Deo Volente


amato_icon.gif russo2_icon.gif

Scene Title Deo Volente
Synopsis God willing.
Date March 17, 2011

The Church of St. Andrew, Manhattan

On Saint Patrick’s Day in any given Catholic church in New York City - even under martial law - there are bound to be inordinate amounts of people.

It’s perfect, really.

Dressed in a dark sweater and jeans, it wasn’t until he was safely inside St. Andrew’s that Amato removed his flatcap and sunglasses. Inside the church, crushed against the crowd of people filling the space between services either to gawk at the architecture, pray, or stand in line for confession, he can disappear and do what he came here to do.

Amato makes his way to a pew near the middle of the sanctuary, keeping his head down and his eyes averted from any and everyone else. After performing the traditional respectful gestures at the end of the aisle, Amato tucks himself into the wood reaches for one of the well-worn books in the pocket-like shelf. Covered in the pious fingerprints of the masses. His won’t stand out. Why he didn’t think of that ages ago comes down to a simple matter of pride.

It’s been a long time since Bradley Russo set foot inside a church. Long by his own standards, anyways. The closest he’d come last was when he’d talked to Delia back in November. With everything that’s happened, it seems like a lifetime ago. There’s no suit today, no reason for it as he’d never intended to go into the studio. Just here. His faded blue jeans and green sweater provide a disguise all their own. No reason to be recognized in this place, political or otherwise. Here he’s not a television host, celebrity, or media object; here he’s a wanderer, a seeker on life’s open road, desperate to find some semblance of a path.

His own unsettled nature had drawn him to a pew in the middle. Managing to enter the building amongst the crowds with his head down, he’d no desire to draw any attention to himself or his person. In the mess of people there was plenty of opportunity to hide within it.

But then can the dejected really hide anywhere? Perhaps not. But within crowds themselves the truly broken are often ignored in favour for those with more upbeat, pleasing demeanours. His hand trembles as he draws a book from the pocket within which it rests, so much that he drops it, and literally stares at his fumble as his eyebrows crease together. Not all is right with the world.

Perhaps it’s the creak of the pew when Brad sits down, or perhaps it’s just the notion that someone else has entered his pew that makes Amato lift his head from where he’s turned in the red-edged pages. But when he does, his gaze is caught by his expression mirrored on the other man’s face.

The easy, and perhaps the more proper course of action is to leave him alone. He, like Amato, undoubtedly came here to find peace of mind and a stillness of soul.

But something niggles at Amato, and he furrows his brow. “Pax tecum,” he says in a hushed tone, laying his bet on the possibility that the other man is of the older traditions.

Carefully Russo bends at his waist and plucks the book from the floor and lays it on his lap. His head turns at the voice, however. The words have his lips parting into one of his more charming smiles, at the ready to give a response, but within instants they’re pressed back together. There’s no purpose in faking or feigning any emotion. Instead he grants a gracious smile, somewhat broken as he nods at Amato.

“And back to you.” He sucks the inside of his cheek before returning fully, “Pax tecum.” It’s been some time since he’s encountered such talk.

Russo’s response earns him a nod and a gentle smile from the thinner, paler man, who is otherwise quiet for the first few moments after the exchange. With his eyes firmly fixed on the book in his own hands, he arches his brows and adds, in that same low tone, “Esther, chapter twelve, verses fourteen through sixteen, twenty-three through twenty-five; the one hundred thirty-eighth Psalm, verses one through three, seven and eight; Matthew, chapter seven, verses seven through twelve.”

Either someone is a savant of sorts when it comes to the scheduled readings, or else Amato is simply trying to lend a helpful hand.

Russo’s eyebrows are drawn together tightly as he continues to suck on the inside of his cheek. His lips part wordlessly once more, unsure in many respects as he glances at the man beside him. “Th— “ he begins only to shake his head. “How?” he finally asks as he fishes through the book as quickly as possible to try to find the pages in question. The script beneath his finger tips gives him pause and draws the slightest curl of a smile, a faint curve of lips.

His hands tremble more as he runs his fingers down the lines of text, destined for Esther. But his tremble causes the book to snap shut.

It is hardly the reaction Amato was expecting. His own eyebrows knit with concern as he stares at Russo out of the corner of his eye, as one might look upon the diseased or leprous with any good intention momentarily put off by the profound desire not to get contaminated.

But when the book snaps shut, Amato turns his head. “I,” he starts, pausing to take a quiet, deep breath. “I am no priest, but…is something wrong, brother?” He looks at his own book for a moment, lips pursed with the study of it. “Esther prays for assistance and courage,” he says after scanning the passage - though it doesn’t take him long at all to provide the succinct summation.

