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Payson Keeler hated ballet. She hated Mistress Viola who pranced about with her long cane, jabbing it into unsuspecting legs and stomachs. She hated the preening, the tucking in, the excessive lengthening and stretching of all the limbs, and she especially resented her reputation as the ugly duckling of the class.

Although she was well on her way to mastering artistic gymnastics, Sasha had insisted that Payson continue taking the class which meant every week she would don those hideous tights and do some pointless exercises which inevitably ended in disaster and a telling off from the strict ballet teacher.

The only thing that made it worthwhile was that Sasha was, more often than not, an even bigger failure than herself. Her coach had taken it upon himself to join the class in order to prove to Payson that he was always there for her, and would help her regain her confidence and focus as a gymnast. She couldn't help laughing at his wobbly knees and bow-legged gait as he attempted to leap gracefully across the floor. Disaster indeed. Luckily, hers was not the only giggling as the rest of the teenage class dissolved into fits of laughter too, leaving Payson time to quickly cough and straightening her face before Sasha came over to her.

"Better?" he beamed, apparently oblivious to the hysterics that were hurriedly trying to be calmed around him.

"Yes," ventured Payson, her mouth twitching, "much better. You had a lot of…grace."

She couldn't help a small snicker erupting from the last word and instantly clapped her hand to her mouth in embarrassment. Sasha put on a look of feigned surprise, pretending to be hurt by her comment, but as he watched another member of the class execute a perfect jump he smiled too.

"Maybe I've got a long way to go," he mused.

"Yep," replied Payson as she nodded vigorously, "you and me both."

It was her turn to attempt the flight across the room now, Mistress Viola calling her over with a stern finger. She gulped, and Sasha gave her a reassuring smile. He was always there for her, always helping her on, and for that she would be eternally grateful. As the ballet teacher counted her in, Sasha watched his pupil float across the room. It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly better than his. There was something in the way her body twirled effortlessly, the shine of her leotard catching the light and glittering against her blonde hair that made him catch his breath. For the first time he began to see the makings of an artistic gymnast, though she needed to work on her smile. She looked so delicate and serene as she came to a standstill, as if the effort of leaping across the room hadn't fazed her at all.

Sasha may have clapped a little too loudly.

Breathless, Payson moved to the back of the group, tucking a stray hair from her bun behind her ear. She prepared herself for staunch criticism and tried to beat her coach to it.

"Not enough line," she said stubbornly, moving behind Sasha to let one of the other dancers past, "and more smile I suppose."

"Um yes," replied Sasha quickly, "definitely. More line, more grace."

He flashed her a grin.

"More ballet."

Payson Keeler groaned.

As she changed, in a cubicle of course she didn't want to stand out amidst the lithe and skinny ballerinas, Payson wondered yet again why she was going through all this. Because, in all honesty, she was only still there because of Sasha. Ever since her injury her confidence had been rocked and the gnawing pain of self-doubt was ever present whenever she was at The Rock or here. It was only when being coached by Sasha that she felt safe, away from the preying eyes of a world which expected her to bounce back into form, but which she was scared she would disappoint. Sasha Belov had given her faith again.

Darting out of the changing room before any of the ballerinas tried to strike up a conversation, Payson met Sasha in the entrance hall. He was sitting on one of the plastic seats but stood up when he saw her, with a little smile.

"Good job today Payson," he assured her, walking her to the car park. "And tomorrow we'll continue that new floor routine at the gym."

Payson nodded, scanning the cars for her family's silver vehicle.

"Thanks" she said turning back to Sasha, "see you tomorrow then."

They parted ways: the man moving off to his car, the girl walking slowly towards her mother waiting for her. Payson stared a little too long at her coach's retreating figure, wondering what she would have done without him. Given up already, that's for sure.

"Good training?" asked Kim as Payson jumped up into the front seat, hauling her bag onto her knee.

Payson gave her a stubborn look, trademark Keeler competition face.

"Mum I don't class prancing around pretending to be a fairy as training."

Kim laughed as she drove out of the parking space.

"You know honey," she assured, "there might be more to the dancing than you think."

Ignoring her daughter's patronising look, she continued.

"Sasha certainly thinks you're improving, and you know he wouldn't keep pushing you if he didn't think it was working."


But for now Payson Keeler didn't want to talk about ballet anymore. Watching the car she knew was Sasha's drive away, she shook her head lightly and pressed her cheek against the windowpane.

"Anything wrong Pay?"

"No," she returned with a small smile.