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Summary: Claud goes for his first consultation with Miss Bombaerts the Choreographer.

Setting: The Conservatory

Timeline: Preceded by Frankie and Claud's visit to her studio

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Squinting through the smoke, Ardette negotiates the hook at the end of the long metal pole in her hands, into the latch that holds Studio B's high-mounted windows shut. Thursday's 5 PM appointment just perfected a new move with his vibe, a little ditty he liked to call "Smoke and Mirrors." She has to admit, it's cute. She coughs and waves a hand in front of her face. Ardette hates cute. Once a few of the windows are open, she turns on the shop fan she'd dragged into the middle of the room, to air out the place. A nuisance, but all part of a day's work. She should be happy for him. He certainly was ecstatic about it.

Ardette's 6:30 consultation was going to begin soon: Claud, Frankie Valentine's little project, their reformed druggie, a homeless vagrant who found God, as it were, if by God you meant Vibe. She scheduled the appointment at an odd hour, the limbo between Work and Dinner where all people were thinking about was getting home, or to the nearest bar. There would be no people wandering in just minutes before closing to say hello, or scribble their name onto the class sign-up sheet, or drop off a last-minute payment with a panicked apology. Ardette and her new student would be uninterrupted.

She looks at the clock in her office. Not enough time for a quick smoke, and she regrets it, wanting something to calm her nerves after Mr. Smoke-and-Mirrors and before meeting the Alley kid again. But she has enough time to sweep a hand through her hair, dab some lipstick on, and check her planner for the millionth time. 6:27. An extra point against Mr. Claud for every minute he was late.


Claud waits nervously somewhere outside, looking something like a boy who'd been called into the dean's office for an unspecified offense. He hadn't wanted to arrive too early and loiter around waiting his turn, but didn't want to be late either, and so he waffled about in indecision. He'd left Frankie's apartment early in case he ran into trouble or a crowd, but had traveled without much incident, and so was left waiting for about 20 minutes with nothing to do. His phone alarm went off and he nearly jumped out of his skin. He silenced it and checked its clock for the hundreth time. 6:28pm. Unable to wait any longer he went inside, preparing himself to look at whatever literature decorated the walls, and pretend he was both fascinated by and disinterested in it. He was surprised by the amount of smoke in the air but the loud fan let him know that whatever had caused it had been taken care of. "Miss Bombaerts?" he called out tentatively through the smoke. His vibe reached out in his uncertainty, let him know there was no one else in the building but them. It was a bit of a relief, the less people around, the less confused he'd be.


Ardette looks at the clock. He's early. Well, alright then. She steps out of her office into the front lobby and sees her new student, looking lost through the thinning smoke, wearing the same look of over-accommodating skittishness he was the first time she first met him (or at least, when she first saw him wearing clean clothes). "Occupational hazard," she says, nodding at the smoke. If the kid couldn't handle being in a holding cell of Vibe, then his new relationship to the Conservatory simply wasn't going to last very long. "Allez, let's go in my office," she says, jerking her head towards the door.


Well at least she was as unflappable as he'd suspected when he'd first met her. That was good. Maybe. Or maybe it would mean that she'd be more prone to overreact if anything went really wrong. And his vibe had a wonderful habit of going very wrong very fast. He nodded and followed her into her office (meticulous, of course) and waited to be instructed to sit. (That was the polite thing to do wasn't it?) 


Ardette sends the door closed with a flick of her hand - not like they needed the privacy, but more smoke was pouring out of Studio B than she'd anticipated - and she walks behind her desk. "Well," she sighs, "Thank you for meeting with me, and thank you for being on time." Her eyes flit to him - so! The hobo has manners - and after a moment of just looking at him, she gestures for Claud to sit. 


Claud nods, "Likewise." He sits and resists the urge to look around or fidget, filing away her approval of punctuality for later. He's not sure what she's thinking (and grateful for that) but he can feel her assessing him as she looks him over. He does begin to worry when she doesn't say anything and wonders if he's supposed to start the conversation. Well what would he say? She knew as much about him as she needed to know and if she wanted to know more, she'd ask. He finally looks up at her, blinking and curious.


