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Reginald brings Ardette some real food in exchange for some real company. 


Initial Setting:

The Step Conservatory, after closing.

Timeline:

Preceded by Sidewalk Summit .



Edit

Ardette taps the back of her pen against her planner and frowns. Wednesday's self-replication-girl doesn't get out of work until 6, but if Ardette moves her session to 7, she'll have to move Bratva's people into Studio B, and Noverre won't let her hear the end of it. She sighs gustily and rubs her forehead under her hair. And on top of this never-ending game of studio-political chess, Santiago is coming soon, and he'll probably be obnoxiously on time. He seems to be the type. Why did she agree to this again?



Reginald is careful not to get caught heading towards the studio, perfectly aware of just how hard Ardette works towards maintaining neutrality, and how bad it would look for a Bandito to be sneaking in with two take out bags of food. Once he gets a little bit closer, however, and once he's certain there's no one looking, he figures he'll have a little bit of fun with her. In all the time he's known her, there's never been a time when she's seen his vibe, so what better opportunity. With a soft sigh, he uses his vibe to assume Cross's identity and lets himself in. The height was a little off, but only because he couldn't remember how short Cross was, but this should still work.



Ardette hears the jingle of the front door and looks up expectantly from her place standing behind the reception desk. Oh, for the love of god, Cross, why do you always show up at the worst possible times? As soon as she makes eye contact with him, she looks back down at her planner. "No," she says simply, scribbling out a line.



Reginald chuckles, debating if he should keep the facade going for much longer, but if he stayed silent it would cause just as much suspicion, "No? Come on, Miss Bombaerts, you invited me." He replies in a very distinctly not!Cross voice.



Ardette freezes, and glares up at not!Cross from behind the curtain of her hair, the back of her neck going warm. She squints and pushes her hair away. Santiago, you sneaky bastard. "Oh, very cute," she says loudly, in an I-want-to-hit-you tone of voice.



Reginald sets the bags of food on the desk, careful to not accidentally set it on any paperwork she might have, and lets his 'disguise' melt away. "I thought you would think so, and don't worry, I made sure no one saw 'Cross' come in here. You have an image to maintain, after all."



Ardette scowls at Reginald, cheeks a bit pink, because in a nanosecond of panic she imagined having to deal with Cross actually being here, and Cross seeing Santiago come after hours. Horrifying. "That image involves bodily throwing Cross out of my studio," she says testily. "So, yes, lucky for you that no one saw you."



Reginald laughs again, "That would be a sight to see, but I'm glad I didn't push my luck." He puts his hands in his pocket, fidgetting with the crumpled receipts inside. "So... uh, I wasn't sure what you'd want, so I just brought a little bit of everything. That is, if it's still alright to eat with you."



Ardette eyes the bags, a bit of grease soaking through the bottom of the brown paper. Whatever's in there smells absolutely wonderful, warm and savory and probably terrible for her figure. Her stomach - the traitor - growls at the aroma. She gives Santiago a tired smirk and holds up the Vendybar from earlier. "I suppose I'll have to save this for later, then."



"There's plenty more where that came from anyways, right?" Reginald hopes he doesn't seem too overeager, especially when he starts emptying the bags and there's everything from pasta, to some sort of chicken dish, three different kinds of salad (though one is clearly marked with an R) and even dessert, but he just wanted to be thorough. "I don't know who keeps filling up the Vendy's but if you can say anything about this god forsaken city is that at least we won't starve." he mutters, more to himself.



Ardette drums her fingers against the Vendybar, just watching him for a moment, feeling strange... Well, she'll do herself a mercy and not make this situation any more bizarre by addressing the fact that it is. She sets the bar down and helps him organize the containers, sliding her planner out of the way. "Unless anyone has an allergy to 'refried cardboard,' that is," she drawls. 



"Is that what that distinctive flavour is?" Reginald teases, even though his mind is certainly not on Vendybars at the moment. "I can't say I miss them, though. I could never keep them down very well." What are you doing, change the subject. "...ah, though... it's expensive getting take out all the time."



