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SupaCon was a welcome relief to Miguel–especially as it enabled him to have a valid reason to leave the house without his sisters and mother calling constantly for “check ins”. His family was starting to rub raw at his nerves. Valeria and Lucas were sympathetic, but there was little they could do to help. His mother hadn’t made good on her threats to ground him, but only because she didn’t have energy enough (yet) to figure out how to deal with him.
This was a hill that Miguel would die on; if the day came when his mother did make a move, he had to figure out a plan. Telling his family had only backfired. He completely agreed with Moderator A’s Rule 3. Tell your people, Mod A advised, and hadn’t the news shown that the family of heroes were always in danger? Like she had clearly said:
Knowledge is power. So wouldn’t they be, well, more proactive if they knew the danger you would be putting them in? They would listen to you when you say run, instead of being targeted while shouting why.
If he could understand that, why couldn’t his family?
At least he had Val and Lucas, even if they were both currently surrounded by people wanting photos. Valeria’s costume was flawless, and so she had to keep fiercely reminding people not to touch her. Alicia–one of their old con friends–had joined their trio in her Scarlet Avenger cosplay. Given that it was the fifth anniversary of Scarlet and Jewel’s death, SupaCon had arranged a tribute to them. As such, there was a flood of Scarlet Avengers and Lady Jewels all around, yet Val and Alicia stood out with their clever designs. It made sense that Val was being asked for photographs–there wasn’t a con where she wasn’t–but Lucas being asked for photos was new. Miguel couldn’t tell if Lucas loved the attention or hated it.
Despite the distraction of his friends, Miguel was getting worried. Where was Teo? They had been all over the convention center and in the hotel, but he was nowhere to be found. They had agreed to meet up today, yet there was no text confirming anything and he was starting to grow frustrated. How could Teo have passed judgement on Miguel… and then not bothered to show up as agreed?
Miguel was starting to think he had been lead on, when a bubbly Stormchaser cosplayer stopped in front of him. “Are you Miguel?” she asked breathlessly. He was startled into a simple “yes,” before she grinned and said, “Great! Teo and me have been everywhere for you! His phone fell into the fountain earlier.”
“Oh.” That explained the lack of communication on Teo’s end. But who was this girl?
“I’m so glad I found you. Teo’s been annoyed all day, so this is a blessing, honestly. Do you have time to come with me? We’re supposed to be meeting up at the cafe!”
“That’s… Okay, I need to get my friends first.”
It was a struggle but he managed to ditch Alicia, grab Valeria, and drag Lucas away from all the Starcrosser fangirls.
“Women are exhausting,” Lucas muttered as he followed them and eyed the girl next to Miguel with suspicion.
The girl took control of the conversation instantly, which was so similar to how conversations with Teo tended to go. Miguel couldn’t help but be amused as she half answered questions and changed the topic when she pleased. Teo’s friend or more likely girlfriend was nicer than him but still as bossy.
They entered the cafe to find Teo sitting at a large table, taking a tiny set of tools to the guts of his phone.
“Found him!” The girl took a seat next to Teo, who didn’t look up. Teo offered a small “thanks” before adjusting his glasses and picking up a tiny screwdriver.
Lucas and Valeria took their seats and left only the seat directly across from Teo opened. Miguel sat down reluctantly and was startled when that shifted Teo’s attention to him.
“Phones are too weak.” Great conversation starter, Miguel mused. Their texting so far had been just as blunt and direct.
“They can be,” Miguel agreed. “Are you trying to fix it? Why not just get a new one–”
“This is my personal design. I can’t just ‘get a new one.’” Teo glanced away from him to Val and Lucas. “Your friends?”
Before either of could introduce themselves, Teo looked back at him, “Do you trust them?”
“Of course,” Miguel said, trying to hide how offensive that was to him. Did he trust Val and Lucas? That was the easiest question to answer and he couldn’t help his small frown–until Teo smiled slightly. It just wasn’t fair that someone who looked and sounded like he was annoyed with the world, was softened so much when he smiled. Miguel blurted out the first thing he could think of before he started grinning back like an idiot. “Your girlfriend was lucky to find us!”
Teo’s girlfriend shook her hand, “It wasn’t luck, it was skill.”
Teo glanced at her, “That’s what you take offense to?” His face softened even further, and Miguel was still thinking no fair, no fair as Teo continued with, “He thinks we’re dating, Lex.”
“Everyone thinks that,” Lex said with a carefree smile. “His friends probably think so too.”
“Not me,” Valeria said. “Unlike Miguel, I don’t jump to conclusions.”
