Common Ground


amato_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title Common Ground
Synopsis Amato and Nick find they have an unexpected mutual acquaintance.
Date December 6, 2010

Pollepel Island

Limbo is a place familiar to Nick Ruskin. Today, he’s caught between staying and leaving, between the debts he feels he owes to his sister and those he owes to his job — he will protect Eileen at any cost, if he can. The fact that the two worlds have inexplicably collided is just another one of those coincidences that seem to plague him since coming to New York City.

The only reason he stays — knowing he is unwanted here by his sister, by her beau — is that because he is waiting for an answer on how to protect her and her friends.

Otherwise, he’d have left as soon as his body started working again.

His entire body is bruised; the cold serves to dull the ache, serving as a natural anesthetic, yet it also makes him move more stiffly, an old man in a young man’s body. He crouches over a pail, extricating the fish he’d just pulled from the river from its hook, and letting it wriggle into the chilly water within. Shaking hands are cold, red chapped from water and icy weather, cuts and lashes marring the flesh up to where his wrists disappear in the cuffs of his peacoat. Similar cuts mark his neck and jaw line.

Since leaving the infirmary, he’s been a ghost of a presence, never at communal meals, rarely seen in the castle’s hallways. It might seem foolish for him to be alone by the water given the mysterious attack he refused to speak about; only Nick knows that if he was meant to die, he would have.

Pollepel island has few natural predators apart from its newest denziens, so the only real reason for Amato Salucci to walk with the sheep as they wander the island searching for tufts of grass peaking up through the snow on which to graze is to keep them from, to be blunt, being as dumb as sheep.

It isn’t so much that he sees Nick fishing and wishes to near him as much as the sheep start wandering toward the body of water to drink. As cold as it may be, the snow is colder. Like Nick, Amato has recently suffered at the hands of someone who doesn’t want him here, and the bandages across his purpleing face are proof enough of that. Still, not much of it is visible from behind the hodgepodge of knitted fiber that is wound around his neck, providing an effective if loose barrier against the wind coming off the water.

Buon pomeriggio, ragazzo,” the man says, his voice only slightly pinched and muffled by his current state. Thank the supply closet for painkillers. But the words themselves serve to indentify the tall, pale blond in the dark coat as the Italian Nick met on Staten Island. He carries tall stick, once a branch, most likely, that has been shaved down and turned into a very primitive shepherd’s crook.

Pale blue eyes the color of the wintry sky behind Nick turn upward to squint at the Italian, and he smirks just a touch, though it bears little of the animosity of their shared past.

“No thanks, I already ate,” he mutters, standing and brushing off wet fingertips he thankfully doesn’t offer in a handshake at all. “When’d you get here? And who’s been beating you up besides me, Pad— Benjamin?”

The shift from nickname to ‘real’ name is a telling one. Nick is on his best behavior.

“I think we’re past that, Nick Ruskin,” Amato says with a smile visible in the slight crinkle of his eyes. “My name is Amato.”

The sheep make their way to the shore, keeping their distance from Nick as they tentatively approach the rocky edge in order to dip their heads and drink. Amato watches them carefully, but he does drift closer to the other man, bracing himself somewhat against the stick he carries.

“I doubt you would know him,” he adds in answer to Nick’s question, glancing over at him and immediately narrowing his eyes. “But I could ask you the same.” It is possible that if Ethan knew - if Raith told him, or if he had some other source of information regarding Eileen’s past - he would take out some measure of revenge against the elder Ruskin.

“Amato. Benjamin seemed a bit whitebread for you, even if you do look more limey than I do,” Nick says with a quirk of his lips. “As for who’s beating me up, a better question would probably be who isn’t, to be honest. Been a hella few days.”

His eyes drift from Amato to the sheep — a fisherman and a shepherd… there’s either a parable or a dirty joke in the works there. Fittingly, perhaps, Amato would be apt to see the former and Nick the latter.

“I probably won’t stay long. Again,” Nick adds, nodding toward the water toward the dock in the distance. “Just waiting on some intel. If I don’t hear soon, I’ll be taking off again. What brought you this way? Finish your gravedigging?”

