Ángel needed someone who could draw him out of his shell. Temper his biting sarcasm, understand that what he felt and what he said where often two different things. Would that be another man?
Men vastly outnumbered women in special operations task forces. And if his brood of no-nonsense, practical sisters had taught him anything, it was that women were far more skeptical and cautious when it came to the someone offering a secretive, experimental program.
Something shifted in the forest, and Gabe felt like he’d found the right tracks.
A man then. What was he like? Clearly, he had to be someone special. For all his brilliance, Ángel could be moody and tactless. A real “the only one you can rely on is yourself” type. Who could have coaxed this relaxed pose out of him?
Gabe sketched in a wire frame of this new character beside Ángel. They turned out to be the same height. Made sense. SEP enhanced just about everything. With no details, Gabe left the figure blank. He tapped the butt of the pencil against his chin in thought.
Why did Ángel trust this guy? No. Not just trust. Ángel liked him. Gabe wondered if this other soldier was as jaded as Ángel and that was— The thought died quickly. It wasn’t right.
Well, if he wasn’t broody, what if he was bright? The light to Ángel’s dark? Someone who saw the good in him, and brought it out? Someone who could make people want to be better? He like it. Yes. He liked it a lot. Ángel might not be good with people, but his partner was. His second in command. Yes! They were a commanding pair, sent in to take charge. Ángel was the tactician, his partner the morale booster. Together, they were unstoppable.
This changed everything! He had to pull the story back to before the beginning. Back to square one, and he was more excited than he’d ever been. How did they meet? How long where they in SEP? What cemented their friendship? How close were they? Very. They would have endured the physical tests together, the injections, side effects. They would have had to take care of each other when no one else would just to survive.
Gabe got a flash of a brilliant smile, pearly white teeth, soft lips. He put his pencil to the page and added in the features.
Where Ángel was fierce, his partner was friendly. Prone to smiling and laughter. Easygoing, until the going got tough. Strong and sure, slow to anger and quick to forgive. He was Ángel’s opposite, yet instead of butting heads, they fit together like puzzle pieces. It felt right. They felt right. It felt like this was how it should have been all along. Together.
His pencil moved with sure strokes now. He added a strong jaw, perfect nose, a dusting of light freckles on his cheekbones. Yes. Everything about this felt right. A crew cut didn’t suit him. Too harsh. Gabe gave him short, soft hair, with a little cowlick that made a lock of it stand up. The character that started back at him felt like a glimpse of his quarry in the forest. Gabe had seen him. Now, he just hand to pin the handsome someone down.
No, ese es mi trabajo.
Gabe put his hand over his mouth, cheeks warming up, eyes widening. Ángel’s relaxed pose, allowing his guard down, his flirtatiou s—that was the word he’d been looking for—smile. It made since. This wasn’t just Ángel’s war buddy.
It was his lover .
He’d never thought about a romantic angle. Ángel had never seemed the type. But maybe that was because Gabe hadn’t allowed him to be. But, now that he thought of it, with the backstory he’d given Ángel, it made sense. He was lonely. Misunderstood. Unliked. And then a ray of sunlight cuts through to his core and accepts what it finds without judgement. Someone who cared for him. How could Ángel not fall in love?
Gabe tore the page out of his book and slid it into a page protector. He couldn't let Jack have this. There was too much left to discover. He had a list of commissions he had to finish, but he found himself eyeing his phone and the number Jack had left behind.
If just a few moments talking with him had unlocked all this progress, what would more reveil? Creative excitement pumped through his veins. He wanted to call, get Jack back to the table, pick his brain for more ideas.
He dismissed the impulse. Jack had somewhere to be. Comic Con was huge, he had more to do than humor a desperate artist. Gabe didn’t want to abuse the trust placed in him to only use that personal number for the agreed on use. Gabe would just have to finish the commision then call him.
Getting to a fresh page, Gabe started another sketch. He liked this new, relaxed, flirtatious Ángel. This felt like the real him. The him that was buried under years of military service and loss. Finding a partner had unlocked that part of him, and Gabe was eager to see more of it.
He was just as eager to see Jack.