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Fic: Just What the Doctor Ordered

Okay, so this should probably be a Priceless update, but you know . . . its not.  I've had this one on my computer for ages and I felt like posting (because I'm procrastinating and fan fiction is my go to for procrastination).

This story is AU from 2x14: Life or Death.  The girls don’t lose to Pinewood, therefore leading Payson to confront Darby on her coaching skills and being spurred into finding a replacement coach.  She doesn’t find a letter with Sasha’s address in Romania, and she doesn’t hop a flight form London to Bucharest in order to tempt Sasha back to The Rock.
That’s not to say that Payson herself stays at The Rock.  But we’ll get to that part later.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Doctor cover

Summary: Post-Olympic AU.  Payson loses her sense of direction following victory in London.  Her therapist thinks she needs closure.  Sasha Belov has other ideas. Payson/Sasha.

Just What the Doctor Ordered – Insanity
November 2012

Her therapist thought she needed closure.

Payson thought it was insane that she even had a therapist.

It wasn’t like she was crazy or anything.  She’d just . . . had some difficulties adjusting to her life post-gymnastics.  Which was expected and would be a perfectly reasonable reaction if it hadn’t led to her having a panic attack on live television after Ellen DeGeneres asked her what her plans were now that she had achieved her dream.

She didn’t have an answer.  For the first time in her life . . . career . . . existence . . . she had no idea what she was going to do with her life.  It should be exhilarating. She’d never been so free.

It was terrifying.

From the age of four years her life had been mapped out for her in a series of continuous routines and schedules.  Everything was concentrated on that one all-consuming goal – Olympic Gold.  And she’d done it.  She had three Olympic gold medals, and a bronze.  She’d achieved everything she ever wanted.

So what happened next?

She felt the panic stir again in the pit of her stomach, clenching her insides and twisting them in knots.  Her heart was racing at a million miles an hour and she felt like she was being suffocated.  It was like something real and tangible was pushing down on her chest, and not just the weight of her own fear constricting her.

‘Just breath,’ she told herself, reaching for the cognitive-behavioural strategies that Doctor Coleman had taught her in order to deal with this sort situation. She tried to slow her breathing and reminded herself that it was okay not to know what she was doing.  Lots of people had no clue what they were going to do with their lives – especially at nineteen – it was normal.

She was perfectly okay.

LIE.

She was not okay.  She was lost and confused and she hated feeling like this.  She’d never be normal and it wasn’t okay for her – she couldn’t be alright not knowing where she was going.  It was a feeling she dreaded more than almost anything in this world.

Forget Doctor Coleman’s stupid mantras.  When all else failed, she had one foolproof method left in her arsenal for getting out of her head and under control.

‘I will continue to hold a place for your greatness, Payson,’ spoke the voice from her memories, reminding her of the path he had forged for her once before, finding a way when she had lost sight of her destination.  ‘I will believe it for you . . . all I need is for you to show up.’

She calmed almost immediately.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Normality restored.

She wondered if Doctor Coleman would be so keen for her to find closure if she knew how she really dealt with her panic attacks.  Even after all these years it was him – his voice, his words, his medal – that she looked to when she felt like things were slipping out of her control.  He was still the voice in her head telling her not to give up.  He was still the place she went to when she needed direction.

She froze, putting an end to that train of thought before she could really dwell on it.

Maybe Doctor Coleman had a point about this closure thing.  She needed to stop using Sasha as her emotional crutch, even if he wasn’t physically there for her to lean on.  In all honesty, she was starting to form an unhealthy dependence upon the words of a man she hadn’t even seen in two years.

She needed to shut the door on that part of her life – the part that had been consumed by gymnastics.  Maybe then she’d be able to move on and try to figure out what she was doing without turning into a complete mess.

Which was what she was doing in a small village about 25 miles out of Bucharest with a Romanian phrase book in hand, trying to work out whether Strada Zambilelor was the same as Strada Zorelelor.  She wasn’t sure how she’d managed to get lost in a village that had seemed so tiny on the map – she must have made a wrong turn a mile back when she almost lost her hat to a strong gust of wind.  The road signs all seemed completely indecipherable at this point and the wind that had almost stolen her hat earlier kept tugging at her jacket and jeans, the harsh chill making her wonder what she was even doing here to begin with.

