Chapter 30 the fifteen mile block

Sasha would have torn his hair out watching his Olympic team in their last training before the final day of competition which included beam and floor finals, but he knew how they were feeling. He could remember wanting to die towards the end of the Olympics, the adrenaline had worn off and their bodies and minds were exhausted. However it was not his job as a coach to be sympathetic, not when there were medals to be won.

"I want that dismount again, Kaylie." Sasha said sternly, his heart tugged as the girl seemed to have to drag herself back up to the beam. She took a deep breath and did her two and a half twisting dismount.

"Better" Sasha said, more gently. Kaylie was capable of winning beam, but he wasn't going to tell her that. He knew it would just make her feel like she had to do it to please him. He gave her the perfunctory hug "go warm down – go relax in your room. I'll see you in the morning."

He moved over to Kelly, the other beam finalist. She looked drained as well, but she was hiding it better than the other girls. He nodded for her to do her routine and she did. He could tell she was tired, her connections were a bit slower, but only a fraction. No one else apart from him would be able to tell, probably. He let her go too. His respect for Kelly had grown exponentially over this competition. He'd always admired her gymnastics and her mental toughness but now he saw the strong character underneath too.

His floor workers were giving him the most grief. Emily kept sitting her tumbling passes and she was often slightly out of time with her music. That was more worrying, Emily was naturally artistic. Her exhaustion must be huge for her natural grace to be lacking. He made her do five floor routines but each one was worse than the one before it. Reluctantly he let her go. Then it was Payson's turn. He watched, concerned as she went to the centre of the floor, her shoulders were slightly stooped and her strides were shorter. He played her music and she danced, but it was reluctant, her tumbling was accurate but there was no flourish, no expression. He sighed and stopped the music. Of all the routines, of all the finals each of his gymnasts were in, he wanted Payson to do well on floor. It was the routine that brought her back to the elite scene, she had always shone on floor, even before she'd broken her back, but she had the potential to be one of the best floor workers in history.

"Payson" he whispered.

The blonde girl looked at him, her grey eyes incredibly sad. "I can't do this, Sasha. I can't. bring. Myself. To. Do. Gymnastics." Every word she spoke seemed like it took her incredible strain. "Just thinking about it, my body and mind are screaming at me to stop. I know it's stupid, it's just one more freaking routine but I'm tired." Two perfect tears fell down her cheeks.

Sasha walked over to the middle of the floor where Payson was sitting. Silently he put his arms around her. Payson's body had felt numb before, but when Sasha touched her she felt like she was on fire. "What can I do?" Sasha asked earnestly.

"Remember the locker room?"

"Yes, of course." Sasha felt a jolt down his spine. How on earth did he end up falling in love with his athlete, he really was the bad boy of gymnastics after all he sighed to himself. Marty was going to skin him alive, and Mark Keeler was going to murder him. "I will never, ever forget that Payson, not for as long as I'm alive, regardless of what you decide to do, or who you decide to be with."

Payson had always been shy with boys. Except with Sasha, although he was hardly a boy. She gripped his hand and put it around her waist. "Kiss me" she whispered.

"Payson" Sasha's heart was throbbing a million miles an hour. "Are you sure?" He looked around, but there was no one in the arena apart from the two of them.

Payson nodded and Sasha gently cupped his hands under her chin and kissed her softly. Suddenly he felt like he was on fire and his heart thought it might explode when Payson deepened the kiss. Then much too soon he realised that he couldn't do this now, he would never be able to control himself. He slowly pulled himself away, Payson looked at him, her huge eyes confused "did I do something wrong?"

"No, love, you could never do anything wrong. But I am your coach first and your, well, everything else, second. I want you to go out there and smash your floor routine tomorrow, clear?"

Payson nodded slowly. "I'm exhausted, Sasha. I'm bone tired, but for you, the world. I will go out there and do the floor routine of my life. All I need is you." She pecked him on the cheek and left the gym. Sasha was still slightly shell shocked, but he did find it slightly ironic that Payson Keeler, of all people, was a romantic. Not that he could talk. He started to pack up, whistling as he went.

XXX

Emily's head was killing her, she was near tears. Part of her knew she was being stupid. There was just one more routine that she had to do and this would all be over, but her body and mind were exhausted. She had had to work twice as hard as her teammates to get back into shape for the Olympics – a crazy amount. Darby had warned her that her body might not make it through the training, but she'd never thought about the mental aspect. There was a knock on the door.

"Come in" she said quietly.

Damon popped his head around the door.

Emily grinned "Damon?" Darby was not the strictest coach but even she had all but banned Damon during the 12 hours before each competition. "What are you doing here?"

"Darby all but ordered me here. She said you'd need some cheering up."

Emily smiled. Damon was the most encouraging person she'd ever met. And he wasn't a gymnast, and frankly anything that wasn't gymnastics related was welcome at this point.

Damon came in, and he was carrying James. Emily almost squealed with happiness. Damon gently placed their son on the ground and he toddled to Emily. Emily picked him up and hugged him tightly, taking in his talcum powder baby smell. Damon sat beside her and put his arm around her. Emily tucked her head under his chin.

"Cry it out."

"Huh"

"I can tell you're exhausted mustang, let the tears come. Trust me it's the only way you'll be able to perform tomorrow."

Emily bit her lip "I don't want to think about tomorrow." But she did as Damon said, and one by one, the tears fell.

"Sad?" James asked. His huge brown eyes were just like Damon's when he was concerned. Emily kissed him on the head.

"Just tired sweet pea, but I'm happy you're here."

James kissed her check "me too"

Emily and Damon shared a look – their son, was spectacular.

