Actions

Work Header

Counterbalance

Chapter Text

Artwork by pasmwa: reflected in a dance studio mirror, Louis' in awe as Harry finishes his dance.


* * *


A prickle of fear runs through Harry’s body. His primal brain knows, before he’s fully aware, that he shouldn’t be flying through the air.

He fights the instinct to tense.

His calf throbs in a heart-clenching fit of agony. And then time slows painfully as he hits the asphalt. His right forearm, hip, and thigh absorb most of the collision. Another jolt. He’s on his back, still sliding, as motorcycles roar past him. Instinct tells him to curl into a ball, to protect what he can. His racing brain’s already piecing together what happened, where his bike is, if there’s any chance to keep racing.

A jumble of blue and green catches his eye as the two bikes slide and bounce off the track.

Tommo.

Of course it was fucking Tommo.

It was Tommo’s bright blue bumper that had tapped Harry’s bike, knocking him off balance.

Harry allows himself a fraction of a moment of rest. Staring through his helmet’s visor, up at the grey clouds that threaten to let loose at any minute, he takes stock. Head’s fine. He can see, hear. He tilts his head, flexes his fingers, takes a deep breath. Wiggles his toes. Bends his knees. Sits up. His legs splay out in front of him. He watches as the last of the racers turn the bend and disappear. He looks to his right, starts to stand, then to the left.

His bike, mostly covered by Tommo’s, lays in the gravel trap. Tommo—Louis Tomlinson—is already running through the grass towards the pile. By the time Harry’s on his feet, the race marshals have congregated. Harry needs to get there immediately to see if his bike stalled.

Harry runs.

If Tommo’s bike has stalled, the race might not be over. The season could still be off to a good start.

Tommo yanks his bike off of Harry’s, pushing it into a clear patch of grass. Harry’s heart thuds in his ears. Tommo’s still pushing his bike, trying to get it up to speed as Harry runs. The marshals yell indecipherable nonsense as the yellow flag waves and at least one medic motions for Harry to leave the crash zone.

Harry ignores them.

His hands shake. He’s desperate to get back on track.

He can get a clean start. He can still finish.

He’s seven steps away from his bike. Please. Six. He pushes his legs harder. Please. Five. His shoulder screams as he pumps his arms. Please. Four. The marshal’s hands are on the handlebars, voices shout at him. Please. Please.

He slumps in defeat. His bike has stalled.

The only consolation is Tommo standing off in the distance with his head angled to the sky and his hands rest on his hips; he must not have been able to get his started again either.

Harry trips on nothing, crashes to the ground, and then stands back up. He’ll meet his bike back at the garage. He turns and walks away.

“Fuck.” He kicks the gravel, rocks scatter in front of him. “Motherfucking fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”

Halfway through the first race of the season and he’s out.

* * *

Back in the paddock, once the adrenaline wears off and the shakes set in, Harry’s entire body hurts. It’s not the ache of a good workout or a well-fought race, but the acknowledgment that his body went through what most people would call a serious trauma. Harry calls it another day on the race track. Sitting on a squeaky gurney in the medic’s office, he swings his legs back and forth and waits for the all-clear.

He hates this part. He knows his body, knows that he’ll be fine with a long soak and plenty of stretching.

The medic looks at him appraisingly one last time. “You’ll be sure to report back if any of the concussion symptoms appear, right?”

Harry nods. He knows the drill. He doesn’t have a concussion. What he does have is a bone to pick with Tommo. An irate father to deal with. A DNF on the first race of the year. He picks at the flaking black polish on his nails.

With a pat on his shoulder, the medic gives him the all-clear he’s been waiting for. Harry’s ankle twinges, which will be a total bitch if it doesn’t heal in a few days, but considering the worst case scenario of crashing his motorcycle at over 100 mph, he’ll take that small discomfort.