“Excuse me,” she called out to a woman passing nearby, her features dark and Romanesque like many of the villagers.  She was dressed formally in a pretty silk blouse and a long form fitting skirt, as much of the locals seemed to be – Payson couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious of her own attire, her dark blue jeans and autumn trench seeming so casual in comparison.

“Excusez-moi,” she tried again, when the woman continued without stopping, cringing immediately.  In her desperate attempts to get the woman’s attention she had accidentally called out the wrong language.

The woman, middle-aged with dark curly hair and heavily made-up eyes, smiled amusedly and answered with an indulgent, “Oui.”  Which would have been quite handy if Payson’s French hadn’t been quite nearly as bad as her Romanian.

“Sorry,” Payson said, in English this time, flicking through her phrase book for what she wanted.  Or at least something close to it.  I need your help. Am nevoie de ajutorul tău,” she began, speaking slowly and carefully.  The woman continued to smile indulgently, clearly amused by her pronunciation.  I am looking for . . . “Sunt căuta pentru . . . Alexandru Belov,” she finished, her expression pleading and hopeful.

The woman eyed her suspiciously.  “Da, I know Alexandru,” the woman replied, in clear English.  Payson gaped, wishing it had occurred to her to ask if the woman spoke English before she went and embarrassed herself by trying to speak Romanian.  “You are not from ziar?” she questioned with a clear indication that things would not go easy if she was.  “Journalist,” she added when Payson frowned.

“No,” Payson replied.  “I’m not.  I’m a . . . a friend.  Sort of.  It’s complicated.”

The woman gave a small laugh.  “Then you must know him,” she said, rolling her eyes.  It was a show of camaraderie and a consequence of all the bridges that Sasha had burnt all through his life.  To know him was in itself complicated.  She needn’t say more.

“Haide,” the woman said, raising a hand to urge to her along.  “I show you where he is.”

“Thank you,” she said gratefully, giving up on her phrasebook.  The woman just nodded and showed the way.

Payson was grateful that it was not a long walk to find Sasha.  She couldn’t have taken that much silence.  Five minutes later they were standing in from of a huge building with the word ‘Olympia’ written in cursive script above the smaller elaboration: Gimnastica de formare Facilitatea.

It left her feeling oddly betrayed.

“He is through there,” the woman said, already turning to leave.

“You’re leaving me?” Payson said accusingly, the words slipping out before she could even think of what she was saying.

The woman scoffed, sending her one last indulgent look before she left.  “He is your problem now.”

Payson nearly whimpered.  How on earth did she let herself get talked into doing this?  No good could come of seeing Sasha again.  Especially not the kind of good that Doctor Coleman was hoping for.  If anything it would just cement her in her old ways of coping – in seeing Sasha as her white knight – and she’d have to keep coming back here and having to deal with it all over again.

It was bound to fail.

‘No,’ she told herself.  ‘You’re here.  There’s no turning back.  You just have to suck it up and go in there and say what you need to say, whether Sasha wants to hear it or not.

‘You are not a coward, Payson Keeler,’ she thought determinedly, building up the courage she needed.  She straightened her clothing and did a quick hair check to make sure she was presentable – no way was she walking in there looking a scruffy, wind blown mess.  With one last breath she marched through those double doors, ready to be done with it once and for all.

She barely even took in her surroundings before she committed the cardinal sin of gym etiquette.  “Alexandru Belov!” she hollered with confidence, standing tall and proud in the backlit doorway.

Sasha thought he was the only one who could make a dramatic entrance – pfft!  The entire gym surged to a halt.

She could have picked him out of the crowd even if he hadn’t been drawing attention to himself.  He looked almost exactly as she remembered him – perfectly dishevelled sandy blonde hair only slightly longer than it once was, looking as though every piece was styled into place instead of it simply the result of him running his fingers through it a dozen times, fair hair roughening his hardened jaw line, jeans and t-shirt fitting just as well as she remembered.  He towered over everyone around him, staring them down with a chilly blue gaze, arms crossed across his chest, as imposing as he had ever been.

