The GPS was completely insane. It was snooty and condescending and sending her in circles. It kept insisting that she had reached her destination, but the only thing in front of her was a hiking trail that led into the woods. The sky had become an ominous color, darkening by the second, the sound of thunder rolling in with the storm clouds. She stopped the car and shifted it into park. "Damn it," she yelled, slamming her hands against the steering wheel. She sighed, looking around at the trees, just starting to turn from their natural green from the unseasonably cold September, which had even traveled this far west, to Cambria, California. She sighed looking around and suddenly spied something, tire tracks, deep ones, tracks that could definitely be made by a large towing truck. They went down the trail that was easily big enough for a car to drive on.
What the hell, I came this far, she though, starting the engine up again. The drops began to fall as she drove over the dirt trail, then harder and harder before she could barely see in front of her, then suddenly, she was there, or at least she thought she was. It was a small cabin, no truck parked in front and no airstream trailer anywhere in sight, but the tracks seemed to continue around to the back of the house.
She got out of the car and despite the rain soaking her through almost instantly, she approached the house carefully. What if it's not his house? What if it's some crazy murderer who…what, Payson? A crazy murderer who waits for girls to miraculously show up in the middle of a down pour? Stop it and knock on the door.
She knocked, repeatedly, the rain dripping down her face, mud slogging around what used to be her favorite ballet flats. "Sasha?" she called out, but knew her voice was probably drowned out by the storm. She pounded on the door again, this time with her fist, hoping he was home and that it in fact was his home. She looked back behind her and up towards the sky, having to squint to keep the drops from blinding her. She turned again and nearly jumped out of her skin when the door was gone, replaced by a very confused and concerned looking Sasha Belov.
"Payson," he said, "What?"
She sighed, "Can I come in?" she asked, holding her hands out to indicate that she was getting drenched by the storm.
He shook his head, as if trying to jolt himself back to reality, "Right, of course, sorry," he said, stepping back, allowing her to enter. "What are you doing here? Did you come alone? Didn't you read my letter?" he asked, throwing the questions out rapid fire, not giving her a chance to answer. "Christ, you're completely soaked to the skin. Let me get you a towel." He shut the door behind them and left her standing in the front hall, leaving her stunned and completely unsure what to do with herself.
She could hear the storm raging outside as she looked around her. It was small, the cabin, but cozy in a way she hadn't expected. A warm fire was crackling in the fireplace; the kitchen was to her left, older, but neat and clean. The couch looked extremely comfortable, a mug of what she assumed was tea on the coffee table and a book lying open next to it. She took a step closer to examine it, but then frowned down at her muddy feet. She slipped off the shoes and left them on the mat, her toes curling uncomfortably on the cold wooden floor.
"Here you go," he said, emerging from the hallway at the far end of the room. He had two towels, one to remove the mud, the other to use once the mud was gone, she assumed. She bent over to get the mud off her ankles and calves, having been splattered as she walked from her car to his front door. She looked down at her clothes; the tunic she wore over her tank top was stretched out, hanging down around her knees, dripping, while the denim shorts were nearly black they'd been so saturated.
She heard Sasha sigh, "You can't stay in those clothes, you'll freeze. C'mon," he said, motioning for her to follow him.
"But I'll drip on your floor," she protested mildly.
"Worse things have happened to it," he said, continuing down the hallway. She followed quickly. He was digging around in a bureau, before he produced a pair of sweatpants and a long-sleeved henley. "Here," he said, holding them out to her. "These have a draw string." He gave her a tight smile before leaving the room.
Payson took a moment to look around. This was his bedroom. A full sized bed, unmade was up against one of the walls. There was a nightstand, the bureau for his clothes and a small desk pushed under a window. She sighed and pulled the sopping tunic over her head, wishing she had a place to ring it out and hang it up. The tank underneath was just as soaked, so she removed that as well, frowning because it had served as her bra, a shelf lining sewn into it. Sasha probably didn't have a 34B to spare. She pulled the henley over her head with a frown. It was big on her, the sleeves going well past her hands and the hem hanging to her thighs, but tight across the chest as it obviously was made for a man not a woman.
She removed the denim shorts next, relieved to be rid of the heavy material. Her underwear was wet, but she wrinkled her nose at the thought of taking that off as well. Stop it, Payson. She slid the panties off and pulled on the sweatpants, even bigger on her than the shirt was. They were very soft inside, helping to warm her chilled skin almost immediately. She pulled on the drawstring, but it wasn't enough to hold them up, so she rolled the waistband over and over again, until the sweats sat snuggly on her hips.
Payson took up the towel and run her hair out in it, annoyed at herself for not having a band to pull it up with, though it would probably dry faster down, it was creating wet spots on her back.
She gathered her clothing in a small pile and exited the room. "Sasha?" she called, moving down the hallway, back towards the front room.
"In the kitchen," he answered. When she reached him, he had his back to her, pouring steaming hot liquid into a mug. He turned and caught sight of her, "Hey, I made you a cup of tea," he said.
