A/N: I've been overly productive as of late… Basically this is a 'what if Austin ran into Marcus at the Rock instead of Summer' alternative to 02x14. Enjoy!
I won't lie. My training hasn't been up to par lately. The thing about having an Olympic gold medal is that it clearly contributes to the cocky. After winning, I didn't think I needed a coach. I knew what my body needed, I knew what it took to go back and win a second time and I surely didn't need someone barking at me. When Sasha was still at the Rock, he was never officially my coach, but he did give me tips from time to time and that was cool. This Darby chick though? No thank you.
So I've been cooling off for a while, letting Max have a run of the gym. I'll admit that it is nice to have another dude who isn't Carter around. Though something tells me in the not too distant future Max might find himself in a stick girl drama situation with the Rock Rebels a la Carter Anderson. When Max told me about the Office Lady walking in on him taking "sexy photos" of Lauren Tanner my first impulse was to laugh. Hard. For five minutes straight. I've never seen Max's face turn that shade of red as he glared and told me to shut up. He looked almost as mad as Russo when I smoked that kid at Nationals. Almost.
Then when I finally caught my breath I smacked Max across the back of his head. I know I can't blame him for being a dude because what dude wouldn't go with it when he's got a camera in hand and a hot half-naked chick posing in front of him? Still, I played some serious matchmaker with Payson for this guy and this is how he repays me? I really should've smacked him twice.
Then when I promise myself to put in some late hours to make up for slacking off, Coach Ray of Sunshine tells me I can't because the girls are having some little sleepover or something. What the hell? I'm a little peeved, but somehow her abundant positive energy drowns out my mild negative energy and Max asks me the golden question: "Have you ever heard of Damon Young?"
The last time I saw Damon Young it was on a stage in France as he moaned and groaned into a microphone about some girl—Emily Kmetko.
I've sampled Max's iPod. Damon Young's music isn't exactly his type of music. Max is more about Dubstep or House, music to lose yourself in when in training mode or driving around, looking awesome. Damon is all about acoustics and broken hearts and girls who break 'em. I immediately found it strange he'd ask.
"Yeah. I saw him play once," I tell Max. "Why do you ask?"
"Apparently he's got a gig at the Shack," Max explains. "Lauren Tanner invited me, but don't worry. She said a bunch of people are going so it isn't like a date or anything. You don't have to turn all mother hen on me, Austin, really."
"Not a date, huh? A bunch of people, you say? Then where's my invite? Lost in the mail?" I ask. How can he not see Black Widow Lauren spinning a web? I really did try to save this dude getting snatched up by that seemingly harmless blonde, but he gets drawn back over and over. Oh well, can't say I didn't try.
"The venue is called The Shack. Something tells me it's not like a white tie invitation-only affair. Plus, there are posters for it all on the bulletin boards," Max says, pointing over his shoulder towards the hallway. "So you'll come? Act as my human shield?"
I'm immediately distracted from whatever Max is saying because I spot Emily across the gym. I mutter a, "Sure, man, whatever," give Max a firm pat on the back and unapologetically ditch him, dashing over to Emily, calling out her name.
When she hears me, Emily turns and smiles. "Hey Austin."
"So I know you signing that piece of paper basically bars you from interaction with members of the opposite sex, but you could have told me about your boy having a gig at our very own Pizza Shack," I say, practically bouncing on my feet from the anticipation of a show.
"I would have this morning, but you looked so peaceful sleeping in your car in the parking lot," Emily says. "Plus, I don't really want to talk about it seeing as I can't be there and the thought alone is depressing."
I frown. I don't like seeing this girl depressed. "What's wrong? The NGO got you down?"
"Below down. More like rock bottom," Emily replies. "I'd risk it, but Darby has us under lock down for the night. Lauren seems pretty confident in this plan she has to convince Darby to bring us there, but I don't know."
"Well, you never know. These days it seems like she has everyone wrapped around her finger," I murmur. "Either way it looks like I have a job tonight. If you do make it then I have to make sure Lauren doesn't eat Max alive—" Emily smiles a little at that, "—and if you don't, I'll bring my camera and get every second of it on video and you get exclusive viewing rights."
