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Reginald wakes up.

Initial Setting:

Ardette's apartment

Timeline:

This takes place three days after The Sensible Thing To Do.


Edit

Reginald lets out a drawn out sigh, taking a moment to realize that the horrid throbbing in his skull that has persisted for so long is finally gone. Wait, maybe he was just getting too excited, too soon. It's easy to assume it's gone when you are laying perfectly still with a pillow on your face, as he is right now. Maybe a moment longer. Everything from the last few days is such a haze that he's going to need a minute or two to let everything catch up. Starting with, where he is right now. This isn't his room. He can sense the light, even with his face obscured, and this certainly isn't his couch. That scent is familiar though. Then it hits him. He remembers exactly where he is, but not how he got here. Slowly he sits up, trying to figure out where his glasses were.



Meanwhile, on the other side of the curtain, Ardette is sitting in her living room, or at least the casual configuration of furniture in the open space that acts as her living room. Sitting on her couch with her legs neatly folded underneath her, Ardette works her needle through the fabric of Reginald's shirt, following the original stitching with precision. This is the first time she's dared to have all of her lights on; Reginald's sleep projections became less violent as time passed, and she somehow knew it was a visual representation of his migraine. She sighs as she works, still thinking about the projections. They were as beautiful as they were terrible to behold. It's a shame they won't get to have friendly conversation about them when Reginald wakes up...



Reginald feels the leg of something, and remembers that at some point there had been pills up there at some point. Sure enough, he finds the pill bottle, as well as his glasses. He knocks the water bottle off the stool from all of his feeling around, however, muttering a soft curse under his breath. He'll find it in a second. For the first time in what felt like ages, he can finally see his surroundings. Well, what's there to see anyways. This area seemed to be sectioned off with a curtain, though whether that was there for her benefit or for his privacy was up in the air. To him, anyways. Still, he stays sitting for a moment longer, still lethargic from laying there for so long.



Ardette looks up when she hears the thud-gurgle of a water bottle hitting the floor and rolling away, and she freezes. "Hello?" She puts down the shirt, spearing it with her needle once to keep her place, and stands up. She tiptoes over to her bed area with bare feet, carefully stepping over the towel on the floor, where she has all of his knives laid out in neat rows. She approaches the curtain, and knocks on the wall next to it in lieu of having a door to knock on. "Santiago?"



Reginald is now certain his migraine is gone for now. It's like someone had turned the volume back to normal after blasting it next to your ears with none of the annoying ear ringing afterwards. However, he was more aware that his pants were sitting at the foot of the bed and should probably put them back on before he faces Ardette again. "Give me a minute." he calls back, trying to get partially dressed. Where did his shirt get off to now? Well, he'll be decent enough.



Well! Reginald sounds casual and alert when he speaks, almost as though Ardette's knocking on the door to his room, not knocking on a wall in her own bloody apartment. Looks like the migraine's gone. She sighs and rolls her neck, cracking it. Oh, wouldn't life be grand if she could just... snap her fingers and have him dressed and back on the street so they can return to life-as-normal without the conversation that will inevitably happen. But, she thinks ruefully as she sits back down again and keeps working on his shirt, life isn't grand. Certainly not in the Grey District, it isn't.



Reginald manages to get dressed in record time, even putting his socks and shoes back on, even if there might not be a point. His heart was pounding, half from just feeling so damned elated that the migraine finally passed, and half because he was dreading this point. It isn't as though he had dwelled on it, after all he had other things on his mind, but the thought nagged at him during those brief moments of consciousness. Well, might as well get it over with. Slowly, he stands up pulling the curtain aside, ready to face whatever it is he needs to.



Ardette tries to look unconcerned, nonchalant, and she focuses on her sewing for as long as she can, rehearsing in her head every scathing thing she wants to say to him... But she sees his tall figure in her peripheral and she picks her head up. For a moment she's speechless - actually seeing him, clothed and conscious and standing in her apartment, seems to reaffirm his presence here in a way the last three days somehow couldn't - and they just stare at each other. She's the one to break the silence, looking back down at her sewing with a scoff. "He lives."



Reginald clears his throat, "Er... yes..." That explains what happened to his shirt. He's surprised that she would bother with the effort, though glancing across the rest of the floor, seeing nearly every one of his knives so neatly laid out was even more of a surprise. "You've been busy." he remarks, "How long was I out?" For a moment, self-consciousness nipped at the back of his mind realizing that he probably looks like hell right now, between the fight and sleeping on and off for... however long it was. Seems trivial compared to the fact that Ardette was very willingly rooting through his jacket, but it's a lot of information to take in at once.



Ardette glances up at him and grunts. He does look like hell, but the cut on his brow looks to be healing nicely and his glasses cover up enough of his nose. His jaw is swollen, though, and it'll be a pricey trip to the Vendy for an injury as trivial as that. She loops the thread and completes another neat stitch, pulling the thread taut. "Three days." 



