Davy furiously blinked back his tears as Mr. Zero taunted them.
"We're not about to give up on Mike that easily!" he yelled. "You should know that by now!"
"And you should know when to quit!" the Prince of Darkness countered. "You have no means by which to get the plant to free him this time! And it's only a matter of time before the plant drains away all of his life energy."
"Then we'll find the means to stop it before it does," Micky vowed. He was trying to use his teeth to tear into one of the tendrils; this accomplished nothing, save for him getting a small cut on the lip from one of the thorns. He bit back a curse, still trying to rip them with his bare hands. But the plant, having grown, had thicker, stronger vines than it had the other night, and Micky wasn't making any headway, not even when Peter and Davy both tried to lend their strength, as well.
"Of course… there is one way to get him free before his time runs out," Mr. Zero said, idly, as three contracts appeared in his hands again.
"Don't even think about it," Mike hissed, struggling against the vines just to breathe. "Please… Guys, don't…"
"We won't," Peter promised him. "You got us free from the Mendozium without signing anything; we can get you out of here, too."
There was another cracking sound coming from the slab, which caused all four of them to look in that direction. The two cracks had grown in width even more, each of the four pieces starting to tremble independently of the others, as though there was very little holding the slab together.
"Well, this doesn't look good for you, does it?" Zero mused. "Not only are you about to lose your leader, you're about to lose the one chance you have at unlocking your memories. And once the stone breaks, Malevolent can finally dispose of those pests."
He glared in the direction of the animals as Malevolent continued to force the back from the Monkees.
"What did they ever do to you?" Peter asked, baffled. "Come to think of it, what did we ever do to you?"
"The details of what you did are of no importance," Zero said. "This is all to prove that no mortal can get away with undermining my power. As for them… Well, the slab is but the key that was to unlock your memories—and it also protects those animals from harm. They are the vessels that hold your memories—and believe me, if that had been under my control, I would not have let your memories be at an arm's length from you!"
"So all those flashes of memories we were having…" Davy realized. "That was them, trying to help us!"
"And that's also why Rue stopped me from signing your contract back at Rosebud Lane!" Micky gasped. "He was remembering for me!"
"They all were…" Mike said, recalling how Diamond Jim had reacted angrily towards Zero from the start. "Why didn't I listen to that chicken when he said not to accept this stupid plant—GAH!"
The plant tightened its hold on him, and the others responded by pulling back on the vines around Mike's chest, easing the pressure off of him just enough so that he could still manage to breathe.
"Now, now, Michael; one shouldn't insult the creature that holds your fate in its hands… or tendrils, as the case may be," Zero taunted. "It doesn't matter that you know the truth now; soon, you, Michael, will be off to the next world, and Malevolent will write an end to your animal friends—and your memories—in one fell swoop."
Mike cringed in between his gulps for air.
"Guys…" he gasped. "Guys, you need to put the medallions in the slab right now. And take mine, too."
"But if we leave you… the plant will get tighter!" Peter worried.
"Yeah, he's right!" Micky added. "If we even move…"
"I know…" Mike said. "But we made a vow that we'd see this until the end. And I want my memories back before…"
"No!" Davy cried, seizing Mike's hand again with his free hand while continuing to tug on the vines with the other. "That's not what we said, Mike; we vowed that all four of us would see this through to the end! And it's not the end! Even if the slab breaks—even if there's no way to get our memories back after that—it's still not the end if all four of us are together! And we don't want it any other way."
"That's right!" Micky exclaimed. "We made it this far because we found each other again!"
"And besides that," Peter added, as he and Micky took Mike's other hand with their free hands. "When it comes down to it, you're more important than our memories."
Mike looked up at his friends, moved.
"Don't you want to remember how it's supposed to be?"
"Of course we do!" Micky said. "That's why we headed on this noble quest of ours in the first place!"
"But even if we don't remember, we still know how it's supposed to be," Peter said. "It's supposed to be the four of us together, like Davy said."
"I'm glad you think so," Mr. Zero droned. "Because it seems as though you just lost your chance to get your memories back."
