Author's Note: After watching last week's episode I kept thinking "What would Rigo think of that confession about Sasha?" This is the answer to that.
Rigo sat in his hotel room, trying to unwind after a long day of competition. All he wanted to do was get back to the Training Center and see Payson. After their kiss at her coach's house, she was all he could think of.
"Is that your girlfriend?" His hotel roommate, and friend Josh asked.
Rigo turned to the TV. There, on the television, was Payson. She was smiling and looked exactly like the girl he couldn't wait to get back to the Center. The interview looked like it had taken place in the gym and they were just now airing it.
"Who would you say is your inspiration on your quest for Olympic Gold?"
"Sasha Belov. He inspired me every day to be a better gymnast and a better person."
Rigo watched Payson's face as talked about her coach. Her smile had changed, her eyes danced. And yet, there was a hint of something else in those eyes. Regret? Longing? What was that?
The interviewer moved onto the kiss she had shared with Sasha and her uncomfortableness was all Rigo needed to confirm what her eyes had told him previously: they needed to talk.
"Rigo!" Payson ran up to him, grinning. She stopped short of hugging him when she saw his frown. "Are... are you okay?"
He exhaled slowly, "We need to talk."
"Oh." Payson sat down on the bench next to him. "What is it?"
"I saw your interview on TV last night."
"Don't play dumb, Payson," he snapped.
"No, Rigo, I'm being serious. I've done five interviews in the past week." Payson's mind was racing, trying to figure out what she had said that had made him upset. They had been fine, perfect when he had left a week ago.
"The one where they asked who was your inspiration was." He hadn't looked her in the eye yet, but then he did. "Payson, are you in love with Sasha Belov?"
The forthrightness of the question sent Payson reeling. Was she in love with Sasha? Sasha? Was it more than a misguided crush and a kiss that almost ruined both her and Sasha's careers? Payson sat in silence for a moment, thinking. And the more she thought about it, the more she realized that interview did sound like she was in love with Sasha. But was she?
"Payson, I ride bikes and make them do things that gravity says shouldn't happen. Don't coddle me."
Payson opened her mouth and shut it, blushing. "I don't know."
Rigo snorted. "I think you do."
Payson closed her eyes, remembering all the events that lead up to that kiss. The feeling of Sasha's hand on her lower back, leading her through the crowd at the ballet; the way he leaned towards her to whisper something in her ear; the time he showed up to her ballet lessons and looked so good in what he was wearing. And the feeling of his lips, however briefly, on hers, her hands grasping at his neck, trying to hold on. The bruises his hands left when he pushed her away.
When she opened her eyes, tears had started to form. "Yes."
Rigo sighed. "I knew this was too good to be true." And before Payson could stop him, he had gotten on his bike and flown away.
Payson didn't know what to do. So she called the exact person she knew she needed to talk to.
It was late, almost midnight when Sasha's cell phone went off. He had been sleeping fitfully in his trailer when it went off.
"Sasha?" A voice cried into the phone.
Sasha rubbed the sleep from his eyes and then rubbed a hand through his hair. "Payson?"
"Sasha, can you..." there was a pause for a sob. Something in Sasha's body snapped. Whoever did this to her was going to hear it. Nobody brought his gymnasts to tears. "Can you come here?"
He was already out of bed, putting a shirt on, shoving his feet into sandals as she finished. "Yes, mândra mea." He hung up and grabbed a jacket.
The drive from Boulder to the Training Center should have taken him a little over an hour. He made it in forty-five minutes. He barely stopped for red lights and it was a good thing there weren't any police on the interstate. He realized as he pulled into the Training Center's parking lot he had no idea where she was.
But then he saw her. She was sitting on a bench, curled up in a ball, hair shadowing her face from the rest of the world. Sitting right underneath a lamppost, she looked beautiful – and broken.
She lifted her head, turning towards the voice. "Sasha?" She barely croaked out. This was worse than Sasha thought. She had been crying for at least the past fifty minutes and she had to be dehydrated. Sasha grabbed a water bottle from his truck and sat down with her on the bench.