Reginald didn't realize it had been that long. It's been a while since one had lasted for longer than a day, but then again, Frankie. Not much else needed to be said. "Any reason in particular why you decided to go through my coat?" he asks, his voice a low rumble in the sparseness of the room. He's not impressed with her doing that, but it's hard to be too upset, considering everything else she's done for him.



Ardette was expecting a 'thank you,' or 'I'm sorry,' or at the very least an 'oh.' But she's grateful that Reginald didn't go with any of the tired, expected phrases. It means she doesn't have to respond to them. She doesn't want to deal with gratitude or apology from him right now. "I had a stranger with violent tendencies in my bed for the weekend," she says, deadpan, not looking up from her sewing. Calling him a 'stranger' is no mistake. The placement of his knives next to the couch, where she'd been sleeping, is no mistake either. "What would you have done?"



Reginald can't blame her for that, and feels guilty for asking in the first place. Of course she was wary of him. "I'm not..." he starts, but he interrupts himself with a frustrated sigh. Everything he thinks of is just going to sound like a sorry excuse. He's at a loss of what to say. He wants to smooth this over, and to try and convince her that he's not just some thug like he was in the Mafia, but she isn't blind. She saw what she saw, and really, he'd started it. "I would have done the same thing..." he mutters, shamefully.



Ardette looks up at Reginald from under her brows. He looks vulnerable, bleary-eyed and watered down, with his casually bare arms and rumpled undershirt. And she knows for a fact he's completely unarmed right now. She nods, glad that he agrees with her, and finishes the last inch of stitches, reattaching his sleeve. "The knuckle-duster is a nice little number," she says lightly. "You must be proud."



Reginald raises his eyebrows at the statement, the motion reminding him that, yes, you did get punched repeatedly in the face a few days ago. "Oh... uh... that one. Cost a lot of cred, but I've only ever had to use it a few times." That's not reassuring, perhaps, but at least they're not talking about the fight with Valentine. "Did you find it heavy?"



"What makes you think I tried it?" Ardette says, glaring at him... But that's a stupid question, and for a 'stranger,' Reginald knows her well enough. After a tense moment, she admits, "Yes. It's cumbersome." She knots the end of her thread a few times and snips the excess away. "And too big for my hands."



"Mn, I can imagine, it is more weighty than the other ones, plus it's custom, so I'm not surprised it was too big." Ugh, this conversation. It just felt like they were both putting it off, whatever 'it' might be for the both of them. It felt forced, even if their tone didn't suggest it. Reginald sighs, "Listen... I know a lot happened... and it got out of hand..."



Ardette winces with impatience almost immediately and slaps her hands down on the cushion, pushing herself to standing. "No, you know what would have been out of hand?" She gestures to him violently with his shirt. "If you would have pulled the knuckle-duster on Valentine, and then he would have fried you, me, every bystander on the block, and blew out the power grid-- that would 'ave been 'out of 'and,'" she snaps, and only stops to catch her breath. "You are a lucky bloody bastard that it didn't get 'out of 'and.'"



"You think I don't know that?" Reginald snaps back, defensively, "Just every time I see that smug, backstabbing..." he cuts himself off again, clenching his jaw to force himself into silence. Even just mentioning him, or thinking of him was getting him angry again. This was so ridiculous, it was years ago, and it was just 'business'. Deep down he knows damn well why Frankie's presense had made him so angry, but it felt so childish to even admit it. He wants to say sorry, but that's not what she wants to hear. Sorry is too easy to say with no conviction behind it.



Ardette crosses her arms tight around her middle and looks away. So, it was exactly what she thought it was: two men - hell, two of her own bloody friends - with inflated egos, needing to roar the loudest. "That's twice now, Santiago," she says, tilting her head. "Or is that what would have happened had I not intervened the first time?"



"You and I both know the answer to that question." Reginald replies through gritted teeth. Again, he's torn between trying to explain himself, and accepting how futile it would be to do so, knowing she has no reason to believe him. Bandito. Liar. Cheat. He'd be practically forcing her into Frankie's arms for all he knows. The idea of the two of them dancing brings another shameful swell of jealousy, but he does his best to swallow it down.



Ardette flings his shirt at him, and it sloppily hits his chest. "Well, I'm not saving your sorry arse a third time. You want to throw down with Valentine? You do it somewhere else." She slashes a hand through the air. "Not on my turf. Not again."



Reginald can feel a lump in his throat, feeling as though all the trust he'd worked for this last while was simply falling apart around him, but he had no one to blame but himself for it. He knew that. "Yes, Miss..." he replies, thankfully keeping his voice steady, if a little quiet.



Ardette has so many questions. What's Reginald's beef with Valentine? Why did they find her studio an appropriate battleground for the second goddamned time? What would have happened if she hadn't intervened the first time? She's mostly still wondering why the hell she let Santiago recover in her home for three days, and why the tone in his voice right now causes a peculiar pang in her conscience. She looks away with disgust. "There's a Vendybar next to the bed. Eat it," she sighs, backhanding the air. "I know you've had an empty stomach for three days."