Ardette scoffs. "Those were your words!" She shakes her head and sighs, beholding the spread, laid out in plastic and slowly-melting paper, but still so very inviting. "Relax, Santiago. You don't have to explain yourself." He's kinder about it than most Mafia, but it's a grating sort of kindness, anyways.



Reginald "Ah, sorry, am I..." Yes, yes you are, you need to calm down. "Sorry, ha ha, I guess I'm a little nervous. I haven't had a dinner with someone in a while.."



Ardette takes two of the containers and jerks her head towards a long bench hugging the wall (though maybe if he's that nervous they should eat with a desk between them.) "This isn't a date," she says bluntly, and looks over her shoulder at him. "There. Less nervous, now?"



"I know." Reginald replies, though it's difficult to read his tone, it's not a happy one by any means. "Not to delve too much in that self pitying nonsense, but it is a nice change to have someone to talk to. Even if it is just you keeping me in my place, Miss Bombaerts." He takes the one that he'd marked as his and follows her to the bench, his every step making a rather crisp click against her floor.



Ardette raises her eyebrows at him, looking almost delighted. "'Keeping you in your place,' is that what I'm doing?" She nods, sucking on the inside of her cheek thoughtfully, and sits down, setting the chicken dish and a salad down on the bench between them. "And your new friends? What do they do?"



Reginald "I wouldn't call them 'friends' but if I did, I'd say they do about the same thing, but with fists instead of words. It gets tiring." He won't be mentioning that most of the grief he gets is from a girl half his size. He wanted to try and keep some dignity, considering what an idiot he's making of himself already.



Ardette gives him an impressed wince. "That seems to be the currency of the Bandito, doesn't it?" She neatly folds one leg underneath her and takes the lids off her food. Oh, salad, beautiful. "I'll, euh... try to keep my words to a light slap on the wrist, tonight." She glances up at him with a shrug. "As a gesture of good will."



Reginald "Mn, appreciated but not entirely necessary. I don't really mix well with the other Banditos, but it's nothing I didn't expect, so, I'm not asking for sympathy." Still, he had to admit that it's kind of her to even offer, but he didn't say that aloud. This wasn't a date after all, she'd see right through his ridiculous attempts at flattery.



Ardette juts her chin out at him with a smug little smile. "Then you won't get any." She stabs at a piece of lettuce with her fork, and when she takes a bite, she exhales with a satisfaction so whole it's close to disgust. "Mn--" She covers her mouth with her hand as she swallows. "I can't remember the last time I had a bloody vegetable."



"Heavenly, isn't it?" Reginald replies. "I know I was doing the bloody bars for a few months there and as soon as I was able to buy a good meal it was the best thing I'd ever had. I couldn't go back to them." His own salad was filled with sliced grilled chicken, and pieces of cucumber, and several different kinds of green leafy vegetables, but he was taking his time with his.



Ardette will be going back to the bars after this, but even thinking about it right now that she has actual chicken, real goddamned vegetables in front of her is almost enough to make her lose her appetite. Real food has become such a treat. Think of the sound system, think of the studio floors, think of getting a sign, finally... They enjoy their food in silence for a moment. "So," she says, "This vibe of yours. What are you, a shape-shifter? An illusionist? What."



Reginald smirks at her, "It can be anything I want it to be." No sense in just giving it all away, even if he did consider Ardette a friend. It was better if as few people as possible knew the true nature of his vibe.



Ardette squints at him, not liking that smirk. "So, you choose for it to be a real bastard," she says, remembering Cross' head of skunk hair. "Charming."



Reginald is trying desperately to not chuckle at this, "Oh, Miss Bombaerts, if you could have seen the look on your face when I walked in... it was completely worth it."



Ardette shakes her empty fork at him. "Correction: you're the bastard."



"Bandito," he replies, as if the mere mention of his faction got him off every infraction against him.



Ardette just gives him one of her sweet little sneers and goes back to enjoying her food.



Reginald normally didn't mind the silence, after all, as he'd said, he doesn't normally eat with other people, but for some reason the silence now makes him a little uneasy. Like he should say something. Anything. "I've never seen you blush before." Except that. Why did he say that?