Ardette sits down when Claud does. She leans back in her seat and crosses her legs, still appraising him, as though she can't properly start this meeting until she decides how he looks in her office, where he fits in all these right angles. "So." She looks like she ought to have a clipboard, the way she's peering at him. "Is Claud a first name? Last name? Alias of your choosing?"


"First name." He doesn't offer any other explanation. He's not as nervous as he thought he would be, now that he's actually here. And there was a quality of order around the woman that he couldn't quite put his finger on... probably vibe related. The city seemed very distant in here, like the walls were tens of feet thick. Whatever she put him through, and he knew it would probably be brutal, it might just be worth it for the peace he'd find.


Ardette jerks her chin up in half a nod. "Right. 'Claud,'" she inhales and leans forward, resting her forearms on the edge of her desk. "Tell me. Have you kicked the habit?"


Claud grimaces and looks off to the side, and that's probably all the answer she needs. "I haven't used any hard drugs for..." He tries to think of how long it'd been but he honestly can't remember. "Well since I quit anyway. Months, probably close to a year now. I've had to use jive a few times when my vibe started giving me problems during and after the flares, but that's it." He's obviously not satisfied with his progress.


Ardette looks in the same direction with a disappointed hum. Christ, who put this kid on jive? Was that Valentine's bright idea? Claud's own self-medicating? Whatever it is, she finds it pathetic. Steppers shouldn't need garbage like jive to control themselves. "Well, it doesn't matter if I believe you." She doesn't. Not entirely. "But apparently, Valentine does, and I trust his judgment. But let me make one thing clear." She dips her chin and glares at him. "You step into my studio high, or bring any shady business with you, and I will be the least of your worries. Understood?" 


Claud can feel her disapproval and he tries to not let it show. "Yes'm." he nods, eyes down. He didn't mind so much that her opinion of him was low, but now that Frankie's reputation was tied up with his... it put a lot of pressure on him to not screw up. Hopefully she'd show him how to turn that kind of pressure into motivation instead. He tries to remember why he was here, tries to catch sight of his goal again, but all he can do is worry about how potentially bad all this could end up being.


"Good." Now that that's out of the way... Ardette's eyes skate over Claud's features, his heavily pierced ears, the slight slump in his shoulders as she puts the fear of the Choreographer in him. Her tone changes to something a little more pleasant, business-like; this is routine. "Well, Claud, tell me about yourself. Do you work, now? What's your style?" She gestures to him. "Valentine gave me a crash course in your vibe, but I'd like to hear it from you."


Claud rubs his arm a bit and shifts in his chair. "Ahh, I'm looking for work. I lost my last job just after the flares ended because of, um," he really didn't want to tell her all the gory details, he didn't even want to tell her the reader's digest version, but something told him that if he omitted any information it would only hurt him in the long run. She needed to know how his vibe worked. "My boyfriend and I broke up, and my vibe started acting up again, just after the flares had ended. My boss had to let me go." It was what she needed to know. "I'm not so sure of my style anymore. I danced ballet with my sister, and that seemed to work well. I could never work vibe like she could though," he smiles, sadly, "But it suited me, ah, suits me, dancing the supporting roles. Any time I dance with Mr. Valentine he leads." He had no idea how much she knew and realized he was probably being very confusing. He hated volunteering information about himself though and preferred to answer direct questions.


