As they pulled up to the house Sasha's jaw dropped. It was massive; he kept staring as Payson raised the garage door so they could park. He was even more surprised to see his Airstream in this monster of a garage with his truck parked right beside it. "What is my trailer doing in your garage? Again Payson, what the hell?"
She shrugged. "When Steve Tanner locked us out of the gym we knew he was going to have your trailer impounded. So when we broke in to steal your records we had Austin tow the trailer up here. We used the extra key you had in your desk."
They walked into the house following the enclosed stairs from the detached garage. Once inside it was even bigger. Sasha stopped, "Where am I supposed to sleep?" She looked at him like he was crazy.
"You're probably okay to stay in your Airstream, you know, since it's yours. We can show you around tomorrow. For now it's late and you should get some sleep." He stood there for a moment while the girls moved through the space comfortably, chattering as they went. It all looked normal, but from what he had heard it was so far from it. He pinched himself and winced. Yep, not a dream.
Payson had not slept well since she had found out where Sasha was hiding from the world. Even then her internal alarm clock woke her up at 5 A.M. Today was their day off, but she still had work to do. Her mom and Becca wouldn't be here until closer to eight so she had some time to herself.
Reluctantly she stuck a toe out from underneath her duvet. It wasn't as cold as it normally was, which meant that someone had made sure to put some extra logs on. She stood beside her bed and stretched, loving the view from the wall of windows at the foot of her bed. Owning her own house had some perks, her favorite being her own bathroom. She definitely missed her sister on occasion, but she did not miss having to share a bathroom with her.
Payson snapped herself out of her staring contest with nature and moved to get dressed. There was a lot to be accomplished, but first she was going to do some yoga. Darby may have been a little insane about the meditation but the yoga had been one of her suggestions and it was surprisingly good at calming her down. Humming under her breath she slipped into a sports bra and yoga capris, throwing her hair into a messy bun.
She followed her stairs down to the first floor and the kitchen and set the coffee maker up so it would be ready for Lauren and Kaylie. It seemed like they couldn't function without the morning caffeine hit. Once they had all moved in together they had spent a weekend hashing out their issues with each other. That's not to say that things were perfect all the time, but it was a lot better than it had been. Lauren didn't have as much reason to scheme now that she had accepted her position in the new gym. She was also still smarting from the relationship ending fight with her father and ensuing move. Kaylie realized that she needed to find what had originally made gymnastics fun for her and the other girls did their personal best to be her cheerleaders and remind her how much natural talent she possessed.
Payson continued from the kitchen and up the stairs into the gym, stopping short when she saw Sasha on the treadmill. She knew how incredible he looked without a shirt on, but this was torture. Working out always got her excited and him against a snowy backdrop just wasn't fair. Come on Keeler. Get it together. You are stronger than your hormones.
"Good morning Sasha. Sleep well?" She strode over to the mini fridge and pulled out a Gatorade. Grabbing a yoga mat she spread it out in front of her favorite spot.
"I've forgotten how uncomfortable that trailer can be to sleep in." He had tossed and turned for a couple of hours before finally falling asleep. Now Payson was making him uncomfortable, moving deliberately through the bendy yoga moves. Everything looked ten times sexier than it should.
"I'm going to grab a shower. Is there coffee?" Payson moved into warrior pose and he paused to watch her muscles flex. This should not be sexy!
She tilted her head in his direction. "There should be some ready in about twenty minutes." Sasha abandoned ship as quickly as he could. She was acting oddly docile and he couldn't be sure it wasn't because she was still raging mad. He tried to distract himself by exploring the house. Somehow these girls had managed to turn what could have been a cold space into something cozy, warm, and inviting.
He continued to wander while drinking his coffee until he came to a halt in what Payson and the girls had apparently designated the office. Half of the room was a library filled with books, gymnastics trophies, and photographs while the other half was two desks and a bank of filing cabinets. Sasha was expecting to see papers everywhere, but when he looked closer he saw evidence of Kim Keeler's filing system.