“For a time, yes,” Amato answers, turning so he can keep one eye on the sheep - particularly the rambunctious young ram who doesn’t seem to realize or care enough about his own injury to warrant careful treading on the ice and rocks. “But there will always be dead to lay to rest.”

He dips his chin into the relatively warmth of his scarf and narrows his eyes out across the water, looking toward the landscape of the mainland that moves southward toward Manhattan. “I imagine,” he muses, “that if I ever make it back to Staten Island, I’ll have quite a bit of sexton work to do.”

Looking to Nick again, he arches an eyebrow. “Your work brought you here?” There is, of course, a second question left unspoken. It rings out as clear as a bell in the subtext of it’s companion - Or was it her?

“Some courier work, I guess y’could say. This time,” Nick says, American accent drifting away on the wind, now that there are no pretenses between them. “First time, I got picked up off the street in the midst of the riots on the 8th. Stayed a bit, did some supply runs for ‘em, but I’m back to work now.” It wasn’t a riot itself he was rescued from, but his supposed “boss” on Staten, of course, but the events of his life are too ludicrous to synopsize — the last time he tried, he’d have been killed if it weren’t for the “luck” of a jammed gun.

His eyes narrow slightly as he watches Amato for a moment, before breaking the gaze to pull out a cigarette and light it, taking a long drag and letting the smoke warm his lungs if nothing else. “D’you know about Sylar?” he asks, brows twitching into a concerned frown. “He treat ‘er okay?”

That might answer the question of who’s been beating him up at least.

Amato narrows his eyes, turning to look fully at Nick for a moment. But it would make sense for him to be concerned about his sister’s well-being, despite the…complications of their childhood. “I imagine that if he did not, then she would not tolerate him as she does,” he answers vaguely. “I also imagine she knows the man better than anyone else.” Then again, being close to the breast of the beast doesn’t necessarily mean being privy to it’s secrets.

“Is it so irrational to think we are so different from men such as Gabriel?” A bit of that priestly, pastoral tone slips into his altered voice, and Amato’s gaze wanders back to the sheep. The small flock has settled at the base of a tree near the shore, using the trunk and the snow laden boughs to shield themselves from the wind. “We have all sinned, each of us mortally so. God can and will forgive, of course - but forgiving ourselves in the true challenge.”

He chuckles, then shakes his head. “My apologies,” he says in a softer tone. “You came here to fish, not to be lectured in theology.”

Nick’s eyes drop at the word sinned. He gives a short nod to show the point has been made — he certainly is in no place to judge another, and the murder of strangers is, perhaps in Nick’s tormented soul, more easily forgiven than what he did to his sister who he should have protected.

“I ain’t judging, and I ain’t puttin’ you in the same category as me, mate,” he says quietly, tapping the ash off his cigarette before taking another long drag, gray smoke pluming up in dirty curlicues. “And ‘e’s gotta have some good in ‘em if she’s with ‘em,” Nick says, pale eyes rising to meet Amato. His dark brows furrow, weary lines creasing his forehead, and he looks away.

“I ain’t one for theology. Pretty sure if God hadn’t turned his back on me, I turned my back on ‘em long ago. But here’s a question for you — I sure as ‘ell am not going to forgive meself, and she sure as hell isn’t going to forgive me, and I don’t expect her to, but I keep getting all these second, third, bloody fourth chances at living that I don’t deserve unless they’re meant to punish me. Can’t help but wonder if they are…”

He trails off for a moment, his eyes unfocused on the distant shore before he speaks again. “‘m trying to do sommat good in my life, but it means I’m surrounded by filth — maybe even worse’n me,” he says. “It won’t make up for what I did, but it’s about all I know to do.”

Whatever the question is, it didn’t get asked.

A slow, knowing, almost saintly patient smile curls onto Amato’s face, making his pale eyes twinkle. The question doesn’t need to be asked to be answered. Amato rolls his shoulders back and lifts his chin, his bandaged nose coming out of it’s shell of wool for a moment. “I once spent the better part of a year living in a cave. Telling myself I was communing with nature - the only pure thing I know - in order to remove myself from the world I’d wronged. I was only being a coward, and it took someone who knew me at my worst to convince me of that.”