Ardette narrows her eyes, not unkindly, and just listens. Most of what Claud's telling her - about a break-up and losing his job and dancing with Valentine - she doesn't give a damn about and it's not going to help either of them in her particular world of right angles and mirrors. But what Claud is doing, and the reason why she asked, is showing her what matters to him: his relationships to other people. So, this is what will be his motivation, and his greatest distraction, over the course of their own relationship as choreographer and dancer. Ardette is only as good at what she does because she's gotten so good at identifying these things, and spearing them, no mercy. "Following requires every bit as much control as leading does," she says, "especially in ballet. Were you expecting to come in here and jump straight into pas de deux?" It's not a challenge, but actual curiosity


"I try not to expect anything," he says with a smile that's obviously covering for another emotion, "Helps ease the disappointment when everything goes pear-shaped. But, that's not the point." He sits up a little straighter. "Mr. Valentine calls me a leech, but that's not quite true. At worst that's only a third of my vibe. As long as I am physically capable, I can follow any dancer if they lead and they know what they want me to do. But that's not an ideal situation and would leave me being the weaker half. Ideally I'm supposed to have a symbiotic relationship with my partner," he smiles again, a little more genuinely, "Of course that's how it's supposed to be anyway. But my vibe brings the relationship to a whole new level."


Oh, now this was interesting, Claud's vibe enabled him to synchronize himself with his partner? Valentine failed to mention that. Ardette starts to think to herself, well, this just got much easier, but she immediately scraps that thought. That would be too easy. The last thing this kid needed was to get too comfortable with a foundation that was purely artificial. "Tell me more about that," she says, leaning back in her seat and crossing her legs. She nods to him, "Valentine led me to believe that you're something of an empath."


Alright, well, at least she wasn't bored. "Well that's part of it too, kinda a side effect really." Just tell her already. "I'm a twin. When V-day happened my sister and I gained the same vibe. We were already close, and dancing together, but the vibe enhanced that, forced us to work as a team. The way I see it, or rather, the way my vibe sees it, the two most important things that should be shared when dancing with another are having a mental connection—being able to predict what the other person will do, and being able to feel as the other does—being unified emotionally. I'm also able to share raw vibe energy with my partner. But it wasn't just when we danced, we were always connected, for better or for worse. We started growing distant though, and while our relationship suffered so did the fidelity of our connection. When she died in the Dance War, it was severed completely of course." He feels numb, talking about it in such clinical terms. "She was so much stronger than I ever was, I had no idea how much she was protecting me until she was gone. Now my vibe tries to seek out and connect with any compatible candidates, even incompatible ones. It's like I'm on high-alert all the time, I can't not feel what others are feeling." He really hoped that made sense.


Ardette's expression doesn't change, but her eyes soften. Here was yet another war tragedy sitting in her office. Everyone lost someone in the War of '99, or at least something, some crucial part of themselves. Ardette's always wondered how Vibe behaved with such close genetic or emotional ties, but she understands the significance of Claud losing a sister, a twin. The drugs, the homelessness, the letting oneself go... she still doesn't approve of it, not even necessarily pity it, but at least it makes sense. "Mn--" Ardette nods to him, "And what are you feeling right now?" She's curious; her studio was abuzz with Vibe at all hours. She maybe she's even curious as to what sort of signals he can pick up from her.


"Scared," he replied, almost immediately, trying to laugh it off. "But it's quiet here, now that it's empty, and that helps. It lets me be at peace. But I think a lot of that comes from you too." He tried to word it so it wouldn't sound weird or creepy. "Your vibe is... structured." He looked at her briefly, then looked away, uncertain as to what he saw there. Not pity, thank god, but maybe a small amount of understanding. Maybe.


Ardette doesn't avert her eyes when Claud does, just keeps on watching him with a peaceful smirk. Scared, he says. He ain't seen nothing yet. "Orderly, you could even say." 'Structured' is one she hasn't heard before, and she likes it. "That would be my vibe at rest. I can manipulate the organization of the matter around me. You might as well get used to that, if we're going to be working together."


"Yeah I think I could," Claud smiles, not wanting to show how pleased he was at hearing that. He looks down again at his hands. "I'm sorry I don't really know a lot about my vibe. I took a lot of it for granted, and I'm just now truly learning about it."


