Second chakra, my ass, Payson thought to herself as she watched Lauren run through her beam routine. The beam routine that wowed the international gymnastics community in Hungary at the last big meet before the World Championships, just a month away now.
As much as she hated to admit it, Austin was right. Sex sells and while she wasn't buying, the judges were. Despite having just as high a start value on the apparatus as Lauren and Ivanka Kirilenko from Russia, she hadn't come close to medaling on the event. And if there was one thing Payson Keeler hated more than losing, it was losing for no good reason.
She'd learned a lesson in Hungary and now she had to make an adjustment. She was perfectly capable of being just as sexy and engaging as Lauren Tanner, she proved that when Darby forced them into her silly, "Learn My Routine" exercise, just one of the many nails in Darby's coffin as the Rock's head coach.
Payson glanced up towards the gym office where Sasha had barricaded himself all afternoon, sifting through the backlog of paperwork and administrative odds and ends that had been neglected in his short, yet still far too long absence from the Rock. She caught a glimpse of him as he walked by the glass doors, running a hand through his sandy hair, while speaking into his cell phone. He was obviously agitated and she frowned, wondering who he was talking to. She had a sneaking suspicion it was Ellen Beals.
Sasha turned and faced the gym, his frown deep set, his eyes narrowing at whatever was being said on the other line. Payson met his gaze for a moment and smiled encouragingly, hoping to ease some of the strain. His face cleared and then he grinned back ruefully, rolling his eyes heavenward and shaking his head. Her smile widened, as did his before he turned away again.
"Beam's free," Lauren's voice echoed towards her, drawing her attention away from the office.
Payson nodded silently, setting up the springboard and bouncing on it softly, making sure the tension was correct.
"What are you doing?" Lauren asked, removing the tape from her wrists, unmasked curiosity written across her face.
"Redesigning my beam routine," Payson said shortly, leaning forward towards the beam and nodding to herself in approval of the distance between the board and the raised four inch platform she had to perform upon.
Lauren snorted, "This is what you do on a Saturday night?" she asked incredulously. Payson didn't have to look to know she was rolling her eyes.
"Yep," she answered firmly, stepping off the springboard and sitting down on the mat stretching out thoroughly, her muscles having gone a bit cold waiting for Lauren to finish hogging the high beam.
"What will your new DOD be?" Lauren asked, her voice too casual to truly be so.
Payson fought down a smile. "Seven point one," she said not looking up, pressing her nose to her knee as she stretched over her left leg. That's how she'd spent the flight home to Boulder, with a copy of the code of points and a notepad, designing a routine that would not only increase her difficulty on beam, but highlight that quiet sexiness Austin insisted she possessed.
"Bull," Lauren said, scoffing harshly, "just like your double Arabian dismount."
She didn't respond, letting Lauren interpret her silence however she wished. She switched legs and began lengthening and flexing her right leg, all the way down through her toes, feeling the extension through the lithe sinew.
"Ready to go, Max?" Lauren's voice echoed just a little louder than necessary.
Payson fought the instinct to look up, but then sat up slowly and stood, shaking out her legs.
"What?" Max Spencer said, his attention snapping from his wrist guards to Lauren. "Yeah, whenever you are."
"Great," Lauren said, beaming at him and then glancing over to Payson. "Max and I are going hiking by Bear Peak Trail after practice," she said, her voice saccharine and superior, as if hiking were a euphemism for a much more intimate activity. "It's so romantic and secluded up there. It'll be perfect."
"Yeah, the lighting is great, especially at sunset," Max agreed, somehow oblivious to the interplay between the two girls. "Payson, do you want to come with us?"
Payson nearly laughed aloud at the strangled noise Lauren made in protest. She was tempted to say yes simply to annoy Lauren, but she knew beating Lauren on beam at Worlds would annoy her far more. Besides, despite being flattered by his attention, she didn't have time for boys and the distractions they brought with them, no matter how cute their smile.
"No thanks," she said, smiling warmly at him. "You two have fun. Show me the pictures tomorrow?" she suggested as his face fell a little at her refusal.
He nodded, "Sure." He looked over at Lauren. "I'll be ready in a few. Meet you out by my car?"
"Absolutely," Lauren said, smirking at him as he retreated to the locker room.