“That’s good,” Lex said. “I like that in a girl.”
“Oh,” Lucas said, and that was all he said before Lex continued talking.
“Me and this loser… we’re more like brothers than anything.”
Miguel was still catching up, when Valeria snapped her fingers, “I knew I recognized you guys. You were at the vigil, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” Teo said, rolling his eyes. “Though she wasn’t there too long. Just came to drag me off on a misadventure.”
“Only because you can’t drive yet, dear.”
“Sure, let’s go with that.” Teo stopped looking so soft, so openly affectionate as he refocused on Miguel. “Alex’s not my girlfriend–more like a pest I picked up and can’t get rid of.” Miguel stopped thinking no fair and started thinking instead about how much he missed that softer look on Teo.
“My mistake,” Miguel said quietly.
“Let’s get to the topic at hand,” said Teo. “I’ll be blunt, since I’m sure Miguel’s told you both what he’s doing.”
“When are you not blunt?” Lex muttered.
“I guess my first question is: are you a Brite?” Miguel hesitated and then shook his head. “I see,” Teo said. The disappointment was clear.
“Does that really matter? I still want to help. Isn’t this meeting so you can tell me what you think I’m doing wrong?”
“Like I already said… ‘everything’.”
Miguel couldn’t help his wince, and Val stepped in for him. “It wouldn’t hurt to be more specific.”
Teo didn’t look at her, but looked directly at Miguel. “From his costume to his fighting style, everything’s wrong. A hero is formed from their own ideals. You’re just a failed imitation trying to match up with her greatness. Tell me, what are you fighting for?”
Miguel braced himself with his hands curling into fists underneath the table, “That’s… I’m fighting because no one else is!”
Teo tilted his head, “I wasn’t aware that Captain Grace died.”
“The public doesn’t trust–”
“Who cares? Heroes can’t be guided by public opinion. Are you fighting for the acknowledgement of the public, Miguel?”
“I…” Valeria and Lucas just gave him encouraging nods. They believed in him, and he believed in what he was doing. What was he fighting for? “Because all the true heroes are gone. I know that Captain Grace is trying her best but she can’t match up with Scarlet and Jewel-”
“How arrogant can you be?”
“‘True heroes’? True heroes end up dead. Are you really ready for that? Pathetic. You’ve wasted my time, and you’re being disrespectful of the dead.”
“You don’t know me–how can you say that?”
“I know you,” Teo said. “I see you trying to play hero and dragging up her ghost. Let her rest.”
“Wait a second,” Lucas interrupted. “He’s honestly not trying to do that. He saved the mayor’s daughter and has been doing a lot of good–you can’t just judge him like that!”
“That was an idiotic stroke of luck.”
“Sorry, but no,” Val said, “you’re not allowed to just sit here and call him an idiot and dismiss all the good he’s been doing!”
“Teo.” Lex laid a hand on his shoulder. “Calm down. They’re not your enemies.”
“Fine.” Teo fell silent, and Miguel’s heart stopped beating overtime for a moment. “I’ll give him another chance. Why else are you fighting?”
Before Miguel could reply, Lex cut in once more, “Take some time and think about that carefully, okay? Here–gimme your number. We’ll be around all weekend. Let’s meet up again.”
Miguel shook his head, “No thanks. I’ve heard all I needed to.”
He was a fool for thinking that Teo had had anything useful to say.
Teo’s words had filled him with self doubt. Was he wrong for wanting to carry on Scarlet’s legacy? Was he really doing harm instead of good? How was he harming anyone?
He ended up walking away from the cafe before Lucas and Val could join him. What could they even say to that? Why had he allowed Teo to just rip into him–of course he was right. It wasn’t wrong to look for support from the people he saved! If he hadn’t been there, the mayor’s only child would be dead. He was starting small, but he had had a noticeable impact on petty crime in the areas he looked after. How was that wrong?
His phone vibrated with messages from an unknown number.
UNKNOWN: what teo meant was that it’s best to embrace who you are not who scarlet was and not who you think captain grace is.
UNKNOWN: each of them are fighting for their own justice, their own reasons.
UNKNOWN: they would die for those reasons.
UNKNOWN: miguel… what would you give it all up for?
UNKNOWN: a hero is more than just a costume. aren’t we here surrounded by LJ and SA look a likes? even your friend is in cosplay! but is she a hero?
UNKNOWN: what makes you any different than all the others?
UNKNOWN: what makes you more than some dumbass fan?
UNKNOWN: what makes you who you are?
