Far Edge of Anywhere
We don't know Tom and Sasha's backstory - but we know it had to have been intense. The Muse wouldn't let me be until I attempted to fill in the details that the series didn't. Two such powerful, passionate, and principled people couldn't have a story that was anything less than they were.
This is my own headcanon of how their relationship might have started - and ended.
Enjoy. And if you do enjoy, feel free to let me know. I appreciate it!
"Come on, Tommy. For old times."
He groaned, ducking his chin and staring down at the black marble top of the table they'd gathered around. His fingers tightened on the bottle in his hand - he'd barely made a dent in it, having only taken a few sips. Far on the other side of the club, the band had started assailing the bar's crowd with a new song.
"We've struck out, man." Wilson leaned over and nearly yelled into Tom's ear. With the band's enthusiastic bass player, it was really the only way to communicate. "Three for four. Dead in the water. You know how much is riding on this now?"
Lugo whacked Tom's shoulder with the backs of his fingers. "Dance Party, man."
Tom frowned. "I thought it was karaoke."
"The stakes are higher this time around." Martin, their fourth, tossed back another giant swig of his beer. "Since we all crashed and burned last time."
"I know you weren't there, Tom, but our failure was pretty epic."
Straightening, Tom shoved one hand into the pocket of his jeans, gesturing towards each of the guys in turn with the bottle he still held. "And this affects me how?"
"Roam with the wild boys, Chandler, and you have to do the wild things." Narrowing his eyes, Martin gave Chandler a speculative once-over. "And now we finally have a ringer on the team. You're both taller and better looking than the rest of us, so the Bettys are going to flock to you."
Tom rolled his eyes, raising his beer for a half-hearted sip. "Sad to say, men, I've hit a dry spell lately. I'm still not cleared for strenuous activity since my PT isn't finished yet."
"Define strenuous." Martin had used his fingers as air quotes, his expression suggestively lewd. Cute.
"From what Lugo here says, you don't ever dance, anyway." Wilson's drink sloshed in its tumbler as he gestured with it in Tom's direction. "You just stand there looking all dreamy while the chicks wriggle around you."
"Wriggle." Swallowing, Wilson turned towards the dance floor, where a dozen or so barely-legals were writhing to the beat. He leered at them for a moment before waggling his eyebrows at Tom. "Like hot, drunk, love-struck puppies."
Tom frowned at his new friend, his brows low. "There is something wrong with you, Wilson."
Wilson's responding grin was astoundingly laconic. "Whatever. You're still our Ben Kenobi, Chandler."
Wilson laughed, clunking his drink down on the table. Batting his eyes, he curled his hands together under his chin. His voice ascended more than an octave. "Help us, Tom Chandler. You're our only hope."
"So, you're choosing the Leia Offensive strategy?" Lifting his bottle, he glared at the other three guys - the closest things he had to 'friends' in this town. Shaking his head, he sighed. "Unbelievable."
Martin laughed. "So, come on, man. Make your move."
Wilson threw his arm around Tommy's shoulder. "So - okay. Now, it's up to you. She's over there. See? Alone at the bar. Blue jacket, leather boots, sweet tight little jeans. Best-looking woman in here. If you come up empty, we've got to shake our asses up on that stage over there."
"I, for one, can't afford that kind of embarrassment." Lugo shook his head, then dipped his fingers into the bucket full of pretzels on the table in front of them. "My mojo took a serious nose-dive after I had to sing that freaking Britney Spears song last time."
Tom grinned at that image. While Lugo Bermudez was an amazing operator in the field, the man couldn't sing worth a crap. Besides, his tendency to act impetuously rather than carefully had cost him lately, landing him with a demotion of some sort that Tom hadn't had the desire to learn about. Glancing up, Chandler shook his head while raising his bottle in his friend's direction. "Lugo, you didn't have any mojo to begin with."
He shouldn't be here. He had roughly a million other things that he should have been doing during this final free week before his debut at the College. He'd arrived in Newport a few days ago - early enough to get settled into his apartment. He'd acquired groceries, furniture, and a decent TV. He'd unpacked the few things he'd brought with him, browsed through the books the director of the RMSI had given him, and then headed out to reacquaint himself with the city.
He should have studied the books more diligently. Should have reviewed the Russian strategic coursework, or the vocabulary workbooks. Then, maybe he wouldn't have run into Bermudez near the little brewery he'd found just off Coddington Highway, nor stopped to have dinner with his old friend. Dinner had turned into a night at a neighboring bar with Lugo's crew - Jim Wilson and Pete Martin - civilian friends who were Newport natives. One thing had led to another, and now here he stood, in a far trendier bar than he'd ever wanted to grace, trying to get himself out of participating in this ridiculous game.
