Title: FP: Dancing (1/1)
Summary: In which Tinga hears a song, discusses normalcy, and dances.
Spoilers: Pre-series, vague hints of Pollo Loco.
Characters: Tinga, Charlie, Case, Ben.
Distribution: Sure, just ask.
Disclaimer: Cameron and Eglee.
Date: August 2-6, 2001.
Tinga was chopping tomatoes at the kitchen table when she first recognized the tune Case was humming. Momentum carried the knife the rest of the way through the tomato, wider at the base than the finely sliced top. She lay the knife down on the stained cutting-board and wiped off her hands on the dishtowel threaded through the refrigerator's handle.
Case was sitting cross-legged on the living-room floor, intent on the puzzle pieces spilled out before him. "Case," Tinga said evenly and he hummed his acknowledgment. Tinga crossed her arms in front of her, took a breath. "Where did you hear that song?" she asked.
Case looked up from his puzzle and blinked. He had wide eyes and long lashes, and though they helped make him an adorable child, Tinga sometimes wondered if they wouldn't make him pretty when he grew older. She couldn't remember this baby-softness in her own past--they had all been hard and trimmed to necessities by experience. "At the park," Case answered.
Mrs. Wilson watched Case from Monday to Thursday while Tinga and Charlie were at work. She had mentioned a trip to the park, smiled fondly at Case when she related how the boy had worked his way up the monkey-bars with utmost confidence. "Did Mrs. Wilson sing you that song?" Tinga asked. Mrs. Wilson still had a beautiful voice. She didn't sing.
Case had turned back to his puzzle. He fitted two pieces of pale blue sky together. "Nuh uh," he said. "I didn't see him, the song-man." He cocked his head and pushed another piece forward with his index finger. "I didn't talk to him," Case added a moment later, knowing that he'd promised to never talk to anyone his parents didn't clear first.
Tinga's lips worked their way into a smile. She addressed her son's bent head. "That's good." She pushed off from the wall her shoulder had been propped against. Her arms loosened, unhooked, and Tinga dragged her dry palms down the thighs of her jeans. "Okay," she said. "Okay," she repeated and returned to the kitchen.
There was half a tomato left. She turned them into thick slices. Tinga piled them next to thin and precisely-cut ones she had already taken care off. They would have gone in the salad she was planning on making with spaghetti. Tinga put away the sauce and noodles and reached for the full bag of bread instead. Cream cheese, bacon and tomato sandwiches instead, she decided.
She could give her attention to many things at once. She could recognize, analyze and file even more beyond conscious thought. She hadn't consciously noted the sound of Charlie's arrival, but wasn't surprised when he stepped through the door. The kitchen was closed off from the living room. Tinga tracked her husband's movements through sound. She dropped two slices of bread into the toaster and didn't move away. Strange that Charlie could read her emotions when he didn't have any idea of who she was. The toast popped, lightly browned.
Charlie was ruffling Case's hair. He murmured something that Tinga tried not to hear. He was a gradual heat at her back. Charlie's hands fixed against Tinga's hips and he pressed a dry kiss against the nape of her neck. Tinga shivered and dropped the toasted slices on a nearby plate. "How was your day?" she asked.
Charlie made a low sound deep in his throat. "Long," he answered. "Yours?"
Tinga shrugged. Such a reply wouldn't have been tolerated by her trainers. Precision was a commandment, evasion met by punishment. She lied to Charlie more than she had with Lydecker. "The usual," Tinga said in Penny's voice. The texture of the toast was almost painful beneath her sensitive fingertips. "Carla wants to know if we're free next Saturday."
Charlie had found a beer. The cap clicked against the counter and tumbled to the floor. Charlie retrieved it, tossed it towards the garbage can. "Don't know," he said and took a long draw from his bottle. "Things have been hectic recently."
"Mm hmm," Tinga agreed. She fitted the sandwich together. "Case, supper's ready!" she called out.
"Sandwiches," Charlie said.
"Yes," Tinga said, annoyed. "Sandwiches."
"Okay," Charlie said, "that's fine."
"Yes," Tinga stated. She set three plates on the table and tore free paper-towels. Tinga got out a pitcher of lemonade while Charlie and Case sat down. She could hear their teeth and jaws working as they chewed.
Case was still humming between mouthfuls.
"That's nice," Charlie commented.
"You shouldn't do that at the table," Tinga said.
"Sorry, mummy," Case said after chewing thoroughly and swallowing.
Charlie shot her a look. Tinga ignored it.
Later, Case licked his fingers and pushed his plate away. "Finished," he said.
Tinga looked at the plate. It was empty. He had even eaten the crusts. She had taught her son never to waste food. She could remember months where she had scrambled for food, remembered how even her body had given into hunger. "Okay," Tinga said, gentled by the sight of smooth round face and child's plump hands. "Go finish your puzzle."
Charlie helped wash the small pile of dishes. His mother hadn't worked, she had cared for children and house and had done the dishes while her husband worked on the business he had brought into their home. Tinga liked cooking and was passionate about order and neatness but she wouldn't play mummy and housewife and she'd made sure that Charlie did dishes and vacuumed as often as did she.
"You seem tense," Charlie said as he stored dried plates in the cupboard.
"I'm fine," Tinga said. She was quick and efficient. The dishes were done before Charlie could formulate a plan of attack.
"Penny," Charlie said and caught her arm. "Penny, talk to me."
She looked into his eyes and blinked. Speech was all he understood. If she concentrated, she could hear his body, smell him, knew a thousand ways to read him even in his silence. "Look, I'm sorry. It's been a long day."