Miguel thought about that. Of course he was different from these cosplayers! He had been working out and doing all he could for this. He had a set of guidelines and a plan. He was a hero. Right?
Miguel: Who is this?
UNKNOWN: lex! the friendly nonbinary guide to teo’s twisted mind <3
UNKNOWN: teo’s phone is working now if you wanna talk to him yourself.
Miguel: Later…maybe. I need to think.
Lex: okay! i just want you to know that i honestly think you have POTENTIAL!!! :)))
Lex: teo does too–like i know he has to or else he wouldn’t have gotten mad!
Lex: think about your answer!
Lex: he’ll be waiting!!!
On Saturday, Miguel just sat in the hotel room while Val and Lucas went out. He had no interest in any of tha. Instead, he curled up on the loveseat with his laptop and just rewatched as much footage of Scarlet and Jewel before 2020 as he could. They had done so much during the years, had been at their peak, and then had been so tragically murdered. That could be him, couldn’t it?
Could he honestly say he was okay with that?
Lex: sure you could die–no, you will die.
Lex: is that okay?
Miguel: I knew that from the start. I can’t do this half heartedly or I would hate myself.
Miguel: How can I stop now? I’ve barely gotten started. I’ve not done what I need to do yet.
Lex: Meet me at the cafe in half an hour so we can talk.
Miguel shouldn’t have been shocked to find Teo instead of Lex waiting for him. “Lex showed me the messages. I sent the last one.”
Thinking back, the final message had been different–blunt even–just like Teo.
“Are you two that close that she just shows you things like that?”
Teo shrugged, and then ran his thumb over the edge of his teacup. “I’m surprised. You’re really not going to give up? Even if people curse you, demand that you stop, are you that determined to press on? Even if…” Teo looked at him for a moment. “You’re going to keep doing this even if it’s painful to all those who loved her?”
“People who loved Scarlet? I’m someone who loved her… I need to do this because of who she was to me.” Miguel wanted Teo to look at him; he needed to see for himself if his words had changed Teo’s heart even a little. “Who was she to you?”
“She saved my life,” Teo said. “She gave my life to me. Do you understand now how I can’t help but care what people do in her name?”
“I’m not trying to be disrespectful. She means the world to me too… that day she died, everything changed. My dad died when I was young, so it wasn’t like it was the first time someone I knew died. But… it was Scarlet, you know? She shook my hand–she hugged me–she was so much to me, and she died. I didn’t know it was possible.”
“Brite or not, she was mortal,” Teo said. “Her death was inevitable.”
“I know, but still, it was a shock. Doing this now, being a hero, I feel like I’m honoring her. Bu like, you think I’m being disrespectful?”
“You can’t hope to mean to them what she did. You shouldn’t want that–wearing the skin of a dead woman. Living with her name…”
“I never told them to call me that.”
“You haven’t told them to stop, either.”
“It’s not like I can hang around and give interviews!”
“If my face ends up in the news again… my mom will kill me.”
Teo nodded. “Is that so? You know, I think I understand you now.”
“So you don’t think I’m being disrespectful?”
“You have a long way to go, but I think your heart is in the right place. I’ll help you get there.”
“Wait, you were serious about helping me? What do you think you can do that I can’t?”
“A lot more than you can.”
“We have a lot of work to do, but that’s fine.”
“Do you ever stop to listen to anyone?”
“Sometimes,” Teo said, “when they have worthwhile information. When do you have class again?”
“Week after next.”
“Let’s meet on Tuesday then.”
“I’ll text you the address.”
“That’s… still not an answer, you know?”
Teo picked up his tea and sipped.
Miguel arrived home on Sunday afternoon to find his mother surrounded by boxes of his things. All of his superhero paraphernalia was carefully packed away, and she was changing his sheets.
“Mom, what’s going on?”
“I got your report card.” The fitted sheet slipped out of her grip. “It was unacceptable, Miguel.”
“What was?” He thought back to his grades, there hadn’t been anything that he had failed. Why was she so upset? Why was she taking his stuff?
“Your grades in science and math are slipping. You can’t be a doctor with that average.” She conquered the sheet and then turned to him. “You’re still doing that hero thing, aren’t you?” He felt the weight of his costume on his back as she came towards him with her hand out. “Your phone, mijo.”
“Mom, I don’t understand. I thought we talked about this–”
“I told you to stop and you didn’t listen and now your grades are slipping. So, I will make you hear me.”
“What am I supposed to do without my phone? How will anyone reach me?”
“You will live.”
