ACT III: CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

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A/N: This is probably my favorite chapter in Act III. It's the calm before the storm...

Warning: sexual content (I know, I know.)


I jogged down the winding corridor to find Harry. I passed the bulletin board and studio A where I noticed a bunch of corps dancers flexing their beaten ankles and filling up their water bottles. I stopped to say hi. I had always been friendly with them in the past. I went to school with some and others had been coming to my annual holiday party for years.

They turned their backs on me.

When I returned to studio B to find Harry, Zayn was standing there in his place, practicing his foucettes. His lithe frame allowed him to pick up and drop his foot with speed as he did turn after turn after turn.

"Where's Harry?"

Zayn's flipped his inky mane to one side. He turned off the stereo and picked up a towel hanging on the barre. "I should have known you weren't here to see me."

Harry's stuff was gone and all that lay in the corner was Zayn's gym bag.

The air was thick with sweat, Harry's and Zayn's.

"I'm sorry."

"Tell it to someone who cares. Maybe Gigi or Maurice or Liam or everyone else Harry screwed over with your help."

I swallowed. I wasn't ready to deal with the aftermath of the intervention and what it meant to the company. Selfishly, I didn't want to deal with it. All I wanted was Harry. I was living in a bubble impervious to the world around me.

"I can't believe you let him manipulate you," Zayn said, dragging his towel along the back of his neck to absorb beads of sweat.

"I know this sounds cliché but he's changed."

"No, he hasn't. You have."

"You're the one who told me to get over the past and be friends with him!"

"I told you to be cordial. You're his colleague not his slave!"

That's not what it felt like. It felt wonderful to be needed by Harry, to be useful to him. He was my heart. His wants were my wants.

"Harry is who he is," said Zayn, walking toward me, his muscles tense, "but you were our friend. You were supposed to be there for us."

"I'm sorry," I said quietly, unable to meet his gaze. I glanced at myself in the mirror. Maybe Zayn was right. I had changed. It was impossible that I was the same person I was after my night with Harry.

I headed for the door. Zayn stopped me. "He's in his dressing room."

"Thanks." I pressed my lips into a conciliatory smile.

He rolled up his joggers and turned on the stereo again. The syrupy sound of the cello spilled from the studio's speakers and filled the room. I almost couldn't hear Zayn when he spoke again. "Don't come crawling back to us when he hurts you. He will hurt you, Louis."

I left.

Harry's dressing room was right next to mine. I went into mine first and set down my bag next to the door. The place was a mess—makeup spread out and caked on the vanity, old slippers and ripped tights, rolls of medical tape, cotton and gauze.

I had to be careful. This was my life. Zayn, Gigi, Eleanor, Liam and Niall had all been there for me. Harry could leave the company tomorrow. Who was I without my friends, the people who I loved, who loved me? How much was I willing to risk on the chance that Harry might love me one day? The answer was startlingly simple: I would risk everything.

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