Author's Note: Written as a standalone second part set after "Winner of Cards I Cannot Play," but closely enough related that it works as a short epilogue of sorts.
Payson knew what the score would be before she even saw it - she knew, from months of hard work and preparation that this, this was the best she had ever done her routine. It was as flawless as something could be - and if there was one thing she knew well, it was what perfection felt like. Every arc of her body, every mid-air swivel of her hips, every practiced movement of her arms, was a testament to youthful vigor and pride in oneself - and the belief others held in her.
She didn't run over to Sasha to hug him, not right away, not as she stood there with her hand crossed over her eyes - she knew what the score would be, of course, but there was a certain degree of tradition involved. You were supposed to be nervous, biting your nails to their mangled cuticles, and for her to appear otherwise would be to flaunt that her entire career for the past few years has been against every more of the system.
She had to be poised, yet anxious; she had to show emotion, but not too much. In one, she was too human, in the other, she was not human enough. Therein lay the contradiction.
So she placed her hand over her eyes and pretended as if she was back home and a child again, waiting to see what shapes her Christmas presents were all in. She lacked patience, though; she always had. The shape those numbers took as they flashed up there on the screen - those would be the best Christmas presents that she could ever receive, even if they came in August instead of December. At least -
- and then the score flashed up there, Keeler, P. (USA) -
And the numbers of the score swam and blurred together in her line of vision, but she didn't even have to read the score to know that her instinct was correct. The roar of the crowd, the crushing embrace that Sasha locked her into - everything told her that she had been right all along. "I knew you could do it, my little star," Sasha whispered into her ear, in the way he would when they were alone - but they were not alone now. She felt the muscles of his back flatten beneath her touch, as they did when the two of them would lay there together in his bed - their bed - and talk in hushed whispers. "You put all the world to shame."
"It was because of you," she whispered back, pressing her lips into the side of his cheek, feeling the familiar graze of stubble beneath her lips. "You inspired me."
"More like I pushed you into working." Their arms disentangled themselves from each other; propriety was still the name of the game, after all, for just that much longer. Now, instead of embracing, they could appear as though they were what they appeared to be - a coach and his protege, conferring over the results and celebrating. His face was lit up and all aglow - the smile that crossed his face, nearly splitting it into two unequal halves, was assuredly not the smile of what would be expected. The smile was one of pure pride in someone that they loved; it would tell a thousand stories all different. And her heart beat faster as she realized that; it raced, it pursued the finish line even after the race was already over and she was declared the winner.
"Did I ever require pushing?" she said, with a small laugh.
"You know what I mean." And she did, of course. She knew exactly what he meant - and that was what she was so grateful for from him. Even if she doubted herself, she would still persevere, regardless - partially because that was who she was and how she carried herself, and partially because Sasha was always there to catch her if she fell, and give her a guiding hand to get back on her feet and try again. He could act as her spotter through life, while she led the way with her head held high. "Hey, Sasha?"
"After the medal ceremony -" she started, with a twinkle in her eye, "what do you say we find some place private and have our own private medal ceremony?" Her voice lifted noticeably, and she winked at him.
"That," he said, as they walked away from the arena floor, and toward the locker rooms and the waiting onslaught of the media horde, "sounds like a wonderful idea."