Initial Setting: Le Conservatoire de STEP
Timeline: Preceded by --- Followed by ---
- "Alright! Let's do our cool-down and wrap up for the evening," Ardette says, snapping her notebook closed. She selects some calm, confident piano as Claud takes the floor again for some final stretching, and his bow. 38 lessons, they've been working together. 19 weeks. Almost 5 months of training with Claud, and they've fallen into a comfortable routine. Even his connection has started to feel less invasive, as long as Ardette keeps her walls up and Claud pins his vibe down. He's come a long way. "And breathe..." She saunters around him as he goes through the movements. "Try to go deeper on your left side... Very good. And inhale..."
- He should have said something at the beginning of the lesson, but he still wasn't sure. He wanted to be 100% on this before he bothered Ardette with something that had a high probability of just being a lucid dream. OK, maybe 80% and above would be sufficient. But he still was far from sure, and the more he thought about it the less sure of himself he was. That was the problem with memory, it could loop in on itself infinitely. All the more reason to ask her then. Well... if she had the time. Thankfully he was so used to their routine that he didn't seem too distracted from the directions she was giving him.
- As comfortably as they've settled into a class-time routine, Claud seems to have settled into himself more comfortably, too, finding home in a new identity, a kid who put homelessness and addiction behind him and is eager to please. His hair's grown out and he's better fed, and his body has taken kindly to doing ballet twice a week. The Choreographer is as proud of herself as she is of him. "And straighten... And bow to your audience. Full port de bras... acknowledge your accompanist--" They didn't have an accompanist, but Ardette makes a point of giving her ballet students the same rigorous lessons in studio etiquette that they might see at Bratva. Some of those students actually ended up at Bratva and thank her for it to this day. "And acknowledge your instructor," Ardette finishes, tipping her head to him.
<mree> (In a ballet class setting, the acknowledgment is typically just a gesture of holding out your hand / gesturing to the person as though directing an audience's applause, and a respectful nod of your head)
<maelgwyn> I like that, that's nice /w\
<maelgwyn> we do pretty much the same exact thing in martial arts >w<
<maelgwyn> and then class is over for him, yes?
- Claud smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners just a little as he nods in Ardette's direction. Relaxing his posture, he decides to go for it, "If I help you cleanup and close up, can I run something by you? It might sound dumb but I gotta try sayin' it for someone else ta hear."
- Ardette is already back at the stereo station, stopping the CD and tidying up after class. His question makes her squint at him curiously. "You know you can always do that without having to help me clean and close up," she reminds him.
- Claud shrugs easily, "Two birds, one stone. I like ta' be doing things when I talk anyways." He walks over to help. "I gotta say though, I'm not 100% sure this whole experience I'm about to describe wasn't just a really lucid dream."
- Ardette blocks his access to the sound deck, mostly so she'll have room to do this. She puts the CD back in its case, sets it down, and then waves her hand over the whole rack. The CDs dance and braid and shift in mid-air with a satisfying cacophony of shuffles and clacks, putting themselves in alphabetical order by artist. Ardette gathers her stack of notebooks in her arms and jerks her head towards the door. "Alright, you've piqued my curiosity," she drawls, walking him to her office. "Let's hear it."
- "Wow," Claud intones with subdued admiration at the display of Ardette's vibe. It was so relaxing to watch, everything so even and neat... "Ah, right," he obediently follows, and starts talking once he's barely in the door, "OK, so last week after I got home from class, usual routine, shower, tea, listening to music, laying down, relaxing. Maybe I dozed, maybe I just let my mind wander with the music, but I start—I dunno how to describe it—my vibe just reaches out, in every direction, but not to anyone in particular, and I feel this, this lightness like, like I was leaving my body." He pauses, breath held, waiting for her to call him on his bullshit.
- Ardette doesn't stop walking, or turn her head, or give any indication that what Claud's said shocks her. She just nods slowly, as though rolling around his words in her head, seeing how they feel. Once in her office, she puts her notebooks on her shelf and gives them the same treatment, shuffling attendance books and sign-in sheets and syllabi until her day is staring back at them in neat, tidy rows. The first word that comes to mind is: drugs. Claud's come a long way, but Ardette is enough of a pessimist to still make assumptions. If it looks like a duck... "Go on."