"Austin, how thoughtful of you," Emily says. "Hmm, I think I'm liking this buddy system."
"For sure. I'd do anything for you…buddy."
I cringe because for some reason that last line came out sounding a lot more awkward than it should have. Emily makes a face and the awkward registers with her, but then she shakes her head and gets back to the beam now that Lauren is finally down working on it or, rather, working it.
For a bit, I just stand there, wondering why that had sounded so weird. It's just Emily and she is my buddy and I would do anything for her. Still, the words didn't feel right. I think about it until I'm sure I'm overanalyzing nothing and decide to get in some pummel horse work before the girls' slumber party tonight.
You know, when you promise a friend that you're going to videotape her boyfriend performing it'd probably be a good idea to not forget your camcorder in your locker at the Rock. I assume Max can just use his flashy camera, but then when I'm halfway to the Shack, he calls me and says video takes up too much memory and he isn't willing to delete any of the pictures to make room.
It pisses me off and so I snidely ask how many sexy photos of Lauren Tanner he really needs, tell him to delete 'em and I'll front him some cash so he can pick up a Playboy on the way home. Then the prick hangs up on me. I guess that's a no.
I already promised Emily and I know she'd be less disappointed if I only caught part of Damon's set on tape rather than not get any footage at all so I turn around and head to the Rock. I'm pretty sure Darby wouldn't have a problem with me grabbing something from the locker room. And if the girls are having a massive pillow fight in the center of the gym and I just happened to be there it wouldn't be too horrible either. I bet Payson would have the cutest embarrassed, dorky expression on her face if I caught her in her PJs.
Sadly, all my fantasies associated with girls and sleepovers shatters when I get to the Rock and I don't find a single girl. Who I do find is Marcus, the Suit from the NGO. Yes, it's quite the opposite from everything associated with sleepovers.
After giving him fail directions to the Shack ("yeah, you just make a left on that dirt road and keep going. You can't miss it—well, at least, I think. I dunno, man. Maybe you should Google it?") I race off on Lolita to the Pizza Shack. I need to get Emily out of there before she gets into any more trouble. Yeah, I get that I have a Hero Complex, but this really isn't the time to be hashing that out.
It's the strangest thing. I race in like the Knight in Shining Armor on the White Horse (or more accurately the Knight in the Leather Jacket on the Sexy Hog) all ready to save the day and the first thing I see is Damon Young on stage…with Kaylie.
For a second I forget all about my mission (save the gymnast—save the world) and my heart sinks down to my stomach. This whole anorexia thing has pointed out that I don't really know Kaylie Cruz and I never really did despite telling her I was falling for her and in front of her parents too. Nice job, Austin. Still, it doesn't mean I didn't have feelings for her and seeing her with him, it sucks.
To be honest, they sound kinda fucking horrible and it's not just because she's breaking my heart a little (I tell her to heal on her own and for herself and what does she do? She found someone else to save her) and I might envy Damon a little (look at the way Kaylie is looking at him). They literally sound really bad. It's the way they're singing to each other that keeps the audience captivated. Even a room full of strangers can tell that there's something there. I try to think back to the moments I've had with Kaylie and if she ever looked at me the way she's looking at Damon and it sucks because I can't think of a single one.
When I finally tear my eyes from the stage, I notice Emily is standing beside me. She looks devastated, probably can feel what I'm feeling multiplied by a million. After all, that guy is her boyfriend. Before I realize what I'm doing, I grab a hold of her hand. Emily looks startled for a second, but then she sees it's me. She smiles a bit and squeezes my hand back.
Once Damon and Kaylie finish their song and the people are clapping, I turn to Emily, suddenly remembering my purpose. "Em, you need to get out of here. I ran into Marcus at the Rock. He knows you aren't there and guess where his next guess is."
Emily looks alarmed. "Shoot! Of course this has to happen. After all, it is me we're talking about."
"But this is like a team outing," Lauren argues. It's a weak one at best. "Darby approved. She's even chaperoning."
We all look around and find the girls' newest coach over at the bar. People pounding their fists on the bar surround Darby and chant, "Chug it! Chug it!" Indeed their coach is chugging beer like a champ.
