Somehow, someway, Michael and Denny had triumphed.
Through the Soundscape and beyond, past musical trials and tribulations, they’d manage to emerge unscathed and end Lex Rydell’s reign of vengeance once and for all.
As far as Michael knew, he’d been claimed under the metallic darkness of the Mirror Chrome sea.
And that was all he needed to know.
Now all that was left was to go home.
It seemed like a simple gesture, all things considered.
They just needed to head back, and Rob would spirit them away, right on out of the Soundscape and back into the familiar arms of the material universe.
But as the two Music Masters composed themselves, sharing furtive glances now and then, Michael soon realized there was another problem on the horizon.
Even as he carefully filled Rob’s container with the glimmering water of the Discolight’s fountain, the words bounced back and forth in his mind again.
He loved her. That was it.
In so many words, Michael knew this to be true, finally. That kiss in front of the golden fountain of the Discolight had sealed it.
The time for battle was over, and so was the time for debate.
Overflowing with newfound confidence, Michael took Denny’s hand so naturally in his, and the happy glint in his eyes was all he needed to say.
Only one thing left to tell her now.
The journey back to Rob’s location by the Mirror Chrome sea proved to be the perhaps the easiest part of the entire Soundscape journey, Michael soon realized.
Still, an inkling of fear remained with him, even behind the cloud of love that threatened to send him into permanent bliss. Even as they’d touched down on the beach, stepping off of Starlight’s CD-chariot, Michael did a double take when Denny wasn’t looking.
His exact memories of what had transpired when he was in Perfect Beat for that short time were blurry at best, but he knew for a fact that his Sentonal had sent Lex flying off into oblivion.
The former Trackmaster should have been toast. Finished. Totally eliminated.
Michael’s brow twitched nevertheless.
Then again, he had thought the same thing when Paul had quite literally sent him across the universe. And as they had all witnessed, that wasn’t foolproof.
Denny’s voice was quick to break his trance of worry. Michael offered a reassuring smile.
“Sort of.” Michael admitted, looking off into the distance towards the silvery sea beyond.
The water glimmered with otherworldly light, but with every slosh of the waves, he half-expected Lex’s hand to come clawing out from beneath the surface.
He had to wonder if this is what Aeris felt like every time she looked at the ocean.
Reading his mind, Denny put a warm hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, he’s gone.” she said in his ear. “You did it, Michael. You won. And now we can go home and make sure Paul gets the good news.”
Her hands moved to wrap around his arm. Michael smiled wide, turning around in satisfaction.
They had the precious liquid of the Discolight in their possession, and the threat of Lex was no more.
Michael’s thoughts raced backwards again, even as the golden light of Rob’s song effect began to appear around them, right on cue.
His face sank.
No. Not now. He needed just a little more time.
Not skipping a beat, Michael put his hands on Denny’s shoulders.
“Agggh, why now? I can’t have a second, can I?” Michael complained audibly, leaving Denny wide-eyed with confusion.
The glowing gold and green sparks grew in size with each passing second, flitting in the air back and forth. Michael ignored them even as the music grew in his ears.
“Look, Denny, I need to tell you something.”
Denny looked back and forth, instantly realizing what was happening.
“Um, can’t it wait?”
“No!” Michael shouted. “No, it can’t wait.”
His voice lowered, becoming apologetic as his head hung low.
“If I wait any longer, who knows if I’ll be able to say it.”
He turned back to face her. He tried to imagine his own expression, hoping he’d never looked more serious in his life.
“Everything that’s happened, everything we’ve been through, I should have known it weeks ago. I should have said something.”
Denny’s face began to grow hot. The reddish-pink glow under her cheeks became impossible to hide.
“You know what I mean.” Michael continued, the music growing louder as his own expression grew more quaint.
He put his hand on her cheek, and grinned. This was his one and only moment.
“I think…I think I love you, Denny.”
Michael shook his head.
“No, I know I love you.” he said, as Denny responded through now teary eyes.
“I love you too.” she said, her voice cracking as the two of them embraced.
The kiss lasted only seconds further, before reality snapped, and Michael and Denny vanished from the Soundscape entirely in a flash of gold and green strings.
All that remained was the unearthly quiet of the Mirror Chrome Sea.
And on the beach side, as silent as a statue, Mr. Lostman had watched the entire exchange.
He had come to one clear conclusion from all this.
Humans and songs?
With all their complexity, uniqueness and beauty: they were one and the same.
Rob would never be late, of course.
Up until he caught the glint of light that signified Denny and Michael’s successful return, he’d been holding onto a patch of worry for hours now.
Because even as a Trackmaster, he’d only spent minutes in the Soundscape. And even from the small amount of time, he’d quickly gleaned that it was a hotbed of musical chaos and danger.
No matter how good of Music Masters his nephew and Denny were, there was always that chance.
There had always been that chance that they wouldn’t come back at all.
So when he spotted Michael’s afro come into view, he was beyond elated.
Of course, things could still surprise him.
Seeing his nephew and what appeared to be his new girlfriend locking lips like no tomorrow was certainly not on the top of his list of things to see.
When the lights faded away, and Michael and Denny were safely situated on the roof again, Rob Prototype simply tipped his hat and sighed.
“Good thing Paul’s not awake to see that…”
Denny and Michael stopped kissing in an instant. It took them an additional two seconds to realize they were being watched, and Michael just about jumped out of his skin.
The boy’s face turned beet red as he struggled to form words together.
Meanwhile, Denny smiled like a baby chipmunk. “Yeah, sorry, but not sorry. He’s my boyfriend now.”
“Huh.” Rob said, unsurprising. “Good to know.”
He approached as Denny and Michael unfurled from one another. “And good to see you two safe and sound. Let’s see the stuff.”