Ardette blinks a few times. Without lifting her head, she looks up at him from under her brows. "I... beg your pardon?" she says flatly.



Reginald seems to be weighing his options, wondering which answer is going to get him the least amount of scorn. He clears his throat a little, "Before today I mean. When you thought I was Cross, I was just a little surprised. I was just, thinking out loud."



Ardette nods slowly, giving him an unappreciative sidelong look. Why do people always comment when she blushes? "And what conclusions are you drawing from that, Santiago?" 



"The obvious one is that I embarrassed you." Reginald fidgets a little bit, not sure if he should really bother continuing this train of thought or not. "But my curiousity hasn't pieced together why. I thought you'd be more angry than embarrassed."



Ardette was angry; she sort of resents him for being right about the embarassed part, too. "I wasn't expecting Cross tonight. And when I got him, I wasn't expecting him to be you." She pushes a piece of chicken around her take-out container with her fork. "You're welcome in my studio. He's not." She shrugs by way of 'therefore.'



Reginald admits he does feel an odd sense of pride. Since he'd been kicked out of the Mafia finding someone who'd find him welcome anywhere was a feat. Maybe that's why he keeps coming back to bother Ardette so much. She not only put up with him, but he gets the sense that she enjoys their banter as much as he does, but perhaps that was just more of that thinking too much. "Well, I won't do it again. Unless I think it might be funny."



Ardette scowls at him, but without much malice. "In that case, I'm obligated to tell you that, next time, I won't hesitate to fold your shirt while you're still in it."



Reginald "Although I don't doubt that you would, I'm obligated to tell you that it's hardly incentive to not do it again." It was then he realizes that he's already finished his food and didn't even realize it.



Ardette realizes it, too, and it's with a sinking feeling that she realizes, great, now she gets to eat with an audience if she's going to eat at all. "Well, try to restrain yourself." And then, as a sincere afterthought, "Please."



Reginald sets his empty box aside, and tries to relax a little bit. Tries to. Not succeeding very well, "For as much as I like to get on your nerves, Miss Bombaerts, I won't take it too far." Ugh, he could feel himself giving into the urge to talk more about personal things. He hated it, but it wasn't as though he had anyone else who put up with him enough for this sort of thing. "It's been hard adjusting to this new lifestyle as an outsider. I don't have many friends left in this city, and as sad as it might sound, you might be the closest friend I have left."



Ardette stops mid-chew and stares at him. He's not looking at her, but he doesn't have to be; she's heard the same gravity, the same resignation, from many of her clients in the safety of her office. It's the reality of the island, and it's something they all live every day. She swallows thickly. Good christ, that does sound sad. "Well, as your... friend," she says the word tentatively, as though taking a stab at a trick question, "I'm going to be blunt." She sets her food down and looks at him squarely. "If you're looking for a confessional in me, don't."



Reginald clears his throat again, looking a little flustered, though not looking at her, as though he's embarrassed. "Of course no, it's out of my system, I won't do it again." Of course not, he couldn't impose such a thing on her, that would guarantee losing a friendship. If that's even what it was. Perhaps he'll just go back to talking to his illusions again, just so he wouldn't be tempted. "S... so how was the food?" He asks, hoping she'll be just as grateful for a change of topic as he is.



Ardette will have none of it. "Santiago, I'm being serious," she cuts him off, holding a hand up. "First you make that bizarrerabbit-hole comment, you've been acting strange, it's this close to the anniversary of '99..." She shrugs and lets her hands fall to her thighs with a slight smack. She deals with guilt-ridden veterans all the time; it's an unwritten hazard of her job. "You can tell me whatever you'd like to, and I'll listen. But I don't hand out pardons. I'm sorry."



"I don't need anything like that," Reginald replies, though he still hasn't quite shaken his nervousness. What did he even really need? It isn't something he could readily put into words, it's all just abstract thoughts and feelings which he isn't used to dealing with. "A lot has changed since V-Day. I can't help but act a little strange."