She smiled, "Thanks, um, do you have some place I can hang my clothes to dry?" she asked, incidating the pile in her hands.
"Hmm, yeah sure, I have a big fire grate, that should do the trick," he said, putting the mug down on the counter for her. In two steps he'd reached her and took the pile from her hands.
She was silent for a second, before remembering exactly what was in the pile of clothes, "Sasha, wait," she said, following him into the living room quickly, but not quickly enough. Hanging from two fingers were the yellow boyshorts she'd been wearing, not exactly sexy lingerie, but definitely not plain cotton briefs. She snatched them from his hand quickly and they both stood in uncomfortable silence for a moment. "Sorry, I'll do that," she said. "They were soaking wet too."
Sasha's eyes nearly bulged out of his head at her words, but he shook his head and handed her the rest of her clothing back as she placed her clothing carefully over the grate. He cleared his throat and forced himself to move, "I'll get your tea," he said moving away from her and back towards the kitchen. Payson sighed. It was that familiar tension. The same feeling that had cut through the air in the days after she'd kissed him. Damn it, I came out here to convince him to come back and all I've accomplished so far is embarrassing the crap out of him. She hung her clothes up and sat down on the couch, frowning to herself. Get it together, Payson. She saw the book, still on the coffee table, and picked it up, examining the cover, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov.
Sasha came back into the room, holding out the steaming cup of tea for her and she laid down the book, take it gratefully. "Thanks," she said, the warmth seeping into the skin of her hands, causing a small shiver to run through her at the sudden contrast.
He cleared his throat, sitting down next to her, "It's good," he said, nodding towards the book. "You should read it."
"Thanks, maybe I will," she said, taking a sip of the tea, the warm liquid having an immediate effect, both inside and out.
Silence reigned for a moment, as they just sat there looking at each other warily, before Sasha sighed, "What are you doing here, Payson?"
She sighed, looking down at her mug, but then feeling her spine steel. She raised her head and met his eyes, "I came here to bring you back to Boulder."
Sasha frowned at her and shook his head, "Didn't you get my letter? I told you why I left," he began, but she cut him off, placing the mug on the table.
She pushed up, sitting atop one of her legs, "I read your letter, Sasha."
"And?" he asked, obviously not sure what she thought was unclear about the words he'd written.
"It was bullshit."
"Huh, and I thought I was being honest and encouraging," he said, sarcasm lining his tone, his eyes flashing at her.
"It was absolute bullshit, 'no obstacle you can't overcome if we face it together'. Complete crap. We're not together. Our team wasn't just the gymnasts, Sasha, it was you too."
He shook his head, "No, I was just your coach. My mere presence at the Rock was hurting you all. The Rock is better off without me. You're better off without me."
Payson shifted closer to him and took his hand. "The Rock is falling apart around me and you're the only one who can fix it, Sasha." She knew it wasn't fair to put it all on him, but it was true. The Rock was having major problems, mostly from within. Steve Tanner was head of the parents' board and his will was capricious and vindictive. Training at the Rock was not a pleasant experience for anyone these days.
"Do your parents know you're here?" he asked, looking down at their joined hands.
She shook her head, "No, they think I'm at Lauren's."
He snorted, "Lauren Tanner is your cover?"
"Lauren owes me," she said and the coldness in her voice was apparent even to Sasha. He raised his eyebrows at her and she sighed, "Lauren was the one who stole the disk from the training cam. She sent the picture of us to Beals."
He nodded and rubbed a hand over his eyes, "I figured it was something like that. How did you find out?"
Payson laughed humorlessly, "Ellen Beals of all people. She's losing her grip on the National Committee and in a last ditch effort to throw a counterpunch at us, she ratted Lauren out to her father. Not sure what effect she thought it would have except cause a rift, but maybe that was the goal."
His hand squeezed hers encouragingly and she looked down at them, having forgot the contact for a moment. The tension was suddenly back and she slipped her hands from his quickly. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said your letter was bullshit. It wasn't. I just…I cried for days after you left. Then when I decided to take your advice to heart, to train and work and keep our team together, things just began to spiral out of control."
"How so," he asked.
She shook her head, "Steve Tanner removed my mom as gym manager, but we knew that was coming."
"Who's managing the gym?" he asked, though he should have known the answer.
"Summer and I like Summer and all, but she's completely overwhelmed and it's starting to show. She closed the gym on Sundays," Payson said, rolling her eyes. "Completely closed, not even just no classes. It's more than a little frustrating."
Sasha chuckled at her, "I bet she did. I'm sure she said something about if God had to rest, then so do gymnasts on an Olympic track." Payson squinted at him. There was an odd combination of affection and frustration in his voice.
"Almost exactly," she said. "I told her to shove it. I use my mom's key to get in and work."
Sasha furrowed his eyebrows, "You actually told her to shove it?"
Payson smiled guility, "I may have said something like 'shove it up your ass and save your sermon for someone who gives a shit'."
Sasha's eyes grew wider with every word, "Payson, that was…"
"Completely disrespectful and inappropriate, I know, but I was so frustrated. I apologized later."