There was a final, loud crack, and the slab fell apart into four pieces. The Monkees cringed as the four pieces fell, skidding across the floor as they were pushed around by the animals, scrambling to get out of Malevolent's way. The beast was now going for the kill, and the other animals seemed to take on the preferred combat method of the young men whose memories they carried—a tactical retreat.
Zero was not concerned with them, however; he focused his attention on Mike, who was getting noticeably weaker.
"The plant seems to be getting a lot of nourishment from you, Michael," he said. "You must have quite a fighting spirit. It loves that."
Mike gritted his teeth.
"Don't you listen to him!" Peter ordered.
"That's right; you just keep staying with us, and we'll take care of the rest… somehow," Micky promised.
But Mike couldn't be consoled. Once again, he had failed his best friends, and it tore him up to confess that to himself.
"Guys, I'm… I'm sorry… We were so close to getting our memories back, and now, because of me…"
"Don't say that," Davy pleaded, blinking back tears, both out of empathy for Mike and because of the knowledge that they might very well be losing him. "We chose you over our memories—because we know that with you, we can make more memories. And we can be happy, too. But we can't be happy without you, Mike. I… I think that's why we snapped out of the serum, even though we weren't supposed to. You were willing to make such a sacrifice for us because you love us. And we love you too much to let you go through with it—or to let this plant finish you just because of us having a chance to get our memories back."
Mike stared straight at Davy; something the boy said seemed to resonate in the air, and Micky and Peter must have felt it, too, because they both looked to Davy, as well.
Diamond Jim suddenly let out a call—not an alarm call, but a regular call. The other animals responded to the call, and all four Monkees gasped as they, simultaneously, received a flash of memory—they were in a somber-looking courtroom, with Mr. Zero standing there, and Mike staring him down while making a brave declaration:
"…Because, Baby, in the final analysis, Love is power. That's where the power's at!"
They looked at each other, not even having to ask whether they all saw and heard the same thing, for they knew they had.
"That's it," Peter realized. "That's how we found each other, even with the odds all against us—our hearts just led us to each other naturally."
"Zero could lock away our memories, but not our love for each other," Davy said. "…And that must be the power that the medallions mentioned. It's like Peter said; we got this far because we cared about each other—not because of dumb luck or coincidences."
"Then it's also how we're going to get out of this!" Micky declared. "Ya hear that, Mike? We're getting you out of this!"
And Mike, who had been ready accept his fate at the tendrils of the plant, now nodded as much as the plant would allow, his resolved strengthened.
"Love?" Zero scoffed. "You think that is what got you this far? Fine, see what your love can do for you! The slab is broken, Malevolent is slowly but surely wearing your animal friends down, and Michael's time is almost up! Go on, just try to use your Power of Love to get you out of this!"
"We will!" Davy yelled. "We just have to think of something!"
"…And I think I've got it," Mike said. "Mick, you were saying something about the cracks giving the slab character. The slab would still work if it was all in one piece, cracks or not, right?"
"But it's not in one piece," Micky said. "It's broken."
"Right—into four equal pieces. One for each of us," the Texan said, now shaking off the weariness he was feeling. He lowered his voice so as not to let Zero overhear. "What would happen if we brought the four pieces together, like a puzzle?"
They exchanged glances with each other.
"It might work…" Davy said. "At least, I hope it will."
"You keep holding onto those vines," Micky instructed. "I'll get the pieces."
Micky retrieved the four pieces of the slab, pushing them across the floor towards them one at a time—and everyone took note that it took both hands to push the pieces. Davy and Peter held onto the vines as they placed their medallions into their pieces of the stone. Micky followed suit, and then he and Davy pushed Mike's piece of the slab towards him to allow him to place his medallion onto it.
Mr. Zero was now laughing at them; he, clearly, was confident that this wasn't going to work. The quartet ignored him, staring in apprehension at the pieces in front of them. Nothing seemed to be happening—not even so much a sign that they had put the medallions in the right way.
The Texan cleared his throat.
"Okay, so there's one thing we need to do, and that's to put them together," he said.
"But we need two hands to push each piece," Peter said. "And if we let go of the vines to push the pieces, then that would mean—"
"That would mean that you have to move fast," Mike said. "I'll be okay. I promise; I'll hold on long enough to do this."