Ardette gapes at him and leans forward in her seat. "Since V-Day? Of course a lot has changed since V-Day." That's as superfluous as saying, hmm, you know, a lot has changed since the day everyone in the world woke up with a third arm coming out of their chest. For crying out loud. "A lot has changed since '99. A lot has changed for you since you went Green," she says, backhanding the air. "Give us all some credit and don't go all the way back to V-Day," she laughs incredulously, looking down at her food.



"It wasn't my decision to join this faction," Reginald growls, even though he knows Ardette didn't imply it. He takes a deep breath, not wanting to let himself get too worked up over this like some child throwing a fit. "I'm just..." No, he really didn't want to have this conversation. "No, you're right. I know it's different for everyone, I shouldn't be self centered about it. Too much time to think about it all..."



Ardette glances between her plate and Santiago's profile; he's still stubbornly not looking at her, and that's just fine, because she can study his face at her leisure. She didn't mean to poke at a fresh wound, but his reactions are... interesting, and they remind her that she's dealing with more than just a caricature that colors her days. She gives him a moment to simmer down. "You know," she remarks, "what I meant by that was, you should give yourself some credit, too."



Reginald nervously runs his hand along his neck and down his collar, as though trying to physically push the words back down. There was a lot he did want to say, but he didn't think it appropriate. Not right now. Perhaps it would never be appropriate, he didn't know. "I suppose." He replies, very little conviction behind the already weak statement. He's tempted to just bring up the food again, but that didn't really work last time, so there just ends up being another awkward silence between the two of them.



Ardette looks away, almost out of respect, to let him be alone with himself for a few seconds. The familiar planes and corners of her front lobby, with its high industrial ceilings and nothing but unforgiving concrete beneath thin carpet, amplifies the quiet. She considers why Reginald really invited himself into her evening tonight, and she wonders if she even wants to know what's down the rabbit-hole. But - her eyes flit to him - now is not the time nor the place. "Allez, how about a tour?" she says, standing up, and jerks her head towards the hallway. "As often as you haunt my doorstep, I don't think you've properly met the place."



Reginald admits to himself that she was right, he didn't often venture as far as the front entrance, so the place is pretty much a mystery to him. Besides, he could definitely use the distraction. "Oh, ah, certainly. I suppose I should finally become a little more aquainted, hm? I'm just going to leave my coat at the front desk, it's a little warmer than I thought in here." Yes, that's it. It isn't as though he felt like he had completely embarrassed himself, but it was close enough.



Ardette's eyebrows shoot up; a refurbished warehouse in February is warm indeed. She rubs her hands together and looks around the place, suddenly feeling - no, no, not self-conscious, never self-conscious but... very much aware all of a sudden of the errant scuff-mark on her white walls and how barren the place looks when it's not full of creative energy. When Reginald returns, she claps her hands together and clears her throat. "Well! Front lobby. Abandon all hope ye who enter here."



Reginald laughs softly, "Oh come now, Miss Bombaerts, I'm not a student." He'd considered it, once upon a time, but he talked himself out of it just as quickly.



Ardette leads him past a bulletin board, covered in flyers boasting performance opportunities in all factions, her weekly sign-up sheet, even a few audition notices. "Good thing, or you'd be getting my boot-camp warm-up instead of a tour." She holds open the first door for him and flicks the lights on. Studio C, the smallest studio, with honey-colored hardwood floors. "And this is the baby of the group." 



"I'm grateful you have some mercy in you tonight." Reginald teases, eyeing the flyers just in case something catches his eye. "Though as long as it's not ballet, I could probably take it." The smallest of her studios still seems like it's a modest size, to him, but it's been a while since he's had formal lessons. "Mn, very nice, Miss Bombaerts. Does this one see a lot of use?"



Ardette watches him out of the corner of her eye, scrutinizing his scrutiny, protective of her littlest studio. "This one gets rented out the most," she admits. "And it sees the most personalities. This is the only studio tappers can really use. Ballroom folk like it, too."