After entering more notes into his iPad, the medic clears out and Harry’s blissfully alone for first time all day. He stands up and closes his eyes. Breathes in. Opens them again. He focuses on the woodgrain of the door, at one particular whorl near eye-level. Taking a deep breath, he works through a series of stretches from his neck down to his toes. He allows himself a handful of extra seconds in the quiet room before he has to return to the madness.

On the other side of the door, the paddock’s alive. There are whoops of celebration from teams that did better than expected, and frustrated shouts from those who underperformed, and everyone’s talking about strategy. Regardless of the race standings, all the teams are packing up their gear in a perfectly choreographed whirl of activity. Now that the first race is out of the way, riders know what they’re up against and how the bikes felt. What they need to improve.

Harry’s dad had met him at the exam room, already mid strategizing session as he climbed off his golf cart and breezed past the medic. Harry did his best to tune him out; it’s not even worth protesting. Never has been. The prick didn’t even ask if Harry was okay. Being Des Styles’ son has a number of disadvantages, not least of which is that nearly everyone on the track does anything Des asks. Even the medic had hesitated before asking him to leave.

Harry’s not planning the next race yet. He’s still reliving the crash every time he closes his eyes. The jolt. The fall. The slide. The fear. He’ll need a pill before bed. He can’t risk throwing off his entire sleep schedule just because of a little crash.

There’s a loud knock at the door. Harry flinches. From the other side, Liam asks, “Harry? You in there?”

“Come on in, Payne.” Liam Payne, Harry’s crew chief slash best friend, is the only person Harry can stand after a loss, and is probably the only person who can stand Harry after a Did Not Finish.

“Payne? That bad, huh?”

Harry can’t even paste on fake smile. “Hey, Liam.”

They fist bump hello and Harry winces.

“You okay?” Liam asks, as if Harry’ll give him a straight answer.

“Sorry.” Liam’s the one who’ll have to clean up Harry’s mess of a bike even though he’s the one who crashed.

“Not your fault. He ran into you. You did exactly what you were supposed to do, and you came away uninjured. Not a win, but—”

“How’s the bike?” Harry asks. Liam can placate him after Harry learns the extent of the damage.

Liam sighs. “I don’t know why every time I expect there to be a different response. Let’s go look your baby and then you can tell me how you feel.”

Harry stands, rolls his ankle once Liam turns his back, and follows him out of the room. “It’s only been five years, Liam. Maybe next time I crash, you’ll remember.”

Liam stops in the hallway and looks at Harry with that earnest look he’s perfected. “No matter how many times you crash, I’m going to be more worried about you than the bike. I can always fix the bike.” Harry swallows thickly. It’s been an emotional day.

“That’s why I keep you around.” Harry gently rams his shoulder into Liam’s body. It’s bone jarring, but he bites his lip to keep from swearing.

The damage to the bike isn’t as bad as Harry suspected. Some dirt got lodged in the gear level and they’ll need to replace the front fairing, plus some cosmetic body work to clean the scratches and dents too. He’ll be back on the bike the next day.

“Now, I expect the truth.” Liam raises his eyebrows. “How’re you feeling?”

“I’m fine. Leathers did their job.” He’ll have to get those looked at before next weeked. “Pissed about the race. It’s a good thing I haven’t seen Tommo around. But physically, I’m fine.”

Emotionally, he’s bruised, not that he’d tell Liam that. It doesn’t look like Liam believes him anyway, but Harry doubts he’d even believe the full medical report, so he lets it drop.

“Want to come over for dinner tonight?” Liam asks. “I could make—”

“Harry!”

Harry winces at the deep voice shouting from across the garage. Liam rolls his eyes and grabs the nearest wrench, turning away so he can pretend to work on the bike. Harry doesn’t blame him.

“What took you so long?” Des grips hard on the back of Harry’s neck, apparently unconcerned that he could’ve snapped it during the race, or that he might be in some real, actual pain, after both falling off a moving vehicle and then skidding across the track.

“Gotta ask the medics.” Harry smiles thinly, as he ducks out from under his dad’s grasp. “There are some things they won’t bend the rules about—even for you—and concussion checks are apparently at the top of the list.”