Payson put herself into a handstand, checking her center of gravity, making sure her core muscles held firm. She stood, nodding to herself and then moved back towards the beam, feeling it under her hands, closing her eyes and visualizing the mount, a round off arabian into a hand stand and then down to a split. A power move for sure, but one she'd been working on for a while now and one that would help give her routine a little more sex appeal and a lot more flash. Not to mention a skill in the new Code of Points with her name on it.
"Have fun tonight, Payson," Lauren's voice sang out softly, from only a foot or so away. Her eyes flickered open and she blinked at the smaller blonde. "I know I will." With a flick of her head and a swish of her ponytail, Lauren sauntered back toward the locker room to prepare for her evening with Max.
Payson shook her head and placed her hands on the beam again, closing her eyes and focusing her mind on the routine she'd choreographed, unwilling and unable to to reconcile herself to the idea of finishing out of contention on the beam for the remainder of her career. Her eyes flickered open and she smiled before checking the spring board again and back up five steps to mount the beam.
It was a routine she never dreamed she'd put together, let alone be able to pull off. A round off arabian into a handstand, her legs slowly lowering into a split before she rotated on her hands and lowered her legs to the beam, extending them fully, pressing her back against the four inches, extending an arm out behind her, one leg tucked against the side of the apparatus, the other extended fully in front of her. She took a slow breath before using her hips to spin her body on the small flat surface, legs extended, toes pointed, her back bending over the beam, stretched out, her body bowed and arched, her head thrown back, her neck extended gracefully.
Then pushing up slowly into a standing split with hand support, she stood, before immediately slipping her momentum forward into a full illusion. Finally, she stood tall, pausing for a moment then tossing her head back and flicking her hands out in front of her. Her leg slid out, toe pointed and her hand followed, gracefully ghosting over her thigh before extending out again and pushing back towards the edge of the beam.
She could feel the power in her legs, flowing up through the rest of her body as she pushed up onto her toes, but suddenly she felt a presence near her in the otherwise empty gym. He was as magnetic as ever and just as it was before he left, she was always aware of him, her body responding instantly to his nearness.
Payson paused and let her heels fall back onto the beam. She turned towards him and raised her eyebrows, the question unvoiced, but obvious.
He nodded and she broke eye contact, centering her body again, focusing on the aerial series. She pushed out and around, a half twisting flic-flac into a forward handspring and then, not allowing herself time to hesitate combined it with a front tuck, landing firmly on her feet before rising onto her toes again.
Her feet shuffled forward as she let her hips sway, she then pushed up onto her toes again and extended fully, just as he showed her months ago into an aerial cartwheel, her arms out to the sides, fingers perfectly positioned, her heel landing at the edge of the beam.
She smiled softly to herself, knowing he would love this next element as she strode forward quickly and leapt into the air. Her body arched and her legs extended, her head bent back in a picture perfect switch ring leap. Then the ballet training he'd force fed her took hold as she pushed up onto her toe, her leg stretched back behind her as she spun around in a one and a half turn, and then a walk over to move her to the far edge of the beam. She took a deep breath and pointed a toe in front of her before pushing out again into a round off, flic-flac arabian double front, the same dismount Lauren had thought her incapable of doing, the one she'd been training ever since the day they competed for the captaincy.
The landing wasn't perfect, but it was feeling decent and she nodded to herself. She didn't raise her arms in salute, she simply turned to face him.
Sasha stood few away, arms crossed over his chest an unfamiliar expression upon his face.
She grew impatient with his stare and his silence. "Well?"
He cleared his throat and huffed out a breath. "How did..." he trailed off. "I was...Payson I was gone for two months, not two years...how did you..."
His question was clear, despite his inability to voice it. When he'd left she'd fully embraced her ability to be artistic, to be beautiful, but she hadn't even attempted to exude this sort of sensuality into her gymnastics.
"I had some help," she admitted, "but mostly I just, I just feel different, I guess."
Sasha narrowed his eyes, his gaze deep and penetrating. She didn't know what he was looking for, but a shiver ran down her spine at the sheer intensity of the expression.
"Help from who?" he asked softly.
"Lauren a little, indirectly and Austin," she said with a shrug and a small smile at the ridiculous rituals Austin had thought would help her tap into her sexuality.
She saw his jaw twitch at her answer, but he nodded firmly.
"It's a beautiful routine, Payson," he said, "but it's not quite there. How long have you been working on it?" He moved closer and nodded towards low beam, raised about four feet off the ground. She instinctively stepped next to it, following his nonverbal direction.