It was so like him though.  Someone screams his name across the gym and he’s the one person that doesn’t react.  Just carries on as though nothing had changed, still speaking to the young gymnast who was too busy gaping at her to attend to a single word he was saying.

Frustration egged her on now, leaving her no room for fear.  How dare he just ignore her when she flew six thousand miles just to say goodbye to his stupid-ass face? Six thousand miles: the price of her freedom.  How dare he just stand there pretending like he hadn’t heard her!

“Sasha,” she said again, even more demanding than the first.  This time he turned, his expression drawn with confusion at a name he hadn’t heard in two years.  And then that confusion turned to shock and shock to awe and then he was finally acknowledging her with a warm expression and a smile that lit up his whole stupid face.

“Payson.  What are you doing here?” he asked, pleasure and surprise mixing together in his tone of voice.

For a moment she wasn’t sure how to answer.  She wasn’t ready.  She had come all this way and had no idea what to say to him.

This wasn’t the way that she had imagined this going. He wasn’t supposed to be here, at a gym of all places, or look happy to see her.  She was supposed to find him in some dreary bar, willing away his hours and looking at her like she was the last person he wanted to see.  She’d walk in, immediately catching his attention.  He would try to force her to leave, try to muscle her out, unintentionally giving her what she needed.  And she would dig in her heels and say what she needed to say and then get the hell out of there once it was all out of her system.

That was the plan.

It wasn’t supposed to be so . . . easy.  She expected to fight him for every word and have that anger fuel her into confronting him, and yet here he was just outright asking her why she was there and moving closer and opening his arms to her like he expected her to just fall into his embrace like she had in the past.

Like hell.

She should have been furious with him.  He left her – he left all of them.  Only she’d never been able to work up that sort of anger towards him before, and she couldn’t even now.  She understood his reasons – why he felt like that was his only option.  She didn’t agree with them, but she understood.

And goddamn it, she couldn’t help herself.  It was Sasha and he was smiling like she was the best thing to happen to him in a long time and she figured one hug couldn’t hurt while she tried to work things out.  She was in no rush.  Doctor Coleman specifically said for her to take her time – to give herself all the time she needed to find her sense of closure – and one little hug wouldn’t take away from that.

His arms slid around her with the ease of someone who had hugged her many times before.  And for the four and a half seconds for which he held her, her mind was completely silent.

“I just . . . I wanted to see you,” she said eventually, consoling herself in that half-truth.  She leaned against his shoulder, letting herself enjoy the familiar embrace.

“I wanted to see you too,” she thought she heard him murmur, but surely she’d imagined that.

“So what about you?” she asked as she pulled away, still connected to him by a hand on his arm.  “I didn’t think you’d be coaching.”  She tried to keep the reproach out of her voice – the accusation of what she was really saying: I thought we meant more to you.  He had holed himself away for four years after Amelia.  It hurt that he was already coaching again after two.

He must have heard it anyway, because there was a flash of guilt and then sadness in his pale blue eyes.  “It’s not  . . .” he began in protest, but trailed off a moment later, clearly deciding that there was no point denying the obvious.  Because frankly it looked a lot like he was coaching here at Olympia, and she saw little room for alternative explanations.

He smiled sheepishly and opted for changing the subject instead.

“This is Adelina Levandovschi,” he introduced, gesturing to the young gymnast he had been talking with earlier.  The girl was tiny, even by gymnastics standards and probably only about thirteen or fourteen years old.  She had green eyes and dark brown hair, and lightly tanned skin.  Payson didn’t know what it was about her, but the girl reminded her of Kaylie Cruz despite the lack of any physical likeness between them.

“Adelina’s father is one of my oldest friends, and he asked me to work with her as a favour,” he explained as the girl came closer.  “Apparently I agreed to it implicitly when he made me her godfather,” he added, mostly as an aside to himself.