“But my friends–”
“–will still be around when your grades improve.”
“The next report doesn’t come out for three more months!” He thought of his life without being able to talk with his friends for months. “And I didn’t fail any of my classes!”
“Barely passing isn’t good enough for universities, Miguel! You cannot seem to focus on what matters so I will help you. You will get this phone back after I see an improvement.”
He held fast, and she shook her head. Her hand stayed out. She was firm in her resolve, but so was he. How could he just hand over his phone? It wasn’t like he was out partying like Camila had in high school. He did nothing but go to school, study, and try to help people. He had to meet with Teo on Tuesday–how could he just give his phone over?
“There has to be something else you can take,” Miguel said.
“It all goes,” she said. “No distractions.”
“Mom–” he started, but then his phone vibrated, startling him. She reached out and snatched it away. “Mom!”
Tuesday faded into Wednesday, and he knew that he must have pissed off Teo. But there was no way for him to reach out to him. His home had become his prison.
Bianca dropped him off to school and told him to take the bus straight home. There was nothing to say to that, so he simply headed to his usual morning spot.
“Your mom has officially lost it,” Lucas said.
Miguel almost cried with relief. The past week had been hell. “You have no idea.”
“Val’s worried sick–she thought you wouldn’t be allowed to attend classes.”
“I can only leave for school. Apparently a 7 is failing now.”
“Wait till she hears about my average. This really sucks, your mom sucks! Oh, right…” Lucas pulled a small box out of his backpack. “Here.”
“What is this?”
“A box that you’re supposed to open.”
Miguel rolled his eyes, and opened up the box. Inside was a smartphone just resting casually inside. “Lucas this is a phone.”
“She’s going to take it–how did you even afford this?”
“It’s a gift from your boyfriend.”
“Can you start speaking normal Spanish now?”
“I am, dude. Hold on do you need me to say this in English? Teo, your boyfriend, gave you that phone.”
“He’s not–why is he giving me a phone?”
“Dude, why don’t you just read his message?”
Miguel sighed, and settled down on the grass. Lucas kneeled next to him as he turned on the phone. “Password?”
“‘Teoguel.’” Lucas held up a hand to block Miguel’s punch. “No, seriously, the password is SCARLET.”
“This is insane,” Miguel muttered. The phone was flooded with messages. He opened up Zole, and shook his head. Almost all his contacts were in the app, as were most of his group chats, with a few additions. At the top was a message from Teo.
Teo: This is a gift so that you can continue walking your path. A direct line to me and your other friends during this crisis. Call me so we can discuss our next move.
“I’m still severely confused.”
“Miguel, to quote Lex, who is my new BFF, ‘a hero doesn’t ask for forgiveness.’ This is how you’re going to keep doing you while your mom’s on her warpath.”
“Okay, but consider this: I’m grounded–”
“Who cares. Heroes follow their own path. While you’re busy following her rules, what about your own rules? What is your heart telling you right now?”
Miguel’s heart? It was silent–no. It was moving in overtime. This was his ticket out of jail. Could he really just cast it aside because his mom had grounded him? That wasn’t justice; she wasn’t just. Miguel was needed, and so Miguel couldn’t just stop fighting.
“I’m not the one to be thanking.”
Miguel grinned at Lucas, “You’re right.”
He called Teo.
“Took you long enough.”
“Hi, I’m told I should be thanking you. I’m sorry about not being able to reach you sooner.”
“No, I understand how moms can be. I have two. Let’s meet up after school. You have early dismissal as well, correct?”
“Good. We have a lot to discuss.”
“Yes, we do.”
Teo said, “I can hear your resolve,” and hung up.
Lucas was grinning when he looked at him. “I’m glad you’re back.”
Miguel looked down at the phone, and turned it over. It didn’t look like any of the popular brands, but it was so obviously high tech. Where had Teo gotten it?
“I’m glad to be back.” Miguel stood up and slid the phone into his pocket. “You guys have a lot of explaining to do. Like, what do you mean new BFF? I’m offended.”
Lucas grinned, “Good, you’re meant to be.”
ICYMI: Recent News in San Martín
SupaCon honors fallen heroes with massive tribute.
By Febe Mendoza Ramos
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Cortez Ortega Gil says “San Martín’s crime rates are directly the fault of Mayor’s disgusting nepotism…”
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Fun Fact #03
I finally decided to change the name of the novel because I was talking with someone today and couldn’t pronounce “Demoledor” without tripping up and saying “Demolisher” that was proof enough that I needed to change it!
Thanks for reading~!