Chapter 39:


Bonded by Music

“So, before casting my vote, I’d like to ask you something.” King crossed his arms and leaned back against his chair, looking at Eloy and Genta with an uncharacteristic serious expression. “Did you really believe that choosing one of the songs that I worked harder to perfect would give you extra points for bravery? That was your strategy here?”

Eloy's throat tightened while a thin sheen of sweat formed on his forehead under King's unrelenting gaze. He wondered if they had completely missed the mark when preparing the challenge.

Or maybe King had lied to him that night at the beach, saying that he would keep his impartiality when deep inside he was resentful for having rejected his advances…

“Well, congratulations, guys,” King's tone shifted abruptly, his serious mask breaking into his characteristic smirk. “Because at least for me, it was a winning strategy.”

Despite the room erupting in applause, Eloy was still processing King’s words when Genta reacted, talking with a confused, tense tone.

“Wait, so does that mean that you give us a ‘yes’?”

“Oh, absolutely. You took a significant risk, and even if the performance had some obvious flaws, you did it impressively, given the short span of time you had to prepare it. So it’s a resounding ‘yes’ from me.” King’s smile turned mischievous. “I bet that seeing me all serious for once made you piss your tight pants, right?”

A relieved, nervous laugh escaped Eloy while Genta cursed under his breath.

“Damn, what a jer–” Genta clamped a hand over his mouth when his comment caused a new wave of laughter throughout the theater. Pale with mortification, he rapidly bowed towards King. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–”

“Oh, don’t apologize. It’s true that I was a total jerk,” Kind said between laughs, looking unbothered while waving his hand dismissively.

As the laughter finally subsided, Eloy anticipated Mai Shiratori to give her evaluation. To his surprise, it was Mr. Shin the one who spoke up next.

“I have a question for Eloy. Did you know that your partner was injured during tonight’s performance?”

Eloy’s heart skipped a beat. Since Genta hadn’t started limping until they were out of sight from the stage, they had assumed the judges hadn’t noticed Genta’s injury. Apparently, The Golden Ear also had good eyesight, which right now was rather detrimental for them.

“He didn’t,” Genta answered on Eloy’s behalf, before the possibility of lying even entered Eloy’s mind. “I didn’t tell him about my sprain.”

“Why?” Mr. Shin pressed further, and this time it was Eloy who answered.

“Because I would have insisted on simplifying the routine.”

Mr. Shin nodded, and after a short but tense pause, he continued.

“I’ll be frank: if your fall at the end of the performance was merely due to a mistake, you'd probably have secured a ‘yes’ from me. I agree with King that you were quite brave choosing that song, and you did it remarkably well.” Mr. Shin’s tone remained calm as usual, but then acquired a tinge of reproach. “However, the fact that, at his point of the competition, Ishikawa failed to trust his partner, deciding to take a risk on his own, makes me unable to recommend you two for the final.”

Eloy’s heart sank after hearing Mr. Shin’s words, which also caused a wave of concerned murmurs in the audience. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Genta clenching his jaw, clearly angry with himself. On impulse, Eloy grasped Genta’s hand, trying to offer him support.

Not everything was lost yet though. Even if Mr. Shin didn’t give his approval, as long as the remaining judges were in their favor, they could still make it.

“I’m afraid that I agree with Sang-jun.” Shiratori’s comment sparked a louder wave of disapproving murmurs. However, the ballet dancer kept talking with a firm tone, despite the softness of her slightly sad smile. “Asides from that last mistake, your performance was beyond impressive, especially considering that neither of you specialize in dance. However, this season of ‘Tune it Up’ is one of the most followed so far, so we cannot teach our younger viewers that risking your health is an acceptable strategy.”

Eloy felt Genta’s hand gently squeezing his own.

“I’m so sorry, Eloy.”

Eloy swallowed while pressing Genta’s hand back, trying to conceal his disappointment and frustration. Even if Pink Candy gave them a ‘yes’, a tie wasn’t enough for them to pass to the final round. They needed a majority of approvals from the judge.

So…that was it.

It seemed that was as far as they went after all…

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, are you two serious right now?!” Pink Candy’s sudden, emphatic outburst provoked a shocked silence both in the audience and the judges. “Haven’t you two been young before? Or haven’t you wanted something so badly that you pushed yourself beyond your limits? Because I bet that a sprain is the least severe injury that Mai has endured while doing ballet. And you, Mr. Shin, correct me if I’m mistaken, but I recall seeing pictures when you were young - and quite the looker, by the way - with bandaged wrists. Perhaps due to piano tendonitis from over practicing?”

Eloy was so shocked by the turn of events that he could only stare with his mouth half-opened how Candy’s accusations left both Shiratori and Mr. Shin speechless, while King struggled to suppress his own laughter behind a feigned cough.

“And of course I’m not saying that we have to encourage our viewers to get injured,” Pink Candy continued with conviction. “But please, let’s not forget that this is a music competition show. We’re here to evaluate the contestants' talent, and let me tell you, these two right here,” Pink Candy effusively signaled at Eloy and Genta with her manicured hand, “have delivered the best performance of the entire night, if not one of the best of the entire competition. Not just anyone could have recovered their momentum from a fall as they did. So if anyone deserves to advance to the final, it’s them.”

The ovation from the audience at that moment was undoubtedly one of the loudest of the night. Suddenly, someone in the audience shouted the name of their group, prompting others to start chanting it. In fact, Eloy could hear that Ayaka, Kota, Ren and Ryo were joining the audience from the benches.

“Come on, you two,” King interjected then, placing a hand on both Shiratori and Mr. Shin's shoulders. “You know that deep inside you want to join the cool ‘yes’ team.”

King’s playful commented provoked Shiratori to chuckle and Mr. Shin to exhale a defeated sigh. Eloy felt his heart racing in his chest, and noticed that Genta was also holding his breath beside him when, after exchanging a quick glance, both Shiratori and Mr. Shin looked at them again.

“It’s a yes from me,” Shiratori said with a soft smile.

“I’ll make an exception and change my vote as well, but I hope you two take precautions. No more injuries."

Eloy barely managed to hear what Mr. Shin said due to the loud applause and cheers that followed. He looked at Genta, who was displaying happiness and disbelief, and they embraced tightly, laughing together, still without believing what had just happened.

“Well, well, what an exciting turn of events!” The host suddenly appeared behind Eloy and Genta, startling them and making them break the embrace. “So, now that SevenEG have been selected as the third pair to join the finals, it’s their turn to use the advantage they won in the beach event!”

Oh yes, the advantage. Eloy had completely forgotten about that.

“Among the remaining contestants, each one of you can cast a negative vote - or positive, if you’re feeling generous - towards the pair of your choice, and that vote will count together with the votes of the judges to decide if they pass or–”

The host was still talking when Eloy and Genta voted ‘yes’ for Electric Soul and The Cords Brothers respectively, making the man show a dumbfounded expression, as the strategic move might have been to give them negative votes to weaken the competition.

Electric Soul would have passed nevertheless without Eloy’s vote, since three of the four judges voted in their favor. However, Genta’s vote proved decisive for The Cords Brothers to pass, leading Ryo to lift them in the air in a bear hug that left them gasping for air.

“Geez, you’re way better people than me. I would have probably voted against you,” Ren admitted with a shocked tone that caused everyone to start laughing before they merged in a group hug.

And then, as the five finalist pairs posed for the cameras, Eloy found himself smiling so widely that his face almost hurt.

Because as improbable as it had seemed when they first entered the contest, they had truly made it to the Finals.

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