Des harrumphs. “Well, now that you’ve passed the health check, it’s time to get serious.” Harry didn’t actually tell him he passed, so he knows he’d be getting the lecture whether or not he was healthy enough to hear it. “I thought this was going to be the season—”

“It’s the first race,” Harry hisses. “No one is out of the running yet.”

“—that you finally come out on top. I was looking forward to a good, old-fashioned ass whooping.” His eyes drill into Harry’s. Harry refuses to look away first.

“He literally crashed into me.”

“Excuses.” Out of the corner of his eye, Harry sees Liam puts down the wrench. “It’s always excuses with you.”

It’s not an excuse. He was in the lead when Tommo took him out.

“Maybe this will convince you that it’s time to give up your other…” His dad pauses. Harry’s heart pounds with the fear of Des finishing the sentence. But Des must realize that they’re in public, in the garage surrounded by people who respect him. “Distractions,” he finally says.

They’ve been at the same impasse for years.

“If you focus this year, the championship could be yours. But you need to buckle down.”

Harry has no idea what his “distraction” has to do with Tommo whipping him out. He’s always focused. Two years ago he ended the season in third place. Last year he was second.

Thankfully, the on-air talent and a cameraman walk up to them. Harry gives a small shake of his head and turns away, but not before he sees Des put on one of his blinding smiles.

“Des Styles! Do you have a minute?”

“For you, Andrew, I have five,” Des says.

They both chuckle and Harry takes the opportunity to walk away. Liam catches up with him a few steps down the back hallway and gently elbows Harry in the ribs. It hurts more than Harry lets on. Liam laughs wryly. “What was that about?”

Harry matches Liam’s laugh, giving himself a second to think of an answer. “Oh, you know. He thinks anything that’s not racing is a distraction.” It’s not a lie. “Pretty sure he’d invent a way for me to eat intravenously while on a bike if he could.”

* * *

Harry rolls his neck while waiting for the jacked-up guy using the rope trainer to finish. The post-work crowd at the gym is different—fewer mothers relishing an hour of quiet and more dudebros trying to outlift each other—so he’s been throwing in some extra breathing techniques too, to keep from getting annoyed. He’s lucky that he snagged a free treadmill.

Harry prefers to go in the morning, when his head is empty and it’s peacefully quiet. He can pop his ear buds in and work his muscles until they’re screaming, then stand in a hot shower to loosen back up before he reports to work. But Liam stayed over later than he normally does after a race and Harry was still sore all over when he woke up, so he allowed himself the rare luxury of sleeping in.

Going to the gym at this time of day blows.

Past the dudebros, Harry sees Malik, Tommo’s crew chief and, from what he can tell, best friend, with his hands wrapped and going to town on the punching bag.

Malik puts a hand up in a wave and Harry nods a hello. He tucks an errant curl back into his topknot, then looks back down at the screen.

When he looks back up, his eyes land on this one guy, shorter and curvier than him, a mess of brown hair, piercing blue eyes, who’s been checking Harry out all evening. He’s exactly Harry’s type, and under a different set of circumstances, Harry might be interested in exploring the flirtation. But he’s not in the mood.

When his time is up, Harry turns down his music and steps off the treadmill. He reaches to touch his toes, stretching his hamstrings and effectively ending eye contact with the stranger.

He accidentally makes eye contact again with the same guy when the rope trainer’s free. Harry focuses on the rough fiber in his hands and maintaining perfect form as he gets a hang of the motion, and works straight through until it feels like his shoulders and biceps won’t let him do any more. Then he does two more minutes.

He shakes his arms out and walks to refill his water bottle. He takes a long drink, and turns directly into the guy who was eyeing him.

“Whoa,” the stranger says, putting steadying hands on Harry’s shoulders.

“Sorry,” Harry steps back, out of his space, “didn’t see you there.”

“It’s alright.” He gives Harry a smooth smile, and sticks the tip of his tongue out. “You’re Harry Styles, right?”