"The individual skills for a few weeks, but that was the first time I put all of it together," she said.
Sasha nodded and then swallowed roughly. "You said Austin helped you with it? How?" he asked.
Payson bit her lip, embarrassed and completely unwilling to share that particular story with him. She titled her head and shrugged, "He just...helped."
His frown deepened and he broke off eye contact. "The one and a half turn on your back," he said, his hand slapping down onto the beam, making her jump a little.
It was one of the sexier moves in the routine. Done quickly it resembled something out of a break dancing routine, done at a measured pace, it was mesmerizing. She knew it because she'd caught Austin and Max gaping at her more than once as she attempted it.
She nodded, sliding onto the four inches, centering the small of her back, resting her head against it and arching her body, extending her leg out and her arms over her head. Her eyes closed and she tensed for a moment. She was about to start the turn when she felt a hand resting, warm and strong against her hip.
"Hang on," he said softly. "Relax here." His hand flexed against her skin and the tight material of her leo. Her body responded immediately, the tension gone. "Here too," he said, his finger tips brushing against the side of her neck. Again, she relaxed. "Good."
The hand at her hip skimmed down her thigh, the tension leaving her body as his fingers slid over her skin.
"The judges have to see you like this, the tension you need to build your momentum, it has to be seamlessly incorporated into the turn," he said, his voice nothing more than a whisper.
Payson nodded and he tapped her knee lightly. "Now turn," he said and she did, on command, whipping her legs around, fully extended, arching her back out of the turn, over and around the beam, twisting her body beautifully. She finished the turn and froze when she felt his hand resting against her stomach. "And again, relax, once you've finished it."
Her eyes flickered open as she let the tension slip from her body, maintaining the elegant lines she'd created. "Like that?" she asked, looking up at him.
He swallowed and cleared his throat roughly before nodding, "Exactly like that."
She sat up, but he didn't step away and as she inhaled she recognized the scent invading her senses. "Cedar," she breathed softly.
Sasha moved back as she looked up at him and furrowed his brow, "Sorry?" he asked.
Payson shook her head and grimaced. She thought she'd gotten over this...this crush...over those awful, inappropriate and exhilarating feelings for her coach. "Nothing."
Sasha frowned again. He was doing that a lot tonight. She hadn't seen him frown at her like that since before she'd bought into his plan to become a more artistic gymnast. "Sasha, is everything okay?" she asked.
He nodded quickly and ran his fingers through his hair, the same gesture she'd seen earlier while he was on the phone, an obvious sign of frustration. "Yeah, everything's fine."
They stood in silence for a moment and then Sasha shook his head. "You said Austin helped you with that routine?" he asked and she wondered what his fascination with Austin's involvement was about.
"I guess. I was having problems learning Lauren's beam routine for one of Darby's stupid exercises and he sort of...I don't know gave me lessons on how to be sexy."
She rolled her eyes, "It didn't really work. First he made me smell different scents to see which one turned me on and then he wanted me to get down on all fours and make cat noises."
"Cat noises?" he asked, laughing outright now, the tension and awkwardness seeping away more quickly than it should have.
Payson shrugged. "Something about feline energy and my second chakra. I don't know. All I know is that nothing worked until..." she trailed off and looked away, "until I just let go, until I was myself out there."
Sasha nodded, "And this routine?"
She felt a flush rising into her cheeks. "I had no idea that I'd really be able to pull it off, it's so different from anything I've ever done," she trailed off, "but it worked, didn't it?"
"It definitely did," he said, as that tension coiled between them again, not exactly unpleasant, but nearly tangible. "It took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting...well it doesn't matter. I want to see the one and a half turn, with your leg horizontal, on the low beam," he said, nodding towards the four inch apparatus just inches off the floor.
"Was it my extension?" she asked, furrowing her brow. "It felt good before."
He gestured towards the beam and she stood on it, waiting for instruction. "Before the turn," he said, "extend your leg back and turn out." She did so and then again, just as before he moved into her, his hand moving against her calf and shoulder, "extend, but relax, keep the lines long, but not tense." His hand burned against her skin, but she did her best to ignore it. His grip was firm and she could feel the warmth of his body hovering just inches from hers.
"I don't feel tense," she insisted, turned back over her shoulder, unaware of just how close he was.