"Yeah. Yeah," Charlie agreed. He let go of her arm, touched her cheek. "We'll make room for Carla's party on Saturday, okay? Let loose, have a bit of fun."
"Fine," Tinga said. She recognized that the word was short and softened it with a smile.
Case was humming again.
"He knows how to carry a tune," Charlie commented, pleased. "Maybe we should see if there's anyone willing to provide music lessons."
"Mmm," Tinga answered. "Money is a bit tight," she said, finally.
"I want him to have the best," Charlie said.
He'll do fine without lessons, Tinga thought. He can't do anything less.
The park was ten minutes away from their apartment complex. It was small and old, but there really wasn't anyplace else for the neighbourhood's children to play. They didn't seem to mind, and so long as there was constant adult supervision, they were safe. Nighttime saw the park pass from children to teenagers. The teens were loud and numerous and left empty beer bottles and cigarette packages next to the swings and slide. They weren't there when Tinga arrived, although adults and children had long since slipped away.
"What are you doing here?" Tinga asked, hard.
Ben stopped humming, looked away from the toes of his boots where they sank into the sand. "He's a cute kid," he said.
Tinga's hands curled into fists. She took a step forward. "No games, Ben."
Ben straightened his knees, driving the swing back. His lips quirked and he lifted his feet, the swing gliding forward. "No games," he agreed. "I wanted to see."
"See what?" Tinga demanded.
"You. My nephew." He looked at her from lowered lashes. "Is that it, then?"
"What?" Tinga asked.
"The thing that makes you normal?" Ben smiled when Tinga didn't answer. He shifted his hands around the chains at his sides, testing the strength of them. "You watch the news?" he asked when the silence grew thick and dangerous.
"Yes," Tinga said. She tucked her hands into the pockets of her open jacket. Sand had worked its way into her shoes. She could feel the stuff at the bottom of her shoes, irritating against the soles of her sock-clad feet.
"I watch for them," he told her.
Tinga's lips thinned. "You sound envious."
"Maybe I am. Quality work. Excitement. Fulfillment."
"Yeah." Ben cocked his head, studying her. "When was the last time?"
Tinga's eyes slid to the right. "New Mexico. 16," she answered. Jim, who had been no little drunk and horny and angry that she hadn't made him the center of her universe. He had hit her for enjoying herself without him. She had hit back instinctively--harder.
"Good?" Ben asked, voice crackling with interest.
"No," Tinga answered.
"You're lying," Ben said.
"Not really," and she wasn't. "It was quick--an accident."
"Ah," Ben said, as if her explanation had told him something beyond what she had meant. "Not since then?"
Tinga let out a hard breath. "It isn't fulfillment for me, okay?"
"And this is?" Ben asked, waving about vaguely as if to encompass everything that made up Penny Smith's life. "Truth. I'm genuinely curious."
Tinga shifted. She looked at Ben and found herself edging towards pity. He looked confused and she thought that maybe he really hadn't found anything to fill his life. "I'm happy," she said. "I'm a good wife, a good mother, and I love my family."
"Okay," Ben said slowly. "Right. For real?"
"Just come here, Tinga," Ben said. He stood and held out his arms and she came. He folded his arms around her. "A good mother."
"I hope so," she said.
"You are," Ben answered, certain. "Is it true that a mother never stops loving her child?" he asked. Ben had folded back into the swing. Tinga stood between his knees, Ben's arms loose around her hips, his cheek light against her stomach. Her palm rested against the nape of his neck, fingertips feeling for fine blond hair.
"I can't imagine not loving Case," Tinga said softly, sad for Ben, for herself, for all of them for having to ask.
"Do you love me?" Ben asked.
"Of course, yes," Tinga said and rubbed her hand across his back.
"No. Not of course," Ben said and rocked back far enough to see her face. His eyes were desperate. "Not because you have to, okay."
"Ben. Ben, I love you," she told him.
Ben looked up at her. "Always, no matter what?"
"What is this?" Tinga demanded, pulling away from his arms. "Why are you asking me this?" She wrapped her arms around herself, cold and tight with sudden tension.
"I need to know that you won't hate me. I need you to love me, Tinga," Ben said.
"Hate you? No. I love you. I do. Stop talking like this," Tinga said. "What are you playing at, Ben?"
"Nothing. I'm not playing." He paused a moment. "Husband, child, friends, job. Do you feel normal? Really?"
Tinga bit the inside of her cheek, annoyed at his persistence. She thought and it wasn't hard to find an answer. There was a part of her that was always aware of escape routes, that noted with professional interest each way she could dispose of the various people she encountered every day. She thought of sheets drawn tight over her bed, and suspicion of new people and places. "Normal? Sometimes," she said.
"Sometimes," Ben repeated and smiled. "You're lucky for sometimes."
"Yes. I suppose so," Tinga said. Zack would have said never, and she thought Ben would, too.
"Will you teach him what we know?" Ben asked. "Will you show him how to fight?"
Tinga shook her head, slowly. "No."
"He won't survive," Ben said, certain.
"The education you're talking about is one that will make him less than he is," Tinga said. She held out her hands, palm up. "Come here." Ben rose, took her hands. Memories played out behind cautious eyes as Tinga hummed. The song was precise. "You remember."
"I remember," Ben said, solemn.
"We couldn't sleep, and you showed me how to dance."
Ben nodded. "Like fighting," he said, as he had before. He lay his hands against her, following her body's subtle clues and they moved together.
"Better than fighting," she echoed herself.
They moved across the sand, between the swings, towards the merry-go-round.
"I'll teach him how to dance," Tinga said.
Ben sighed. He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Tinga's. Ben held on tight as she hugged him.
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