"Well, I suppose that's why Valentine brought you here, isn't it," Ardette says. She just wishes she'd gotten to him first. Valentine gave the kid swing, and gave the kid power, but it was control that he needed. How so very much like Frankie Valentine, she thinks with grumpy affection. "You should know that most of my clients come to me to learn how to use their vibe offensively. That's not the case with you, obviously." She holds open her hands, inviting him to speak. "So, what are your goals?"


Claud had often thought about how he'd use his vibe offensively; he'd seen his sister do it, but the whole notion made him feel ill. "Definitely not fighting. Control is the main focus, I guess. Specifically how to control the connecting process. Right now my vibe reaches out to anyone and I can't seem to get it to stop. I really don't enjoy feeling other people's emotions. And I need to learn how to keep myself separate while connected. I get overwhelmed by stronger personalities easily."


Ardette frowns. "'Overwhelmed.' Overwhelmed, how so?" She herself was certainly a strong personality. Valentine was an exceptionally strong personality. "Do you become submissive to that personality, or do you..." She twirls a hand, searching for the word. "Assume that personality?"


Oh, he didn't think she would like that, "Mostly the first, a little of the second. I've had problems, times where I'll wake up from... from being someone else. These episodes are rare though, and require me to already be connected to them, and usually involve one or both of us being chemically inhibited. But the fact that it happens at all is distressing, and if someone really wanted to, I'd probably be easy to take advantage of." Claud didn't realize until he said it, but what he really was concerned for was the safety of those who he cared most for, and the possibility that someone would exploit his weakness to get to them. Once again his concern for others superseded his concern for himself. 


Well, well... Frankie Valentine was right. Mr. Claud is volatile, indeed. "Well, ah... Claud," she tips her head to him, "It's encouraging to hear that you've clearly thought about this long and hard. That self-awareness is critical. Especially in a case like yours, I imagine..." That last part she says mostly to herself, resting her fingertips against her lips thoughtfully. This one will be a challenge. The vast majority of Ardette's clients have vibes that manifest themselves in ways that you can see, that you can visually and objectively assess. Claud's case would require every ounce of her creativity. "I'm curious," she frowns and lifts a finger. "Let's say, hypothetically, your vibe tries to connect with me. Will I be aware of it?"


"Probably." Then, thinking, "Maybe. Different people respond to my vibe very differently, depending on the amount of control they have over their emotions and thoughts. My guess is is that you'd know. For me, connecting is like having another presence there," he gestures vaguely in the air next to himself, "And all the comforts and discomforts that implies. Kinda like how you know when someone approaches you, even if you don't sense them coming in any other way." He pauses, maybe other people didn't have that sense, maybe that was just him.  


"Or how you can feel when you're being watched," Ardette mutters on the heels of that thought. It's a feeling she's familiar with. "Interesting... Well!" She sighs graciously and stands up. "If you don't mind, I'd like you to show me some things." She walks to the door behind Claud's seat, the one that leads from her office straight into Studio A. "Don't bother getting changed; this won't be anything too intense. Just take off your shoes."


"Yeah, that too." he replies softly, almost for his own benefit. He does as he's asked and follows her into the studio, heart rate picking up a bit. 


Ardette walks to the center of the studio - the same studio where Frankie first introduced her to Claud - and holds her arms out. "Studio B is, euh... working some things out right now." The fan is still whirring dutifully the next room over. "That's where your lessons will be held. But it's about the same dimensions as this studio, if a little smaller, marley floors, barres - very standard." The beckons him to stand next to her. "Allez, by me."


Claud allows himself to look around in the curious, assessing way that he hadn't when he was first here. The space had a feeling of familiarity, as all studios had. He was comfortable here. He snaps to attention when called and pads softly over to stand by her, his vibe humming expectantly; a conditioned response, he figured. 


"Alright, face the mirror." Ardette crosses her arms and appraises his posture. He said he did ballet, huh? Is that a distant memory or a trained reflex? "Do you know the difference between first and fifth?"