His eyes narrow somewhat, and he looks back toward the sheep that mill about the base of the tree, snuffling the ground in search of green. “We thought ourselves gardeners - angels intent on returning the world to Eden by eradicating evil. We should have been shepherds, keeping the wolves at bay. And now?” He chuckles, the sound airy and coming with a puff of steam that rises from the cowl-like twist of fabric. “Now we are among those that have shepherded from the beginning. Your sister is perhaps the most powerful woman I know - and at one point, she hunted the very people she strives each day to save.”

The cigarette, forgotten, burns up to where it rests in Nick’s fingers and he shakes it loose, stepping on it with booted foot lest its fire catch on a twig or leaf. A moment later he bends to pick it up, glancing at it with a frown before shoving it — for want of a better place — into his pocket.

“Hunted?” he repeats, brows knitting in confusion. “I don’t understand. Did she used to work with the Irishman — is that how he knows ‘er?”

It’s clear that while Nick and Eileen have reunited, the older brother still knows very little about his little sister’s past.

With eyes narrowed in disgust rather than contemplation, Amato shakes his head. “The Irishman and his like are nothing but rabid beasts with more muscle than mind to use it.” A small sigh escapes him, an he frowns. “It is not my place to tell you about Eileen’s part in…in the Work.” He pauses, slowly bringing his eyes back to Nick.

“I can, however, tell you of my own. In a way, it is only fair.”

The younger man’s dark brows furrow once more, and he glances down at the pail of fish as if to be sure it will be fine without his supervision, and moves closer toward Amato; for whatever reason, whatever secrets the man has to tell him seem like they shouldn’t be spoken across so wide a breach. Once he’s closer, he reaches into his pockets to pull out gloves, pulling them over his torn hands, wincing slightly as wool scrapes sore flesh.

“The work?” Nick echoes.

The Work always reached beyond the plan that brought Amato to New York. The plan reached, at times, beyond the scope of both Amato’s knowledge and imagination. Amato is slow to begin speaking, but when he does, his starts to move as well - back toward the sheep. It’s far too cold for them to protest much “When I was nearly finished with university, I met the man behind the Work.”

Pausing again, Amato turns to look at Nick, guilt sharing space with pained memory on his expression. For once, even through bruises and bandages, Amato can be read like a book. “Do you know of Kazimir Volken?”

If Amato is lucky, he won’t have to explain much else.

An expression of shocked realization creeps over Nick’s face; his skin pales, his lips part. A gloved hand comes up as if to rake through his hair, his nervous gesture, but instead curls fingers in the fabric of the knit cap pulled over his head and turns away.


That could probably be taken as simple shock his sister or Amato was involved in such Work, but Nick huffs out a laugh that curls in a white puff of vapor. “God, I’m daft. He told me his name, but it didn’t click — how could it — Fuck.

He closes his eyes for a moment before turning away, shaking his head. “You’re religious. You believe in God — do you believe in free will or is every bloody thing in this world predetermined? There’s just … there’s too many coincidences.”

Nick waves a hand at that. “Forget it. You worked for him? She worked for him?”

“She worked for him because I worked for him,” Amato clarifies dryly, eyeing Nick after the strange admission of familiarity. “I found her in London, as I told you before.” As that story, or as much of it as Amato would care to share, has already been told, he doesn’t elaborate on it.

“When you struck me,” he says with the thinnest tenor of humor in his voice, “I saw what you had done - things I had already seen through her eyes. That was my part in the work - to vet potential allies and discover traitors. I met everyone ever brought in at any significant level. But I also found targets - weeds among the flowers, if you will.”

“You know what ‘e was, right? I mean — if you c’n touch people and know what they done, in the past— “ Nick says abruptly, turning back to stare at Amato. “Unless he was in the wrong time, too, somehow,” he muses to himself, eyes narrowing.

Amato’s chuckle is dry and mirthless, coming with a slow nod of his head. “I saw everything.” He pauses, the deep breath he exhales warming his face before the condensation it makes rises up much like Nick’s now extinguished cigarette.

“To be honest, I thought what we had were gifts from God himself - that we were somehow Nephilim, or something like them.” He laughs again, dipping his chin and bending slightly at the waist, shaking his head to brush off the notion as childish. “We were proud. Thinking ourselves removed - angels fighting demons. Foolish,” he adds, his voice dropping to a murmur. “Foolish.