- Claud suspects she's thinking he was high at the time—and he couldn’t blame her for thinking so—but denying it would be useless at best, and suspicious at worst. He continues, a little less confident, "An' well, I could move through the city, not just sensing with my vibe remotely, but as if I had actually separated from my body. It wasn’t like seeing or touching, it was like I was completely made of energy, and perceived more than I sensed with, you know, the five senses. When I finally came to, or woke up or whatever, hours had gone by.” He feels pretty deflated by now but he presents his one last bit of data. “The only reason I think this might have been an actual event rather than a dream is that something similar has happened once before, though last time I was following someone, and this time I left by my own volition,” he pursed his lips together briefly, and continued. “I suppose then my questions are, was this experience actual, and if it was, is this something worth pursuing? Or is it just novelty?”
- Ardette can feel Claud's doubt like a quiver in that space where he's quietly occupied her consciousness, and she pounces on it like prey. "It's not a novelty if it's happened once before," she says, turning around to face him. She puts a hand on her hip and looks him over in that critical way of hers, a quick down-up flit of her eyes in a stony, unmoving face. "If the first time didn't happen of your own volition, that means it happened against your will. Maybe that's what we should talk about first."
- Claud fought the urge to cringe, the only physical motion he made was a slight bowing of his head as she looked him over. “Well, to clarify, it’s not like I was, ah, ripped from my body or anything like that, last time it happened. More like I was... invited and I chose to follow. But I didn’t initiate it, no.” And then he waits. If she wants to know more she’s going to have to ask some more specific questions.
- Ardette nods once, satisfied. Her primary concern - Claud's susceptibility to, well, everyone and everything, it seems like - is temporarily soothed. He wasn't 'ripped from his body' by any force real or imagined. Okay. She walks out of her office with the confidence that he'll follow, down the hall and into the back of the building where she keeps her cleaning supplies. "And how do you know that time wasn't a dream?"
- Claud does indeed follow, laughing nervously before responding, “Haha, oh god. Um, well that’s a good question actually.” Pausing, he chews his lower lip a bit in thought. Not finding what he’d been looking for, he sighs, defeated. “There’s, ah, a LOT I’ve blocked from memory in the last year or so,” he admits. “It’s very possible that the first time was a dream as well, it’s also possible that there were more times this has happened, but I can’t remember them right off. But the time I distinctly remember, it was very vivid...” Embarrassed, he realizes he doesn’t really remember going back into his body that first time, just the following, up and out into the sky, the feeling of freedom and wonder.
- Ardette simply grunts, acknowledging the end of his story, but not committing to any sort of response just yet. She grabs two large swiffer-like brooms from the back and hands one to Claud, before heading back to the nearest studio. Claud follows, as usual, drawn to her gravity like a comet-tail. "And if I ask you if you were sober, will you answer me honestly?"
- “Of course.” He takes the broom and works alongside her. “The second time I had just gotten home from class, and I had work in the morning. No drinking, and no drugs. I’ve been clean for, mmnnnnnearly a year?” Damn, it really hadn’t been that long at all. “And really the main thing I’d take was jive anyway, to keep my vibe from driving me crazy. Um.” Unnecessary details, he reminds himself. “The first time... I might have been vicariously high though,” the cringe was audible in his voice. Oh no, there was no way of explaining this while keeping anonymity. “The, um, other person was high on fonk and, well, when you’re an empath...” he shrugged.
- Ardette sighs. She knew it. Jive. Fonk. God damn it. She wants to smack the kid for not considering jive a drug. It is, it's a crutch, and just as addictive as the sweetest Fonk when it does all of the hard work for you. Or maybe she just feels upstaged by a chemical when her lessons with him are supposed to be accomplishing the same thing: self-control. "Vicariously high is still high, Claud," she says. She sounds disappointed. She and Claud pace back and forth along the length of Studio B, pushing their dusters in front of them. "We all have the responsibility of curating our company, especially Steppers recovering from addiction. But... 'well, when you're an empath...'" She gives him a severe look. "We talked about the importance of the kind of company you keep."