"But you still sneak into the gym on Sundays anyway," he guessed correctly and she nodded. "Just you?"
"No, Austin too," she told him. "He trains a lot on the weekends now that Kaylie is away at that Nutrition Center or whatever Ronnie called the rehab they sent her too."
"Has there been any word about when she's coming back?"
Payson shook her head, "I spoke to her a few days ago. She sounded so angry. She's not allowed visitors either, so there isn't much I can do."
"And the other girls?"
This was it. This was how she was going to have to get him back. She needed to convince him he was needed. "Emily was devastated. She missed her court date and the judge tried to set an example by having her arrested for being in contempt of court. Beals is trying to have the arrest made into grounds for kicking her off the National team. She's still training, but she has absolutely no focus and I don't know what to do to help her. Lauren, not that she's in my good graces right now, but she is absolutely out of control. She waltzes around the Rock like she owns it, has her daddy do her bidding and her gymnastics is really suffering for it. It's all such a mess and I've been trying to hold everything together, but I can't do it by myself and focus on my training. Worlds are only four weeks away now and I just…" she trailed off with a sigh, not knowing what else to say.
She felt the couch cushions shift under her. She lifted a finger to wipe at the tear that escaped from her eye, not wanting him to see her crying, but when she looked up, he was right there, his hand following hers and brushing away a tear, before putting his arms around her and pulling her into his chest. She embraced him, burying her head into the crook of his neck. He stroked her back gently with one hand, while the other pressed against her neck lightly, trying to ease the tension there.
"Hey, it's alright. It's going to be alright. I promise," he said. She felt his warm breath ruffle into her hair, as she tightened her arms around him, inhaling deeply. It was a comforting scent, soap and aftershave and something uniquely him that she couldn't identify.
After a moment she pulled back, "You promised to take me to the Olympics, remember? You promised we'd get there together."
He sighed and avoided her eyes, focusing on the curly mess her hair had morphed into as it dried. He tucked one of the wayward curls back behind her ear, before remembering himself and leaning back, away from her. "I did at that," he said. "But it's not that simple, Payson. There are roadblocks and honestly, as I told you in my letter, I don't think I'm the right person for the job."
She shook her head firmly, "You're the only man for the job." He opened his mouth to interrupt her, but she soldiered on, "No, listen. It's not that there aren't other gymnastics coaches who could do it, there are and I'm sure we'd find one," she said and he raised his eyebrows. "That's not the point. The point is that we need you. I need you." She refused to hedge anymore. This was why she came here, really. Why she left practice on Friday afternoon and drove almost twenty hours to find him. She needed him.
"Payson," he began, his tone apologetic and full of regret.
"No," she said. "You told me that the most important person in your life was your coach. That he made you into an Olympian. The only thing you've made me into is a member of a team attending the World Championships. I know it's selfish, but I need more from you. I need you to come back and take me to Worlds. I need you to be with me in London. I need you to be there when I win my gold medal. I can't do it without you and everything we worked for, everything we put into this, it was all for nothing." She swallowed back the tears, not going to allow herself to cry again in front of him. "I need you, Sasha."
She hadn't realized just how close they had gotten. They were no longer embracing, but their faces were only inches apart. He sighed and she felt his breath brush over her lips. His eyes flicked downward quickly to her mouth and then back up to meet her gaze and in a moment of what must have been sheer insanity, he began to lean forward, before quickly moving away. He ran a hand through his short blond hair and took a shuddering breath. "I have to sleep on it, Payson. I need to think it through."
She nodded, taking what she could get, but her heart was still racing, pounding against her ribs so loudly, she was sure he could hear it. "Okay," she said.
He stood up, "You go on to bed. I'll sleep out here," he said, walking towards a closet she hadn't noticed before and taking a blanket and pillow from it.
"I couldn't steal your bed. The couch is fine," she protested.
"Payson, this isn't up for discussion. Go on," he said, nodding towards his bedroom. "Sleep well."
She sighed in defeat and stood up, allowing him to begin making up the couch. She turned to leave, but before she did she put a hand on his shoulder. He paused in his work, his back to her. "Thank you," she said and moved away quickly, disappearing into his bedroom.
She looked at the bed she'd observed earlier, unmade. She grabbed the sheet and with a flick of her wrist, spread it across the bed, then did the same for the blanket, before crawling underneath the covers and resting her head on his pillow. The same comforting scent she breathed in when they embraced enveloped her, soothing her frayed nerves almost immediately. Her eyes drifted closed, her last hazy thought before sleep overtook her, was that she would happily fall asleep this way every night.
A/N: Okay, so I know it's not another chapter of Not Just Yet, but Almost, but it wouldn't leave me alone. I couldn't get this scene out of my head. I even found myself saying some dialogue aloud today in my car on the way to work. Anyway, this is my own little Payson/Sasha version of what I'm sure will happen next season. Please let me know what you think. There will probably be one more chapter of this, but not for a little while. I want to get another chapter of Not Just Yet out first.