The Seduction Of Judith


amato_icon.gif gillian4_icon.gif

Scene Title The Seduction of Judith
Synopsis Amato and Gillian have come along way since they first met each other and they find a way to reconnect over an unfinished puzzle.
Date August 22, 2010

The Garden

Situated in a copse several miles away from the nearest stretch of asphalt, the Garden is accessible via an old dirt road that winds snakelike through the woods and dead-ends at the property's perimeter, which is surrounded by stone wall plastered with wicked coils of rusty barbed wire to keep would-be intruders from attempting to scale it. Those with a key can gain entry via the front gate.

The safehouse itself is a three-story brickwork cottage over a century old and covered in moss and ivy. It slants to one side, suggesting that the foundation has been steadily sinking into the wet earth; incidentally, this may be one of the reasons why its prior occupants never returned to the island to reclaim their property when government officials lifted evacuation orders and re-opened the Verrazano-Narrows shortly before its eventual destruction.

Inside, the cottage is decorated in mismatched antique furniture including a couch in the living room and an armchair nestled in the corner closest to the fireplace that go well with the safehouse's hardwood floors and the wood-burning stoves in some of the spare bedrooms. A heavy wooden table designed to seat eight separates the dining area from the rest of the kitchen, which is defined by its aged oak cabinetry and the dried wildflowers hanging above them.

With his daily duties finished and the majority of the Garden's current occupants either fast asleep or on their way there, Amato sits awake in the safehouse's kitchen. The lulling chirp of crickets can be heard through the windows, which stand open in the cool of the evening. Not quite ready for bed, the blond man's hair, still wet from a shower and in need of a trim, is slicked back against his head. He wears a white t-shirt which hangs loosely on his frame despite the thin layer of muscle he's earned tending to sheep and now horses. A pair of gray sweatpants lacking the elastic at the cuff finish of his night-time attire, leaving his feet bare.

In the dim light of the old kitchen, Amato sits at the table not with his leather bound Bible, but with a puzzle and a glass of wine. The pieces are spread before him, and he occasionally picks one up to study it more closely before either trying it in an position or returning it to the edge of the meager construction. The wine gets attention more often, but while Amato doesn't go through the connoisseur's steps of complete vintage appreciation, neither does he gulp wantonly at the drink.

It's a cool night - one much appreciated after a day of toil in the hot sun. Fireflies dance beyond the confines of the Garden, and the occasional moth flutters in to investigate the kitchen light. The simplicity is serene, and in a way uneasy - a pool unmarred by ripples cringing at the inevitability of destruction by a child's skipping rock.

It's not the skipping of a stone that disturbs the moment, but a quiet set of footsteps from upstairs, slowly taking the stairs one step at a time, as if attempting to be quiet. It's almost as if someone is trying to sneak out of the house, from the slow pace and the way the steps stop at the slightest creak of a board. There's not enough time to pack everything up, because after reaching the bottom of the stairs, the person sees the dim light in the kitchen.

To Gillian, that indicates someone is up. Her footsteps quicken, until she steps into view of the kitchen. Not sneaking out, then, just perhaps being polite to those sleeping. "I'm just getting something to…" she starts a simple lie, before her voice stops.

The man holds a familiarity, beyond most of the other residences. A man of many names, fake and not, and a man who shook her hand, and set her on a journey. She looks different than two years ago. Her hair is a fiery red, even in the dim light, and she looks older, more ragged, like she's seen a lot. She'd been jaded and goth, then, and now she's still jaded, but much less goth. "Oh— I— forgot you were still staying here…" she says awkwardly, recalling their last meeting. A year ago. When she intentionally stole his power and turned it on him.

That had been an odd day, to say the least.

But when Amato turns his head to look at her now, his expression isn't far from the one he gave her then. That look of distant fear and impossible hope. But now it rests on a fuller, tanner face that still bears the purplish green blemish of a bruise across the lower side of his jaw.

"Gillian," he says quietly, raising his glass in a subtle toast to her. "Your memory hasn't failed you. I left for a time, but circumstances have made my return necessary." He coughs into a quickly balled and lifted fist, then sets the glass down. "Did you need something?" He stands as he says it, but he doesn't move toward her. "Please," he adds gesturing toward the table. "Sit."

