Chapter 37:

The third challenge

Bonded by Music

The backstage preparation for the third challenge was less chaotic than the previous times. Eloy and Genta didn’t need to fight for a spot in the make-up room or in the dressing area. Just like in the previous challenge, the judges didn’t know the songs that the contestants had prepared. However, the staff and stylists did, which allowed them to prepare the contestants accordingly.

“Screw it. I’m going to get changed,” Eloy snapped, after seeing his reflection in the backstage bathroom. Unfortunately, Genta had no trouble cutting off his escape, positioning himself in front of Eloy while grabbing his arms

“Nope, you’re not.”

“Genta, seriously, I look ridiculous like this,” Eloy hissed while gesturing at his outfit, consisting of a pair of tight - too tight - dark trousers, and a practically transparent black t-shirt that didn’t leave anything to the imagination, over which the stylist had decided to add a fishnet t-shirt that Eloy really wanted to remove.

“Oh, so you think that I look ridiculous too? Because I’m dressed exactly the same.”

“No, because you’re young and hot.”

“For goodness sake, Eloy, stop talking as if you’re a hundred years old. And I remind you that I don’t have a trail of heartbroken people behind me.”

“I don’t either, you idiot.”

“Cara, Narumi, King–”

Eloy had just snapped his hand against Genta’s mouth while hushing him when Ren entered the bathroom. Both Eloy and Genta cursed startled, since the guy was made up as if he were a zombie. Even the suit he wore was tattered.

“Great. That’s the effect I was aiming for,” Ren said between chuckles. “But wow, look at you two, all ready to make the women in the audience drool with that strippers look.”

Eloy closed his eyes with mortification upon hearing the playful comment. Eloy waited for Ren to leave again before addressing Genta.

“Come on, just be honest, okay?” Eloy extended his arms on either side of his body. “Do you really not feel like face-palming in embarrassment when looking at me?”

Genta blinked. “Eloy, I feel a lot of things seeing you dressed like that, but facepalming is not one of them.”

The sincere comment caught Eloy off guard, and he let out a nervous laugh before adjusting his glasses. “Okay, I forgot that you aren’t the most objective person ever.”

“I’m not, but seriously, stop overthinking.” Genta took a step towards Eloy and placed his hands on Eloy’s hips. “When we're on stage, just focus on what we’ve been practicing. And stop worrying about how you look, okay? Because trust me: you look really good.”

Eloy exhaled a deep breath, grabbed Genta’s arms to guide him inside one of the bathroom’s stalls, and pressed him against the door to capture his mouth in a passionate kiss.

“Damn,” Genta breathed when Eloy finally released his mouth. “What got into you?”

“It’s my way of thanking you for the boost of confidence,” Eloy replied against Genta's lips. He noticed a smirk forming on Genta's face before their positions suddenly reversed.

Eloy was already parting his lips, anticipating the upcoming deep kiss, when Genta gasped and then frowned.

“Hey, you okay?” Eloy asked with concern, but Genta quickly nodded.

“Yeah, I just had a stomach cramp, so maybe I’m more nervous than I thought.”

Eloy really intended to ask Genta further to make sure he was okay, but then Genta’s mouth was on him, and he lost all capacity of reasoning.

* * *

Their predictions about the type of performances the other pairs would deliver turned out to be quite accurate. In the end, The Novas' dance was a flawless tango that earned them a great ovation from the audience.

Electric Soul had come up with a pretty original dance. For the first half a minute, it looked like a traditional waltz, but then the song evolved into a more electronic beat. They even executed an outfit change mid-performance, with Ayaka and Kota swiftly shedding the long dress and suit they had been wearing to reveal the sequined outfits hidden underneath.

Also, Ren and Ryo had opted for the iconic 'Thriller' performance. The efforts of the stylists played in their favor, but Eloy could notice that, unlike The Novas or Electric Soul, Ren and Ryo’s coordination sometimes failed, with Ryo being clearly behind Ren in terms of synchronization.

Unlike the previous challenge, in which contestants were immediately informed of their results right after their performances, this time the decision about who would advance to the next challenge would be announced after all the performances, increasing the level of anticipation and tension that transpired in the theater.

“We’re next,” Genta muttered as the pair before them concluded their dance and applause filled the room. “Are you ready?”

Eloy took a deep breath and nodded. His heart pounded against his chest, but after observing the rest of the performances, he felt confident that they actually had a chance. “Yes, I am. How are you and your stomach cramps?”

Genta chuckled softly at his joking question, and Eloy detected some nervousness on it, but it was logical, given their situation. “Don’t worry, they won’t be a problem.”

The host announced then that SevenEG were the next to perform. Eloy and Genta exchanged a glance, nodded at the same time, and proceeded to step onto the stage.

As usual, Eloy's eyes needed a moment to adjust to the intense stage lighting. Once his vision adapted, he saw King raising his eyebrows in surprise, probably recognizing that the outfits they were wearing were unmistakably inspired by the ones he used to wear during his own stage performances.

Eloy took another deep breath while adopting the initial stance of the song. He managed to catch a glimpse of all the judges' surprised expressions when King’s song resonated throughout the theater, provoking a wave of applause and cheers from the audience.

Thankfully, Eloy experienced a sensation quite similar to what he felt when playing the piano: the nervousness that invaded him seconds before the performance vanished, and he found himself in a state close to ‘the zone’, during which he only focused on repeating the movements that he and Genta had diligently rehearsed for countless hours in the past days, even sacrificing sleep in the process.

He had been worried about the most intimate parts of the dance, where Genta and him ended up extremely close, either chest to chest or back to chest. Not to mention the part where Genta had to ‘force’ him onto the ground before caging him against it. However, his concern ended up being unfounded: they were both so immersed in the moment, so connected while dancing together, that as cliché as it sounded, it felt as if the world around them didn’t exist anymore.

Without even noticing, Eloy ended up having a smile on his face during the performance. Against all odds, he was really enjoying that challenge.

Everything was going fine. They really got this.

The ending of the song was approaching by then. Eloy executed his individual sequence of movements before approaching Genta. The next part required Genta to lift him into the air, Eloy wrapping his legs around Genta, and then they would spin before Eloy was lowered to the ground, bringing the performance to its end.

However, just a second after Eloy placed his hands on Genta’s shoulders to launch himself, he sensed that something was wrong. But by the time he could react, and see the pang of pain crossing Genta’s features, it was too late. And Genta had barely started lifting him when his right leg seemed to fail him, making them tumble to the floor.

The worst part wasn’t the fall itself, or the concerned gasps and murmurs that spread through the until then enthusiastic audience: the worst part was seeing the flash of panic in Genta’s eyes, immediately followed by guilt.

However, by some kind of miracle, Eloy managed to break free from his shock and quickly improvised the last verses of the song. He swiftly crawled on top of Genta, moving in fluid, rhythmic motions that caused the audience to react again by applauding and cheering.

With a firm grip on the front of Genta's t-shirt, Eloy rolled them to the side, wrapping his legs around Genta's waist. He recreated the last movements they were supposed to execute while standing, but now in a horizontal position.

Genta had snapped out of his shock by then, and executed the final sequence: after Eloy planted his feet back on the floor, Genta grasped the back of Eloy's neck and pulled him up, drawing them close within kissing distance, the movement timed with the conclusion of the song.

By then the audience was captivated again, and applause resounded throughout the theater. Yet, Eloy felt that, just like him, Genta’s heart was heavy with worry, knowing that, perhaps, that promised advantage wouldn’t be enough to prevent them from being disqualified. 

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