He was getting too old for this, wasn't he? On the north side of 25 years old and on track to be a Captain by 40 - this kind of thing should be anathema to him. And really, he should be immune to peer pressure.
But what was it that they said about brothers in arms? You didn't leave a man behind. Lugo was having a good time - and no matter how little Tom wanted to be there, he didn't want to ruin his friend's night.
"So, what are the rules again?"
Sensing victory, Martin counted off the steps on his fingers. "Approach, woo, get a number."
"You know, charm - beguile."
Wilson winked lasciviously. "Seduce."
"Do what you have to do to accomplish the mission, Tom." Lugo clapped a hand on Chandler's back, shoving him unceremoniously towards the girl at the end of the bar. "Don't make us dance on the stage."
Sighing again, Tom took another swig from his beer before depositing it on the table. "Wish me luck." Taking a few steps backwards, he ignored his friends' shouts of encouragement as he rounded the stage side of the establishment. Coming up on the bar from the other side gave him a better look at her. Dark hair, fair skin. She was reading something, a glass of what Tom suspected to be diet cola near a half-finished plate of hot wings. She had a piece of celery in one hand, and was turning pages with the other. The stools on either side of her were empty.
Gritting his teeth, Tom took a few steps towards her, making the mistake of glancing to his left at the crew he'd left behind. They were watching him with rapt attention, their expressions a little too hopeful.
Damn it. He was getting too old for this kind of idiocy.
He groaned, then strode directly towards the girl, sliding onto the stool on her right.
She paid him absolutely no attention. She didn't even lower her celery. Tom leaned towards her, crowding her arm with his elbow, and she merely turned the page of the paperback she was reading.
He cleared his throat.
She took a bite.
He bumped her elbow with his own.
She turned slightly to avoid touching him again.
Tom looked up at the long rows of bottles displayed at the back of the bar area. Typical - mirrored walls, amber lighting, glass shelves - like most other bars he'd been to since he'd gotten old enough to drink. The bartender was cleaning glasses, wiping them dry with a towel. The look he shot Tom radiated understanding and sympathy. Obviously, many others had failed with this one.
"Excuse me." He'd turned sideways on the stool, leaning in towards his mark. When she didn't acknowledge him, he tried again, more loudly. "Excuse me."
Finally, she'd looked over at him, and it felt like he'd been punched in the gut. He'd been expecting an attractive woman, but she was more. Her features were perfect - unbelievably so - but Tom was more intrigued by what he could sense that she was. Confident. Astute. Deliberate. Wary. Beneath the dark feather of her eyelashes, her clear blue eyes scoped him over with a freakish sort of intelligence. It was disconcerting, in a way, to be studied so intently by someone, yet to have no idea whatsoever what she was seeing.
Whatever impressions she'd gained remained hidden behind a beautiful, yet implacable mask. "Yes?"
It was quieter on this side of the bar. Enough so that he didn't need to yell. "I need to apologize for my friends over there."
She knew exactly to whom he was referring. She threw a quick look at them over her left shoulder before returning her attention to Tom on her right. "I guess someone has to."
"They're good guys, but they're idiots."
Her slow smile softened her features. She was amused - whether that was by him or with him was uncertain. "Aren't those two things mutually exclusive?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Tom shrugged, the corner of his mouth lifting. "Truth is, they're playing a game."
"What's the point of it?"
"It's called ' Mavericking'." Tom explained. "Like from 'Top Gun'. They choose a girl, and they all take turns trying to get her number. If they all strike out, then they have to perform some embarrassing stunt."
"'Top Gun', huh?" Her lips twitched. "You're not going to sing to me, are you?"
"Would it help?"
"Ummmm - " She pretended to think, tapping the celery against her bottom lip before shaking her head with a slow, sardonic smile. "Probably not."
"Good." Tom watched as she took a bite of the celery stick. "I can't sing worth a damn."
"Neither could Tom Cruise."
"True." Shrugging a little, he tapped his fingertips on the bar counter. "But he still got the girl."
"From what I remember, that was only because he'd played chicken with a Mig-28." She cocked her head at him. "Kelly McGillis was jonesing to hear about that. I think that Tom Cruise was just the cherry on top."
Her grin was broad and bold. "So to speak. But all I'm saying is that Maverick wouldn't have gotten anywhere if it weren't for the plane."