Right as he was going to look at the pile of gym applications balanced precariously on the edge of the desk he heard noises coming from the kitchen. Payson was starting breakfast. She was confident in her movements, putting together what looked like a huge spread. Giving the papers one last glance, he moved to sit down at the bar, watching her cook was something he had never done before and it was intriguing.
Payson grabbed the coffeepot and quickly filled his cup. As she replaced the carafe she leaned over and swiped the orange juice from the refrigerator. "Can you set the table?" He glanced up at her.
"Oh. Sure, where are the plates?" She pointed him to a bank of cabinets behind the other side of the bar. He began to set the table as Payson walked over to the spiral staircase by the door to the gym.
"Girls, breakfast!" Payson shouted trying to get them to come down. Sasha was surprised when Austin was the first one down the stairs. He couldn't help his sarcastic thoughts. That's an interesting girl. What the hell is Tucker doing here? And shirtless no less?
He stretched and moved towards the kitchen. "Morning babe." Austin's pants were riding low on his hips as he reached around Payson to grab an asparagus spear from the pan. He pressed a quick kiss to the side of her head before moving away to fix himself a cup of coffee.
"Austin, didn't we have a conversation about you wearing clothes to breakfast?" He jus smirked and leaned on the counter next to her. "So Belov, how does it feel to be back in the US?"
He recognized the male posturing and Sasha couldn't help but respond. The kiss he had given her had been to mark his territory and Austin had been the one to call him out on his feelings in the first place. He knew exactly how much it pained him to see some other man touching her. Pushing Sasha's buttons had been a favorite past time of his. "It's great. I'm glad to be back training the girls." Sasha placed the last fork on the table and walked back over to the bar.
Payson rolled her eyes at the testosterone. "Austin!" She slapped his hand as he tried to steal some of the turkey bacon. "Go get your girlfriend out of bed. We need to eat and get some work stuff done today." People might say that men couldn't pout, but Austin Tucker was doing a pretty good job proving them wrong. He stuck his tongue out at Payson and flicked on the radio as he headed back up the spiral staircase.
Sasha was grateful for the "big brother" exiting the room. "Payson are we ever going to talk about this?" He had thought maybe she might have cooled off a little bit since he snapping at him the night before, but she was definitely angry by the amount of fire he saw in her eyes.
Payson almost flung the spatula at him. If she was lucky it might decapitate him; the slamming of the front door broke the heated staring contest. "Pay! How was Europe?" He mother strode through the entryway followed by Becca and Kelly.
She shot him a last look, which was all the reply he needed. They would talk later. Taking the platter of turkey bacon and eggs she walked to set them on the dining room table before greeting the others.
Sasha had forgotten what it was like to be part of a group. He had been so isolated in Romania and he knew as soon as he landed in Budapest that he had made a mistake by running away. Being here with some of the people he had left behind was incredibly eye opening. His girls had changed a lot, seeming more certain of themselves and what they wanted. They almost had the same look of determination that Payson had in her eyes 24/7, although nobody was as determined as her.
He ate quickly and quietly, mostly watching Payson. She was different, but he had a feeling that it was all of her pent-up anger. The Keeler women were very open with their feelings and he almost wished they weren't because then he wouldn't feel like he was being murdered by her laser vision.
After breakfast everyone helped clean and Kim motioned Sasha into the office. They sat facing each other, like they had done almost every day at the Rock. He was surprised when she leaned towards him and punched him in his bicep. "What is it with you and this white knight crap?"
Her punch actually stung a little. Apparently strength ran in the Keeler family. He held up his hands to ward off another attack. "You and your daughter have strange ways of dealing with your anger." When she cocked an eyebrow at him he wasn't sure if it was the right thing to say. "I apologize for leaving Kim. I know it didn't make anything better or easier for Payson or the girls."
She nodded. "Well now that you're back with us the Rebel Elite are back to all Olympics, all the time." Kim gestured to the stack of papers he was looking at earlier. "Those are all of the applications we've gotten since television coverage showed you with the girls in Hungary. I guess you're a lot more accessible when Steve Tanner isn't playing puppet master."