- “I-it was last Christmas, before I started lessons with you,” he protests softly, wilting under her disapproval. “I ain’t touched nothing but beer since I started in here, and even then it’s not been that much.” Sunday afternoons with Jack, when they closed early and could sleep it off before getting up at 5 the next morning to start the routine all over again. He felt unnecessarily reprimanded, “I only see two people anyways, you and Jack. There’s customers of course, but, you know, whatever. An’ Fr--ah, Mr. Valentine... but we don’t get to talk much these days. So. That’s it.” It was embarrassing to admit, and he stared hard at the floor he was swiffering, but she needed to know. She needed to know he’d changed.
- Ardette can feel it; it's grating and pitiful and deserving of attention all at the same time, like the whining of a puppy. Some days she tries to convince herself that working with Claud is good for her, too. Teaches her about empathy and whatnot... She sighs gustily, taking another turn around the floor with her swiffer. "And Mr. Valentine was the one who was high. Wasn't he." It's not a question, and her tone is trained on utter neutral. A boss is a boss, after all.
- Claud could kick himself but it seems she knows Frankie too well. “Yeah. Christmas was a hard time for me, and um, for him too.” Just the memory of that day felt like too much to deal with. So many highs and lows in emotion, so many weird things had happened. “Please don’t tell him I told you.” He figured she wouldn’t say anything, but he still felt the need to request confidentiality.
- Ardette's assurance is immediate and honest. "What's shared within these walls stays within these walls," she says, propping her swiffer up against the wall. She gets a cleaning wipe from the shelf under the sound deck and drags it down the length of each barre, leaving Claud to finish his half of the room. "I won't say a word." She'll think plenty of words, smack Frankie Valentine upside the head deep in her subconscious where nobody can see her do it, but she won't say a word.
- Claud took a deep breath and followed suit, “Thank you. I-I mean, I figured, but, yeah.” As he wiped down the barre, he had a great desire to tell her the things that he hadn’t been able to tell anyone else... but then, why? To what end? Telling her wouldn’t make him feel better and it would just make her feel weird about him though he knew she wouldn’t say so. “So, ah, what else do you wanna know?”
- Ardette sighs and bobs her eyebrows; if they don't get to the bottom of this, it's going to be a long night, cleaning the studio. "Well, we still haven't ruled out the possibility that this was a dream. Two dreams. Maybe more." The human mind is capable of amazing trickery, even without vibe. Throw in a vibe as easily influenced as Claud's, and their only option is to question everything. "Did you have any evidence to the contrary when you woke up?" Her word choice is deliberate: 'woke up.' Not 'came to' or 'snapped out of it' or even 'returned.' But to wake up, to imply with authority that he was dreaming, to see how strongly he denied it... or didn't.
- “For one thing I usually don’t dream, and when I do it’s certainly not vivid. The first time was a bit muddled, but the second time there was a distinct going out of and then re-entering my body.” He creased his brow, trying to think of the one thing that had been nagging him, because it was obvious that just telling her it ‘had felt real,’ wasn’t going to be enough. “Oh! Reading. You aren’t supposed to be able to read in dreams, but I could—street signs and things like that.” He looked at her, hopeful, hazarding a smile.
- Ardette frowns at him. It's obvious that this little glimmer of hope isn't glimmering brightly enough for her liking. "For somebody who usually doesn't dream, you seem to be quite an authority on the subject." And with that, she dismisses the reading theory like the cleaning wipe she chucks in the trash. She turns off the power strip connecting her sound system and hefts her swiffer to tackle the next studio. Her frown deepens. "You said something interesting before..." Hah, how vague; Claud says interesting things all the time. "That you felt like you had separated from your body. Do you wish to revise that choice of words, or are you standing behind them? You separated from your body?"