Claud turned towards the mirror, his cringing posture melting away. He could feel her eyes on him, and it brought him an uncomfortableness that usually wasn't present when in the studio. "Yes'm" He resisted looking at her reflection, focusing straight ahead on his own. 


Ardette watches him expectantly for a few seconds... then jerks her chin forward and raises her eyebrows at him. "Well? What are you waiting for? Show me your positions."


"O-oh, right." There was a moment of momentary panic where his mind went blank and his vibe sought to pull the knowledge from the nearest person with the most fresh memory. He closed his eyes and took a breath, reigning it in, and on the exhale he began the routine, haltingly at first, but more and more fluid by the end. Once in fifth he did not move, waiting for her assessment. Truthfully he was more worried about that momentary breech of vibe control than how obviously out of practice he was.


Ardette strolls around Claud, two fingers resting thoughtfully under her chin as she watches him go through the motions. He's rolling in on his supporting foot - shaky balance, could be nerves, could be something else. Not rolling through the toes at the apex of each tendu - they'll need to work on that or his sautés will be a disaster. His arms are nicely carried but he's forgetting his hands - a boot camp of port de bras is in his future. But, thanks be to whichever god will listen, at least Claud knows his positions. She curls a finger over her lips and frowns at his fifth position, looking like she's brimming with comments but doesn't know where to begin. She raises a finger. "Permission to touch you? Will you and your vibe allow that?"


Claud tries to ignore the critical gaze he could feel radiating off of Ardette, and thankfully she had the presence of mind to withhold comments until he was finished. "Ah, yes, that's fine." Come to think of it, Frankie never criticized his dancing, just Claud's habitual self-depreciating attitude. He readied himself to be manually re-adjusted, not really looking forward to it. A means to an end, he keeps reminding himself.


Ardette snaps her fingers. "Tendu a la second." When Claud does so - hastily and again, with no small amount of self-adjusting - she places her palm between his shoulderblades and gently pushes up. "Straighten your back, get your weight out of your hips; you should be able to lift your toe from the floor without needing to shift your weight." She swiftly rounds to his other side and kneels next to his pointed foot, and molds it with her hands. "Roll through the foot in and out of every tendu, even when you're demonstrating something as simple as the positions of the feet. It shows your instructor respect, demonstrates discipline, and facilitates good form. Hands." She gives him a suffering sigh and drags her fingers across his knuckles. "Relax your thumbs, palms up." She comes to standing and takes a step away from him. She snaps again. "Single pirouette. Go."


He'd braced himself, but when the commands came—quickly, but all business and with no moral judgement—he relaxed again and did as he was told. His body was still out of shape, but he was willing, and his mind was remembering. He took the adjustment without comment. At her instruction he pirouettes once, and once was enough. His head swims a little but he manages to stay upright. A least he thinks so. He wants to laugh it off or excuse himself in some way, but he knows she doesn't have time for that. Frankie wouldn't put up with it, so she most certainly won't. So he simply holds still, waiting. 


Ardette continues her slow prowl around him, watching him with a critical eye. Balance off, his spotting needs to be sharper, his base is too wide, he's falling off his leg - her mental checklist unfurls and she starts amassing a list of mistakes that are really a list of goals, things to cross off. At least this one is quick on his feet. And a right-turner, she'll have to remember that. "Double pirouette," she snaps, almost as soon as he lands from his single. "Go."


He barely has time to adjust before the command comes again. He does a little better this time, but the dizziness is something they'll have to work on. He takes a few controlled deep breaths.


Now, that's more like it, that looked a little more intuitive! His spotting is sluggish but his body knows what a double pirouette should feel like, and better yet, in spite of a rusty body, it looks like it wants to do one. "Bon. Stand in retiré. Any leg will do."


Claud shifts to his left leg. He's shaky and can't open up his raised leg as much as he's supposed to, but at least he's staying upright. He sneaks a glance at Ardette through the mirror, a little surprised that she wasn't correcting all of the mistakes even he knew he was making. 