"But what if it doesn't work?" Davy asked. "How will we get the vines off of you then?"
Mike didn't reply.
"I'll answer that," Zero said. "You won't! You'll only bring the end to him that much sooner! Though, I suppose that in his current situation, you'll be putting him out of his misery at last."
"Don't you listen to him. We just have to believe," Mike said. "It's the only chance we've got left; we have to go for it." He sighed. "Okay. When I give the word, I want y'all to let go of the vines and use both of your hands to push the pieces together—like this." He demonstrated, placing his outstretched hands on his piece of slab. "I'm not able to move at all, so you're going to have to bring them to me—line them up with my piece. And then hope that this works. Got it?"
They nodded, nervously. They wanted to believe, but a part of them was too worried that Mr. Zero was right, and that the slab was useless—in which case, it really would be time to say goodbye to Mike, for good.
He turned his head as Rue let out a frightened trumpet; Malevolent had succeeded in cornering the other animals. There was no way out for them; they would have to somehow fight this tireless beast, despite however exhausted they were.
"Now, Guys!" Mike ordered. "Let's go! One, two, three!"
On "three," Davy and Peter let go of the vines—a task that was almost impossible for them to do. And, sure enough, as they placed their hands on their pieces of the slab, the vines tightened and further constricted around Mike, concealing his head and body from view as they formed a small cocoon of vines around him, leaving only his outstretched hands visible. Pure adrenaline helped power the other Monkees into putting the four pieces together, re-forming the slab.
Mr. Zero laughed louder as Micky and Peter both let out horrified gasps and as an agonized Davy felt a cry of despair welling up in his throat.
But Diamond Jim now perched beside Mike, spreading his wings and trilling. And Mr. Zero stopped laughing as Saph now stood next to Davy, rearing back on his hind legs and whinnying. Emerald stood by Peter and howled, and Rue lumbered to Micky's side and let out a mighty trumpet.
A white glow bathed the four animals, causing Malevolent, who had been ready to launch into the final coup de grace to finish them off, to back off. Then, the slab was glowing with the same white light.
Davy gasped, clutching at his head as images and sounds spun around and around in his mind—seeing himself as a young 14-year-old in a bus depot, meeting Mike for the first time… learning to live as roommates, though they had never intended for it to happen… forming a two-man act with him until Micky and Peter came along… and the four of them, together, playing their music… running into spies and monsters and all sorts of foes along the way, but always pulling through because they had each other…
Micky and Peter were clutching at their heads, too, clearly experiencing the same thing. And even Mike's hands—the only parts of him he could still move—went rigid for a moment before desperately trying to reach out to the cherished friends he loved so much—and now, apparently, remembered.
Davy was the first to seize one of Mike's hands as the light grew brighter and brighter. And as Micky and Peter seized Mike's other hand, Mr. Zero let out a roar of rage.
"NO!" the Prince of Darkness bellowed.
Davy saw Zero grab for Mike as the light grew too bright for him to see anymore, and he felt the sensation of someone trying to pull Mike away from them.
"I will not let you win!" Zero bellowed. "I will take him—I will!"
"Not while we're here!" Davy yelled back, once again hardly able to hear the sound of his own voice. He tightened his grip on Mike's hand, determined that, this time, he would not let go.
The last sound Davy heard before he lost all awareness was a furious shriek from Zero:
"This isn't over!"
The words sent a chill down the young Englishman's spine as he blacked out from the intensity of the light.
The ocean breeze, the calls of the seagulls, and the soothing crashing of the waves were the next things that Davy was aware of. How long had he been out? And what had happened to…?
His thoughts trailed off as his eyes snapped open. They were back on the beach, right near the shoreline, just a few yards from the shabby white beachhouse. The sun was low in the sky, slowly sinking into the horizon beyond the water, but that was the last thing on the young Englishman's mind now.
"Mike?!" he called. "Micky?! Peter?!"
He heard a groan from a few yards from him.
"Oh, man…" Micky's voice said. "Davy?! Pete?! Mike?!"