Reginald probably should try to eat something, even though he has no appetite right now. The least he can do right now is be polite, even if she seems incredibly anxious to be rid of him. "Yes, Miss," he repeats, pausing a moment to pick up his freshly mended shirt before retreating back behind the curtain separating her bedroom to find that Vendy bar. Why did she even bother bringing him here? It didn't make sense. Perhaps she just felt sorry for him, and is simply reaping the consequences of her actions now? He didn't know, but he was afraid to speak of it. He'll just make things worse.



Ardette rakes a hand through her hair and brings it to rest against the back of her neck. She's tense and sore, from sleeping on the couch, but mostly from the stress of the last three days, having to make frequent run-ups to her apartment, unseen by her army of students, to check on Santiago and his knives. She stands over his knife collection, dragging her gaze over rows and rows of blades, remembering where in his coat she found each one, and how she held every single one of them in her hands, marveling at them. Ardette is no stranger to traditional weaponry, but there's a difference between seeing one, and seeing thirty, and seeing thirty all together in one place. The room buzzes with silence.



Reginald takes a moment to slip his shirt back on, though he doesn't bother buttoning it. He didn't know how bad it looked before Ardette had mended it, but he didn't notice the fit of it being any different after he put it back on again. She really is something else, that woman. Looking at the lonely-looking bar of... who knows what, really... and thinking of eating is still not finding itself appealing, even though the tremor in his limbs and the growl from his stomach is making it clear that it's not a question of wanting to, but needing to eat. As long as he has so much on his mind, he doesn't see his situation changing. "I'm sorry, Ardette."



Ardette stares down at his knives, unseeing, and sighs. Her anger is gone, now - at least the hot, volatile kind of anger that makes her swear and throw things - and is replaced with a wholesale exhaustion. She's just so... tired of the state of things right now. Ardette turns at the waist to look at Reginald; it still feels strange, seeing him standing there, at the threshold of her bedroom. "You have thirty seconds to defend yourself," she says. "Go."



Reginald scoffs, thirty seconds to drudge through the history that he and Frankie had? Years and years worth of friendship that just ended up in shambles for politics. There was no way to just explain all of that in a way that could justify putting her in harm's way not once, but twice now, unless... he turns to face her again, untucking his undershirt and pulling the hem of it up, just enough to see the wicked, lightning shaped burn that started just under his ribcage and arched down his right hip. It was old, certainly, the skin was distorted and long turned a deep pinkish brown, looking like a wound that was never able to see a Vendy while it was still fresh. "It wasn't the Don, herself, that expelled me from the Mafia..."



The image of Reginald's scar is burnt into the back of her mind, and Ardette stares, blatantly. She's no stranger to scars, but it's a very human reflex, to be repulsed by such an injury, the way the skin is shiny and thick, and your own skin tingles with sympathy. But there's a grotesque elegance to his scar all the same; only one stepper could inflict an injury like that. She sneers in confusion. "But Valentine was only a grunt when you were..." She trails off, when those thoughts coalesce and it hits her. "Ah." She swears under her breath and looks down, covering her mouth. "Merde alors..."



“Precisely...” Reginald mutters, quick to tuck his undershirt back in again, feeling terribly embarrassed to be under such scrutiny, even if he did invite it. “Not that it excuses anything. I just didn’t think I would react so strongly to him.” And having Frankie act like he wasn’t there, to hear him practically begging Ardette for a dance, but he doesn’t say anything about that. 



Ardette puts her hands on her hips and looks down out of respect for his privacy. She's silent, trying to work out this new development. This more than explains Reginald's hatred of Frankie, but there's something he's not saying. Valentine should treat Reginald like he's invisible (Valentine's always been good at that). But crackling like a party sparkler when drunk, and throwing punches when sober, is more than just a matter of principle for a man like Valentine; that's personal. "Well," she exhales gustily, nodding to herself. "This just got complicated." 



"Complicated..." Reginald grumbles, buttoning up his shirt, "It's not complicated, it's just bad blood." Unless she was implying something else. "The first time Frankie was practically eating out of your hand... is there something I should know about?" Not that it's any of his business. He assumes they've just been professional, but Frankie... 



Ardette flits her eyes up to Reginald and stares at him hard. And there goes any sympathy she might have had for him. She takes a deep breath and rolls her shoulders back, straightening her posture; she seems to unfold dangerously and she jerks her chin up at him. "'Should' know about? I'm sorry; since when are you entitled to know anything?" Go on, Santiago, say it. Say what I know you're thinking.



Reginald stiffens slightly. "You said this complicates things... I suppose I wanted to be sure we were referring to the same 'this'. Since... Frankie was so insistent on dancing with you that night, I..." It's hard to continue when Ardette is staring him at that. She has a way of making everything that he says come out sounding stupid. Not to say this isn't stupid. It's petty jealousy at its worst, and it's just to selfishly suit his own peace of mind, but he can't help his own curiousity.



