Author's note: There's something about Kaylie and Nicky and their fighting that gets to me so I wrote this, hoping to get it out of my system. Enjoy!
She trains at night.
Kaylie Cruz knows her parents and her coach and even her manager would kill her if they knew, but she has to. She has to because during the day it's all interviews, shaking hands and smiling till she loses feeling in her cheeks. She's number one in the country. With the title comes responsibility and expectations. There are a number of reasons why she has to fit in this extra practice time.
Even as she's doing a turning handstand while working the uneven bars, Kaylie's still trying to convince herself that Nicky Russo isn't one of those reasons.
It honestly gets on her nerves when she's having a conversation with someone and he's just there, lurking in the shadows, watching her, judging her. Sure he stands with his arms crossed, tall and straight with tan muscles bulging, showcasing every defined line. Sure he's rather handsome and that smile should belong to a model or actor rather than that robot. His body may be complete muscle and his eyes…those eyes…
In an instant, her hand slips and she loses control. Kaylie loses control at the worst possible time, performing a backflip into open air. She meant to catch the bar. She's supposed to catch the bar. She sees it, but it's too far away, just out of the grasp of her outstretched fingers. Kaylie shuts her eyes tight, anticipating the sting of her body slamming into the mat below.
Kaylie's ready to blame Nicky Russo. Yes, he's to blame, him and his damn gorgeous eyes.
It's more than a surprise when Kaylie feels a pair of arms catch her, holding her curled body tight to a firm chest. She almost lets herself believe Carter has come to her rescue, that he's her knight on a white horse, literally there to catch her when she falls. Her eyelids flutter and brown meets brown when she finds the gaze of her savior.
Before she can even think to thank him, he explodes, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Training," she can't help, but mock him. Kaylie squirms free from his arms before he has the opportunity to drop her, which, she's sure, he would. There are goose bumps all across her exposed, tan arms and she convinces herself that Nick Russo literally makes her skin crawl. She simply writes off her thumping heartbeat as a product of the potentially tragic fall.
"Was that supposed to be a Korbut Flip?"
Honestly, Kaylie doesn't know what she was trying to do. At the time her head was clouded with thoughts of him.
"What's it to you?"
"For one, it isn't allowed in gymnastics competition anymore. It clearly violates Code of Point. Poorly executed, as you just demonstrated, it can be fatal," Nicky points out. Kaylie feels like she's being lectured by someone older and disgruntled.
"God, you sound like my dad."
"Speaking of your dad, I bet he'd love to know where you are right now."
"I bet yours would too," Kaylie snaps. "What are you doing here, Nicky?"
For once in the time that she's known the world's most arrogant athlete, he has nothing to say. His plush lips part as if to speak, but he seems to rethink it and pulls away. His eyes cast downward and his mouth closes. Kaylie can't help, but lean a little closer towards him, clearly curious.
"Wow." Kaylie can't help herself. She laughs, throwing her head back with arms folded over her chest. "The Android is capable of lying! Gee, he might be a real boy after all."
Nicky fixes a glare on her and Kaylie isn't afraid to glare back.
"Really, Russo, the feeling's mutual."
After a few more moments of the two of them trapped in a heated gaze, Kaylie finally breaks free. She's had enough of the condemnation in his dark irises, that little inner voice convincing her that as they're standing there he's comparing her to Payson, her friend, the girl of his dreams. She turns away, her tight ponytail flying as she does. Nicky flinches, pulling back just before he gets whipped in the face.
Nicky watches as she leaves, delicately placing one foot in front of the other with the muscles of her toned calves contracting each time her feet meet the ground. She walks away like she's walking a runway at a fashion show or the red carpet, grabbing that attention she loves so much. Her head is high and proud. He's almost wholly convinced she thinks she's above everyone else. He's completely convinced the girl needs to be brought – or even dragged – down from her high horse.
"You know, the only reason you're number one is Payson's accident."
Yes. He goes there. Nicky knows it's a low blow, but Kaylie has to learn she isn't untouchable.
He knows he struck a nerve when she freezes in place.
Nicky goes on, "If it wasn't for that fall, it'd be Payson in the spotlight, with me, where she belongs. You would still be that Daddy's Girl, doing cute little tricks like a poodle, practically begging for your dad's attention, Carter's, any attention you can get your hands on–"
His jaw snaps sideward and the sound echoes through the Rock.
"I'm not Payson!" she screams in his face. Kaylie's so close he wouldn't even have to try to reach out and touch her. "Look, what happened to Payson was horrible, but it wasn't my fault. I worked just as hard as you and Payson and every other gymnast that made the team! And don't you ever mention my dad or even that cheating bastard to me again!"
Nicky says nothing. He simply stares at the fuming girl before him.