Harry takes another step back, walking into the wall behind him. “Yeah?”

He’s never gotten used to the rare occurrences of someone recognizing him. Motorcycle racing’s a pretty niche sport, and he does it with his face obscured behind a helmet. He can’t assume this guy’s a fan; he made that mistake exactly once. After putting on a smile and puffing out his chest the tiniest bit, he learned they were one of Tommo’s fans, and just wanted Harry to know that he “sucked ass.” More often than not, if he’s recognized, it’s someone who wants to wax poetic about his dad’s glory days.

Harry watches as the guy rakes his eyes over Harry’s body. “Want to blow me in the locker room?”

Harry recoils, hitting his head against the wall again. “No.” He wants to go home and take a quick shower and a long bath. Make a salad for dinner and sleep for a few hours before he wakes up and comes right back here to the gym. “Sorry.”

The guy shrugs. “You make zero percent of the shots you don’t take.” He puts out his hand for Harry to shake. “I’m Anton; I’m here most nights if you change your mind.”

Harry opens his mouth, then shuts it again. Anonymous locker room sex isn’t for him. He’s always been more of a romantic, but Anton must not share that sentiment. “I’ll remember that.”

Anton winks as he walks away and Harry leaves the gym without doing his final sets of pull ups.

Sitting on his bike in the parking lot, waiting for his sweaty hair to dry enough to put his helmet on, Harry pulls out his phone to text Liam.

“Styles!” Malik calls out as he jogs over to Harry. “How you doing?”

“I’m alright,” Harry says. “You?”

“Good. Good. I didn’t know you came to this gym.”

“Yeah…” Harry looks up at the nondescript building. “I normally come in the morning.”

“Ah.” Malik nods his head. “Gotcha. Tommo and I are normally here in the afternoon because he won’t wake up early for anything.”

Harry twists his phone in his hands. He didn’t know Tommo trained at his gym. He doesn’t know what to do with that information, other than swear to himself to never sleep in ever again.

“He had a family thing he had to deal with today,” Malik continues, as though Harry asked.

Harry hums. He’s probably still sleeping off his hangover.

“Does Liam ever…” Harry waits for Malik to finish his sentence, even though it looks like Malik’s rethinking this whole interaction. “Come with you?”

Harry shakes his head. “Nah. He’s got a gym in his basement. Gym rat, that one is.”

Malik runs a hand through his hair before he says, “Right. Yeah. Uh, hey, by the way, I’m having a little get together this weekend.” Harry’s heard all about those legendary ‘get togethers’ and all the debauchery that goes down. “You’re invited. Liam too. Maybe you can make this one.”

Harry flips his phone between his hands a few times. “Yeah, maybe. Thanks for letting me know.” He’s not going to go, but it’s nice that Malik always invites him. Even though he’s pretty sure the whole of the Motorbike Premier League is invited.

“Okay, well, see you around,” Malik says. He pats Harry’s shoulder before he turns and swings his leg over the bike parked next to Harry’s own. It’s befitting that Malik’s bike matches his beauty: it’s sleek and shiny black, matching the shock of Malik’s hair that flops over the shaved side of his head, with subtle red pinstripes accentuating the curves of the fairing that echo in the red detailing of his black leather jacket.

“See ya,” Harry says, though Malik won’t be able to hear him over the roar of the engine starting up.

With a sigh, Harry pulls up his text thread with Liam.

Liam Payne

Harry: Some random dude at the gym asked if I wanted to hook up.

Liam: you could prob use a good dicking

Harry: fuck off, lima bean

Liam: What was it this time? Was he ugly?

Harry: He was cute :( totally my type. But something felt off. :(((


Harry: Probs would’ve ended up being another dickhead who only wanted a story

Liam: You’ll get ’em next time, tiger.

Liam: (Lion Face)

Harry pauses, his thumbs hovering over the letters, as he debates the likelihood of Liam pressuring him if he tells him about Malik’s invite.

He shoves his phone in his pocket and zips it up. He’ll tell Liam later.