Ardette gapes at him for a second, and then cracks a mean grin. She can't believe she's hearing this. Hell, she can't believe she's defending herself! "Bratva has a real racket going, then, if dancing with somebody means you're sleeping with them," she snarls. She tosses her head, flicking her hair out of her face with a huff. "Quoi, you want me to tell you that Valentine is my lover?" She chuckles and shakes her head. "He's worse than that. He's my benefactor."



Reginald frowns slightly. He isn't so bold as to suggest something like that, but hell, it's Step City. Dancing isn't a simple act of dancing here, and he was more hurt that she could have agreed to dance with Valentine, after refusing to even teach him paid lessons, let alone dance for fun with him but that was even more stupid. "That's not what I meant... but... benefactor? Valentine?" No wonder he was hanging around the studio so often.



"Yes," Ardette says, cocking her head. "Benefactor. Valentine." Reginald doesn't need to know the details, that Frankie's sponsoring a poor mixed-up boy named Claud, or that he enjoys frequent visits to check in on his 'investment' (oh, suddenly she hates the term), but matters of cred need no translating on this island. "My newest client. Now..." She crosses her arms and narrows her eyes at him. "Why don't you tell me what you actually meant by that."



Reginald sighs. He had known that this would be an awkward conversation, but he didn't think that he's expected to just lay everything out right in front of her. She's seen all of his ugliest parts both figuratively and very literally, it wasn't as though he has anything left to lose. "What do you want me to say? I offered to pay for lessons and you refused, since I'm too high risk, but... after seeing you with Valentine, I didn't know what to think..." After all, Valentine was a boss. He has so much more he could offer her. Better looking, better off, better security, higher title, even as a drunk he has a better reputation. How could he not be intimidated by someone like that?



Ardette clenches her hands and shakes them in front of her, looking like she wants to just bloody strangle him right now. "He's a boss, Santiago!" How could she make that any more clear? Maybe all Reginald sees when he sees Frankie is the low-ranking thug who bid him his Big Goodbye, but Ardette sees her studio's saving grace, the one good word that could fling her reputation from Respected to Un-bloody-contested. "If I lose Valentine, I lose the Mafia, I lose everything." She exhales gustily and flings a hand at him. "And you lose your favorite safe haven."



"I know. I know..." Reginald growls, letting himself take a moment to calm down before he continues, "So why did you bring me here, then?" The last time he asked, she threatened to take him outside again, but none of this made any sense. Her reputation was everything at this point, so why risk smuggling a Bandito into her apartment?



Ardette has had time to sift through her reasons, to disentangle the threads that made up that staticky, jumbled up ball of sheer necessity to get Reginald off that rainy sidewalk, and she's had time to pick the one thread she's willing to present to him. She crosses her arms and bristles a little. "Because Valentine seems to have forgotten that I'm neutral." Ardette turns her cheek and looks away. "And for a second, there, so did I," she grumbles. She loathes to admit to the desperation she felt when Valentine turned on her like that. But at least now she can send Reginald on his way with a clear conscience. Always a silver lining. Hah.



Reginald would be more willing to accept that as an answer if she'd merely left him someplace dry, or dumped him off at a Vendy, but she brought him to her home. Of course, she went through his coat, picking out every knife she could find in his coat, a fact he still didn't blame her for, but still. "It was a huge risk for you to take, Ardette." he replies, still brave enough to still use her first name. "I wouldn't have blamed you for leaving me out there, it's not like it would have been the first time it's happened since... I left the Mafia."



Ardette glares at him, resenting his refusal to give her another quiet 'Yes, Miss' and simply drop the subject. And damn it all, she doesn't need reminding that it was risky. "Well, it's done," she snaps, and she hugs her arms tighter around herself. Reginald's backing her into a corner with his curiosity and she wants out. Ardette's reputation is in jeapordy with him, too, now that she's given him this, now that he's seen this of her. "Are you complaining?"



"I'm not." Reginald's been around enough people to know body language very well, and Ardette's is sending him a very clear message, even without the glare. He's done asking why, for her sake, even if he feels as though she's not telling him everything, but he's not as willing to push for answers. One question still remains for him, and he dreads hearing the answer. "So, what now?"



Finally, a question Ardette can give a concrete answer to. "Now, you reload your coat," she says, motioning with her chin towards his knives on the floor. "And you leave."



Reginald has to try his best to mask the disappointment in his tone, but he's only fooling himself. "Ah... well... Yes. Whatever you'd like." He goes to retrieve his coat, and goes to the monotonous task of putting each one back in its place. He wishes he has the leisure to do so without her there, feeling humilated, and regretting everything he's said, but it was what it was, and he would do as she asks.



Ardette watches Reginald for a few moments, studying - without meaning to - how he handles each knife, how they look in his hands, what they must look like while slicing through some poor soul's skin-- She turns and walks away from him, disappearing behind the curtain of her bedroom to collect her bedsheets to wash, and look for blood, or anything else he may have left behind for her. Everything smells like him. Great.



