Disclaimer: I do not own MIOBI.

Just a Number

Summary: What if Sasha never came to The Rock? He was never her coach, and she was never his gymnast. Now all that stands between them is the age gap . . . and the Atlantic Ocean. Not to mention his reputation, the competition, and the fact that everyone seems to have an opinion on how she should feel about him and nobody thinks he's right for her. Nothing between them but age, and well . . . it's just a number anyway, right?


Just a Number - The End

North Greenich Arena – London
August 7 2012

"And next up we have Payson Keeler," Tim Daggett said as they waited for the previous athlete's scores to be calculated. "There seems something poetic in this – Payson finishing everything here on Floor, the event that truly cemented her as a champion at last years Worlds."

"This event that will likely cement Payson Keeler in the history books as well," commented Al Trautwig. "If she medals in this event she will be the first female gymnast in the history of the sport to win six Olympic medals in one 'Games."

"I hope she does more than medal," Elfi Schlegal added, not doing anything to hide her bias. "Her story has been so inspiring, and it would be so incredible to see her take five gold medals away from this Olympics."

"It really would," Tim agreed. "From Nationals in 2009 where she broke her back to today where she now competes in her final event of this Olympic Cycle, already the All-Around Champion, a gold medallist on Beam and the Uneven Bars, and a silver medallist on Vault.

"To think three years ago, people were saying she'd never do gymnastics again," he finished contemplatively.

"Well she proved them all abundantly wrong," Elfi said, almost as though taking person offence at all the naysayers on Payson's behalf.

"In a few moments we should have the score for Genji Cho," she said, her voice taking on a reverent tone as they awaited judgment. "Genji Cho, as we said earlier, performed this routine phenomenally in the All-Around finals, outscoring both Payson Keeler and Kelly Parker on floor. She needs at least 16.25 to medal today, and I honestly don't know if the routine we just saw is as good as the one we saw in the All-Around."

"I think the judges are of the same mind," Tim said ominously as the scores were posted. "When you see a routine like the one Genji Cho performed last week, you can't help but compare them. There was nothing explicitly wrong with what she did today, but the judges likely felt they had to discount her by comparison to the earlier performance."

"But 16.395 does put her in first place on the leader board," Al noted. "And in contention for the gold medal."

"But hopefully not for long," Elfi said, segueing the conversation back to the final gymnast on this apparatus. "Performing now to Tchiakovsky's Swan Lake - our final competitor in the woman's competition. Payson Keeler."

Taking a deep, calming breath, Payson waited for the first haunting notes of her floor music to fill the arena. She began low to the ground, like the artistic gymnast she never thought she would be, her body slowly unfurling with each sinuous movement of the music. And then she twirled away from her starting position in the centre of the floor with grandiose leaps and turns – split leap to sissone with an elegant pirouette to finish – taking her to her mark in the corner.

In the brief moment she had to centre herself, she thought about the story she was about to tell. She thought about the first time they met and the way he had smiled at her like she was the most incredible thing he had ever seen. She thought about the first time they danced together, and the way she'd wanted to kiss him even then, but held back, far too shy to try and kiss a man she'd only just met the previous day. She thought about their first kiss, standing in front of her house with the snow swirling around them in tiny flurries and his lips warm against her own despite the winter chill. And the many kisses that followed: bittersweet when they were saying goodbye; gentle and chaste when they were saying hello; the building passion as they became closer, bordering upon possessive; and the almost exploratory kisses that led to something more. She thought about the challenges they had faced together, and how much stronger they were because of them.

She no longer thought of Romeo and Juliet when she performed this routine, which was as much his as it was hers. Shakespeare, as brilliant was he was, seemed somehow insufficient compared to her own story flashing through her mind in a single instant before she dashed into her first tumbling pass.

A round-off flic-flac to build momentum for her backwards double pike with a full twist and then an Arabian salto. The series flowed seamlessly together, and she landed with little difficulty despite this, arguably, being the most difficult of her tumbling passes.