"Ah. The Mig-28." He watched as she placed her celery back onto the plate alongside the remainder of her wings. "Funny thing is, that plane doesn't actually exist."
"Really?" Her perfectly arched brows rose. "I thought for sure that movie was completely accurate in every way."
She was mocking him. Tom rubbed at the hint of stubble roughening his cheeks and chin. "I'm sorry to burst your bubble."
"Oh, believe me. There was no bubble." She ran a finger along the rim of her glass, tilting her head to one side. Her hair flowed like a liquid curtain over her shoulder. "I've never really liked that movie."
It was his turn to tease. "Even with the famous volleyball scene? I thought that part had all the girls drooling."
"I've seen my share of tight abs and bulging pecs." Lifting her glass, she elevated a single brow at the same time. "I've found that the packaging is rarely indicative of what's inside the box."
Tom waited for her to swallow and set the glass back down before responding. "So, you're picky."
"Discriminating." She corrected him, absently twisting a strand of hair around a finger. "I'm more into the brain than the brawn."
He scowled towards the object she'd been studying when he'd approached her. "And yet, you're reading 'Pride and Prejudice'."
"What's wrong with 'Pride and Prejudice'?" Passing a glance towards the book still sitting open on the bar, she narrowed her eye at Tom. "It's a classic."
"Nothing's wrong with 'Pride and Prejudice'. It's just ironic that you're waxing philosophical about brawn versus brain, and Mr. Darcy is a the brawniest of them all. In my experience, women who love 'Pride and Prejudice' do so because they've got the hots for Mr. Darcy."
"He's a romantic legend."
She'd scooted forward on her stool in her earnestness, close enough to Tom that her knee grazed his own. Tom couldn't deny that he was intrigued by this woman. He'd been expecting your basic barfly; pretty, entertaining, yet vapid. Instead, he'd found someone challenging and fascinating. And her touch - so innocent against his leg - sent a jolt of energy through his core.
Tom rested his elbow on the bar, shaking his head at her. "He's brawny."
"How is Mr. Darcy brawny? He's a man unlike any other in literature. He's considerate, he's willing to take responsibility for his actions, and he's thoughtful. His entire goal seems to be to take care of his sister, friends, and eventually, Elizabeth."
"He's powerful. He's rich. He forces others to accept his will. He lies to his friend about Jane being in London because he thinks that he knows better than Bingley. He manipulates everyone."
She made a little sound - half disgust, half exasperation. "He was just trying to take care of his friend."
Tom frowned with derision. "He was bossy and had an unfair prejudice against the Bennet sisters."
"Which he apologized for and, and about which he made amends."
"Amends that he wouldn't have had to make if he hadn't been such an arrogant blowhard in the first place."
"Arrogant - " She straightened, using her heels on the rung of the stool to push her body even closer to him, the heat of her knee rasping along his inner thigh. "Mr. Darcy wasn't arrogant. He was reticent, maybe - "
"He was arrogant." Tom shrugged, thrumming his splayed fingers against the wood of the bar. "I, for one, would never presume to sabotage my friend when he clearly loves someone."
"What - one of those friends?" She jerked a thumb over her shoulder, her hair swinging as she leveled a glare at his buddies over her shoulder. "You can't be serious. They're nothing like Bingley."
"You're right." He grinned. "Just like I'm not really like them."
That stopped her. She sat straight up on her stool, peering at him with a contemplative little gleam in her incredible eyes. "No. You're really not."
It was his turn to study her. Open, blatant, appraising. His eyes swept over her, capturing the dark luxury of her hair, the perfect ivory of her cheek, the expressive curve of her mouth. He could see the pulse beating in the elegant line of her throat, her fine nostrils flaring with the heat of the argument.
Damn, she was beautiful. Unbelievably so, not to mention more interesting than anyone or anything he'd encountered in ages. He'd been bored - so incomprehensibly bored - first confined due to his injury and then on leave during his recovery. He'd been chagrined to admit to being excited by the idea of physical therapy. At least it had given him something to do.
And then the assignment at the War College had given him a mission again, and he'd been looking forward to the challenge of teaching. He'd been reaching, lately. Far removed from friends whose progress amidst ranks had stalled, and yet stagnant himself with his inability to do anything while his leg healed. Meeting up with Lugo had been a bleak reminder of what happened to officers who allowed themselves to simply drift. Somehow, during his tours in the Gulf and his assignments in and around Russia, things had changed for him.
He'd changed. Matured? Maybe.
"So? What do you say?" He balanced his weight on the elbow he'd perched on the bar, bending in towards her. "Are you going to help me out?"