Harry pops his head into his helmet. Liam’s probably right, as always. He does need a good dicking. But a blow job with a fan in a locker room isn’t the answer, and he doesn’t have the time for anything else.

* * *

Harry rolls the waistband of his baggiest, top-most pair of shorts one more time. His brightly colored compression shorts peek out from underneath.

It’s the last “Creative Ballet” class of the session, and the three- and four-year-olds are rehearsing their choreographed routine one last time before he opens the doors and lets their adults come in to watch… as though they haven’t been watching through the glass windows into the studio for weeks. The kids hit their last pose as the music comes to a stop.

“Is everybody ready?” Harry asks.

They all scream their reply, a resounding yes. The kids giggle and jump in place, a product of their nerves and the fact that they’re tiny, excitable children who love to be teased.

“Are you sure?” Harry asks, stretching the last word out like taffy.

There’s an even louder resounding cheer from the kids, so Harry walks to door and formally invites the adults and siblings to come in and sit on the floor, their backs to the wall-length glass mirror, so they all have front row seats.

The tots, dressed in pink or black lycra leotards, stand in two mostly even lines and wave in excitement at their adults walk into the studio. Harry loves this part of his job. The kids are excited, the adults are proud, and anticipation is thick in the room.

The two minutes passes quickly and it goes as flawlessly as Harry expects. There are twirls in the wrong direction and off-beat bouncing. Some of the kids can only move their lower half or their upper half at one time and they’re all looking up at Harry in the front of the room instead of at their adoring audience. The song ends and Harry bursts into applause, proud of them for giving it their all.

The best part of Harry’s day is when they all circle around him and give his knees hugs and thank him. Most of them have signed up for the next session starting in two weeks, but he feels a surge of pride that they’re going to miss him until then.

Once the adults shuffle the excited kids out of the studio, Harry has it all to himself for a few hours. Harry turns up the stereo to drown out his thoughts, and walks over to the barre. He goes through all of the positions with well-practiced precision, then a set of stretches—mindful of his ankle—before he moves onto leaps and spins. He works up a sweat by the time he’s ready to do the routine he’s been rehearsing, and he allows himself a water break before getting back to work.

He’s been dancing since he was three, when his older sister Gemma took lessons. Harry threw such a fit each time they dropped her off that he once sent himself into an asthma attack; he wanted to dance too. So, finally, his mom relented, and for years it was their little secret that the three of them kept from his dad. He didn’t understand at the time, but was happy to keep the silly secret if he could keep dancing like Gemma.

Eventually it became a shameful secret.

He flexes his feet, then points his toes so hard that the top of his feet hurt. As he goes through the routine that his teacher, and owner of the studio, taught him, he watches himself in the mirror. He takes in every angle his arms make, extending his fingers, positioning his knees and hips over his ankles, each roll of his neck and the shape of his arched back. He notes what he needs to focus on next time, how much time he should devote to practice each step, how close he can get to perfection.

His measured breaths and the gentle thuds of his feet each hitting the wooden floor work in tandem with the music coursing through his body.

He works until his body feels like a wet noodle, and even though he hasn’t quite nailed every eight-count, he goes home to sleep before waking and hitting the gym in the morning.

* * *

Tommo wins the second race of the year, and after their disastrous crash in the first race, Harry knows all the commenters are setting them up to be rivals again this year. As though he’s not rivals with all the other racers as well. Unfortunately, the media coverage seems to be fueling Des, and Harry might be disowned if he doesn’t place first in the next race. Harry spends every free minute of the next week on the simulator, perfecting his racing line.

The third race is tough from the beginning. Despite qualifying for pole position, Harry’s not as quick as he should be when the lights go out, and he fights hard to stay in the lead.

Tommo breathes down his neck the whole race.

