of inestimable worth
so precious its value cannot be determined
Disclaimer: I do not own Make It or Break It.
A/N: It started off as a drabble inspired by What Lies Beneath, but quickly grew beyond that scope and is now an uncontrollable fic monster demanding to be fed. I'm not entirely sure where it's going, but I do have a summary, so at least that's something, right?
Summary: No matter what it always came back to him – to the one person who had seen her at her best and her worst and found beauty in both. Who could put a value on that? Payson/Sasha
I. It's Not About the Money
When Kaylie and Max gave her the task of convincing her parents, she knew she was going to need more than a little help. Her parents had been dead set against her taking sponsorship money for so long – they didn't want to turn into one of those families that used their child as a money making machine like Kelly Parker's she-devil of a mother. They were still convinced that she could be happy doing college gymnastics after the Olympics and that she could live with being the big fish in a small pond. They didn't seem to realize that it was only nice being the best when everyone else around you was at the same level.
She needed to enlist the help of someone who understood that and knew what it was like. She almost considered asking Austin to give her a hand, but Austin was reallybad with parents. Kaylie's parents still looked like they wanted to kill him half of the time, and her own parents seemed to stiffen a little any time he came up in conversation.
There was only one person up for the job and the choice made sense. Her parents trusted his judgment – or at least her mother did – and he had more experience in this area than anyone else she knew. Heck, he'd been involvedwith his own representation – wasn't that qualification enough in it's own right?
She waited for her mother to leave for the day, thus leaving Sasha and Summer alone in the office. She made a silent prayer that she wasn't about to walk in on anything . . . well, anything.
'Not that you'd care,' she reminded herself. 'It was just a crush and you don't have feelings for him anymore. Which is why you've totally been avoiding him since he got back unless it was completely necessary.'
She guessed she wasn't quite as 'over it' as she led everyone to believe.
"Um . . . Sasha, can I talk to you for a second?" she asked, standing awkwardly by the door outside of his office.
Sasha nodded and Summer immediately got up from her seat, sensing that this was a private conversation. There had been a lot of tenseness between herself and Summer since Sasha's return, and not all of it was coming from her end. Sometimes Summer looked at her as though she was the other woman, which Payson didn't think was entirely fair given that Summer had shacked up with Steve Tanner even before Sasha had left the country. Payson had stayed loyal to Sasha for a good few weeks after his departure, and even then it was only because everyone around her was telling her she had no choice but to move on.
'You did not just try to measure yourself up against Summer,' she admonished in her head. 'You don't get to pretend that you'd somehow make a better partner for Sasha just because you didn't forget him as soon as he left your sight. Summer is ten years older than you. Age appropriateness trumps loyalty, shared values, and common interests every time.'
"Payson, are you okay?" Sasha's voice interrupted her thoughts, reminding her that she'd come here for a very specific purpose that had nothing to do with examining her uncomfortable association with Summer Van Horne.
She nodded, squaring her shoulders and hardening her jaw and looking about as stubborn as he'd ever seen her. It was what she did to get herself ready to argue her case, and knowing Sasha, it was a necessary preparatory step.
"I need you to convince my parents to let me take sponsorship money from healthy bar," she said in a stern, no nonsense manner, settling her hands staunchly on her hips in an argument ready stance.
"I thought they were offering that to Kaylie," he frowned, looking adorably confused. Payson couldn't help but feel a little offended by his mild surprise, even if he was completely justified in his confusion.
"Well now they're offering it to me," she told him defensively. She lifted her chin and eyed stonily before adding in a small voice, "Just as soon as we convince them."
"I see," Sasha nodded. "You should try not to get your hopes up too much," he advised cautiously.
"What?" Payson shot back, justifiably offended this time. "You don't think they will?
"Max and Austin think they'll offer it to me," she added, purposely trying to rile him up by mentioning Max. Not that Sasha even knew there was anything going on there. Not that there even was anything going on there. Sigh. This is why gymnastics and boys don't mix.
Sasha snorted derisively. "Max and Austin are idiots," he muttered. "And Austin should know better."
He stepped out from his desk and rested lightly against the wooden frame with his arms crossed over his chest and his expression just as stubborn and unrelenting as Payson's. "I'm sure they will offer it to you, Payson," he told her. "But I also know what they offered Kaylie and you'll be lucky if it's half as much."
"That's still a quarter of a million dollars, Sasha," she argued, unfazed by his caution.
He sighed in frustration, running a hand through his sandy hair. He vaguely remembered Summer saying something about them being as stubborn as each other, but he knew now that she was wrong. Payson definitely had him beat in that respect and he was racking his brain for something that would make her see sense in all of this.
"It's a quarter of a million dollars contingent almost entirely on Worlds," he told her straightforwardly. The frustration in his voice made it sound mean, but he couldn't tread lightly – not with so much on the line. "You're only worth that much if you medal."