Something shifted in her eyes, the azure gaze morphing from annoyance to something altogether different. Amusement, perhaps. Curiosity, for certain. She broke eye contact first, turning her attention downward, towards where their legs were still touching, her hair flowing in a sleek tumble over her shoulder and obscuring one side of her face. Hesitantly, she reached over and touched his hand, tracing down the veins on the back, roughing the fine hairs on his knuckles, rasping around the texture of his fingertips where they draped over the edge of the bar. The touch was barely a whisper, but was enough to send Tom reeling again, fighting for control against a force that he'd never encountered.
She peeked up at him from under the silken fall of her hair. With other women, that look would have been considered flirtatious. With this one - it was a challenge. "So, what would it take?"
"A phone number."
"Does it have to be my real number?"
He wouldn't beg for it. For all of his bravado, he was too proud for that. "No. It's a game. And since they'll never call it, they'll never know."
"Don't you want my name?"
"That's up to you." He pressed his lips together to keep from asking anyway.
"So, a fake name and a fake number for a fake pick-up due to a real game." Her fingers rested on his briefly before she turned, searching on the bar for a napkin. "Do you have a pen?"
Tom quickly caught the eye of the bartender, who had obviously been paying attention. Almost immediately, a cheap ballpoint skidded down the bar towards them.
She caught it deftly, removing the lid and positioning the napkin. Her handwriting suited her - bold and even, lacking girly swirls, but unmistakeable feminine. She folded up the napkin and turned back towards him before sliding off her stool. Her lips curved in a sassy smile. "Well, Mr. Fake. It's been interesting."
Tom stood. "That, it has."
She held up the napkin, her eyes sparkling with challenge. "Are you going to call it?"
One brow rose in blatant skepticism. "Is it real?"
"You'll have to try it to find out." Without breaking eye contact, she snagged a belt loop of his jeans with a finger, tugging at him gently. Lifting a brow, she tucked the napkin into the front pocket of his Levis, her fingers lingering on the denim edge. "There you go. You have successfully avoided Mavericking."
Tom sighed, the sound a low rumble in his chest. "I appreciate that, ma'am."
She didn't answer him, merely capturing her top lip between her teeth. Instinctively, Tom knew that she was too frank for the games that other girls played - she wasn't being coy, her uncertainty was genuine. Without giving her the chance to waver, he stepped away from her first, backing up a little before finally pivoting and making his way back the way he'd come towards the table near the entrance where his friends waited.
They'd ordered another round. Tom's first bottle still sat, unfinished, on the table amidst the empties. Next to it was a fresh one, still cold. He grabbed it and raised it to his lips.
"So?" Lugo spoke first, his face flushed with alcohol and excitement. "Did you get it?"
Swallowing, Chandler couldn't keep himself from looking back towards the bar, only to find that she'd gone. The bartender had already cleared away her glass and half-finished plate of wings. Only the ballpoint pen remained. He hid his disappointment by making a show of pulling the napkin out of his pocket. "Read it and weep, men."
Bolstered by beer, Lugo raised both hands in the air and whooped, turning towards the other two as he yelled, "Jester's dead!"
Wilson and Martin high-fived Lugo and each other, raising their beer bottles in a somewhat woozy salute to Tom. Their hollering was nearly lost in the clamor of the band and of the other patrons around them. For that small favor, Tom felt intensely grateful. Returning the napkin to his pocket, he dropped out of the celebration, stepping a few feet back and out of their way, watching from the sidelines rather than participating in their exultation.
Maybe he'd changed in his time since being a student at the College. Maybe seeing action, experiencing defeat, losing friends - maybe that had rendered this kind of ridiculous enterprise pointless to him. Maybe he was still out of sorts since his injury, and the resultant feelings of uselessness and weakness. Maybe he was just beyond this and ready for something more - meaningful.
Whatever had happened, he'd gained something new. Some sort of perspective that was driving him away from the ridiculous and towards the substantial. From inanity to relevance.
She'd challenged him, and he'd found it far more intoxicating than the alcohol flowing freely around him. And far, far more desirable.
Leaning against a nearby post, Tom scanned the crowd again, the bottle in his hand feeling like an anchor. It was hot, and crowded inside the bar, too many people moving in too many directions. He'd become accustomed to order in the past few years, he realized. Order and a sense of purpose. This kind of chaotic insanity was numbing and stupid. The door opened behind him, and a sudden rush of cool air enveloped him. It felt cleansing, and real, and he yearned almost desperately to be somewhere - anywhere - other than here.