"Here, drink this."
"Drink." He ordered. Payson, knowing his "coach" voice, obeyed. She took a small sip before she practically guzzled the rest of the bottle.
"Thanks. I didn't know..."
"How long have you been out here?"
"About an hour."
"Payson you're going to miss your curfew."
"Lauren's covering for me. She still thinks I'm on a date with Rigo."
Sasha raised an eyebrow, "Rigo?"
The sobs started anew. "Oh Payson." This was no time for boundaries. He turned on the bench, pulling her close to him. Her fists grabbed at his shirt and soon he could feel her hot tears soaking his jacket. But he could also feel her shivering. The jacket came off and soon it was draped around her.
"He dumped me."
"Start from the beginning mândra mea."
"Max broke up with me because he was bi and didn't know exactly where his life was. But Rigo – he's on the BMX team – he caught my attention, well, really almost crashed into me." She took a deep breath. Sasha leaned his head closer to her's: she was speaking into his shirt and he could barely hear her. "We hit it off. We were spending all the time that we could together. We kissed right before he left for a competition. And it was magical. I finally felt beautiful."
"You are beautiful Payson," he interrupted.
"Let me finish." Her head had unburied itself from his chest, though her fists hadn't let go of his shirt. Her voice was growing stronger. "And he came back – he saw the interview I did about the road to the Olympics and how I'm the 'comeback kid.'"
"And he had a problem with it?" Sasha was starting to put two and two together and it did not look good – for either of them.
"He thought I was in love with you."
Sasha sucked in his breath. He had seen the interview. And he had come to the exact same conclusion Rigo had. Well, at least he had some intelligence to figure out what Sasha could. "Do you? I mean, are you?"
Payson's tears shimmered in her eyes as she looked up to him. "I think so."
"Payson..." He didn't know what to say. What she wanted him to say. Did she want him to say that he loved her back? That he loved her back like that? What did she want? Not for the first time in his life, Sasha Belov prayed to whatever being was up there that he understood women. So he decided to try for honesty. "I don't know what you want me to say Payson."
That answer certainly seemed to take her by surprise. She let go of his shirt and sat up a little straighter. "I want the truth Sasha. You haven't lied to me before – don't start doing it now."
Sasha closed his eyes, thinking of the incidents leading up to the kiss. The ballet – her in that beautiful dress; the close attention he paid to her over all of the other gymnasts at the Rock; the way he loved to whisper in her ear; the way his lips tingled after she kissed him; how he regretted pushing her away; the scratches on his neck from her fingernails when he did push her away; the extreme pride he felt in her performance at Worlds; the way he wanted to carry her to the podium after she injured her ankle on her first vault. The images stopped flashing before him and he opened his eyes. Payson was watching him.
"I don't know what I feel Payson." She groaned. "And that's the truth. I know what I should feel. And I know I don't feel that way. I know that I really didn't want to push you away when you kissed me. And I know part of me wants the media to never stop talking about that kiss, because I don't want you to forget about it – think it was some mistake. I wanted them to keep talking about it so that maybe you would come to the same conclusion I did: it wasn't a mistake."
"Is that love?" Payson asked and Sasha just chuckled. He wiped away the remaining tears from her cheeks, his hand resting underneath her chin.
"I don't know what love is Payson. And I don't think you do either. Familial love yes. But romantic love, no."
"So what happens now?"
"You get back to that dorm room of yours before Lauren has to cover even longer. And you keep your chin up. You are Payson Keeler and you won't be taken down by some fraction of a news reporter or from a guy who, I have to admit, seems kind of smart even if I want to track him down and kill him right now."
"Protective much?" Payson asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Only of you, mândra mea."
"What does that mean?"
"What you keep saying in Romanian."
Payson gave her first small smile of the night. "Well I think that just settled it."
"So what's the verdict Keeler?"
"You seriously need to come visit more."
Sasha smirked. "Only if you promise me that you won't send me those texts after I leave. The last time I wanted to just camp out in the parking lot and refuse to leave you."