Their eyes locked and his hand twitched against shoulder before running along the line of her back and waist. "You're like a coil ready to spring." His breath was warm against her mouth. She blinked, but it did not lessen the intensity of the moment. "Relax."
Her tongue darted out to wet her lips and she saw his eyes dart down towards the tiny motion, before flicking back to her gaze.
Neither knew who moved first, neither cared, as their mouths met, softly, the only real contact was his lips against hers. His tongue gently sought out hers, before deepening the kiss fully, naturally slanting his mouth over hers. Then just as they began together, they both pulled away, but hovered close for a moment, his nose lightly brushing against her cheek before moving away entirely.
And then the moment broke just as quickly as it had begun.
Payson's eyes widened in shock, a hand flying up to press against her lips. "I...I'm sorry...I..." she managed to mumble through her fingers.
Sasha stared at her briefly and then shook his head as well. "No, I'm...I don't know what I..." His hand ran harshly through his hair and over the back of his neck. "I was just...it's not...I didn't mean..."
At his words a horrible thought crossed her mind. "I'm sorry, Sasha. It's my fault. The routine, I designed it that way to provoke that kind of reaction. I just didn't think that it would...that you would...you're not going to leave again are you?" She could feel the tears beginning to gather in the corners of her eyes as her voice caught in her throat. She'd just gotten him back and now she might have driven him away, again.
Then he was there, hesitating for just a moment before his hand came to rest against her hair and then the other at her shoulder, pulling her against his chest, holding her gently. "I"m not going anywhere," he said softly. "I swear to you, I'm staying." His lips pressed against the crown of her head and she leaned back, looking into his eyes, wanting to be sure it was the truth. "I'll never leave you again."
And then they were there again, his mouth hovering over hers and neither willing to pull away and yet not able to close the distance either, not again. Together, they stepped back, her back against the beam, him off the mat entirely.
Payson sighed, though she wasn't sure if it was in disappointment or relief. Perhaps both.
He ran a hand through his hair and then over his face, avoiding her eyes completely. "Damn it," he mumbled. "This cannot happen, not again."
She had no idea where the impulse or the boldness came from, but the next words escaped her lips before she could stop them, "And if I want it to happen again?" she asked softly, though it did not lessen the impact of her words.
His eyes flashed to hers. She thought he'd scold her or laugh or let her down gently, as he did before, but instead he said, "You don't know what you're asking."
"Don't patronize me," she shot back, stunned at the fervor in her own voice.
"I'd never," he said firmly. "We talked about this, before, Payson. We worked through it. I thought you understood."
It was her turn to frown. He was being deliberately obtuse. "This was different, Sasha," she said softly. "We both..."
Sasha's eyes flashed at hers and she inhaled sharply at the fire in them. He opened his mouth to speak, but then stopped and shook his head. She knew the conversation was over and what happened would be pushed aside and forgotten. If it wasn't, then everything they'd denied, everything that people had been whispering about for months would be true and neither of them wanted that.
"Okay, fine," she said finally, feeling herself deflate. "Are we done for tonight, then?"
He simply nodded, releasing her and she turned away from him, walking back towards the locker room, her hips swaying in a way she'd never quite allowed before, despite herself.
"Payson," he called out just as she reached the locker room.
She turned and tilted her head towards him, her lips still tingling from the earlier contact.
"I am sorry," he said, again and despite the frustration flowing through her, she smiled.
"Good night, Sasha," she said, softly, letting her eyes say what she knew she couldn't put into words, at least not yet. And as she disappeared around the corner, despite his silence, she knew that more than one lesson had been learned tonight.
A/N: Okay, I was inspired by Austin and Payson's "sexy lesson" scene last week and after a little bit of encouragement from a couple of friends I started to write. it was supposed to be an AU version of that scene where it was Sasha teaching Payson to be sexy and not Austin. Whoops. Sometimes I just can't control where my writing goes. This is majorly AU or alternate universe mostly because I couldn't figure out a way to make it work without giving away some major league spoilers for the rest of this season. Some of what happened here is actually going to happen in 2B, other stuff not so much (obviously eventually you'll know which is which, but for now just assume it's all AU). Hope you enjoyed it anyway and please let me know what you think.
Gymnastics Note: If you're interested in seeing the move that really got Sasha's attention go to YouTube and put "Balance Beam Gymnastics Turns Guide" into the search box. The first video by MostepanovaFan is what you want. It's at the 43-44 second mark.