Moving with grace and elegance, her movements purely ballet, she travelled across the floor, pausing near the centre for what would be the highlight of her routine for many watchers. She moved into fourth position, raising onto demi-pointe with the rising music, then pushed off her back leg into multiple turns – four in fact – bringing her working leg en passé, close to her body so she was more aerodynamic. There was a cry of applause as she finished the four complete turns, each pirouette perfectly controlled, but she had little time to absorb it. She stepped lightly forward – ballon Jayden had called it – bringing her feet together before she dived towards the ground, tucking her body into a forward roll and landing back on her feet.

She danced towards the corner, her arms moving gracefully around her in imitation of the swan in her music. A small smile pulled at her lips as she thought about the ballet, and how Sasha had tried so hard to make her see herself through his eyes (even braving Viola's wrath for her). She wasn't sure if she truly believed herself capable of such beauty, even now. All she knew was that when Sasha looked at her the way he did that night at the ballet, she felt beautiful and that even if she wasn't, it was enough that he believed it.

The music built to a crescendo as she ran forward once again, this time handspringing forward into a full twisting layout followed by a second salto in the same position but with two full twists. She held her lines, making the powerful combination look elegant and controlled and practically effortless. From there, she lowered herself down to the ground, ensuring she made use of both levels in her routine, before travelling over the floor once again, stopping only to perform a wolf-hop with a 720 turn and landing in the far corner.

She turned on the balls of her feet and bent at the waist, bowing down to the ground and sweeping her hand from the floor back up towards the ceiling, the music complementing the gesture. Then it was into the third of her tumbling passes, starting with an aerial walk-over that was included purely for the aesthetic and then a forward/backward combination going from a tucked salto with a half-twist to a backwards layout with one and a half twists.

From there she went into her final dance passage. Like the first it was purely ballet with sissones and arabesques displaying her artistry, balance, and flexibility. With only seconds left in her routine, she began her fourth and final tumbling pass, only pausing a moment to think of the words that had begun her on this path – three innocuous little words. You're Payson Keeler. That was all it took

A round-off propelled her into a backwards whipped salto, which flowed directly into her dismount: a double Arabian piked. She took off backwards after her first salto and twisted her body around before propelling herself into the two piked fronts. She landed lightly on her feet as the last note of her music rang through the arena, her arms raised in her last ever salute.

No matter what the judges made of it, for her it was the best she had ever been and the moment she would remember for the rest of her life.

"Well," Al said, the first to break the sudden silence that had taken over the commentary box. His two co-commentators – usually so verbose before, during, and after a performance – were both stunned into silence.

"Honestly, I don't have the words," Tim managed, his mouth opening and closing even after he was done speaking.

"I don't think I've ever seen her more beautiful," Elfi said, wiping a tear from her eye as she came to her senses. "Just . . . she's in a league of her own."

"You are ready?"

Sasha flicked his eyes briefly from the small television screen in a corner of the locker room to reply. "Just a minute," he replied, his eyes already drifting back to elegant creature on the television screen.

Nikolai gave a small huff of annoyance, but did not try to hurry him along.

So Sasha watched her for a few more moments, as entranced as he had been the first time he saw her dancing by herself in front of wall of mirrors. And yet she was so different from the girl he had met that day – the one who had been self-conscious and wary and complete oblivious to her effect on him. Here she was now, strong and confident. A force to be reckoned with.

"Tu ai ceva aparte, frumoasa fata mea," he murmured to himself, pride and awe muddling in his tone. The music faded, and all that was left was Payson standing in the centre of the floor, flooded with the praise and accolades that he always knew were coming to her.

An announcement filtered across the radio system, calling the Parallel Bars finalists into the arena.

"Come along, Voin," Nikolai said before Sasha could try to linger any longer – he only wanted to stay to see the look on her face when they made the announcement. "It is time."

Sasha nodded and followed behind him. His Olympic career finally coming to an end.

He had come so far in that time. Back then he was a sad, angry boy who felt he needed to prove himself to a woman he didn't love and a father who would hate him for winning. He was a different man today, one who only needed to prove this to himself. No one else.