Reginald was hoping that this whole incident wouldn't have to end this way. He replays all of his questions and responses in his mind, wishing he'd said things differently, or not said anything at all. Ardette knew more about him than anyone in this whole city now, things that he hadn't intended to share. He takes a moment to toy with one of the combat knives, the one she had seemed so 'fond' of, before sheathing it as well. "I know anything I say probably counts for little right now..." Being a 'stranger' now. "...but I still do appreciate everything you've done for me."



Unseen in the privacy of her bedroom, Ardette closes her eyes and lets out a tight sigh, as though Reginald's words have actual weight, like they add to the bunched-up knot of sheets in her arms. Damn it, Santiago, don't do this. Stay a stranger for just a little while longer. She emerges from behind the curtain and barely glances at him as she walks across the space to her hamper and shoves the sheets in. "Well, we're 'friends,' now, aren't we?" she says, her tone unreadable. 



Reginald gives her a look of disbelief, surprised she would still say that they were friends, even if he can't tell what, exactly, she's thinking. "We are..." he replies, his disbelief reflecting in his own tone. "I just... feel as though I've been taking so much from you. I owe you." No sooner do those last three words leave his mouth, he regrets saying them. That was probably the one position Ardette never wanted to be in, and certainly not with him.



Ardette grins ruefully and paces back and forth, discarding empty water bottles and Vendy wrappers and needlessly decluttering her space, just needing to look busy, to use that agitated energy for something. "Oh," she laughs graciously. "Thank you for stripping me of any agency I might have had in making that stupid decision." Yes, Reginald does owe her. She didn't even consider that he might, when she helped him before, but she's considering it now, and she decides that the last thing she wants is to be in a situation where Reginald can pay her back for something like this. "You know, you didn't take anything that I didn't freely give you. Don't talk about owing me anything. I don't want to hear it."



Reginald grows more and more fidgety and restless himself, though most of his anxiousness is expressed through his hands. "I wish you wouldn't phrase it in that way," he says, with a lot more assertiveness than he usually does under such pressure. "About it being a stupid decision, I mean. I don't mind if you wish that I just dropped the issue of owing you anything, I will, but... must you act as though my well-being means nothing?" Being a Bandito he hears it all too much without hearing it from a 'friend'. Perhaps she's humouring him.



Yes, it was a stupid decision, but it was her decision, and even if she can't put it into words, she needs to preserve the sanctity of that, that even though Valentine could cast her studio into oblivion with a single bad review, Ardette Bombaerts could still make her own bloody decisions. And her decision was to help Santiago. Ardette stops in her tracks and stares at him incredulously. "Would you be here right now if your well-being didn't mean anything?" she says lowly. 



Reginald stands a little taller, as though not to be intimidated this time around. "I wouldn't, and I understand that, which is why I'm willing to drop the idea of owing you, but you say we're 'friends' in one sentence, then lament what a stupid decision it was to help me in the next." She's always shown him more humanity than so many others have, and perhaps that's why it was so easy for him to open up to her. "I know I've... complicated things, and I regret making it that way."



What is he trying to get her to say? Could she be any more clear? Could his being there in her apartment, wearing a shirt she sewed back together for him, be any more goddamned clear? Damn it, Santiago, just like you dig for compliments, you're digging for something right now and you're not going to find it here, not tonight. Ardette ticks a finger at him. "If that's your apology, that's all you owe me, and now you can leave," she says briskly, striding towards the door.



"Am I allowed to come back?" Reginald asks. It was a pretty black and white question. He hates these sorts of questions and usually makes a point to not ask them, but he needs to know. This would help either fuel or kill any doubts he has about whether or not they really were 'friends' or if they are to remain 'strangers'.



"Let's just say... If you're thinking of coming by to visit in the next week or so..." Ardette sighs, holding her apartment door open for him. "Reconsider." Because she hasn't even shown him what's downstairs, yet.



Well. It's wasn't a 'no'. Reginald still has a chance to try and make things up to her, even if that's probably not what she has in mind. He starts to make his way down the stairs, which he finds odd, he didn't remember stairs, but there's a lot he didn't remember from the last few days. Just as he starts to think to himself of how he's going to have to start from the ground up from his gross breach of trust, that he realizes this hall looks a little familiar. Too familiar.



Ardette leads him down a badly-lit stairway, to a landing of concrete that's stained and weathered, but swept clean. Straight ahead of them is a heavy industrial door leading to her back alley. Under the stairs are cleaning supplies, tools, spare rolls of marley, and behind them, another door, unassuming but clearly locked. "How are your vibe levels right now?" she asks him, seemingly out of the blue.



Reginald gives his head a shake, trying to make sense of all the disjointed memories of the last few days, though it doesn't help. "Mn, after three days of sleeping on and off, it's probably not the best." He'll be surprised if there's anything left at all, but of course, he hasn't tried either.