Michael nodded, reaching into Denny’s knapsack and pulling out the strange receptacle Rob had given them so many hours ago.
“We got it. For sure we got it.” Michael declared, as Rob took the rolling liquid of the Discolight into his hands and inspected it.
In all his time as a Music Master, this was something he never expected to see with his own eyes, let alone hold in his hands.
But time was short. Rob nodded with satisfaction.
“Perfect. We’ll talk later. I’ll get this to Paul.”
With a simple motion, Rob tucked the container into his jacket. He gave Michael a proud glance, then strummed on his bass, vanishing in an instant under the golden power of Traveling Without Moving.
Michael looked back at Denny. They were alone again, just like that.
“What now?” Denny asked, as Michael pondered over it all.
“Now…” he said, a confident grin growing on his face.
“…now we make our awesome return.”
When Paul woke up, the first thing he felt was someone pouring molten metal on his stomach.
With a loud screech, he burst awake, grasping at the air as Talulah struggled to hold him down.
“Paul! PAUL!” she shouted, even as Rob ignored his violence and continued to pour the liquid which worked to repair all of the injury that had come so close to killing him.
“Lennon almighty, are you TRYING to kill me, mate?” Paul declared, as Rob finally finished and left Paul Mercury in a sweating, stammering state.
“Quite the opposite, actually.” Talulah said with a smirk, as Paul’s eyes went down towards his bare chest.
Just a few inches down, his once open stomach was as clean and as fresh as the day he was born. Not a scratch to be found.
No longer in pain, Paul’s hand moved to touch his skin, and remarkably, it was as smooth as ever. He gulped, working his fingers back and forth as he remembered what it was like to be alive and well again.
“How…how did you do it?” he asked, clearly unsure if he actually wanted an answer.
Rob nodded his head, then let out a surprising chuckle.
“It’s a long story. You sure you want to hear it now?”
Paul nodded without hesitation. As if right on cue, four hard knocks reverberated on the door nearby.
Talulah was there in an instant.
“Who is it?” she asked, only slightly apprehensive.
“It’s Kim. Is he up yet or what?”
Talulah’s eyes widened, and a sly smile drifted on her face when she looked back at Paul, and then decided to open the door.
“Yeah. You’re just in time, actually.”
The doorknob clicked, and as soon as there was enough give, Kim practically shoved the door open and waltzed right inside.
From the moment Paul Mercury saw the glimmer of toxicity in Kim’s eyes, he clenched his fingers atop his makeshift operating table.
Kim said nothing as she stepped up to him, scanning him down from his head until she stopped on the clean surface of his stomach.
Paul gulped audibly. He felt oddly uncomfortable all of sudden.
“He’s okay now?” Kim asked, as Talulah nodded in response.
Then she narrowed her eyes.
Without any warning, Kim’s hand shot out and grabbed Paul by the end of the goatee. With a sharp tug, she pulled down hard, until they were locked eye to eye.
“Don’t you EVER do something so STUPID, EVER again? You understand, Paul?”
Paul nodded quickly, silent and submissive as he held back against the pain of nearly having his facial hair torn out.
But even as Kim finished her anger-laced sentence, Paul could see the tears that welled up in the corner of her eyes. She murmured quietly, her grip weakening as her anger faded away at light speed.
“Hey.” he said, voice soft and comforting. “I’m alright. I get by.”
He went in for a hug, which Kim accepted, without a shred of rage or resistance.
With that, Paul smiled, his words aglow with the timbre of new life.
“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
“Soundscape, huh? Who would have thought…”
Ollie pondered to himself in his chair, thoughts of this new musical realm and Michael and Denny’s story sifting through his mind.
Gathered in the cramped space of the Pop 5’s modest hotel room, the assembled Pop 5, minus Nathan, along with Kim, Michael, Rob and Talulah gathered.
It had taken Michael a good half-hour to relate the story of the journey in and out of the Soundscape, making sure to over-blow details whenever possible.
It was hard to not see how lit up with happiness was. Between his unending grin and constant exaggerated gestures, and the way he glanced at Denny every now and then, even a blind man wouldn’t miss it.
Only when he finally got to the end of the story, did the more serious questions begin pouring in.
“So you’re sure Lex is gone?” Lily asked, disbelief clear in her eyes.
Michael nodded, slowly but confidently. “I’m sure. You guys don’t have to worry about him anymore. That’s a promise.”
“More than a bit of relief, I say.” Paul remarked, though he put a finger on his chin, still unsure. “To think there’s stuff out there stronger than song effects. It’s wild.”
Rob tipped his hat and leaned forward in chair. “You kids don’t know the half of it. Anyway, it sounds like Michael and Denny are exhausted. It’s been a trip. We all deserve some rest. Tomorrow’s another day.”
Michael put his hand up, holding back a nervous gulp.
This was long since coming.
“Uh, wait a sec. I got one more thing to say.”
He turned his eyes to Denny on the chair nearby. She smiled and stood up as he continued.
“Well, more like, we have one more thing to say.”
There was no hesitation as Denny took Michael’s hand, and they stood side by side.
They practically radiated love as Denny spoke first.
“This the last part of the story. And the most awesome part.”
Michael grinned. “Yeah. For sure.”
Michael’s thoughts drifted towards happiness.
What was left to think about, really?
Threats were far and few between. He had DanceDown to fall back on. They’d taught and given him so much. Michael could trust them with his life.
And now, he had Denny.
The only thing that could make all this perfect was Calvin and Aeris. To realize they were missing made him sad, if only for a moment.
Yet even in his extreme elation, Michael was still reasonable.
All good things with time.
He glanced at Denny, moments before she opened her mouth and uttered the word “boyfriend” to everyone else for the first time.
He could be content for now. He could be happy.
Falling down to the dance floor, and loving together, with her.