But all the same, this last time - this final event. This one was for Payson.

There was an uproarious cheer from the crowd as the scores were finally posted and her name slipped past her competitors to the top of the leader board. The number 16.675 flashed beside it, nearly three tenths higher than Kaylie and Genji Cho.

"I don't care what that score says," Marty muttered beside her, slipping his arm around her shoulders. "That routine was perfect, Payson," he said, his smile warm with pride.

"Thank you," she said, lifting her chin and sending him a watery smile. She was so grateful for everything he'd done – for being the first person to really believe in her dream.

"You are so welcome, Payson Keeler," Marty answered, his voice low and slightly chocked with emotion. "It has been such an honour." He sent her one last smile before ushering her towards the event's co-ordinators, who somehow managed to get her on top of the podium for the victory ceremony. The whole moment seemed to go past her in a blur, and suddenly she was walking off the floor, following behind the other girls.

It was only several days later, sitting outside watching the London skyline, that it finally all sunk in. She'd done it. She'd gone to the Olympics. She'd won six Olympic medals (five of them gold).

She had everything she ever wanted.

"So this is what it feels like," she mused quietly to herself, the words themselves somehow making it more real.

"What what feels like?" Sasha asked, slipping through the sliding door to the deck with a bowl in each hand. Rassilon eagerly lifted her head from Payson's lap at the prospect of food, but he shook his head and she dropped it back down with what could only be described as doggie sigh of resignation.

Payson smiled at him lightly, shifting to make more room for him beside her. "I think I'm just starting to realize what happened," she said, her voice carrying a tinge of awe. "I thought it would feel different," she added, frowning a little.

"Different how?" he asked, tilting her his head to the side.

She shrugged, but smiled to reassure him that it was not a bad difference. "I suppose I thought there'd be this big moment of all consuming joy – like it would just sort of burst out of me," she explained. "It's sort of quieter. I feel . . . content," she said pausing a moment before settling on the right word.

"Are you disappointed?" he asked carefully.

"No," she said. "I always tried to imagine how I'd feel at the end of this. I really am so happy," she said meaningfully, "and I think only a little bit of that has to do with the gold medals." She grinned playfully, gesturing for him to come closer

Sasha smiled back, putting his dishes to one side so he could cup her face in his hands. His finger were cold against her cheeks as he wiped away the tears that welled in the corners of her eyes and then leaned forward to place a light kiss against her lips. "I love you," he told her sincerely.

"I know," she replied cheekily, her smile growing wider still. "I love you too, scumpule," she added, her tone softer. She leaned forward to share another kiss, only to have Sasha pull away before she could properly begin to enjoy it.

"Here. Before it melts," he said, handing her one of the bowls. "You have no idea how hard it is to find cookie dough ice cream in London, dragă," he complained with a mock glare.

"And these?" she asked, pointing with her spoon to the fried parcels melting her ice cream.

"Gogosi," Sasha replied, looking very pleased with himself. "Romanian donuts. Just like myBunica used to make them."

She prodded the dish gingerly, looking a little unsure of herself. "I feel like we should be making a toast or something," she said, not quite ready to dig in. They were officially sending off their gymnastics careers with the most deliciously fattening foods the two had been craving for years and years.

"To what?" he asked, pausing before he brought a spoon of ice cream and donut to his mouth.

"To the end of an era?" she suggested, frowning at her own choice of words.

Sasha shook his head, smiling gently as he lifted his spoon to her lips. It didn't feel like an ending. Not really.

This wasn't an ending . . . just an ellipsis. A pause. A transition.

Because endings were usually sad. And this . . . well this was just the beginning.

And in the end the love you take;
Is equal to the love you make.

~ Paul McCartney "The End"

Notes: And now it's done. Sort of.

I'm not really sure when the drabbles will start - I'm about half way through two of them - but I'll just post them in the same story so you won't need to go hunting around for them.

I can't believe that I've been writing this story for over a year. And it's over 100K. That's the longest thing I've ever written.

Once again, thank you all for reading this.

~ Virgo