"Oh, I, wasn't really— I don't need anything," Gillian says quietly, looking away for a moment, and the way she specifically looks toward the doors, she may be securing knowledge of a way out. Paranoia is something she's been getting back quite a bit, but after all she's been through, it might be a legitimate response. Despite her awkward words, she steps forward and takes a seat as indicated, eyes shifting down to the puzzle. "You a fan of puzzles?" she asks, reaching out to touch one of the pieces, without removing it from the table entirely.

"I always liked puzzles. I'd spend hours on them as a kid, just sitting at a table like this one, trying to put all the pieces together so the picture would look right. Though I've never seen one quite like this…" She tilts her head, and then smiles. Fondly, even. "My puzzles were usually animals or landspaces, with barns or windmills. And I bought a bunch of lighthouse puzzles for the kids at the Lighthouse a couple months ago."

The puzzle on the table is certainly not one that will make either a landscape or an animal. The pieces are rife with rich color, and the soft lines suggest a piece of classic art rather than something one would find hanging in a doctor's office. Amato busies himself getting a glass from a cupboard and then the wine from the refrigerator. It was an indulgence he won't get to enjoy again any time soon, but the cork is removed for the second time tonight, and a second glass is poured and set on the table.

"I hope you're a fan of Chianti," he says idly before he rejoins her at the table.

"I must confess, they are a newfound enjoyment on my part. I did not have puzzles to play with in my youth." He lifts his glass again and leans forward to study the pieces again. After a moment, he lifts one marked with a streak of red and places it against a white one already laid to create what looks like it might be a couch or bed. "It might be wishful thinking, but I hope this evening finds you well." Who is ever completely well when staying in a secret safehouse?

"Usually when men bring out the wine and offer me a glass, they're trying to seduce me," Gillian says with a glance up at him, before she reaches out and takes a sip. It sounds like she may not entirely mind being seduced. From his view of her past sins, she didn't mind too much in the past, either. That's what'd made them sins. And that slight hint of dimples on her cheek as she smiles— yeah. Maybe she wouldn't mind being seduced right now.

But she seems to know that wouldn't happen, so she changes the subject by looking back at the puzzle pieces, "Need help putting it together? I could use something to keep my mind off of— why I'm here and not somewhere I might actually want to be." That's both a clarification about her question, and an answer at the same time.

"This is good wine," she adds, putting the glass down, and continuing to look around from piece to piece, trying to find a visual connection, even in the dim lights.

"I would welcome the company," Amato says with a gentle smile after swallowing a sip from his glass. "And the assistance." He takes a deep breath, choosing to keep the glass in his hand as he studies the remaining pieces - and there are quite a few of them. Only the border of the picture and the couch in the lower left-hand side have been assembled.

"The wine is from a little shop near a monastery to the north," he muses. "And I'm afraid it is my last bottle. A pity, too. Do you know this artist?" The question comes without pause, and Amato lifts his eyes to Gillian at the same time he lifts another piece from the table. It is red, but all over, and Amato slips it into place at the top of the image to continue what appears to be drapery.

"Wow, expensive seduction, too," Gillian teases, leaving it alone for the moment, perhaps wanting to let the wine breathe a bit, while she reaches down for a piece and picks it up, standing a bit to lean further and snap it gently into place. One down, a million to go! Or that's how it seems at the moment. "Never seen it before. I could tell you where to look for it in a library, though," she says, honestly lacking knowledge of fine classic art, but knowing where to look it up, at the very least.

It'd probably take an age to find, though.

"What is it? I assume you know, at least. I mean it's hardest to put together a puzzle when you haven't seen the end picture."

The further talk of seduction draws Amato's eyes again, and he looks at Gillian as if he were suppressing an ironic humor in the implication. "You're safe from it, I assure you," he finally says before going back to the task at hand, nodding at her well-placed piece. "It is one of my favorite pieces. I had the pleasure of seeing it once, when I was still living in Rome.

"It is from an old, old story that many would prefer to forget. Tell me, Gillian. Do you know who the Biblical Judith was?"

"Yeah, I know. Priest," Gillian admits with a glance up, though, really, she has doubts that that's stopped every Priest in the world. And no, she's not disappointed— not really. Even if the last person she kissed happened to be a clone of a man she once loved, posing as her sister— Everyone tells her to move on, but she ends up right back where she started. Like this.