There’s a twitch of a smile, sardonic, leery, and uncomfortable from one cheek to the other, as Russo turns the book over in his hands. It takes a pregnant moment for Brad to truly realize he’s been asked a question. Of course, the question itself is loaded, and it would be too easy to write it off, and for a moment, Russo actually considers it, particularly as he half shakes his head complete with a toothy made-for-tv-smile, only to stop.

And then, a little more sheepishly with a boyish grin, nearly mischievous he manages quietly, “Isn’t there always? Something wrong, I mean.” The smile melts for an instant only to be pushed further. “Been awhile since I’ve been here is all, I guess.” His eyebrows arch expectantly only to fall again. It’s a wonder he’d stayed away for so long, but it is what it is. “It feels like a lifetime, but it was November.”

“A lot has happened in that span of time.” Amato’s words are both a statement and a question. Of course much has happened, but the events that affect a city and a nation can sometimes fail to outweigh those at affect an individual. He doesn’t press to discover the significance of the passage or passages, but instead adopts an almost beatific expression. “Some will proclaim that the stars align and such, but I prefer to believe one is simply put in a specific place at a specific time in order for their strength to be tested and refined, or else edified for some coming trial.”

“I suppose I haven’t caught up to myself yet,” Brad admits quietly. “Maybe for years,” he nearly chokes on the words, the strain more evident in his voice as it cracks. “How can a person battle their better selves? Or lesser selves? And who is better?” His lips press together firmly as the book is laid to rest on his lap. “How can a person know what they’re supposed to do where they are when everything seems to backwards?” He frowns lightly—a failed pokerface overtaken by something genuine.

“Even if that person has courage or strength, when life is so backwards knowing the right course of action to help the most people seems impossible. I guess the older I get, the more I realize there is no right course. Just different consequences at every side.” His eyebrows knit together slightly as he releases a slow breath. Brad has a lot on his mind.

While the difference in age between the two men is slight, Amato’s gentle smile is reminiscent of a sage. “A wise observation,” he says with a slight nod. “In this world we have wrought, the means to an end are as important as the end itself. Many believe that their way is the best and only way to achieve the same goal that all reach for. But with still more holding different ideals working against them, they become fractured and weak. This place is…petty. Built on an idea of individualism that poisons efforts before they’ve begun.”

Shaking his head, Amato sighs and leans back against the curved dark wood of the pew. “Unity of purpose is a dream we have evolved beyond realizing. Sadly, one person’s attempts to help others are too easily squashed by the force of circumstance.”

Amato’s words are regarded with reverent silence. Until, “I suppose it’s futile. Trying, I mean. Yet I still want to try.” Brad’s throat clears quietly as his head shakes again. His tongue rolls slowly over his lips. “I guess… I wonder where loyalty should be. Where it can be after— “ his lips twitch again, a small tell of some personal secret.

“Loyal to who?” that’s the real question. “To the most people? How can the right course of action even be considered?” He sighs as his fingers drum silently against the book on his lap. “Esther stood up. She found courage for her people, but her loyalty was never in question. They were her people. Who do we belong to in a world so diffuse?”

“Esther,” Amato whispers with a wry smile, “is fiction. They don’t tell you this in Sunday School, but the entire story is the equivalent to a novel. Someone’s ancient fantasy that’s been edited to include mention of the Almighty in an attempt to make it more reverent.” He shrugs then, “Of course, that does not mean we can’t learn from her.” Simply that context must be applied.

“We belong to ourselves. We belong to those we care for. We belong to our principles. However,” and Amato leans forward again to rest his elbows on his knees and shut the tattered and well-used book between his long-fingered hands. “When these things fail us, we must have the strength to part from them, if necessary.”

“Part from our families? From our principles? Are we to live in schism’d consciousness— separated from those things we care about for something bigger than ourselves?” Russo’s eyebrows draw together even tighter as his hands clasp around the book. “Nothing is easy, straightforward, or simple. Life is a complex network of stuff. You know? I mean… like you think you’re one thing and then it turns you’re another.”

Brad’s lips press together again only to part again, “So where should our courage go? To that which makes us happy? Isn’t that selfish?” His lips hitch to one side, “What if some people are destined to be unhappy? Constantly?”

Amato narrows his eyes and turns to look more fully at Brad. “Were you ever promised eternal happiness? Pain puts such moments in perspective. Solomon once asked his advisers and sages for a phrase that would carry him through the worst of times as well as the best of times - do you know what they presented to him?”

“No. Which is why I live the way I do. What I want I can’t have. What would make me happy is so impossible, so improbable, and so..” Brad holds up a hand to dismiss his own desire. “It’s irrelevant.” His lips press together again, a silent tell. “But then losing everything is freeing in a way, isn’t it? Once everything is gone, there’s nothing left, is there?”