On the final lap, Tommo’s still right on Harry’s tail. Harry’s got to hang on to first place for six more corners and two flat out sections, and then he’ll be the winner. He leans into turn eleven, and goes wide, missing the racing line. His heart hammers against his rib cage when he catches the neon blue of Tommo’s bike pull up along side of him on the inside. Tommo pulls ahead in the blink of an eye and Harry knows he’s got to be perfect on the next turn or he’ll lose his chance to retake the lead. He fucked up and let Tommo through, and the only way to make up for that is to drive flawlessly until he crosses the finish line.

He leans into the next turn, feels the heat of Tommo’s bike right next to him, only centimeters away, and exhales when he pulls out ahead, back in the lead. They go flat out during the straight, and it’s down to the acceleration of the bikes… and who wants it more. They almost touch again, flying side-by-side down the track, as they battle for the racing line. Harry can feel it down to his toes, how much he wants it, and his jaw clenches tight as he all but throws himself forward. By some miracle, he stays out front, and all he has to do is not fuck up the last few turns, and he’ll finally have a win under his belt for the first time this season.

The checkered flag is right there and though Harry wobbles at the bitter end, he pulls through, and the win is his.

He pumps his fist in the air and all around him the crowd goes wild at the end of the well-fought battle. On his victory lap, he relaxes enough that he stands up on his pegs and throws his arms wide, making himself into a cross and feeling the wind press against his body.

Finally.

Fucking finally a race is his. He can’t wipe the smile from his face, not that he’s trying, and pumps his fist again.

Fuck yeah.

***

For as long as Harry can remember, the start of the racing season has been a rebirth of sorts. It’s warm days full of possibility, since he and his dad, would spend the entirety of winter testing and doing track runs without getting to properly race. Spring and a new season will probably always be conflated in Harry’s mind, and this year, finally, he feels it down to his bones.

His undersuit keeps him as cool as possible on the winner’s platform but the combination of leather, the way the sun smiles down on him, and the heart-pumping exhilaration of that final lap means he’s still sweating as they break open the champagne.

Liam’s face is tilted up at him with a look of such pure pride that Harry’s heart swells a little and he almost feels guilty about spraying him with champagne. But Liam’s grin grows wider.

They were both depressed and angry and disheartened when Tommo won the championship last year. It was a gut-wrenching year for Harry. Too many races were lost in the last laps, and Liam grew increasingly frustrated that he couldn’t do more to help. Harry was determined to shake off those stats and start fresh this year. It took until the third race, but Harry’s confident he can keep this going further into the season, especially winning a nailbiter like that.

He doesn’t see his dad out there, but Harry supposes he must be somewhere in the crowd; he’s always lurking around the garage. Maybe Harry’ll get a drunken, congratulatory fist bump from him when they run into each other post-celebration. But Harry doubts his dad would show even that level of enthusiasm. Depending on how hard he’s hit the bottle, it’ll be critique after loud critique about his cornering.

Drenched from spraying champagne on each other, Tommo and Samuels jump around the platform. The three of them pose for a few promo pictures, then Harry slides his sponsor-covered hat on backwards and weaves his way back to the pits.

He’ll have to rewatch the race later to see how the rest of the racers faired, but the continued choruses of ‘great race’ and ‘what a finish’ lobbed his way may mean that everyone was antsy for an exciting race, and Harry was glad he could deliver.

Liam’s eyes light up like Christmas has come early when Harry spots him from across the bustling room.

“Thanks, bro,” Harry tells him as he skips through the garage, still high off the win. “Couldn’t have done it without you.” Harry feels like he needs to dedicate every win to Liam. The guy works tirelessly and gets exactly none of the glory.

“Everything felt okay out there?” Liam pats him on the back then pulls him into a tight hug. “You looked steady.”

“Yeah, it was a good ride. Nothing felt off.”

“Want to come over to mine? Celebrate?”

“Yes. That’ll get my dad off my back too. I can tell him we’re strategizing or some shit.”

Liam squeezes his shoulder. “Come get me after the post race interviews, yeah?”

Harry needs a shower and few minutes of meditation, but he knows whenever he comes back to fetch him, Liam’s still going to make him wait. There’s bound to be some screw or spring or something that Liam’s intent on perfecting before the next race.