Nick shakes his head, not understanding all of Amato’s words — nephilim? — but more at himself for not connecting that name with the one given to him on a snowy mass grave in Poland.

“How could you know him? How could he be the same man that — his ability, I guess, or maybe the Frenchman kept ‘em alive all those years?” Nick asks, face contorted in confusion and pain — what he’d done led his sister into working with such a man, somehow, of that he’s sure. Her words of being happy, Logan’s words on the train echo but on deaf ears. If he could, he’d still try to change everything, if he could only go back to the past once more.

He’d just start with the gun.

Amato is silent for a few moments, watching the sheep with casual interest while he thinks of an answer for the younger man. “Because he was more than a man,” he finally says, his eyes narrowed with concentrated thought. It’s a hard thing to say, and he’s quick to clarify, qualify the statement.

“I only ever knew him to have one face,” Amato says slowly, “but I knew the one he planned to have next.” He turns to look at Nick again, one eyebrow lifted slightly higher than the other. “Gabriel’s. It’s why he wanted him - he wanted the power that came with such a…a vessel, he called him.” Tilting his head slightly to one side, Amato scrutinizes Nick. “How do you know him?” That’s the real question that needs answering - coincidences need accounting for.

With another shake of his head to show he doesn’t understand Amato’s words, Nick then looks away at the question, his crystal blue gaze studying the sky; in the distance, a hawk can be seen gliding, its body a black V-shaped silhouette against the icy canvas of the winter sky. His eyes follow it for a moment, before he returns his gaze to Amato’s face.

“Know is a strong word,” he says with a shrug, and he swallows, obviously upset at this coincidence, shaken somewhere in his core.

“I tried to go back and change the past,” he murmurs. “To separate Lee and me, get us away from that house, get her away from him — me.”

His eyes close and that hand returns to his head, palm against his forehead, fingers curling in the fabric of his tuque once more. “I donno how or why but I got … pulled from that time. I failed — and save the bloody lecture before you even think, I been told I shouldn’ta done it, that I can’t change the past, that ‘twas selfish for me to try, but fuck it, I can’t undo what I did and this was a chance to try,” he says, eyes opening and suddenly flashing with displaced anger, as if Amato had begun that lecture.

“Don’t matter, it got screwed up, and suddenly I was in 1941 and bein’ accused of bein’ a spy. You know I speak perfect Polish now? Just none of the words that came into the language after World War 2, mind you.”

Nick punctuates his words with a snort and steps back to pick up his pail of fish and the fishing rod, not having told just where Kazimir came into the picture.

But a man like Amato can fill in the details. He’s seen Kazimir Volken’s bloody, dark past, and he can only assume how that might line up with a displaced, Polish-speaking man accused of espionage. He’s distracted for a moment with the needs of the sheep, reaching out with his long stick to bar the path of the ram and keep him near the ewes.

“As noble as it would have been,” Amato says dryly, “it would change so much.” It may mean that they succeeded in their plan, and that all but the few Odessa Knutson’s antidote would be allowed to save would be dead - with no Amato Salucci to lay them to rest. Amato tsks, shaking his head. “Too much.”

But he leaves his lecture at that, turning to watch Nick deal with his meager catch of the day. “Come back to the stables with me,” he offers with an incline of his head in that direction. “We’ll let the sheep warm, then take your catch into the castle to see if there’s anything to be eaten with them.”

Nick nods. ducking his head, though there’s a wet shine to his dark lashes as he dips his gaze, hands curling around the handle of the pail. When he begins to walk, he murmurs, “It isn’t what you think.”

He takes a few steps before he explains further, voice tense and taut, muscles in his jaw twitching. Perhaps what he says next makes Kazimir Volken even more of a monster in Nick’s view.

“He rescued me. That Frenchman, he healed me. Pulled me from a pile of bodies taken from the gas chamber.” Nick is silent for a few more strides. “Came back just in time for the 8th. Got picked up by a Ferryman in the middle of a gunfight.”

His free hand reaches into his pocket for another cigarette, hoping the nicotine will still the tremble in his hand.

“Coincidences,” Nick adds, a half smirk with no humor in it accompanying the word.

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