That one phrase – no matter how cruel it sounded – seemed to get through to her. He saw some of the fight leave her and it killed him a little inside. "How much if I don't?" she asked cautiously.
He shrugged – a gesture of uncertainty rather than indifference. "A tenth of what they'll offer if you medal. Maybe even less."
"But they were willing to give Kaylie half of what she would get if she won and she's only competing in one event," she shot back. "I'm competing all around at Worlds. I have six chances to medal."
It was bad enough to be told that her value after medalling would be so much less than Kaylie's, but now she wasn't even worth the gamble. She was a long shot – ten to one – while Kaylie was a sure thing.
"Kaylie's already the National Champion," Sasha reminded her reluctantly. He regretted the words as soon as he said them as she grimaced painfully.
"You shouldn't compare yourself to Kaylie, Payson," he told her gently, moving across the room to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. "She has a lot of advantages that you don't."
"Like what?" she bit out, feeling guilty for snapping at him.
"Experience for one thing," he began. "You're still a relative newcomer. They don't know how people will respond.
"Her ethnicity for another," he said frankly. "There are a lot of pretty blonde girls in the market already, Payson," he explained when she looked confused. "Kaylie's look makes her stand out and that makes her more marketable."
"But what about my story?" she protested. "Kaylie reckoned my story was enough and I didn't need to be the National Champion."
Sasha shrugged again. "It's only a good story if it has a good ending," he said helplessly. "If you medal at Worlds."
"So that's it?" she asked sadly, her shoulders dropping in defeat. "You don't believe in me."
"Of course I believe in you, Payson," he assured her, the hand on her shoulder sliding down to her hand and squeezing gently. "I wouldn't have brought you to World team trials or have you competing in six events if I didn't think you had a chance of medalling in all of them.
"You are the most talented gymnast I've ever me, Payson, and I fully expect you to take gold, if not at this Worlds, then the next," he stated firmly.
"Then why are you trying to talk me out of this," she asked him in frustration, tearing her hand from his grasp. "My family needs this money, Sasha."
He smiled ruefully. "I just want you to know the risks, Payson," he told her. "If something happens at Worlds and you don't medal for any reason, then where will you be?"
"And if I get injured again, then where will I be?" she argued back. "It's the same risk either way."
"Maybe," he conceded. "But if you medal at Worlds there'll be a lot more than a quarter of a million dollars on the line."
Payson shook her head. "But you don't know that," she protested. "You don't know if anyone's even going to be interested in me after Worlds. You can't guarantee any of that."
"I do," he said. "I talked to MJ Martin. She's got several interested parties just waiting to see how you do at Worlds. Much bigger parties than healthy bar and the 'grrrl' bar."
She gaped, his confession shocking her into silence and her eyes steadily trained on his.
"If you wait until after Worlds I will talk to your parents then and I will do everything in my power to convince them to take what's on offer," he said in a low, intense tone. It was a tone she'd come to think of as Sasha's 'trust me, I'm awesome' voice – the tone he used when he wanted to convince her of something she was unwilling to believe whether it be her own beauty or some skill she felt she was miles away from mastering. But she couldn't believe him this time, no matter how much wanted to or how sure he sounded in his own conviction.
"My family needs this now, Sasha," she told him, barely choking back a sob. "My parents have put so much into my gymnastic and now they can't even come to Worlds because of me." That admittance was what finally broke her, and she suddenly found herself crying on Sasha's shoulder as he wrapped his strong arms around her and whispered foreign, indecipherable words in a low, lulling tone.
"Payson, I know how much this means to you," he told her firmly once her tears had died down, gently stroking her hair, "but I won't convince your parents to take this deal."
"Why not?" she asked desperately, lifting her head to face him.
He touched her cheek, gently wiping away the tears that had fallen from her eyes and hardly able to stand the fact that he had caused her to cry. "Because I don't want you to have to turn down a better offer because of your commitments to healthy bar.
"I know you're better than this," he said with unfailing faith, holding her gaze with his own.
His hand on her cheek stopped moving, cupping her cheek lightly, and suddenly the mood had changed. There was a look in his eyes – the same look she had seen when she stupidly kissed him two months ago – and her heart raced in anticipation, as though it knew something about that look that she didn't.
She closed her eyes, and took a shakey breath, feeling his body shift towards her. Her reaction was on instinct – rising to her feet and lifting her head towards his.
'No! We're not doing this again!'she cried in her head, breaking herself out of this trance.
Her eyes snapped open and she jumped back from his warm, towering figure. "I-I should go," she stuttered nervously, shaking her head and trying to rid herself of those thoughts that had plagued for months on end.
He nodded, unable to think of any words that would explain away his actions or make the fact that he almost kissed her again okay this time. Instead he just let her go, too busy with his own self-flagellation to protest her hasty exit.
Just one thought circled indefatigably in his mind.
No. Not again.