Ardette hums flatly. Yes, she could have predicted that. She waits for him at the door, one hand on the doorknob, and looks up at him in the dim. "Well, I need you to have enough vibe to make it look like I didn't even open the bloody door to let you out, d'accord?" With that, she opens the door, revealing her studio's back hallway, where Reginald ran into the wall one happier time. "So, pick a studio, and make it quick."



Reginald looks completely stunned. This is Ardette's school. This whole time she's had him right there in her studio. He remembers seeing the door leading up before, but he never would have thought that she lives here too. Now he felt a little ill again, though he knows it's just that overwhelming feeling of guilt all over again. "Ardette..." He's at the point where he wants to just grab her by the shoulders and just demand why, but that wouldn't help matters.



Ardette looks down, staring at the threshold where concrete meets carpet. She doesn't even have to look at Reginald; his stunned silence just tells her that keeping this a secret had been a sparkling success. "Before I change my mind, preferably," she says, ushering him inside with a sardonic sweep of her arm.



Reginald doesn't even know if he has the energy to dance. He did eat the Vendy bar, yes, but expecting him to dance while all of this is still sinking in seems daunting, even for someone of his skill level. Not to mention the ever compounding feeling of guilt. "I guess I'll have to try..." he mutters, more to himself. If he's to prove himself to her all over again, this is a good place to start.



Ardette follows him, all but frogmarching him down the hall. She doesn't slow her pace because she has a feeling which studio he'll pick... "Will you require music?" She says it so diplomatically, she sounds so accommodating, that it's almost mocking. 



"If it's not too much trouble," Reginald responds, seeming to debate which direction he wants to go. "No street shoes in A and B, am I remembering correctly?" This all too formal tone of politeness would almost be welcome if it didn't seem so phoney given the circumstances they were in.



Ardette looks up at him brightly and her lips twitch in a smile that's forced and brief. "No street shoes in any of them." She cocks her head to the side. "I hope that isn't a problem."



"It... might be." Reginald's dance style seems to enjoy being finicky about traction. Too much and he can't slide or string his moves together as well, too little and he's going to end up losing his balance. "I'll dance in these halls if it's what it takes."



"Then do that," Ardette says shortly. But he's overstayed his welcome and Ardette ran out of hospitality a day ago. "Use the sound system in Studio C, it's closest to the door." She turns to hide in her office until he's done. "I'll leave you to it, then." 



"It'll do better with a partner." Now Reginald's really pushing his luck. After all she's done for him, all she's risked for him, this seems so utterly selfish. He isn't lying, however, his vibe does seem to flourish when he dances with someone else, as opposed to dancing on his own, but if she ends up not wanting to see him again, he'd like to have at least one dance. "It'll get me out of your hair faster."



Ardette slows her walk to an offended swagger and does an about-face to glare at him. Well, isn't that convenient. So this is how her uncharacteristic bout of generosity ends: a dance with the knife-thrower. She flicks a hair from her eyes and jerks her chin towards Studio C's door. "Pick your song, then." It sounds like a dare.



Reginald can't believe she actually agreed to it. "Ah... well... alright." This requires clearing his head enough to remember names of songs, but eventually does settle on one. "Fleur De Lille." he replies, taking his jacket off, knowing it'll only get in their way and add too much added weight. "It should be enough to get the vibe needed for the task at hand."



Ardette nods once and brushes past him (not gently) to enter Studio C to cue up the song. She taps her toes and turns up the music to spill into the hallway, familiarizing herself with its tempo and accents, and to start riding the downbeats. She joins Reginald in the hallway again and nudges off her shoes; they won't stay on, so why wear them at all? "You had better not step on my feet," she says, stretching her arms above her head, and rolling her neck, like she's about to enter a boxing ring instead of a dance. 



"If I do, you have permission to stop the dance, but I assure you, I won't." Reginald's hoping she won't notice the tremor in his arms as he gets her into the proper position. It's intimidating to think of dancing when you'd barely moved for days, but he intentionally had picked a song that he wouldn't be tempted to get too showy. This is to build vibe, not to compete with.



Ardette takes his hands in a firm grip, showing no hesitation. This is a dance, simple as that, and she refuses to give him anything to read into. "Good," she says simply, as bars of music scroll past them in their stillness; music never bothers to wait up, does it. She leans forward a bit. "And for the record, I don't swing, and I don't like to follow." And with the drop of a new measure, Ardette all but shoves him into leading. 



Reginald frowns slightly, though he looks more determined than anything else. Ignoring the weakness in his limbs and the persistent ache in his body, he gladly takes the lead, keeping his grip just as firm as hers as if to let her know that, despite everything, he won't back down easily. "We'll see about that, won't we?"



Ardette gives him a fierce look but says nothing in response. Her movements are sharp and aggressive in her precision - it's obvious this is a language not native to her, but learned - but not a single move is incorrect or out of place. And she follows him, because it's correct, but she's definitely not making it easy for him. A turn, a kick-ball-change, and Ardette uses the momentum to yank him out of the hallway and into her front lobby where there's more room.