"Over here!" Peter's voice answered, a few yards from Davy in the other direction. "Are you guys okay?!"
Davy sat up, and was now aware of two things—first that, once again, Mike's voice was conspicuously absent, and secondly that Davy felt his hand still grasping another.
Davy turned his head and looked down—and now released the agonized cry he had been holding back. The cocoon of thorn-covered vines was right next to him; Mike's hands were still sticking out from them with Davy still holding onto one of them—but the Texan's skin was alarmingly pale.
Micky and Peter were at his side in an instant, also frantically calling out to Mike as they tugged on the vines. But it was to no avail—the vines were still writhing; somehow, the cuttings of the plant were as alive as the main plant.
"I've got it!" Micky suddenly exclaimed. "The water—get him to the water!"
Davy and Peter didn't stop to ask questions; they did as Micky suggested, carrying the vine-covered Mike to the water's edge. Micky now splashed the ocean water all over the vines. And, sure enough, the vines pulled away, releasing Mike as they fell to the sandy ground. The others frantically called to Mike, but he continued to lie motionless on the sand, unresponsive to their cries.
"This isn't happening…" Peter whispered, horrified. "This is not happening…"
"Come on, Mike! Wake up!" Micky pleaded.
Davy was momentarily stunned upon seeing Mike's condition. At last, his voice returned to him, and he seized Mike's shoulders.
"This wasn't supposed to be the end!" Davy cried. "You were supposed to be okay! We were supposed to save you!" His voice broke. "…We were supposed to stay together…" He continued to stare at the pale face as Peter rubbed Mike's wrist and as Micky tried to splash the ocean water on the Texan's face to try to revive him.
And then something snapped; Davy's resolve was too great. They could not—would not—lose Mike now!
His grip on Mike's shoulders tightened for a moment before gently tilting Mike's head back and forcing a breath of air into his lungs.
And, at last, the Texan's chest suddenly heaved, and he started gasping to breathe on his own again.
"Mike!" Peter exclaimed.
"Give him some air!" Micky instructed. "Back off just a bit!"
The three gently did back away, allowing him to catch his breath. But they held onto Mike's hands, letting him know that they were all still right there.
At last, the Texan looked up at them, and the others moved forward once again. Mike looked from one face to the next, and he managed a wan smile.
"I told you I'd hold on," he said. "I just… needed a bit of help. Thanks."
Davy smiled through the tears he had let slip from his eyes and he bent down to draw the Texan into a hug. Micky and Peter joined in, and Mike weakly hugged them all back, trying not to let on how overwhelmed he was.
"How in the world did you get that plant to let me go?" he asked, after some time.
"It was Micky's idea," Davy said.
"It was nothing, really," Micky said. "I remembered that most plants hate salt water—the salt pulls their water supply right out of their cells, and they just shrivel up." He gave a smile as the others gave him a look. "Read it in one of my science books back up in the Pad," he added, jerking his head towards the beachhouse.
"The Pad…" Peter repeated.
All four of them stared at the beachhouse again. The back door was still open from when Dr. Mendoza had chased them out earlier that day.
"…Home," Davy whispered, hardly daring to believe it. "We're home. I… I remember now. This is home, and the four of us are…"
"…The Monkees," Mike finished for him.
They exchanged glances, joy lighting up each of their faces.
"We've got our memories back!" Micky exclaimed.
They hadn't been sure after all of those simultaneous flashes of memories when everything had started glowing, and their concern for Mike had temporarily rendered the return of their memories unimportant. But now it was clear that they were back—they had done what they had set out to do.
A low trumpeting got their attention now. Rue was lumbering up the beach with Saph, Emerald, and Diamond Jim in tow. The four animals looked to the four young men.
"Well," Micky said, petting Rue on the truck as they got close enough. "I guess it was lucky for me that an elephant never forgets."
"A Texas prairie chicken isn't too rusty with the old birdbrain, either," Mike said, as Diamond Jim let out a warble in response.
Davy gently stroked Saph's forehead as the horse lowered his head to greet him.