He felt a hand on his arm and turned towards the sensation. Jarred from his thoughts, it took a split-second to focus on the face peering up at him. On the cerulean eyes and dark fringe of lashes. On the odd uncertainty in her expression.
She hadn't left. Or she'd come back - it didn't matter. Whatever had made her return had also made her antsy. Her breathing was rapid, and a pinkness had worked its way up the fair skin of her throat to color her cheeks.
"I forgot something." She'd leaned in to him on tiptoe, speaking directly into his ear.
"What did you forget?" Tom frowned. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a large crowd heading towards the door, and he wrapped his arm around her to get her out of the way. In the tumult, she was pushed against him, her body flush against his, her hands coming up to brace herself against his chest. The impact was stunning - a jolting assault on his senses. Her feel, her smell, the energy in her lithe body pulsing against his was overwhelming. He shivered at her touch, ducking his chin - ashamed at the surge of need.
She was studying him - her gaze intense. She'd felt his response, insinuating herself even closer to him, relishing the way his body reacted to her. She smiled a little, the curve of her mouth teasing at a hint of a dimple in the smooth perfection of her cheek.
Her fingers traced along the muscles in his chest, up the column of his throat, feeling the softness of the skin beneath his ear. She narrowed her eyes, giving her head a little shake as she asked, "Who the hell are you?"
But before he could answer, she'd splayed her palm against his cheek and had risen up further, urging his face downwards towards hers. Her thumb traced the line at the corner of his lips, teasing at the stubble on his cheek. He watched her - breathless - as she closed the distance between them and pressed her mouth to his.
His eyes closed even as she urged his lips to part. He pulled her closer as she tested and tasted and explored him. Heat spread up his core, her body felt right beneath his hands, strong and vital. She tasted like exotic cities and the sea herself - wild and reckless and untamed. Like midnight in the sands of the Middle East, or like the calm before the storm. She was all of that and more - she was everything - as she drew more from him than he'd known he could give.
Hot, deep, thorough. By the time she broke the kiss, he'd gathered her up so tightly against himself that her toes barely skimmed the floor, her arms were locked around his neck, and the fingers of one hand had threaded themselves through the short coarseness of his hair. They were both breathing unevenly in shallow bursts, clutching at each other as they struggled for control. He wanted to kiss her again, angling downward, but she met him with a little whimper that he couldn't quite interpret, and he pressed his forehead against hers, instead. Her fingers played with the hair at his nape, his collar, and the back of his neck, and he could feel her relaxing against him. He breathed deeply - stymied by the staleness of the bar and the stink of its patrons - forcing his own body back under control, untangling his hand from the knot he'd clutched in the back of her shirt. He smoothed the fabric down, his hand lingering in the supple curve of her waist and hip.
What he wouldn't give to be somewhere else with this fascinating woman at this exact moment. Anywhere else but here.
He couldn't let her go. He didn't have the strength. She fit so perfectly against him that he simply held her there for a long moment, burying his face in the elegant curve of her throat, feeling their heartbeats as they sought a symbiotic beat.
He was lost and found, dead and risen, numb and feeling - all at once.
In a gaudy club in Newport - the very last place on Earth that he figured he'd find meaning.
Against him, she stirred, sliding her arms from around his neck and lowering herself to the floor. Her fingertips trailed along his temple, his cheek bone, his jaw, as she pulled away. Her eyes were bright in the dimness of the club, her lips slightly swollen.
"What?" He wasn't quite back to normal yet. "What's real?"
"The number." Her hand tightened on his bicep. "You still have it, right? You didn't give it to these goons."
He couldn't help but smile at that. "No. It's still in my pocket."
"So, tomorrow." She shook her hair back over her shoulder, tilting herself close enough to make herself heard, but not close enough to lose control again. "Tomorrow, you call it."
"You call it, and I'll answer."
Nodding, he couldn't help the smile that tugged at his mouth, even if he was pretty sure that he looked like a virgin freshman at his first college party. "And what should I call you?"
She fought it - he could tell. Somehow, he knew that she was struggling for self-control as much as was he. But she lost the battle, coming in close to tease at his mouth again - hard and then gentle, deep and then sweet. Stepping away, she pressed her lips together with a little sigh, touching her fingertips to her mouth as if to remember the sensation. Finally, she answered. "Sasha. My name is Sasha."
And before he could reply, she'd fled, whirling away from him, from his body, from his heat, weaving her way expertly through the crowds near the door and disappearing into the night.
To be continued. . .