Reginald doesn't want to admit to her that he's more than used to this sort of treatment, but that would just lead him to thinking of Frankie more. No, thank you. For every pull and push she tries, he does his best to keep his position as the lead, his movements in turn becoming more aggressive. A lot more aggressive than he intends to, so his vibe decides to make itself known in the form of red fire following their footsteps, but he seems to not be conscious of what he's doing.



Ardette is so focused on the dance, and she locks her eyes on Reginald's to read his cues, a shared look between dancers not of, 'okay, what's next?' but of, 'okay, and now, we're doing this.' The fire at their feet comes to her like a muffled sound in the distance; all she registers is a warm glow cast around them, and their shadows flickering on the walls. Reginald's grip is strong and gratifying; ah, there he is, there's a force she can really resist against, good man. 



Reginald is just as focused, for the moment he wasn't merely trying to replenish his vibe, this is practically a throwdown, and despite better judgement, perhaps, he's treating it like one. The longer they dance, the more flambouyant moves start to make their way into the dance, and the more he tries to push Ardette into some more complicated combinations as well. The bright red flames seem to spread across the floor, their surroundings seeming to become darker, making the vibrant colour of the illusion stand out that much more. Reginald, however, still seems oblivious to his vibe and what its doing.



Ardette is very much aware of what Reginald's vibe is doing, now, and her eyes widen. The dance is getting more intense, and she's reached the outside borders of her limited swing abilities; it's getting harder to keep up with him, or at least to actively resist his lead. Alright, Santiago, you want to lead? She narrows her eyes at him. Let's see you lead this. After another pass around each other, Ardette pushes off from one of his hands and throws herself into a series of rapid chaînés turns around him. Her hair whips against her cheek with every snap of her head, and her vibe flings outwards in a spiral, seeking disorder, seeking fundamental wrongs to right in her environment. Naturally, the nearest thing is Reginald's casually unbuttoned shirt.



Reginald is startled when he finds his shirt buttoning itself, all the way up to the top button. This isn't the first time it's happened in Ardette's presense, but in this context he takes it as a personal jab, even if she did look so effortlessly graceful in her movements. Timing himself in between her spins, he snakes his arm around her waist again, trying to catch a free hand of hers to guide her into a spin that's a little more friendly to his own style of dance.



Ardette jerks her hand away from his in a gesture of defiance that was purely reflex, but his hand finds purchase at her elbow and he whips her into an elbow turn. She hates to admit it but following his momentum, falling to the natural gravity of the next step feels good. Which of course means its time to change the subject. She lets herself be led and twirled around, flung away from him and then tugged back in. The next time they meet in the middle, Ardette slaps a hand to his chest and forces him backwards two steps, but still not pausing the dance. "Done yet?" she says, somewhat breathlessly.



Reginald still looks fiercly determined to finish this dance at all costs, though there's a look of recognition in his eyes. Of what, he doesn't say. "Song's not over yet," he mutters, his voice a low growl, and sounding just as breathless as Ardette did. Again, he leads her through another series of steps, though these are not nearly as complicated as the previous ones were. It's as if he's testing Ardette and whether or not she will accept his leads this time around, or if he still needs to 'fight her' for it.



Reginald's tone makes Ardette flush, and she looks offended by his gall. Her stubborn refusal to dance with him means she's never seen this side of him before, and if there are any of her scattered eggshells beneath his dancing feet right now, he doesn't give a single damn about them. Ardette matches his pace - these quieter steps are a welcome reprieve - and as they pass each other, faces close, she snarls at him, "Remember 'oo's doing 'oo a favor right now."



Reginald smirks slightly to himself. The fiery look to his vibe appears to have calmed, in its place is a starry landscape peppered with brilliantly lit stars. He guides her into another controlled spin, though this time when he pulls her back, Ardette ends up her back his pressed against his chest. "I didn't forget," he replies, his voice practically rumbling next to her ear. Despite all of his aches and pains, and how damned tired he is, this dance gives him a second wind he didn't know he had... though if he wasn't dancing with Ardette, he doubts he would feel so energetic.



Ardette is struck dumb for a second. With her back to him, they're still enough for her to see her lobby, this amazingly improbable collection of stars around them. The collision of this sudden splendor and his voice so close to her ear sends chills down her spine and she frowns deeply. God damn it, Santiago. And damn this song; it seems to just keep going on and on, doesn't it? She holds his hand tight and unravels their arms, twisting away from him. The bottoms of her bare feet are starting to burn with friction against the rough carpeting, but she doesn't seem to notice it when there's the blur of stars in her peripheral. 



Reginald knows this song is a little long, hence why he picked it, but Ardette didn't need to know that. Even then, he knows it's just starting to wind down, and after that fight to get her to just accept his leading, he's more than willing to take it easy for these last few moments. He's half aware of the fact that his hands do linger at her waist a little longer, and he does hold her a little closer than before. She's done so much for him, more than anyone would have in her position. Though he will not tell her outright, and he will give her space when this is said and done, he will be paying her back, one way or another. Somehow.