Tommo’s in the hallway, outside of Harry’s dressing room. His leathers are still on, but unzipped down to his hips, with the arms tied in a knot around his waist. The undersuit clings to Tommo’s torso and the ribbing draws Harry’s eyes from the width of his chest to the dip of his waist. For a fleeting, stupid moment, Harry wonders if Tommo is going to congratulate him, but then he clocks the scowl on his face and knows this isn’t a friendly visit.

“Good race,” Harry says.

“Yeah.” Tommo makes quick eye contact, then looks past Harry, down the hall behind him.

“Um…” Harry looks behind him. “Can I help you with something.”

“No.” Tommo scoffs. “Why would you think that?”

“Because you’re standing like a creep outside my dressing room?”

“I’m not a fucking creep.” Tommo puffs up his chest and looks Harry straight in the eye like he’s gearing up for a fight.

Harry’s definitely not looking for a fight. “I just want to get out of this thing.” He yanks at the zipper on his race suit. “So if you don’t mind…”

“Do you know where your dad is?” Tommo says it quickly, and as Harry’s parsing out the individual words, Tommo mumbles, “Thought he might be with you.”

“I have no idea.”

“Oh.” Tommo’s brow furrows. “Okay.”

Harry goes into his dressing room, gets as far as taking his arms out of the suit, and with a sigh opens the door. Tommo’s already halfway down the hall. “Hey, Tommo. If I see him, I’ll let him know you’re looking for him.”

Tommo pauses, gives him a thumbs up without even turning around, and keeps walking away. “Thanks, Styles.”

***

Harry’s favorite way to start a new class of tots is to have each tiny dancer stand up and do a dance when their name is called. He can get a sense of their natural movements and how nervous they are, and it helps him put a face to the names of his new students.

This new class doesn’t disappoint, with one four-year-old in a purple tutu wildly throwing her arms and hips in a rough approximation of what might be called a floss, and the other new student needing a bit of encouragement until she finally wiggled her hips from side to side then sat right back down at her place in the circle.

Surprisingly, the last two names on his student roster, Ernie and Doris, are late… or, Harry glances at the clock, not showing up. Most new students were there plenty early on their first day, and as Harry lines the kids up facing the mirror, he wonders if they’ll be getting calls about the non-refundable deposit for the spot.

Harry begins to explain flexing and pointing feet—Toes to the sky! Toes to the floor!—when there’s a commotion in the waiting room. Through the glass he can see the adults’ attention has moved from the kids to whatever is happening behind them. Harry pulls his hair up into a topknot as he makes his way across the studio to peek his head out the door.

The last thing he expects to see is a very frazzled Tommo with two small children, trying to slide headbands on both of their unruly heads of hair.

For one heart-stopping moment, Harry’s fight or flight instinct kicks in and every fiber of his body wants to run. He looks back at the room full of tiny children staring at him, and back to Tommo, who looks up as he finishes.

It could have been comical, the way Tommo’s face goes from exasperated, to a polite smile, to utter confusion when he looks up at Harry. Harry cannot crumble in panic in front of the children, so he pastes on a passable, customer-friendly smile and before he knows it, he’s pretending he has no idea who Tommo is.

“This must be Ernie and Doris?” he asks with a tilt of his head.

“Uh, yeah.” Tommo answers. “What, uh—”

“Great! Class has already started—”

“Sorry about—”

“So come on in and meet the rest of the kiddos!” Harry steps back and holds the door open behind him. Once the kids—Tommo’s kids!—walk through, he shuts it behind him without looking back.

Harry’s shaky and off-balance the rest of the class. Half of his brain is consumed with the fear that someone outside of his family now knows, that he doesn’t actually know Tommo well enough to know if he’ll tell everyone—maybe he already has. He could be out there texting everyone they know. Asking politely to keep Harry’s secret extends past the vague coworkers—mostly rivals—relationship they’ve maintained through the years which is mainly… not interacting with each other.