Yes, just as she thought, he automatically goes to his left leg, so his pirouettes must be stronger to the right. Ardette watches the tiny, subtle shifts and readjustments he makes in every joint. She has a keen eye for these things after so many years, even without her vibe. Her vibe can sense where the line of his body is just a centimeter off kilter, throwing everything off balance, and is just twitching to nudge him back onto his center. She wordlessly reaches a hand out and gives him the tiniest of pushes on the shoulder blade. 


Claud wobbles a little and bends his knee to balance, then straightens back up again.


Apparently satisfied, Ardette snaps again. "Switch legs, retiré." And then she nudges him again.


Now that he knows what's coming, when she nudges him he shifts his weight onto the ball of his foot, bends his knee and recovers much quicker. He's still less steady than he'd like to be, but he's also less worried than he was a few minutes ago. 


Yes, right supporting leg is weaker, but that's typical, hardly a weakness, as natural as someone being right-handed instead of left-handed or vice versa. "Seven changements, end with an entrechat. Go."


Claud does the series of changements ending with a entrechat deux, hoping she wasn't wanting something more fancy. They were simple enough to do, although he hoped he hadn't counted wrong or something ridiculous like that. Wouldn't that just figure.


Ardette still saunters around him, watching. Ooh, he needs to get those heels down with every landing, and he doesn't point all the way through to his toes, but he seems to have a good potential for height. And that wasn't a bad entrechat, for his experience. Doing this in trousers and a blazer probably isn't helping, but when did Ardette ever accept excuses? "Hmn--" She taps her chin. "Do you consider yourself a jumper or a turner, Claud?"


"Ah, jumper, I suppose." he replies. 


Ardette raises an eyebrow. "You 'suppose?'"


"Well, I don't know if it's still true, it's been a number of years, and I was never very, ah, gifted in any one area." he tries to not wilt under her direct gaze.


Ardette looks him up and down, the blade of her finger pressed to her lips in thought. She sighs and crosses her arms. "Well! You're rusty, but you don't need me to tell you that. We're going to have to work on form before we can even begin to think about putting choreography on you. Are you prepared to work?"


"Yes'm." he nods. 


"Good." If Claud's respect for Frankie Valentine is any indicator, his respect for her studio will swiftly catch up. "Before I let you go, can you do one more thing for me?"


"Of course." Why did everything seemingly innocent about this woman set off even more alarms in his head?


Ardette puts her hands on her hips and widens her stance, looking by all accounts that she's preparing for a blow, but her expression is calm. "Hit me."


His heart falls into his stomach, "Excuse me?" The request caught his totally off guard, not to mention went against just about everything he'd been taught. He doesn't move, caught between trying to decide if he'd even be able to hurt her, or if she'd just efficiently take him apart. 


"With your vibe. Allez," Ardette says impatiently, making a little 'come on' motion with her hand. She takes in Claud's panicked expression with a sigh and deflates a little. She sinks into one hip and gives him a flat look. "If you're worried about my feelings, it's commonly accepted as fact among my students that I have none. I need to know what I'm working with here, Claud. Now. Hit me."


"Ohhh," he breathes in relief, "Oh my god, I thought you meant with my hands..." Well, now he wasn't sure which was worse. He takes a breath and establishes a connection. It's like turning on a light switch suddenly, or someone's hand placed on your shoulder when you weren't expecting it. Mine's not really a... hitting vibe. he offers wordlessly through the connection. Although it is a lot like holding a large, over-friendly cat down so it doesn't shed all over the new people. Ardette's vibe felt even nicer through the connection than just through ambient sensing... he realizes he's staring and looks at the floor. 


