Title: Children of a Broken World - Just an Hour

Author: Ashantai

E-Mail: ashantai@hotmail.com

Archive: Please ask!

Pairings: None

Rating: G

Spoilers: None.

Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel, wish I did, don't sue me please.

Summary: Set several years after the escape, where is Tinga? Third in a series of vignettes about the post-escape X5s...


Just an hour. What harm could one hour do?

That's how long it took for Tinga to summarize her life- the confusion, the fear, the pain that had plagued her and all of her brothers and sisters for the first ten years of their lives. Almost three years ago, when she was still a teenager, only seventeen. Before marriage; before Case. One hour, and then it was all out on the table, in front of her in all its frightening ugliness and horror.

Except it wasn't that horrible after all. It was there in front of her, around her, hanging in the air... but Charlie sat in front of her too, a man who had just poured his heart and soul out to her in much of the same manner. For the first time in her life, she was able to look at all her experiences, fears, doubts and her lost childhood that could be summed up in just one hateful word, Manticore, and it didn't hurt her so much to look at it. An hour. It took just one hour to put all that out in front of her for both she and Charlie to look at, examine, and- she hoped- to work through, together. She had almost laughed out loud at how easy it had been.

It took about two seconds to take it back. It was a joke, I was kidding, did you actually believe me? He had; it was the truth, and he had believed her. But she laughed it off, and then so did he, smiled at her instead of gaping, only somehow the smile was worse. More than the insecurities and fears and doubts and lost childhood staring her in the face... somehow hearing Charlie's laugh as he embraced her lie rather than herself, was worse than even talking about all the pain of Manticore. Tinga glanced at the clock and set her fork down, shaking her thoughts away. She pushed her chair back from the dining room table; Case didn't look up from his spaghetti, having been expecting this, knowing it was coming.

"Every Tuesday right at eight o'clock," Charlie stated, gazing at her as she stood. "Every Tuesday you call." Tinga paused, halfway risen. She looked at her husband; how many times was he going to push this? Couldn't he just leave it alone, or did he have to pick and pick at it until she would have to blatantly lie to him rather than just avoid the question? A small voice in the back of her mind told her to tell him the truth, but the larger part of her was too afraid. She pushed her chair back under the table gingerly and waited.

"When are you going to tell me who it is you're calling, Penny?" he asked. She managed to smile at him and almost not hate herself for it.

"It's nothing," she said the words she always did; they felt no less heavy on her tongue than they had the first night she'd said them, almost four years before. Charlie sighed, shook his head, having given up pushing this issue long ago.

Tinga went into the kitchen and picked up the telephone. She dialled a number from memory, waited as it rang, twisting the cord in her fingers. After three rings there was a click.

"Zack," she heard his voice, quick with authority and curtness. "This better be an emergency." Tinga wondered when he was going to change that message; the voice was from at least five years ago and after all, these Tuesday call-ins had been his idea and they certainly weren't emergencies. The machine beeped at her.

"It's Tinga," she spoke into the phone. "I'm still alive, there's no one after me, money's fine, Charlie's good- not that you care-, it's our anniversary next week and we're going down to Phoenix to visit his sister. I'll be back in a week, until then you won't be able to get hold of me. Case is good. I'm still waiting for you to come down; you haven't seen him since he was born... Anyway, bye." She hung up, gazed down at the telephone for a moment. She hadn't meant to be rude but Zack's intense dislike of Charlie though he hadn't even ever met him was a tender spot for her.

Tinga sighed and walked back into the dining room, rejoining her family. Case, almost two years old, grinned over at her from his chair and pushed a handful of spaghetti into his mouth, his face smothered with sauce. Her expression softened as she looked at her son. Charlie glanced over at her.

"Good call?" he asked; she shrugged, ate her dinner in silence. It wasn't his fault, she was just angry at herself for not being able to tell him when she knew she should. And not just about Zack and the call-ins, but about Manticore, the truth of the "tattoo" on her neck, why she was always so ready to let Case run and play whenever he wanted to because she had lacked that freedom in her own childhood.

Sitting there at the dining room table, Tinga suddenly wondered what would happen if one day she didn't call Zack; what would happen if she waited an hour? Just an hour. Would Zack panic and come running from wherever the hell it was he was living or would he give her some time, fume at her when she finally phoned in? Or maybe he would just call her himself when she didn't check in? And if Charlie answered, could he bring himself to ask for Penny? Sometimes, Tinga thought about doing it. Not having to call every week would make her so much more normal than she was, or at least make her feel she was more normal than she really was. Sometimes, she really thought about it.

Just an hour. What harm could one hour do?

But she knew: an hour could do a lot. Sometimes an hour was so long that you could never escape from it, no matter how hard you might want to try.

I'm not quite so sure about this story, but I've wanted to do something with Tinga for a while. Please review it and tell me what you think!! And go review Ante Officium Chapter 3 if you haven't because it was only on the Just In page for about a day and I'm afraid not everyone got a chance to see it. Thanks! :)