Des will be livid about this once word gets out.

If word gets out.

He’s got to try and reason with Tommo after class, bribe him, maybe, with a way to stay quiet about the whole thing. He could keep the fact that Tommo has kids a secret. That seems like a more than fair trade.

The other half of his brain keeps stalling when he remembers that Tommo’s right out there, watching him teach kids ballet. Not even proper ballet, since the kids are too young, but vague dance-like movements that mostly involve following him around the room pretending to be different animals. For the first time, he’s self-conscious about how he’s doing, and he can’t stop wondering what Tommo must be thinking while watching him. It’s a stupid thought and he tells himself to knock it off everytime it pops back up because he’s a great teacher and both the kids and parents love him and honestly who even cares what Tommo thinks? But then it sneaks up on him again.

With his brain fully occupied, he runs the class on autopilot and audibly sighs in relief when the time’s up.

“Great class, kiddos!” He kneels down so he’s closer to their level. “Line up for fist bumps on the way out. And I’ll see you next week!”

He makes small talk with some of the kids’ adults as everyone packs up, though he keeps glancing over at Tommo. His kids are jumping up and down, recounting the class to him. They’re really cute kids, and Harry wonders who their mom is since he didn’t think Tommo had a long-term girlfriend. Not that knocking up a random girl he met at a club was out of the realm of possibility; Harry’s seen the headlines and paparazzi shots of Tommo’s infamous nights out.

When everyone else has cleared out of the waiting room, it’s clear that Tommo’s stalling, so Harry finally gathers up some courage and clears his throat.

Tommo looks up and says, “Hey.”

“Can we? Do you have a minute to talk? I want to—”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“Okay.” As curious as Harry was, he didn’t want to pry. He wasn’t ready to beg for a favor though either. “Cute kids. Twins?”

“Yeah, runs in the family. Was still a big shock when we learned there’d be another set, though.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Harry let out a little chuckle that felt forced to his own ears. Another set. “Must be a lot of work.”

Tommo joins his awkward laugh.

Harry’s dying to know, and he can’t stop himself from asking, “Is the, uh, mother… still… like… around?”

“What?”

“Sorry. That’s, like, clearly none of my business. I just didn’t know— It was a surprise, you, showing up with them.”

“Oh.” Tommo’s furrowed brow loosens, until his eyes go wide with a disbelieving laugh. “No. Styles. No. Whoa. No. These two are my siblings. They don’t… they’re not… mine.”

“Oh.” Harry tries to mask his surprise. Too much has happened in the past thirty minutes and his head’s spinning. “Right. Yeah, okay. That makes sense.”

“Try to see them as much as I can though, so, that’s why…” He flails his arms out at the empty room. “Ballet duty!”

They look at each other in the awkward silence that follows.

“Cool. Speaking of…” Harry clears his throat again. “This. Well, that I teach this. Ballet. No one knows that I’m a dancer, or that I teach.”

“Oh.”

“Like, people know. But not the people we know.”

Tommo tilts his head in obvious confusion.

“Sorry. I didn’t plan…” He takes a big breath and starts again. “My dancing, and teaching dancing, is something that I’d rather not have the racing community know about. So, if you could do me a solid, and like, not tell anyone, about this? I was going to offer to keep your secret about your kids. But…” Harry’s not sure that he sold it. “I’d really appreciate it.”

“No one knows?”

Harry remembers his dad’s red-faced anger whenever he tried to talk about it as a child. His father’s still embarrassed by Harry’s love of dance. Now that he’s older, he gets it. He’d be a laughingstock if word got out. And now Tommo, someone he can’t trust on the track, let alone off it, is the keeper of his secret. Harry shrugs. “Not really.”

“Okay. Yeah, not a problem. Lips are sealed.”

“Thanks, man. I really—”

“Styles, it’s not a problem. I promise.”

And that’s that. They say their goodbyes, and the studio is his alone, again, so he turns the music up loud and works out the stress that’s settled in his muscles.