As soon as she was close enough, Adelina began talking, words flying out of her faster than Payson had ever thought humanly possible.  It was like Sasha’s introduction had broken the seal – an implicit permission – and Payson was suddenly hit with screeds of fast pace Romanian, only picking up about every other word and nothing that she knew well enough to understand without the help of her phrasebook.

“She said she’s your biggest fan,” Sasha explained, reading her confused expression.  “Although I beg differ,” he added with a small grin.

“Mulţumesc,” Payson told the girl, smiling kindly.

“Adelina,” he said turning to his charge, and cutting the young girl off before she began once again.  “Von termina mâine.”  Adelina nodded in understanding and he added something about her dad (Payson recognized ‘Tata’ in there somewhere).  It occurred to Payson that Romanian might just be the world’s most under-rated language.

He turned back to her once he was done instructing Adelina, waving a gallant arm towards the doors that had served well for her dramatic entrance.  “Haide,” he said to her, forgetting to switch back to English.  She supposed it had been awhile since he’d had to speak English so frequently and honestly she could forgive his preference.  English sounded so harsh and bland after those rolling rs and long vowels of the local language.  Even Sasha’s usual accent seemed changed by the frequent use of his native tongue – somehow softer than she remembered it.

His cheeks flushed once he realized his mistake and he smiled apologetically.  “We can talk in my office?” he offered, gesturing to a smallish box like room located in one corner of the gym.

She followed him to his office although it afforded them about as much privacy as the same room at The Rock.  It was perfectly placed with two glass walls, which allowed him to survey the whole gym from one spot.  As a consequence, the whole gym could watch the two of them and speculate upon her every gesture over who she was and what she wanted form their coach.

Sasha had seated himself behind his desk – a huge, heavy wooden antique that so obviously had belonged to Dmitri Belov in a previous life.  He was distancing himself from the conversation, she decided, overthinking things as always.  Or making some kind of a power play, speaking from a position of authority.

‘I am not one of your gymnasts,’ she thought bitterly, the muscles in her jaw tightening imperceptibly.  ‘Your games won’t work.’

As silence quickly begun to envelope the room, she resigned herself to wait it out despite the increasing awkwardness.  He could be the one to speak first and lay down his hand.  She’d be the cool one, her poker face firmly in check.

She used the time to survey Sasha’s new digs here in Snagov, needing something to do with herself so she wouldn’t be painfully aware of every passing second.  The walls were decidedly unadorned, practically barren if not for a floral still-life on one wall which had probably come with the office.  There was another chair near his desk but she deliberately ignored it, choosing to stand instead.

Much like his desk at The Rock, there were no personal items to liven up his workspace.  A computer; your usual office stationary; and a pile of papers in his inbox.  No pictures.  No memento’s.

Nothing to make it permanent.

She was taken aback for an instant.  Such insight into the inner workings of Sasha Belov and it only came three years too late.  It should have been obvious to her all those years ago that he was never going to stay.  It was always his intention to be on his way.

Maybe she should have been grateful that he stayed with them as long as he had.  There was never anything to tie him to Boulder or The Rock (or to her).  Even his house was transient, like some blatantly obvious metaphor for the man himself.

She glared at the little grey stapler on his desk – any item would have done – as though in its generic impersonal-ness it was somehow responsible for the ephemeral nature of its user.  User, of course, because owner would imply some kind of special connection.

Sasha must have noticed her heated stare as that was the moment he decided to awkwardly clear his throat and move the stapler out of her line of sight.  When she shifted her gaze, he smiled pleasantly and asked, “How have you been, Payson?”  His expression was lathered with platonic caring – the same care that she had somehow mistaken for more in her deluded innocence.

If only the question itself had been so innocent.  It was laden with traps and pitfalls, a minefield that she had been desperately trying to navigate for the last three months.  She carefully crafted her expression to a mask of placidness, letting none of the telling emotions show through on her face.  Under said placidness she could feel her inside clenching and tightening.  

It was so like him to go straight past all the small talk and jump right to heart of the matter.  No chance to ease herself into it.  Maybe he even already knew the answer.  But here they were already - here was her opening.  This was the part where she told him how confused and lost she was and how – in some ways – it was all his fault.  Time to get him out of her system.