"I still don't quite know where they came from," Davy said. "I'd hate to think that Zero was the one who created them…"
"He wasn't," Peter said, with utmost certainty as he gave Emerald a scratch behind the ears. "We were. Well, sort of. They were always a part of us, I think. That's probably why they're here now—to rejoin us."
Peter seemed to be right—as the minutes passed, the animals grew more and more transparent until, finally, with one last call, each phased into their respective Monkee.
"…And we'll probably see them again the next time we need them," Peter finished
"Next time? But… it's over, isn't it?" Micky asked, concerned. "We won, didn't we?"
"We won the battle," Mike said. "But seeing as though that's twice we've shown Zero up, he's going to be plenty mad. He'll be back when he cooks up some other dastardly scheme. But we'll be okay, though."
"…Because we've got each other?" Davy asked, softly.
"Exactly," the Texan said. He now looked back up at the beachhouse as the others helped him sit up. "Guys... Let's go home."
The words touched their hearts like never before.
Mike was still very weak; it was clear that it was going to take a few days to fully recover from his second encounter with the plant, but the others gladly helped him across the sand and up the back stairs.
When they entered the alcove of the Pad, however, they stopped in surprise to see Mr. Babbitt frantically pacing their living room.
"Where have you four been?!" he exclaimed. "I just realized that you four were missing for I don't even know how long—and then you turned up here this morning like you didn't even know me!"
"…And you were worried about us enough to stay here and wait for us?" Peter inquired.
Babbitt froze for a moment, realizing that he had just made that too obvious.
"Of course not!" he bluffed. "You four owe me all that back rent—I'm not about to let you skip out on me!" He hesitated, seeing Mike's condition. "…You've got two more weeks to come up with it."
He decided to leave before he betrayed just how worried he had been.
"Never mind him," Davy said, as they gently laid Mike down on the backless couch. "You just rest here; we'll get you something to eat. You need to regain your strength."
"If this place is just like we left it, then there wasn't any food," Mike reminded him.
Micky's shoulders slumped as he opened the empty refrigerator.
"And our emergency money is depleted—just like we left it," he sighed, glancing at the empty jar where they usually threw in whatever spare cash they'd have on hand. "We're back to empty wallets and empty stomachs once again."
"I'd rather have them over an empty heart anyday," Peter declared. "And right now, mine's about as full as it can get."
"I hear ya, Shotgun," Mike said, smiling. Yes, starvation was nothing new to them—and it didn't matter so much as long as they had each other.
A knock on the door stopped the conversation from going any further. Davy now got up from beside Mike and looked through the peephole—or tried to, at any rate; he still wasn't quite tall enough. He shrugged it off and opened the door—and stared in surprise to see none other than the majordomo of Hagglethorn Hall standing there.
"Creech!" he exclaimed.
"I trust you and your friends are well, Master David?"
Davy just grinned.
"I thought I told you—just 'David' will do. And yes, we are—or we will be soon enough."
"Habits die hard—even if they aren't old," Creech explained. "And even if you aren't the Earl—and it looks as though you won't be for quite a while yet."
"…You mean, Uncle Sedgwick—?"
"He awakened from his comatose state just less than an hour ago," Creech said. "What's more, the blotted-out records cleared up around the same time; they listed your address as here, so I came here with the intent to inform you that you no longer need to worry about Master Sedgwick; he is doing quite well."
Davy let out a sigh of relief, and Peter walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"See? I told you he'd be okay," the blond said.
"However, I'm afraid that I must also be the bearer of some bad news," Creech added, before Davy could reply. "It seems that the other young man—Baby Face Morales, I believe he's called—also came out of his comatose state and promptly escaped from the sentry in his room. He is still at large."
"You can let him go," Davy said, shaking his head. "I don't think I'll be pressing charges against him—not when he speeded up getting the four of us back together again. In a way, I kind of owe him something."
"Not to mention how he told me where to find the slab," Mike added. "Yeah, I'm with Davy on this. Let him go."
"You've gotta admit, he is a good-looking guy; he's got that going for him…" Micky cracked, prompting Peter to chuckle.
"As you wish," Creech said. "And I still stand by what I said—Hagglethorn Hall will always be open to you and your friends." He turned to go, but then paused as a thought struck him. "…The records told me something else, in addition to your address. They said that you are in a band."