Sasha felt like he was in a state of constant confusion. "What's this about the Rebel Elite?" She pointed to the logo in the middle of the bulletin board, which was almost covered in notes and photos. It was a black background with an outline of a gymnast doing a stag ring leap above the words 'Rebel Elite'. The whole thing was distressed, looking like something from a band poster.
"When the girls pulled out of the Rock they took advantage of the fact that Austin's sponsors still wanted him to start his own gym. They supplied us with all of the necessary gym equipment and pay our salary and overhead costs. The group came to the decision to stick with the rebel image, so… Rebel Elite." She paused to smile at him. "The girls all live and train together. We're going to be small and completely junior and senior elites. Entirely Olympics and NCAA driven."
What Kim was describing sounded interesting, but he knew that there was going to be a catch. "Sasha, this will only work if you work things out with Payson. We need you as a team."
The way Kim said those words made him look up at her sharply. He saw understanding in her eyes. Sasha opened his mouth to speak a few times before she interrupted him. "Hey, just don't run away again. That hurt her more than anything. Mark figured it out first and then when he told me so many things made sense. We both saw the way you looked at her. Don't get me wrong it was a little unsettling at first, but the more we talked about it we realized how much we had missed before."
He sat there deflated. Sasha couldn't stop wringing his hands together. "Kim, I know you can't be comfortable with the idea of me with Payson, but I would never hurt her again. I realize how big of a mistake running was –" She held up a hand to stop him.
"You're a good man Sasha Belov. My daughter has always known her own mind and she chose you. I'm not saying that this is going to be easy. Payson's definitely not going to make it easy on you. People are going to judge, but know that the people who surround you understand." She chuckled to herself. "Except Austin. He's just a pain-in-the-ass big brother type, but at least he means well."
He gave her a half-hearted grin at her joke. His world had just flipped on its head. This was so wrong to be talking about his relationship with Payson with everybody but her. Sasha wanted to talk to her desperately, but wasn't sure if the guilt would ever go away. Should he really be doing this? How was he supposed to know what was the right or wrong thing to do?
Payson was glad her mom was giving her a moment before she talked to Sasha. She took advantage of that time by going up to her room and showering. Looking at herself in the mirror was not something Payson did frequently, but today she stared as she braided her hair; something was different. Sasha was back and there was curious tension in the pit of her stomach. She wanted to call it dread but it was more of an odd sort of excitement.
This whole situation was so intense; they were so intense. It was like striking two rocks together and making sparks. She was under no illusion that her feelings for Sasha were just those of a crush. Her feelings weren't the 'I need him like I need my next breath' kind, that was way too melodramatic for her. They were more steady, more sure. She felt more stable when he was around. Everything she had observed in her parents marriage is what she felt and wanted with Sasha. Now they just had to get through their biggest argument to date and hopefully move past it. She refused to let this haunt their relationship. So many people had decided to comment on how "wrong" their love was, but she knew better than that. They were not what the gossipmongers said and Payson was not going to let him turn their love into something shameful and wrong.
He followed Payson up the enclosed stairs to the garage/gym where he was currently residing. She didn't look too different to him at first glance; her tank top and jeans were standard fare for the young woman. When he took a moment to look closer he noticed she did look slightly thinner. Sasha wanted to hit himself for not noticing sooner. Payson had probably been so stressed and exercising more than could be considered healthy and it was completely his fault.
As they entered the gym Payson turned and locked the door behind the both of them. She must have seen the curious look on his face because she just shrugged. "I love Austin but he's going to want to fight this fight for me and I won't let him."
That was one of the many things he loved about Payson. She never let anyone do the job that she had to do. Shirking was not her style. The lock of the door seemed so final to her. This was it, where everything came to a head.
"So…." Sasha wasn't sure what to do. She brushed past him to the middle of the spring floor and sat down. "Payson, I'm so sorry about how I left. Kaylie was crumbling under the pressure and I couldn't stand what was happening with Summer. I'm sorry." He was not going to be the first one to bring up the unresolved issues between them and have to listen to her cut him down for his unrequited feelings.
If he had been looking at her when he was apologizing, Sasha would have seen her shaking her head. "No, you don't get to be sorry." Her voice was sharp and final. "I pegged you as somewhat of the rebel the media made you out to be, but I never pegged you for a coward."