- “I-- I been looking up on it, dreaming and the like...” he offers weakly, following her. After a brief moment of thought, and once in the next studio, he answers her question. “As far as I can tell, yes, that’s the best way I can describe it. So, I’m just taking a guess here, but when you ‘reach out,’ as it were, to interact with the environment around you with your vibe, there is an actual reaching, even if it’s not physical. When I lay down last week, I could feel my way to every edge of the island, but more than that, I could focus with clarity; I was experiencing things not in a rush like it’s always been, but as if I were there, in person, one experience at a time, instead of hundreds upon hundreds of minds and voices pressing in on me.” As he spoke, a few different explanations came to mind, “OK, possibility: it wasn’t an actual out-of-body experience, at least not in the traditional sense. But when I use my vibe there is definitely a, a change of flow in the vibe energy in my body. It’s part of my ability I think, to be aware of my vibe level, and when I give vibe to others it feels like, like water rushing out of me. So when I ‘reach’ with everything I got to not just feel, but see, and hear, that amount of energy leaving my body could feel like, well, when the spirit leaves. And to be so hyper focused on the experiences and sensory input from my vibe-self, the awareness of my physical body would fall away.” Wow, he really hoped that made sense because he’s not sure even he understood what he just said.
- Ardette shakes her head, a little jerk of her chin at the end of his explanation, as though she's just thrown back a shot. Because that's what it feels like: a punch of information that's disorienting and unpleasant at first, but then it starts to seep into her blood and into her brain and take hold. She's silent for a long moment, just pushing her sweeper along the length of Studio A, watching the scuffs on the floor blur under her feet.
"Much of your vibe is still uncharted territory for us, so indulge a humble Square's rambling... First off--" She exhales through her nose, frowning, trying to decide where to begin. "I can sense order and disorder in my surroundings, because I'm the receptor - or at least, whatever mechanism in my brain my vibe comes from is. When I choose to act upon my surroundings, I'm transmitting. From the same place in the brain or a different place, whatever, I'm not a Scientist. "If your vibe, your energy, completely left you body, if you, euh... 'cut the power,' so to say, it's logical to assume that you would be dead. Or-- were dead, for a few hours. Mm, no, you didn't necessarily separate from your body. Your physical brain was still transmitting, something just gave you more range." The first time, it was drugs. The second time... that's what really interests her. But they'll get to that later. "Because that's the difference, here. I think you were transmitting, not receiving. Do you follow?" She doesn't give Claud a chance to answer, just checks that place in her conscience where she can feel his attention, and it's strong and steady, and possibly staring at her. Whatever. Moving on. "When you get overwhelmed by, euh... the collective, let's call it, that's because you're acting as a receiver. Every channel is open and receiving seemingly limitless energy. And the signal gets jumbled and you're unable to process any of it, so you shut down. Now, when you're receiving from one stepper, or a small group, that can be a healthy exchange. The same as when you're transmitting. But if the scope of your transmission is limitless, as it appears to have been in this case, that might account for that feeling of... well... ubiquity." Ardette stops and looks at Claud, her half of the room swept. She raises an eyebrow at him expectantly. Your move.
- “Um. Sure.” He blinks a few times, trying to put two and five together. “I don’t know that I would call it a limitless transmission though, being limited to this island and the population on it, but I think I catch your meaning. So, transmission is acting on the environment? Whether it’s physical objects or people’s emotions? And receiving is sensing the environment? I jus’ wanna make sure I’m understanding your vocabulary right.”
- Ardette blinks at him; the entire Island and its entire population. That's their universe. How much more does he want? "For the sake of argument, yes, let's go with that." She snaps her fingers at him and points at the floor, reminding him that he still has half a studio to sweep. "You may have been able to sense your surroundings like you do when you're receiving, but that clarity, that ubiquity..." She likes that word. Yes, that's what she'll call it. "I just get the impression that it was by a different mechanism, this time. That 'reaching' you keep referring to... When you reach out, that's action. Not reaction."
- Claud hadn’t realized he’d stopped, and started sweeping again, “Well, it’s kinda both, for me. It’s like breathing, you can choose to hold your breath, but most of the time you’re breathing just fine not thinking about it. So a lot of times it’s involuntary—which is why I’m here, of course, to gain control of that—but I can also choose to reach out, to, ah, well, ‘transmit’ isn’t really the right word, because I’m not necessarily influencing anything, just extending the reach of my influence, and my ability to sense as well. I say ‘reach’ because, for me, it’s like reaching out your arm,” he passes by her and raises his arm up, but does not touch her, “My arm is extended but I’m not necessarily touching you, but I could. The potential for influence, for transmission and reception, is greater here,” he drops his arm back to his side, “Than here. It’s like if you sensed disorder in your surroundings but did not order it. I guess I’m just worrying over the meaning of the words then, whether or not the ‘sensing’ itself is a kind of transmission.”
