ACT IV: CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

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A/N: It's showtime.


It didn't matter how many times I performed onstage, I was nervous before every single show. We all were, but we each dealt with it in different ways. Everyone had their own pre-show ritual.

Zayn sat cross-legged on the floor reading.

Eleanor watched TV and ate candy.

Gigi blared power ballads and bounced around her dressing room like a boxer.

I'd never performed professionally with Harry before. I had no idea what his pre-show ritual was. I was curious.

I played videogames. But first I got in full costume. I wanted to acclimate to the fabric before going out on stage. For the first act I wore white tights and a violet tunic with a crepe-chiffon inset and puffed sleeves. It was embroidered with Swarovski crystals and gold piping that made me sparkle under the stagelight.

Harry wasn't in costume yet. He was in plain black tights, pacing the corridor, ordering around the stage crew and terrorizing the corps dancers.

He stopped dead in his tracks at my door. I was leaning back in my chair with one leg up on the vanity, my hand resting on my thigh. His eyes flashed with interest. "Louis, you look so... Princely."

Uh oh. I knew where this was going.

Harry slammed the door behind him. I stood. He picked me up by my waist and threw me against the wall.

"Gently, Harry! I'm not a toy!"

He pinned my wrists above my head, his wide eyes pouring over my body. He kissed me.

Well, I figured out what his pre-show ritual was.

His kisses softened. He hooked my arms around his neck and nuzzled my cheek affectionately. "You're pretty."

I blushed. Harry could be so sweet when he wanted to be.

He pawed at my tights. "Turn around."

"I won't be able to perform!"

"I'll be gentle, I promise," he said innocently.

I arched an eyebrow. "No, you won't."

We both laughed.

He fondled the tunic's gold piping. "Maybe you can bring your costume home tonight?"

"Absolutely not. You'll wreck it," I said haughtily, and straightened myself out in the mirror. He was as much of a menace in the bedroom as he was at work. He'd rip it to shreds! "Why aren't you in costume yet? I want to see your wings."

Harry designed his own costume, naturally. In every production of Swan Lake that I had ever seen, Von Rothbart's wings were made of gauzy fabric—light and easy to move in. Harry insisted that his wings be made of real feathers. The costume designer strongly advised against it. She said they would be far too heavy. But no one said no to Harry. It took three seamstresses to stitch the black raven's feathers into two human-sized wings. They weren't finished by dress rehearsal, so I hadn't seen them yet. Nobody had. Only Harry, who had practiced a few times with them privately.

"We're not on for forty minutes," he said watching the clock. "I still have time..."

I knew what this was about. He didn't want these moments to go by too quickly. Every part of preparing for the show would be his last. The last time he had to get into makeup and costume, the last time he would hear the stage manager say "dancers take your places," the last time he would feel the spotlight warm his skin as he stepped on stage.

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