That jab at him would not normally have pissed him off, but Payson knew him and knew how to push his buttons. "Wait a minute. Where do you get off calling me names? There was so much more going on than you knew Payson." She couldn't help but laugh, the short staccato noise reverberated and made the silence that followed even more potent.
"You think I don't know Sasha? You think I'm really that blind?" In her anger she had stood back up and crossed the floor in front of him. "You are not so noble. Running from your feelings. Taking the cowards way out, instead of acknowledging how you feel and not apologizing for it." Sasha's face showed his surprise at her insight and she could feel the hot, angry tears fighting their way free.
"Payson I-" He wasn't exactly sure what to say beyond that. Should have known better you old fool. Might as well have broadcasted the bloody announcement on national television.
She hated crying, but she couldn't hold back the tears any longer. Her frustration made her want to lash out and she was afraid she would hit him. Payson stalked away standing in front of the bars that almost ruined her dreams. She moved so fast, her hand streaking out and slapping the bars. The rattling sounds made Sasha wince. He still couldn't look at the apparatus without seeing her crumpled beneath it.
"You left me. After I trusted you to help me become this person who I don't recognize sometimes. Oh I know I have the capacity to be graceful and beautiful and everything. But sometimes I feel like you and my parents are the only ones who see it." Payson had to stop before her voice broke. Swiping angrily at her tears she turned to face him again. "All of a sudden you started backing off around me when I would hug or touch you. It took me weeks to figure out why and I'm still so angry with you about it."
The whole time she had stood there crying he was watching her and trying not to reach out and hold onto her for dear life. As he opened his mouth to spill his guts she held up a hand. "Still not done." Payson sounded marginally stronger. "If I'm going to say this you have to stay over there."
Sasha nodded. "Okay." His voice sounded so low and gruff she barely heard him. Her hearing was a little muffled from the crying.
"I hated you. You felt that way and ran from me? Way to make me feel like shit Sasha. Heaven forbid you actually talk to me about it! You're such a fucking coward! And I know it's my fault you left, but you didn't have to leave. Why would-"
"Payson, stop! I didn't leave entirely because of you. There were other factors that maybe I didn't want to tell you about." Now he was yelling right back. Payson had never seen him this angry before. "I left for your career! They would have ruined you. Why don't you yell at me for that? The fact that I loved you enough to put your career before mine!"
The whole time he was yelling he was moving closer and closer to her. By the time he had finished they could feel each other's heavy breathing. Payson's voice was strangled. "Sasha."
They reached for each other at the same time. The moment he touched his lips to hers he wondered what had ever possessed him to leave in the first place. He loved her so much it must have been sheer madness. Payson responded eagerly to him, rising up on her toes and pressing herself closer.
She was the first to pull away with both of them breathing heavily. At some point she had started crying again. He pressed his forehead to hers to help him feel grounded because it felt like that kiss had sent him spinning off somewhere else. Sasha brought his hands from their place at her waist to wipe away her tears. Her hands stayed bunched in the front of his shirt, like she was afraid he would bolt.
"Please don't cry love. I know it's been hard for you. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have left." She felt like all of the stress of the last few months were finally over and she had gotten to vent her anger at him. Payson was so glad that he was here with her and still so angry with herself for not being able to control herself. She must have projected something that made him flee. The desire to kiss him had been overwhelming when they were practicing those late nights.
He just kept whispering how much he had missed her while she soaked the shoulder of his shirt with tears. Had he really done this much damage when he left her? They needed the balance the other provided and Sasha knew now that he could never run from her again because he wasn't sure either of them would survive it. Her crying was evidence of the toll their separation had taken on them.
A/N: I realize I forgot the disclaimer on the first chapter. So.. I own nothing. At all. No really.. (- That goes for this whole story) I was glad you guys liked the first chapter. Thank you for your positive responses! This story just grabbed me and keeps dragging me along. I know where I want to end up, but I'm not sure how long it's going to take to get there. So this may end up being one of those epics or another few chapters. We'll see =)