- "I just have to believe that being able to sense something outside of your immediate environment requires some kind of effort," Ardette says, shrugging easily. "But enough arguing semantics." These kinds of conversations with Claud are all at once energizing and exhausting, productive yet feeling like they're running in place. Listen to him; it's a shame the kid can't read. She could think of a few books he might enjoy. She begins to wipe down the barres. "I would tell you to try acting on your environment next time, but that would be irresponsible." It would be irresponsible to tell Claud to do that, even in theory, since they don't know what they're dealing with, and it would be just as irresponsible to even suggest that it could happen again. "Now, the first time, you were riding on somebody else's high. That was the variable. What about the second time? Any, euh... potential catalyst that you can recall?"
- “Not that I can remember. But, you know how you feel after a work out? It’s kinda like a natural high? You just feel good afterwards. So, I dunno, I felt good, which is a big deal, for me. Being comfortable makes a big difference too; it was quiet, I was relaxed but not exhausted... I dunno, these just seem like significant factors although they’re nowhere near as extreme as a drug high. Though it’s been a year, maybe since I’ve been training with you I don’t have to try as hard to use this aspect of my vibe.”
- "It is likely," Ardette concedes, wiping down the second set of barres. "Being in a state of meditation, relaxation, contentment... It tends to, euh... open up the channels. Helps things flow more easily." How typical that the Choreographer can only ever talk about being idle in its most productive application. Doing nothing is only worthwhile if you're accomplishing something. "Did you experience some kind of natural high that evening? From working out? Or listening to expressive music? Or reaching orgasm?"
- Claud tries not to choke or laugh, but he does blush, “No-no it was just class promise!” Haha, oh my god. “And probably the music too, it was quiet and non-intrusive.” As he sweeps away from Ardette he realises that the first time it happened... Nope, nope, he is not talking about that with his teacher. Or anyone. Ever. By the time he’s sweeping back towards her he’s made his face as blank as possible, though a slight red tint remains.
- Ardette shoots Claud a flat look. The kid couldn't hide a blush on that pale, freckled face, even if he tried. A kind reprimand - 'it's nothing to be ashamed of' - or a more direct one - 'grow up' - would only be self-serving. So she just turns her back to him and rolls her eyes, busying herself with closing down Studio A's sound deck. "Try to be a little more observant of your own behaviors going forward," she recommends. "Maybe keep a journal? An audio journal," she corrects herself, immediately and without judgment. "Record your dreams, as rare as they are. If it ever happens again, we'll want to be able to examine the possible reasons why."
- Claud smiles and continues blushing at her flat look. Yes, he knew he was being weird about it, juvenile even, especially for someone with his track record. But that’s how he felt about it. He nods, “Right, that’s, that’s a good idea.” They just needed more information, and there was little left to discuss, so he continued cleaning on in silence. “Thank you, by the way. For listening.”
- Ardette turns at the waist to raise an eyebrow at him. His gratitude doesn't surprise her; Claud is by nature a polite boy, gracious, even. But ever since she met this strange boy and his strange vibe, his thank-yous feel so sincere that they feel like something else--at least, like no other thank-you she receives in her day-to-day. She nods. "You're welcome." She looks him up and down, head to toe, once again marveling at his transformation in the past few months. She turns back to the sound deck. "Though if you ask me, we've done a fine job of getting absolutely nowhere. Ah, well,” she sighs. “Time will tell, with this one."
- Claud laughs, surprised, a little embarrassed. “Maybe. But I can keep the city out, and that’s enough, most days.” He paused, glancing at her, appreciative, shy. “We’ll see what happens if I ever get around to playing music, live. I may end up needing your coaching on that too. I-if you’re even interested of course. Um.”
- Now, that gets her attention. Ardette grabs her swiffer and walks past Claud, squinting at him with friendly suspicion on her way to Studio C. "Well, that's ambitious of you," she drawls. "That's a lot of very focused attention on you at one time, Claud. Are you sure you can handle that?" It's a challenge and an invitation. More lessons, more cred. But also, more lessons, more to learn.