But the words wouldn’t come.  She didn’t lie so much as play down those feelings.  “It’s been hard getting used to things,” she told him vaguely.  Not so brave after all.

He nodded sympathetically, the gesture somehow reaching between them and having all the presence and feeling of a physical touch.  “I know, Payson,” he said, as understanding as ever.  She felt that little bit more at ease for it – for knowing that he wasn’t just saying the words to comfort her.  This was something he really did understand and that he had experienced himself.  This was a true confidant: a kindred spirit.  He was the only person in her life who truly knew what it was like for her. 

“I just . . . I don’t know what to do with myself,” she admitted, glancing away from him.  Her arms, which had been hanging aimless at her sides, curled up around her stomach, limbs coming in close for protection.  “Gymnastics was my whole life for so long.  I don’t know what I am without it.”

She heard him make a small ‘hmm’ of amusement or annoyance that brought her gaze back to him.  “That’s the problem,” he told her.  “You think you have to give it up.”

She sighed exasperatedly at his bullheadedness.  “I’m almost twenty,” she told him firmly.  “I’ve been doing gymnastics now for fifteen years.  My body can’t take any more of this.

“And even if it could, it’s too much,” she added, shaking her head.  “Between the NGO, the media, and the constant mind games – I’m exhausted.”

And she was.  This current episode was just proof that she lacked the mental tenacity required in the sport, and that another four years would take more out of her than she could possibly build back.

Sasha shook his head, his expression firm.  “I know that, Payson,” he said, mimicking her exasperation.  “I meant coaching.  Not competing.”

“I told you last time I didn’t want to coach.”

“Things have changed since then,” he shrugged, unfazed by her quick rebuff.  “That was when you were injured and when you wanted nothing more than to compete again.  You said that part of your life is over, so why not give coaching another shot?”

Payson blinked, eyes wide with fear and confusion.  She barely let herself think about it, dismissing it before some part of her tried to capture it and what it could mean for her.

“But . . . I can’t,” she spluttered.

“Why not?” he challenged.

‘Why?’ she thought to herself, keeping the anger to herself.  ‘Because I have to let it go.  It’s all anyone keeps telling me.  I have to let go.’

Let you go.

“Because that part of my life is over, Sasha,” she tried instead, her tone rising a little as she spoke.  Her anger and exasperation seeped through despite her best efforts to control herself – to remain detached and unemotional and in charge of the situation.  “I’m done with gymnastics.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Sasha replied, speaking louder now and rising about an inch out of his seat.  He was usually so good at controlling himself when he was frustrated with her – when her obstinacy made it impossible for him to get through to her – but right now he wasn’t even trying to hide it.  She could see it in his tight features and in the way the muscles in his neck jumped with tension.  She’d seen him look that way with others – with Kaylie and Emily – but never had it directed at herself.

“You don’t have to be done with gymnastics,” he repeated, his voice low now but having the same intensity.  “It doesn’t have to be over.”

He wasn’t listening.  Or at least, he wasn’t hearing her.  This man who’d seemed to know her better than she even knew herself . . .

Perhaps too much time had passed.  Two years was a long time, and so much had changed since then.  Perhaps he simply didn’t know her anymore.

“You don’t get it,” she accused, her voice small.  And then she was crying and she didn’t even know why.  “You’re not my coach anymore,” she said weakly.  “I didn’t come here for you to tell me what to do.  I just came . . .”

She swallowed thickly on her words and resolved herself to her next course of action.  She straightened her back, letting her arms drop back to her sides, and lifted her chin.  In mere seconds she was transformed, the vulnerability and fear buried beneath an illusion of strength.

“Goodbye, Sasha,” she said simply.  And then she left.

It wasn’t the closure she needed, but it would have to do.  At least now she could feel vindicated when she next saw Doctor Coleman.  Everything had gone just as badly as she thought it would.

It didn’t feel like a release.  It didn’t feel cathartic.

Instead the panic swelled inside her and this time the voice in her head refused to comfort her.


~ to be continued ~

This is intended to be mult-chaptered but we'll see how it goes.  So far I've not gotten much further than re-writting the first chapter about five times.

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