"That's right," Davy said.
"Then I must request that you and your friends perform at the Hagglethorn Charity Festival in a few weeks. It seems only proper that the Earl's nephew and heir make his return to the Hall as he truly was meant to—as the person he truly is, with his companions by his side."
Davy glanced to the others, silently asking if they liked the idea. Peter certainly did, if the grin on his face was any indication. Micky had perked up, as well, and Mike gave a nod of assent.
"That would be great, Creech," Davy said, looking back to him. "We'll take you up on it."
"I was hoping you would," Creech said, taking an envelope out of his pocket and handing it to Davy. "You will find here half of the money as an advanced payment for your agreeing to play for the festival."
"Oh, Creech, we couldn't possibly—"
"We'll take it!" Micky said, dashing across the room and taking the envelope from Creech before Davy could finish turning down the money. "Thanks!"
Creech gave a bow.
"It is our honor to be able to host you," he said. "I will keep in touch about the venue and the time."
He took his leave of them and left, leaving Micky to gleefully count the money as Davy shook his head in amused disbelief.
"And this is only half of what we're getting for this gig?" he asked, a grin plastered on his face. "Man, we can give Babbitt the back rent and keep ourselves fed on this for the next couple of weeks! We're eating well tonight—Pete, call for a pizza!"
"You got it!" the blond exclaimed, heading for the phone.
"…That's eating well?" Mike deadpanned.
"Well, it's the best we can get without going out the door," Micky pointed out. "I figured that after what we just went through, well…"
"I know what you mean," Davy said, crossing back across the room to sit next to Mike again. "Mike needs his rest, and even if he was fine, I wouldn't want to step out so soon now that we're finally home."
"And now we don't have to," Peter said, hanging up the phone. "It'll be here in 30 minutes—and if it isn't, it's free."
He and Micky now joined Davy beside their leader. Mike, in turn, looked to each of them once again, his mind recalling his precious memories and cherishing each one.
"You know… I can't believe there was actually a time when I would've preferred living here on my own," he said
"And, yet, you took me in," Davy said, quietly. "When you didn't even want to."
"Yeah, well… common sense told me that I was just asking for trouble if I did take you in," Mike admitted. "For what it's worth, though, I'm glad I didn't listen to my better judgment. Maybe we have gotten into trouble along the way. But I don't regret it." He looked to Micky and Peter. "And I don't regret convincing you two to move in, either." He hesitated, looking at the wounds the plant had given him; he began to fully grasp just how close to the end he had come, first from nearly signing the contract, and then the whole fiasco with the plant. But then he let out a determined sigh.
"I don't regret a thing," he promised, closing his eyes in order to rest.
"Neither do we," he heard Davy say.
They sat in silence again for some time, Mike drawing the strength he needed from the others' presence. After a while, though, the silence was broken by Peter softly singing "Papa Gene's Blues." Micky and Davy soon joined in, and even Mike, though he took a moment to listen to his three compatriots singing his own song to him, managed to find the strength to softly sing along, too.
It was all so fitting. They no longer had any heartaches or loneliness. And though they had nothing more than what they had before Zero had tried so hard to tear them apart, they had what they needed:
They had their love—the love that was shared by four musicians who couldn't have been more different from each other, and yet had managed to come together into a crazy, mixed-up family—not once, but twice, and with the odds against them all the while.
And as they sang, they knew that it would be that love and care they had for each other that would carry them onward through whatever it was that lay in that uncertain road into the future.
Notes: phew, and we are at the end! …Except not! This fic has been such an incredible ride, I decided that there will be not one, but two sequels to make up what will eventually be known as the Zero Trilogy. I expect part II to get started around the end of this year, or at the start of the next (the sequels are going to be Doctor Who-inspired, and I want to make sure I've prepped myself by seeing enough DW before I begin, plus, writing angstfics takes a lot out of me, so I'll need a bit of a breather); until then, I will be starting a more lighthearted adventure fic for our musical heroes, and I hope my readers will find it enjoyable. A huge thanks to everyone who supported this.