"Right, because Marcus is really going to understand this," Emily says, motioning around in despair.
"There's still time," Payson says, stepping up like the natural leader she is. "Austin, you get Emily home as fast as you can. When Marcus gets here we'll tell him you knew it would breach your contract so when we all came here with Darby you decided to just go home."
I nod excitedly. "That could work."
"Of course. I'm brilliant," Payson beams. "Now go before he shows up."
"Thank you so much, Pay," Emily says with a renewed hope in her eyes.
"You can thank me when we're both at the Olympics. For now, get going," Payson directs. She turns to me for a moment, a fierce protectiveness in her eyes. "And you. Drive safe and be discrete."
"Lolita isn't built to be discrete," I point out. In a softer voice, I add, "But I'll try."
I look over at Emily to ask if she's ready to go, but then I see her gazing over at the stage, eyes locked with Damon. I don't even realize we're still holding hands until I give her a tug, snapping her from her daze. I whisper that she can talk to lover boy later, but for now we need to go. Emily agrees and we make our way out through the back.
On the journey to her place, I try not to think of how she's the only Rock girl who's ever been on my motorcycle and who's ever worn my spare helmet. I try not to think of how nicely her body fits behind mine as we zoom down the dark streets and how tightly her arms cling to my waist with every sharp turn. Most of all, I try not to think of how I don't think of Kaylie when Emily is with me.
We make it back to her place in record time and when she quickly tries to dismount the bike, I steady her with my hand on her arm. She takes off the second helmet and I take off my own.
"Thanks, Austin," she says, handing the helmet back over to me so I can put it away. "This thing where you swoop in and save me is really becoming too regular of a thing."
"Can't say I mind." I smile at her. Just being honest.
"Well, you should get out of here before Marcus pulls up and our getaway was all for nothing," Emily says. She runs her fingers through her dark hair, but it does nothing for the helmet hair.
"You're probably right," I agree, "But I gotta ask…are you okay?"
"Yeah," she nods, "Thanks to you."
"No. I mean about, um, Damon and Kaylie?" I say. That time the words come out awkward, but I'm pretty sure it's appropriate. I don't want to jump to conclusions, but the eyes don't lie. I know I saw something between Damon and Kaylie and I'm pretty sure Emily did too.
"They were just singing together." Emily shrugs her shoulders and looks down. Looks like doubt turning to denial before my very eyes. "I'm sure it's nothing to freak out about. It sucks that I didn't get a chance to talk to him though. What about you?"
I shake my head resolutely. "I'm glad I didn't talk to her. It would have ended up like every other conversation we have. I'd call her out on using music to avoid her issues just like she used gymnastics to avoid her issues and it wouldn't have been fun for any of us."
"So Payson told me you said you liked Kaylie as in past tense," Emily says.
I chuckle. "You girls really tell each other everything, huh?"
"Well, not everything," Emily says with a little smile. When she remembers their current topic, that smile flips right around. "So is it true?"
I can't tell her that I think maybe it is true. I can't tell her that maybe she's the reason because when I'm with her I don't think of kissing Kaylie Cruz. I don't even think of kissing Emily. As long as I'm near Emily and talking to her and making sure she's holding on then I'm happy. I know I can't exactly tell her this. I wouldn't even know where to begin.
Right when I'm about to give her a half-assed answer, Emily nods her head and says, "I get it. Now isn't the time."
"As much as I'd love one of our many therapeutic shoulder leans, the last thing we need is to get caught by the GNO Nazi," I tell her in a dramatic whisper that makes her laugh. "So I'll see you tomorrow. Get some sleep and kick some Pinewood ass tomorrow."
Emily starts to back away and calls out, "Goodnight, Austin! And thanks again!"
"Goodnight!" I call back, raising my hand at her.
This time I manage to hold back on calling her 'buddy'. Truth is I don't want to be Emily Kmetko's buddy. I want more.
A/N: You didn't think I forgot about you, right, AusEm fans? Honestly, on the show, Emily is working my last nerve almost as bad as Lauren is, but I still have ridiculous love for this ship. Hit me with your thoughts!