"You have no right to judge me!" she continues. Her hand is pressed to her chest, the hot pink of her leotard now dusted with chalk. "For one, you don't even know me! You don't know the hell I've been through, that my family's been through! You're so quick to assume and write me off just like you do with everyone else! Newsflash, you're a condescending asshole! You're too caught up in picking out other people's flaws that you can't even see your own!"
Teeth are clenched, fingers form shaky fists and sweat glazes her narrowed brows. Her eyes begin to water, but she seems unfazed, so pissed off that the tears don't even register with her. Nicky's certain he's never seen anyone more beautiful. Even more, he's never met someone who's made him feel so…human.
He's certain his eyes have softened though hers are absolutely smoldering, livid with some sort of passion he's never seen before. This isn't the look of a gymnast right about to start a routine. The look in her eyes is that of a fighter right about to step in the ring, a soldier fighting a losing war.
Kaylie turns away for the second time that night, her ponytail succeeding in whipping him in the face. His cheek is still throbbing from when she slapped him and her hair against his skin assures him he still has feeling there. As she walks away, her steps are less graceful, more like the stomps of Godzilla through Tokyo rather than a model down the catwalk. Her figure shrinks as she gets farther and Nicky can't even bring himself to move.
Nicky finds he's taken the form of a block of ice. His muscles are tense and rigid. His face has lost expression and his eyes can only stare straight forward, basking in the tense air she's left behind. He's slowly coming to the realization…she's right. He really is a condescending asshole. For years now, too long, he's been lost in his own little perfect world, population him and gymnastics.
Payson was meant to be the queen to his king and they'd rule over the Rock and eventually the nation, side by side. Reality crushed Payson's dream and simultaneously tore through Nicky's. It was a shame what happened to Payson and it leaves Nicky so bitter and so resentful. He has no one else to take it out on, but one Kaylie Cruz. Kaylie Cruz with the pearly white teeth and the voice that's always so cheerful and naïve to the point it's painful to witness.
But then there are her eyes.
They're eyes, dark like both her father and mother. Nicky's noticed tonight that they're eyes that seem out of place. They don't match her smile that seems to be painted on. As hard as she tries, she can't seem to fix it. At the mention of her father and one "cheating bastard" who Nicky assumes is Carter, the way her eyes seemed to go a shade darker, someone has robbed her of her spirit, of her light, and that's not something anyone can fake or even fix.
One foot moves in front of the other and he almost breaks into a jog, but not quite. All is quiet and dark down the halls of the Rock. Nicky doesn't know how long he's been standing there or how fast Kaylie's moving, but he hopes and prays he can catch her – for the second time tonight.
He bursts into the girls' locker room, never being the type of guy to let someone or something – let alone a sign – dictate what he can and cannot do. It's dark in there too. He hears a whimper and he knows it's her.
"What the hell is wrong with you? Get out!"
She's trying to be strong and commanding. The only light among the room of steel lockers is that from the moon, streaming in through the little glass windows that are more the size of air vents. Not even an average size house cat could fit through the little rectangles.
The moonlight touches her face, cheeks stained with the tracks that tears left behind. Her dark hair is free from the ponytail, down, framing her heart-shaped face. She's dressed in normal, everyday clothes instead of her hot pink leotard and her eyes are on him, dark slits of hot anger. Nicky's almost completely sure if he moved any closer towards her, she'd punch him. Of course, she would. On top of being broken, she's reckless. She'd risk breaking her hands, easily worth a million dollars each, on impulse alone.
Nicky finds it intriguing and moves closer anyway.
"Hmm, English must be too complicated for Meathead to understand," she hisses. Nicky steadily draws closer despite the way she's trying to strangle him with her eyes. "You know, that sign on the door – girls' locker room – girls – no boys allowed! Get. Out. Nicky."
But he doesn't. He stands right in front of her and he fights to look into her eyes.
Kaylie almost feels taken aback. Her body is shaking out of control and Nicky isn't moving away and the way he's looking at her right now…he's never looked at her like this before. Kaylie isn't sure if anyone has ever looked at her like this before.
At this point she's on the verge of a meltdown. A sob escapes her lips and she shuts her eyes tight because she's standing in front of the best gymnast in the men's division, maybe the best gymnast ever, the epitome of tall, dark and handsome, and she know she must look like a mess, falling to pieces in a room so dark and so empty.
Nicky doesn't say anything and a part of Kaylie is glad. The last thing she needs is for him to tear her down even more and make her feel any worse. She's choking on tears and despite how tight she has her eyes shut, they still leak through, cementing dark strands of hair to her cheeks. One eye peeks open, hoping he's gone, that he isn't there to make her feel like an more a circus act than she already is.