Ardette doesn't know if it's because of the burn of her feet, or if she's tired of fighting him, or simply just tired, but she finally calms herself into the role of a good partner and allows Reginald to lead for the last minute of the song. Hidden somewhere under the music, behind the colors of his vibe, is the breathy shuffling and shifting of books and papers around them, her vibe seeking out familiar patterns in the face of an unfamiliar dance. Having that to anchor her, Ardette stops thinking so damn hard, and when she does, she registers three things; the song is winding down, her feet hurt, and Reginald is good.



Reginald isn't quite willing to let her go just yet, even though the last few beats have long since stopped, and the effects of his vibe were starting to fade as well. Just a moment longer. Hesitently, he finally takes a step back. "I think... I think that I should have enough vibe now... I'll be out of your way now." he mutters, reminding himself that she didn't say that he isn't allowed to come back. This won't be the last time they could dance. Right? He smiles warmly at her, "I told you I wouldn't step on your feet."



Ardette takes a few hasty steps back as soon as he releases her, letting go of his hands. She pushes her hair out of her flushed face with a forceful exhale; they've both worked up a sweat. At his last statement, Ardette looks up at him and stares. And then she decides Reginald looks ridiculous with his green shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat; he looks just wrong without that V of skin showing, that particular silhouette. She drops her head and chuckles breathlessly, and when she relaxes into that laugh, the first three buttons of his shirt relax, too. "Go to hell."



Reginald was expecting a lot of different reactions from Ardette after that dance. Laughing, however, wasn't one of them. He can breathe a little easier too, since, whatever it is that her vibe seems to do has decided to ease up on him as well, but for now he will not comment. "I'll bring you back a souvenir from the devil himself, when I do," he replies with a flourish. It does feel as though a weight has been lifted, it's a much needed relief.



Ardette just shakes her head, studying her bookcase. She runs her hand along the shelf, her lips quirking when she reads the titles. Organized in alphabetical order by title this evening - interesting. She's silent for a few moments, trying to catch her breath. "No time soon, please."



"I will give you a couple weeks?" Reginald asks, though it's not really a question, so much as just seeing whether or not this particular timeframe would be appropriate. In the back of his mind he's already thinking of another dinner.



"I just--" she snaps. Ardette closes her eyes and rubs her temple under her hair, her thumb tracing the raised scar going down her cheek. "...need you to leave me alone for a while." Christ, Santiago. You exchange blows with Frankie Valentine, pass out on her mattress for three days, and give her her money's worth in a swing dance, and you're already asking for a bloody ETA. 'A while' is a while that she doesn't want to confine to a number right now. Not when she's stupidly shown him this much.



"I'll surprise you." Reginald responds all too cheerily, feeling positively elated right now, though he knows that when he gets home he's probably going to pass out for another day or two. "...but not too soon." He adds, not wanting to aggravate her further.



Ardette resents that cheery tone. Did he not just wake up from an honorary coma an hour ago? Valentine is a precarious situation, god damn it. Reginald knows where she lives, now, god damn it... But she finds that she isn't as angry with him as she should be; the man she just danced with isn't the same man that split his lip open in a brawl and laid inert in her bed for three days. "No surprises, either," Ardette snaps on the heels of his words. She shoots him a warning glare and strides past him to the front door.



"No promises," Reginald responds, getting his vibe to cooperate with him once more so he could mask Ardette opening the door, and eventually mask his presense all together. "Because no matter what I do, it'll be a surprise."



Ardette sighs and rolls her eyes to the ceiling, her shoulders dropping in a gesture of exhaustion or exasperation... both? Yes, both. "Try to remember that you almost vomited on my floor..." She puts her hand on the doorknob and nods to him to be ready. "And show some bloody humility." She opens the door for him.



"Yes, Miss. Don't think for an instant that I'm not grateful. I'm just... happy is all," Reginald replies, trying to calm himself from the apparent high he'd gotten from the dance. Focusing on the task at hand, he uses his vibe on himself so that no one would ever be the wiser if there happens to be someone outside. He doesn't dare speak, since trying to use his vibe in two places at once is a little draining, but Ardette would still be able to hear his footsteps as he leaves.



Ardette doesn't realize it, but she's holding her breath as she lets Reginald out, staring hard at her feet so as to not risk dissolving his illusion. His footsteps fade and she closes the door, and locks it. She's... exhausted, wholly, and she wonders where in the hell that spring in Reginald's step came from, it has no right to be there... Ardette kills the lights, and shuts off Studio C's sound system, and begins the daunting journey back up to her empty apartment. Reginald has complicated things royally, and now Ardette has to pick up the pieces and start the arduous task of collecting allies again. Valentine is her first project, and he'll be a challenge. But she won't have to work too hard with Reginald, once she allows him back into her life. After all, they are friends, now, and whether you like it or not, friends always find their way back.

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