- “Well, no,” he thinks back to yet another night-gone-wrong with Frankie as he follows Ardette, “‘s why I’ve been putting it off for, like, a year. I been trying to find someone with a vibe like mine who might be able to help, but something’ll come up, or I’m busy—appointments just keep falling through. And, you know, there are just some things that I can’t know unless I just do ‘em. But of course I wanna prepare as much as I can.”
- Ardette glances over her shoulder at him. What is he really asking, here? For an audience with the Choreographer? She tries to decide how she's supposed to feel about that; mostly, she feels curious. "That would be wise, yes," she says, starting to sweep the last studio. "Playing music live for an audience is indisputably, euh..." She looks up at him and gives him a quick smirk. "'Transmitting.'"
- He quirks a smile back at her. “It’s weird how music’s different. I never felt I might be unable to perform, to dance, just because an audience was present.” Of course, he had his sister last time he danced for an audience. It was different then, and it was never going to be the same. He stares hard at the floor, wiping it clean. No, it would never be the same but maybe it could at least be okay.
- "Good thing. When it's our livelihood as much as our joy, that's a good thing." And with that, they fall into an amicable silence as they finish cleaning the littlest studio. Claud has enough to deal with with his overactive vibe; the least the universe could do was bestow upon him a lack of stage-fright.
- Claud smiled, nodded, and couldn’t think of anything more to say. With the last and smallest studio clean he looked to Ardette for further instruction.
- "Well," Ardette sighs graciously, taking Claud's swiffer. "Thank you, Claud. I'll take it from here. Why don't you go get your things."
- “A’right,” again the shy smile before he turned and went to the dressing room. Street clothes on and duffel in tow, he found Ardette before leaving. “Alright, I’m off. You have a good night.”
- As Claud is gone getting changed, Ardette kills the lights in all the studios and tidies the front lobby. While waiting to lock the door behind her last student of the day, she gets a chance to distance herself from their conversation and start to examine the facts. She seems distracted when Claud says goodnight. "Yes, you as well, Claud..." Before he turns to leave, Ardette raises a finger, not looking at him, but looking at that vague point on the ground where she found her next idea. "May I give you some food for thought for your trip home?"
- He turns towards her again, “Of course.”
- Ardette wags her finger thoughtfully. "There's really no way of disproving that this was a dream unless one of your episodes has some sort of measurable impact on the environment. But given your vibe, Claud, and your ability to connect with people, who's to say that, in the active state of REM sleep, you can't have a measurable impact on your environment? Why does 'real' and 'dreaming' have to be mutually exclusive in this case?" She stops staring at that thoughtful spot on the ground and looks at Claud. She gives him a succinct little smile. "Food for thought. Good night, Claud."
- It was nice to see her smile. You knew a smile from Ardette was truly meant because it was carefully and rarely used. Claud smiled in return, he liked this idea of hers. “Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind. Goodnight Miss Bombaerts.”
- Ardette dismisses him with a friendly toss of her hand and disappears into her office.
- Claud laughs a little to himself and exits the conservatorie into the cold night air. It was clear and chill, with snow threatening. Yes, things seemed to be looking up.
<maelgwyn> maybe he will get her a basket of cookies or something idk >w<
<mree> Oh, Claud.
<mree> You conundrum.
<maelgwyn> giant cookie basket shows up one day
<mree> CLAUD NO
<mree> (totally do it)
<maelgwyn> there's a note "if you don't want this you can give it to the students or something, I won't mind .H."
<mree> I like to imagine that, whether she likes it or not, she does get gifts from her students around the holidays
<mree> And any food she receives, a portion goes to Toots
<mree> (and she'll totally try at least one cookie because she's a total sweet tooth)
<maelgwyn> oh realllyyyyyy XD
<maelgwyn> baww ;w;
<maelgwyn> ... what if there was an unspoken contest among the students
<maelgwyn> to see who could give Ardette a present that would make her scowl the most
<maelgwyn> giant bouquets of flowers, gift baskets, champagne...
<maelgwyn> " >:| I disapprove of this merriment"
<mree> "Any gifts may be made to the Conservatory! The Conservatory doesn't need... what the hell is this... bath beads?"