Ardette is staring too, because when that imaginary hand on her shoulder squeezes, she can hear Claud's voice everywhere and nowhere, loud and quiet at the same time, and she shivers in spite of herself. Oh, she's met many a vibe, but this one is unique. She clears her throat, trying to will the feeling of presence away. She's known for being unflappably calm in the face of Vibe, but she can't say she's ever been 'connected to' before. "Alright," she says, sounding... cautiously impressed. "That's a start." Compared to Claud's quiet, polite intrusion to her mind, her own voice spoken aloud sounds almost crude. "Can you..." She finishes that sentence with the slow beginnings of a simple ballet combination, watching to see how he responds.


Claud nods wordlessly, a small smile on his face, and follows along, "looking" to her through the connection to anticipate the next move. 


Ardette leads him through a basic center exercise, glissades and chasses and whatnot, tame and low to the floor. The only sound is their feet brushing against the marley and the soft thuds of their landings. It feels... bizarre. Her movements feel unnaturally light. Whether this is a product of his vibe, or because of the connection her mind makes with what she sees in the mirror - Ardette leading Claud like a puppet, his movements accurate but unrefined, as though a string was suspended between each of their limbs, and surely she should feel some resistance to her movements, leading the weight of his body as she is - ...she doesn't know. Without taking her eyes off of Claud's reflection, Ardette says, "Try to lead me. Go."


Claud's mind goes blank, then fills with panic. Him? Lead? He realizes too late that she was getting all of his emotions. He tries to "dim down" the connection but his vibe fights him, leaving them very well connected. "I don't know what to do," he offers up weakly. 


Ardette feels his panic like a splash of hot acid in her chest. Having that jolt of adrenaline so suddenly without any personal cause is almost nauseating, and her steps falter when his do. Now that they're not sharing a dance, his connection feels... intimate and awful. Okay, that's enough! Ardette faces the mirror, preps, and then whips herself into an aggressive triple pirouette. Whether he can execute it or not, whatever, just let go, let go, let go.


"I'm s-sorry..." he stammers, looking at the floor and instinctively taking a step away, as if that will make a difference. He knows what happened, just as she knows it, and when she dances again he knows it's for her own benefit and not his, although it does help him to calm some, stopping the inevitable emotion feedback-loop before it could really get started. 


Ardette realizes by the second revolution that he's stopped the connection. He must have, right? His reflection in the mirror isn't turning with her. She sticks the turn, landing in a deep lunge, then throws herself into a little walk in a hasty circle. "Okay!" she sighs gustily. Shake it off, Bombaerts, he didn't mean to, it's only Vibe, it's Vibe, that's all, get used to it, this is your job. She stops her pace and looks at him, hands on her hips. "We're both going to need to work on that, now, won't we?"


Claud nods wordlessly, still looking at the floor and pushing his hair out of his face. He tries not to think about anything, tries not to feel anything, so he won't upset her further. He's actually pretty good at that. 


Ardette takes a deep breath and unconsciously mimics his gesture, nodding and smoothing down the back of her hair. It registers vaguely that this must be where that extra 30% came from, a preemptive thank-you from Frankie Valentine for a job whose uniqueness he couldn't give her any warning for. Thank you, Valentine. "Alright." Back to business. "Did you panic because you don't know how to improvise, or because you don't know how to lead?"


"A bit of both, yeah," he catches her movement and stops slouching, standing up straight. "I don't like to improvise." he looks up at her and smiles a little, " 'S why we've got choreographers."


Ardette gives him a cold look, like he's insulted her profession. "And we only have choreographers because they've learned how to improvise, now, don't we?" Christ, what he's saying is like saying, we only have doctors so that we can go and hurt ourselves. "You'll learn to improvise, and you'll learn how to lead. But first, you need to relearn technique."


"That's not... what I meant," he shrinks, apology flowing from him. He looks back up at her and nods, "Yes." Ready when you are. 


Ardette can see in his eyes that, yes, this kid's ready to work. She regards him coolly, finding his panicked, over-accommodating stare almost difficult to believe. Her students are likewise eager to please, and willing to learn, but what Claud needs by the end of all this is a goddamned backbone. That, Ardette will consider a success alone. "Good," she says simply, then jerks her head back in the direction of her office. "Let's schedule your first class and send you home, then."