Damon waited patiently for Emily to fall asleep. He'd been this exhausted near the end of tours, when his fingers were calloused from too much time on the frets and his voice crackly from signing, but most of all his body and mind numb from doing the same thing over and over. He couldn't imagine how much harder it was for Emily. He wiped her eyes with tissues he'd brought and gently put her in bed. Then he kissed her forehead and picked up James. Feeling for a second the pang that came whenever he realised they could have been living in the house in LA a normal family. He shook it off quickly. That life would have involved no gymnastics, no double gold medals and countless college applications for Emily, and it would mean that Summer and James would not have the relationship they had. He loved seeing Summer with James, Summer was a born parent. She was altruistic with strong morals and a big heart.

XXX

Payson hadn't gone back to the hotel room straight away. She needed to process. Her head was swimming. Her exhaustion was gone, instead she felt well alive, in a way that she hadn't before. And she had to tell someone. She had no idea who though. She couldn't talk to Kaylie, Kelly or Emily and she didn't want to talk to Rosa. Then she realised, there was one person who would listen.

"Lo."

"Pay? What's wrong?" Lauren was confused. The likelihood of Payson focusing on anything other gymnastics the night before a competition was about as likely as Lauren buying something from Target.

"Can I talk to you?"

"Of course, meet you in the lobby?"

Payson quickly went to get a jersey. She couldn't believe she was breaking curfew at the Olympics to talk about a guy. Much less her coach. Her sixteen year old self would be very disappointed she mused quietly. She waited patiently in the lobby, grinning. After a while Lauren emerged from a taxi, she sprinted over to her friend. "What is it?" She gave a Payson a huge long hug.

Payson couldn't help it, she giggled.

"Payson? What the fuck, you were a mess at practice! And now you're laughing?" Lauren was genuinely confused.

"Sorry…sorry it's just – can we go somewhere private? Something amazing's happened."

Lauren laughed, it was good to see her friend smiling. The past two days Payson had been holding everything together, barely. "I know a place we can go. Come on" she pulled Payson towards the taxi.

XXX

Kaylie rubbed her eye make up off. She groaned, she was getting wrinkles. The past eighteen months had taken its toll. She brushed her hair out. She was scared about what would happen after tomorrow. She knew that they would return heroes and that there would be the tour of champions, which sounded exhausting, but at least she could pretend for a while that this phase of her life was not yet over. Kaylie had grown up with money, had parents who had each had their share of fame, and she knew the fallacies of both. All she wanted was a quiet life, to be comfortable, and to be surrounded by her friends and family. But she'd heard Emily and Damon having intense discussions about where they would go, whether they would stay in the UK, go to Europe, Australia, Canada, or the States. Kelly had a similar decision to make, and she knew that Lauren would probably not stay in Boulder, at least not long term. There were too many memories there for her.

"Coming down for dinner?" Kelly popped her head through the bathroom door.

"No thanks, I already ate."

"When?"

"Before with Dad, he took me out while you were having a shower and catching up with Rosa." Kaylie lied.

Kaylie glared at her "really? What did you have?"

"Garden salad and seared chicken, you can even ask him if you want. Honestly Kelly – I'm great, have a good time at dinner though. Say hi to the others."

Kelly was quiet, she didn't want to seem like she didn't trust Kaylie, but then she was worried. She always made sure she went to meals with her. "Ok Kaylie, I trust you. See you in a bit."

XXX

Lauren was stunned into silence. Payson and Sasha. The day before floor finals at the freaking Olympics. "Wow"

"I know, I can hardly believe it's happened, finally, you're awful quiet." Payson said, noticing how Lauren wasn't saying much.

"I guess it's a lot to digest."

"But we love each other."

"I know that but-"

"Wait, what do you mean 'you know that'?"

"Payson, everyone can see the way you and Sasha look at each other at the gym, and as weird as it is with him being ancient and all the two of you are made for each other. I just hope you're ready. I mean you've got three Olympic medals, you can do whatever you want. Are you sure you want this now?"

"I've never been more sure of anything." Payson said softly "and please don't talk about post-Olympics, I don't want to think about it."

"Fair enough, it's kind of scary isn't it?"

"More than kind of scary, it's terrifying."

Lauren gripped her friend's hand. "it will be fine – I just don't want you to rush into this because you're scared about life after gymnastics." Lauren knew that Payson wouldn't return to gymnastics again, her body had been pushed too far.

Payson smiled "of course not" she said, although she realised that Lauren had a point. "What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Do you know what you're going to do after this?"

Lauren took a deep breath "well I'm tossing up between varsity, volunteering, having a working holiday, or going back to training."

"Training?"

"You think it's stupid."

"No!" Payson didn't like how low Lauren's self esteem had been the past couple of months "I think it's a good idea! Only if you want to though."

"Really?"

"Of course – you're the best vaulter in the world, and your beam and floor aren't far behind."

Lauren smiled "that means a lot, coming from you. What about you, Pay?"

Payson shook her head "I don't even want to think about it. I want to be near Sasha, I know my body can't handle another competitive cycle but I'm too tired to think about studying. I'm a mess."

"You are many things, Payson Keeler, but a mess is not one of them."

Payson raised one eyebrow "I'm a nineteen year old with a broken back, who is currently breaking curfew after kissing her coach and has no immediate plans to go to college or get a job."

"Well when you put it like that…"

Payson laughed and tickled her friend mercilessly.

A/N so it finally happened with Pay and Sasha. And we're nearly finished with the Olympics, and I've got two more chapters and an epilogue to tie up loose ends. Please let me know what you thought xx