Damn it. He's still there. He's still watching. She expects pity or even triumph, but when her dark orbs, slick with water, meet his, Kaylie's surprised with something entirely different.
She isn't sure if there are words in the English language that can describe the way he's looking at her right now. Even if there is, Kaylie's sure she still wouldn't know what those words are. All she knows is that she's starting to hyperventilate and her knees finally give out beneath her weight.
Instead of feeling the cold tile floor against her hot skin, Kaylie feels those hands, so strong, so powerful it makes her feel as fragile as glass. His fingers curl around her shoulder while his other hand holds the small of her back. Nicky sets her back against a locker, the cold metal against the back of her neck snapping her from her daze as she gazed up at his beautiful face. It only takes her a few moments to find her footing and when she does, Nicky surprisingly stays where he is instead of awkwardly backing away like he should.
"You were right," he whispers. Kaylie feels his heated breathe tickle her skin and she ignores the way her heart practically leaps free from her chest. "I don't know you."
Kaylie figures that's the closest thing to an apology she'll get from Nicky Russo and takes it, too exhausted to fight anymore.
"Apology accepted," she whispers back. "Now if you'd move I need to go–"
"Tell me one thing," he interrupts, licking his lips. "What are you doing here?"
"Training," Kaylie repeats. After all, it is the truth. He's staring right at her and she's looking everywhere, but his pretty face and prying eyes. "That's what you want, isn't it? Faking a smile and doing all these publicity things keeps MJ happy. Pretending to be fine keeps my parents happy. Practicing to one day be good enough to stand next to Nicky Russo would make you happy. Everyone's happy."
His heart breaks for her and the fact is written straight across his face.
"What I wanna know is what makes Kaylie Cruz happy?"
Her breath catches in her throat.
"N–No one's ever asked me before…"
Nicky raises both eyebrows. "Well?"
"Nothing," she answers in all honesty. One last tear falls from her dark, fluttering lashes and her eyes dart to the floor. "Nothing anymore…"
He reaches up, his fingertip gliding across her cheek to erase that last, lonely tear. Nicky knows he can't fix her broken world for her, but he can do this. He can touch her and remind her that in the end, she's real and no one can take that away from her.
His head dips down towards hers and Kaylie instantly reacts, her head pulling back and slamming into the metal door of the locker behind them. Kaylie groans, rubbing the now sore spot on her head and Nicky can't help, but chuckle. He'd never admit it aloud, but the look of embarrassment on her face is quite pleasant to witness, adorable even.
He moves in again, his nose softly brushing hers, lips almost touching, when–
"I'm not Payson," she says. Face looking torn and tortured; Kaylie turns away, evading his lips.
Again, he's frozen there, feeling as if she slapped him across the face again. Kaylie quickly scampers away. She's gone in a flash and all Nicky hears is the slam of the door behind her. Still trying to digest what just happened, Nicky leans back against a locker, sliding down until he's sprawled out across the floor.
He almost kissed Kaylie Cruz.
Worst of all, he wanted to kiss Kaylie Cruz.
Nicky runs his palm over his face and then through his dark, prickly hair. He just can't seem to understand how he went from resenting her, to hating her, to feeling for her and finally, trying to kiss her in the girls' locker room at nearly two in the morning. And it all seemed to occur over a matter of days.
His mind wanders to Payson and he feels he might be sick. Kaylie and Payson are friends, well, as friendly as two competing gymnast can be. One is the girl of his dreams and the other is the one pushing him to insanity and yet he can never resist pushing back.
Then there's Lauren Tanner, the reason he even snuck into the Rock tonight. It might have been a long shot, but he was looking to recover that cortisone, the cortisone meant for Payson, when he heard noises and found it to be Kaylie Cruz and this thing, whatever it is, took place.
Nicky scowls. This is why gymnastics has always been his main focus in life. Girls are complicated. They come with baggage and drama, alternate meanings and hidden messages. Along with girls and relationships come everything he doesn't need in his life if he's ever going to take home the gold.
Realizing he doesn't even know which locker belongs to Lauren Tanner and still plagued with conflicting thoughts of both Payson and Kaylie, Nicky decides to call it a night. He walks out into the front parking lot and sees that Kaylie's convertible is still there, headlights on and engine purring. Before he can even think to approach her, the car takes off, kicking up a cloud of dust and dirt in its wake.
He gets that same feeling as when Kaylie had slapped him across the face, when her hair whipped across his cheeks and when his nose brushed hers in those terrifying yet exhilarating seconds before their lips almost touched. His heart pounds in his chest just thinking about it, replaying the moment in his head, but with different, more satisfactory results.
It's in that moment that Nicky learns he too isn't untouchable.