Only this time he won't be selling her information to his boss and getting her sister killed. Or so she hopes. "Afraid not. I was never much of a church or bible person in the family. I kinda avoided it more than went." The quiet truth, simple and honest. "I like stories, though, so, feel free to fill me in," she says, as she picks up another piece and moves it closer. Not one that clicks into place, but it seems to relate to ones around it.

One of the long fingers curled around his wineglass lifts, and Amato points to the ceiling behind Gillian's shoulder with it, his eyes still on the puzzle. "Contrary to popular belief," he says idly, "I was never ordained. So no, I am not a priest. At least not in the eyes of the Church." He takes another sip from his glass before he continues, arranging some of the brighter white pieces to make sense of them.

"She was a widow whose hometown was invaded by one of Nebuchadnezzar's generals. She seduced him with the help of drink, and while in his tent, beheaded him. She took the head back to the Hebrew army, and they rallied around it to defeat their enemy."

"Sounds like my kinda lady," Gillian says with a grin, though there's some surprise in her eyes, because she doesn't think that story is the same as the picture she's trying to put together, piece by piece. Though it's more related to— well…

"Being ordained isn't really the important part, I don't think. You're a priest inside before you're a priest anywhere else— I mean you could buy your ordain-ness, or whatever you call it," she says, glancing up. "Kinda like anyone can become a parent, but a good parent wants to be one, and tries hard to be one— doesn't always mean they get to be one at all." That seems unconnected, but it's connected. More than the piece she slides over that doesn't snap into place quite right, and is set aside for later.

The picture isn't complete yet, but that spray of red against white could easily be blood. "I suppose that's true," he hums as he begins assembling the white piece apart from the larger image. "Though as priestly as I may feel, or as priestly as others my find me, I am not a priest in the eyes of the Church. To some, that is what matters." Not being authorized to do certain things certain puts a damper on the title.

"But I suppose any friend can offer counsel, wisdom, or insight, and that's perhaps a priest's most important duty." To shepherd the flock, as it were. Tend to it. Nurture it. A smile ghosts across Amato's face, affecting his eyes more than anything else.

"So you're basically saying you could seduce me if you wanted too?" Gillian teases with a smile of her own, that hint in her eyes, but then she shakes her head. "Don't worry, I'm not trying to seduce you, either. I'm just… lonely, I guess. And I feel like maybe I'm so messed up that no one would want to seduce me anymore." Or at least, not the people she wishes would have. It's hard to think that in one time a man might have found her attractive, but in this time there's something wrong with her that makes her too… broken to want that way.

"I can't steal or use your ability anymore, just so you know— I'm back to my old one again," she says with a sound that seems to wish she wasn't. "So you like giving people advice, huh?"

Amato has done his best to ignore the trend in Gillian's humor, but now he can't help but lift an eyebrow at it before he shakes his head. "Though I may not officially be a priest," he says in an almost conspiratorial tone, "there are certain…interpersonal relationship restrictions that I have adopted. For…various reasons." Not the least of which is simple mechanics having to do with his ability.

He watches Gillian for a moment after her admission, and then simply nods, letting his eyes close. "I like to try and help people. I always have." But as Gillian well knows, that desire has lead him astray before. "Life is…puzzling at times. Sometimes people just need help figuring out where the pieces are supposed to go. But you can't put them back together. You can just try and point the way."

"I should hate you, you know," Gillian says quietly, looking down at the puzzle pieces, and even resting her chin on her hand as she does. No pushing them together for her anymore, just a quiet contemplation of them. "I guess I got my revenge a year ago, though. I still kinda want to kick 'Michael' in the balls, though, for his part in what happened to me." And what happened to her sister…

"But I don't know. The good, the bad— all of it just doesn't seem worth it anymore. No matter what I do, it's never enough. I'm always end up alone when I need people the most, and it feels like I always will be."

She'd said she was lonely, and she is, in more ways that she's probably admitting, but she has someone here willing to listen. Someone who likes puzzles as much as she does. Someone who might be able to point the way.

By "should," Amato can only assume that Gillian does not hate him, and the implication draws his attention fully away from the puzzle and onto the young woman across the table. He studies her for a moment, then takes a deep breath. "I apologize for the path I put you on." That he helped put the world on, perhaps. "Though perhaps forgiven by grace," because who can be that faithful, "I…I cannot help but want my actions today to make up for the damage I caused then."