Claud is worried that she doesn't believe him, or has changed her mind—he was too much of a challenge after all. But when she agrees to take him on as a student his face breaks into a grin although he's not entirely sure why. "Alright," he agrees, and follows her back into her office. 


Ardette walks around her desk and flips her planner open. "Evenings," she says; it isn't a question. "You don't have a job right now, but you will soon."


Claud nods, "I'm hopeful. I'm getting better with my vibe but it still keeps me from a lot of jobs. Usually the ones involving people." he tries to joke, but it's a little mirthless. "Would re-scheduling classes be a problem if I did get a job that cut into class time?" He slips his shoes back on.


Ardette flits her eyes up from her planner and looks at Claud from under her brows. "When you get a job," she says. Even if Claud bought her her best client, Ardette will not have Claud freeloading on her best client. "We can negotiate a new schedule when that happens. As long as you understand that you're not my only client, and that if you miss a class, Valentine is paying for it anyways." 


Claud drops all attempts at lightening the mood and nods, "Yes'm." 


"How about... this time, next Tuesday," she says, uncapping her pen.


"Sounds great." he pulls out his cell and types it into his planner. He will be setting all the alarms and notifications. Once a week would probably be more than enough if she was as consistently intense as he'd seen so far. 


A preliminary class will tell her if Claud needs more than one session a week, but for right now, she'll be content if he simply shows up. She pencils him in; it's a bit of a mercy she's doing him. Tuesday is a studio rental day, and all of her renters will be out of the building by the time he shows up. No need to overwhelm him before she even gets her hands on him. "I'll be in touch with Valentine about your payments, so for now, don't worry about that. I expect appropriate dancewear - black, preferably - and I expect you to be warmed up before we take the barre." She flips her planner closed and straightens up. "And I suggest you take the next few days to study. We both need to be speaking the same language, d'accord?"


Be dressed and ready and on time, got it. "Yes."


"Well!" Ardette sighs graciously and claps her hands together. "I suppose that's it until next week, then. Do you have any further questions, Claud?"


He'd probably think of a million questions once he was out of the building, a sort of l'esprit de l'escalier, but for now his mind was drawing a blank. "No ma'am." he smiles. Then, "Thank you, again."


Ardette just hums, and looks him up and down. She doesn't smile, but her expression is peaceful. "Thank Valentine," she says, walking to her office door and holding it open for him. "You can thank me after we start seeing some measurable improvements."


"Right." Well, not scowling must be a good sign, so he doesn't worry. He moves towards the door, "See you next week then." 


Ardette walks him through the lobby, past her bulletin board and framed photos of old students, and holds open the front door for him. "Indeed," she says, ushering him out. "Oh, and-- Claud?"


"Yes?" he turns, smiling faintly, but wary of at-the-door comments. He shifts his hand nervously on his duffle bag strap. 


Ardette tilts her head and peers at him. "I don't suppose you have a last name I could use." 


"I, um," he stammers, then swallows. He knew what an annoyance he could be with his insistence of no last name, and didn't want to inconvenience her any more than he already was. "I, I have one," he admits, "I just don't like to use it. My sister was... infamous. I don't want people making the association." Or projecting Claud's personal incompetence onto his late family. 


Ardette just watches him, her expression unreadable. "Alright. Fair enough." And it is; enough of her UG students go by their street monikers, and enough of her Mafia clients are 'self-made' men and women with names of their choosing. And with Claud, she's going to have to pick and choose where the outside corners of his comfort zone lie. "Get home safely, Claud." And maybe he feels it, and maybe he doesn't, but a shadow passes over her thoughts, brief and gentle - like swimming over a sudden drop in the ocean floor; you can't see a difference from above, but the water is briefly cooler, there, and darker, too. "Good night."


"Thanks," he smiles, grateful, "You too." He shivers a little as he leaves, not sure why, not from the cold, but from a deeper feeling brushing up against his mind. "Good night."

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