“Happiness is never irrelevent,” Amato says with a slight, disappointed furrow of his brow. “Solomon’s advisers told him, ‘This too shall pass.’ In the best of times, it humbles us. In the worst, it brings us hope. Esther knew these things, even if she was only someone’s fantasy given voice through ink and parchment.”

“How can it be relevant if it’s never a promise? How can it be relevant when life is far from fair? One person’s happiness can’t outweigh everything else. Happiness, joy, feelings— these things are variable.” Russo frowns and shakes his head a tick. “I have the distinct feeling that the melancholy won’t pass. A person can’t lose everything, find something, and lose it again. There comes a spot when a person needs to be resigned.”

“Resigned to what?” The Devil’s advocate can’t help but let a serpentine smile curl in one corner of his mouth. “Inaction? Apathy? There is no easy route, brother. The path to hell is paved with as many stones of good intention as it is those of lassitude.

“Resignation to loss,” Amato continues, putting his head on one side as he considers the other option, “is as difficult. Loss, no matter how many times we experience it, will always effect us deeply. You can never be truly numb to loss.”

The smile spreads across his face.

“Neither can you ever be truly numb to happiness.”

“I’m just numb,” Brad counters quietly as he allows his eyes to track back to his hands which are now closed around his book. “To everything. There are moments when a person has to preserve themselves. That’s what I did— what I’m doing. And maybe it’s not perfect, but I do what I have to.” He sighs softly, there’s something determinately unsettled about him.

“There’s a future I can influence if i can maintain.. whatever it is I have.” He forces a strained smile, commercial but appreciative in its own way. “The loss, the pain, the sorrow— I’m over them. I have to be. I do what I have to.” To survive? To continue? To breathe? To tick? Whatever the reason, Russo doesn’t actually know, he just keeps moving. Numbly.

“And what of happiness? What is it even? Death? Peace? Hope? Emptiness?” His lips press together again. “I’m resigned to life. I have my lot. I fulfill my purpose. I do what I must. And in it I expect nothing but pain and loss. So I’m resigned.”

“Then the moments without such will serve to lighten your load, if only for that brief time.” There’s a benediction of sorts in the other man’s words as they are delivered with a slight close of his eyelids and shrug of his shoulders. “Wisdom comes with experience, but the price is dear.” Bridging the relatively small gap between them, Amato lifts a long arm to clap a hand on Brad’s shoulder. He doesn’t let it linger, though, and within the span of a blink has retracted it again to curl his fingers around the book in his own hands.

Priests are shepherds, guiding flocks to the resources they require. But it’s each individual sheep that takes the steps toward that goal.

A sidelong glance is cast to Amato while Brad leans forward to return the old book to the pew in front of him. Clearing his throat, Russo shakes his head lightly and sighs. “Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people,” he quotes Yeats quietly as his head hangs lower, allowing his chin to drop to his chest. “I will never be wise, but I can communicate to the people in a language they understand. That’s why I do what I do.”

“Wisdom is for older smarter men than me. Men without daddy issues. Men with commitment. Men who didn’t lose everything they had in in one swoop.” He frowns lightly. “I will never be happy. Not anymore. I don’t think I know how.”

“Some of the wisest people I have ever met have been the youngest,” Amato observes with a tilt of his head and a gentle smile. “They would tell you that if you resign yourself to a life in which you refuse happiness, you’ll never have it. Would you avoid the single ray of sun that pierces through a gray sky out of principle?”

“But happiness isn’t a promise. It isn’t a right. And right now? I have nothing to lose. Literally nothing. If.. if..” the word is left to linger, never fully explained, but the weight of Russo’s tone leaves the meaning well enough. If he found happiness and he lost it— “…I don’t.. “ his eyes turn downwards, “..I don’t think I could communicate anymore. I’d lose everything that makes me, me. There would be nothing left. Not even that which I can do.”

Brad releases a slow quiet breath and allows his shoulders to fall heavily.

One’s self is all there is, in a way. Without a sense of self, one cannot act for the benefit of others - a withered husk is no use to anyone. All traces of Amato’s smile fade from his face, and he furrows his brows in thought as he watches the other man.

“When you find serenity - when all these storm clouds clear, even if the sky is still dark - your path will be clear. But if you don’t know where you stand, you’ll never be able to take a step in any direction.”

“I stand here. Alone. Ticking. Living. Breathing. But that’s all,” Russo presses with a small smile, strained and pained. “I— “ he forces the smile further, allowing it to take on its usual charm. With a quieter sigh, his head shakes. “And maybe some of us aren’t intended to find peace.” Another strained smile is shot towards Amato as he murmurs again, “Pax tecum. Thank you, brother.” Those words are left and Brad slides off the pew. “Thank you,” he reiterates before twisting on his heel to the exit. Even if the service is still in session.

Pax tecum,” Amato says in response as he watches Brad leave, his own face strained with can only be described as worry.

”Deo volente.

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