He tries to smile then, but his own pain leaks through the expression. Or maybe it's the bruised jaw. "You're never alone, Gillian. I don't mean that in a religious sense, either. You carry the memories of those you loved. The influence of others - the good and the bad - is always with you. No man is ever completely alone."

"I think I hate other people far more than you, now," Gillian says quietly, still keeping her eyes on the puzzle pieces, though it's unclear if she's really looking at them. The colors all seem to bleed together in her eyes, like the red in the painting might be blood. "I was supposed to have a son," she says softly, shaking her head. "And now I won't. Even if I do have a kid someday, which I don't think I will, it won't be him, and it'll never be him. And I sometimes wish I never knew about him, so I wouldn't have to mourn him, but at the same time I don't know if I could handle forgetting about him… Cause then it really would be like he never existed."

Cause he doesn't. Not in this time. Not in this life. All he exists as to her is a faded memory of a dream, that she woke up and was able to sketch thanks to a perfect memory granted upon her by someone else.

"I haven't really talked about it much with anyone, you know— it's just… it seems crazy. Knowing about a future that'll never happen. But I guess I needed to say it outloud to someone. And it might as well be an almost-Priest."

Were he not sure it would flood him with images that would only serve to sully a new relationship being built on trust rather than deceit and manipulation, were he any one other than himself, really, Amato would reach across the table to give Gillian's hand a comforting squeeze. But instead he remains firmly installed on his side of the puzzle, his eyebrows furrowed.

"The best way to look at the future," he says after a moment, his tone thoughtful, "is in how we can make it better than today. Focus on small acts, because all large movements are based on these in some way." Whether they are actual incidents or simply thoughts that roll together over time to form public opinion, and thereby, public policy.

"That future may not happen, but a future will. And it should be one we are all proud to have helped create."

"I guess I'm just guilty feeling proud of any future where he won't exist, you know?" Gillian says with a shrug, before looking down at the puzzle again, finally lifting her chin off her hand, so she can reach over and drink some of that rare wine again. A rather generious little sip, too. "I'd probably find any way to ruin things. It feels like that's all I end up doing— like when I borrowed your ability. I ended up reading the guy I was in love with and I found out about things he'd not told me about. And even the things he had were seen in a different light. It ended up causing us to break up, and we haven't really been able to even be friends since."

So even her attempt at revenge ruined something she loved.

There's a pause, before she reaches down and picks up a puzzle piece to look at it more closely. "So why'd you get this puzzle, anyway?"

"Now you understand my own difficulty," Amato says with a wry smile. "To sit in judgment is never comfortable." And probably explains why Amato is who he is. But the subject change is far from subtle, and Amato bows his head back to the puzzle in acceptance.

He hums - a low, contemplative tone - before he speaks again, placing the cloud of white and brown near the middle of the frame he's made already. "As I said before, it is both a story and a piece I have admired for a long time. Perhaps the chance to own it, even if I had to put it together, was worth it."

Yeah, perhaps she does understand now, as she glances up to look at him for a moment. Gillian has to say that's the one good thing about the ability she had for a while, it made her understand other people a little better. And she thought her power was annoying… When she looks back down, she nods at the change of subject, grateful for it, but only because it's hard to keep from rambling when the subject's on her. Depressed rambling, no less…

"That story you told me? About the woman who beheaded her enemy? If this place got internet, I'd probably spend tonight looking it up to try and find it so I can see the end picture and help put it together easier." But alas, no internet for her.

Amato, on the other hand, is a Luddite at heart. His smile widens, and a chuckle even escapes him on the heels of his words. "I have a Bible in my room. I can show you where it is, and you can read it. But you'll have to use your imagination to make the picture, or else visit the library tomorrow."

The fact that he is sitting here in a Ferrymen safehouse in his pajamas with Gillian Childs, working a Baroque puzzle dawns on him. It's slow, but it widens his smile a bit further and lightens his eyes. "We have come a long way," he points out before placing a silver-marked piece near the blood-red splatter.

"I guess we have come a long way," Gillian says with a sad smile. All the places she'd imagine she'd be when they first met, this isn't one of them. A cabin in the woods, with red hair and a new identity in the works for her. That reminds her she should make sure she gets a library card for that identity. She know she'll use it. "I think I'll help you with this until I finish my glass of wine," she says, knowing it means they won't finish tonight.

But a few more pieces snapped into place should help. Even with the end picture remains a mystery.

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