Reginald nods slightly, "Ah, I see. I didn't know you rented them out, but, I'm a little ignorant of how to run a studio. I can't even remember the last time I've even been in one."



Ardette leans against the door frame and crosses her arms. "Well, you're in one now." She narrows her eyes, not unkindly, and nods to him. "How do you train, anyways? I'm assuming you haven't stopped dancing." Of course not, stupid to even suggest it, dancing is their livelihood. 



Reginald sticks his hands in his pockets, and looks as though he's choosing his words very carefully, and finally replies, "Ah, that's... uh, a little bit of an embarrassing subject, but rest assured, I do practice. I just don't have a partner anymore so it's difficult to practice some things."



Ardette nods knowingly before he even finshes. Ah, of course, the inherent dilemma of any ballroom dance: partners. She supposes that's why she prefers her styles to any ballroom; she can choose when to be alone. And she chooses to work alone most of the time. "Understandable. But it's good that that's not stopping you. You'll be a stronger partner because of it."



Reginald "I hope so. I keep wanting to dive back into the clubs, but there's so few in neutral territory and even fewer that care to see me around." He shrugs slightly, as though it didn't bother him to think of it that way. "I'm sure I'll get a chance to dance again. With other people, I mean."



Ardette reaches across him and flicks the lights off in Studio C. "You will." And she sounds like she's sure of it; there's always someone out there looking for a dance partner, and in this culture of necessity, even a man like Santiago will be able to find one. She shuts C's door with a click and ushers him down the dim hallway. "Just let the dust settle, first." ...and stop threatening my students... and make sure you don't start cheating again... yeah, you'll be fine.



Reginald admires her optimism. "It's difficult to wait, Miss Bombaerts. You know as well as anyone that this isn't a mere hobby, it's something that speaks to your soul." He sighs, "Maybe one of these days I might start taking lessons again... just so I have a few more dances I can do myself."



Ardette looks at the back of his head curiously as they stroll down the hall. 'Speaks to your soul.' It's a poetic way of putting it, flowery in a way that she usually avoids, but it's true. "It's also a weapon," she says shortly, as though he needs reminding. "And a form of currency. You should make 'one of those days' sooner than later."



Reginald smirks down at her, any previous embarrassment he felt from before seems to be out of his system now. "And... are you offering to teach me?"



Ardette raises an eyebrow at that smirk. "Hardly. 'As long as it's not ballet,' right?" She opens up Studio B for him.



"Nothing against the style, I just don't have the same flexiblity as I did in my youth." He steps into the second studio and has to let out a long whistle of approval. Ardette really must be doing well for herself with a set up like this. Impressive indeed. "I wouldn't even know what to do with this much space." he mutters to himself.



Ardette starts and, on pure reflex, hooks her finger into the back of his collar and pulls him back a bit. "Ah, ah!" She nods down to his feet. "No street shoes on the marley." 



"Ahh, fine." That was a rule Reginald should have known instinctively, but he was a little distracted. He complies without any complaints though, having enough sense to know that you don't just walk into someone's studio to not respect the rules. Ha, almost ironic in a way how easy it is for him to follow some rules but not others.



Ardette just leans in the doorway and watches him saunter in a few paces, the way he looks... completely, curiously comfortable with the fact that she hasn't even turned the lights on yet. "This is where most of my private sessions are held." And, still watching him, perhaps to see a reaction, she flips the light switch on. "Vibe can take up a lot of space."



Reginald has to close his eyes a moment to adjust properly. "Vibe has a tendancy to do that. I hope this place is prepared for that sort of use and abuse." He heard tell of a jazz studio that had some issues adjusting to some peoples' vibes, but then, that was shortly after V-Day, most of the buildings are fairly vibe proof by now.



Ardette scoffs at the very suggestion. "This building has been taking that sort of use and abuse for years," she says, giving the wall next to her a bracing punch with the side of her fist. "It's certainly earned my trust." And the trust of a boss like Frankie Valentine, thankyouverymuch, but that isn't a fact she wants to be advertising... yet.



"That's good enough for me, then. I guess if a building wasn't ready for a destructive vibe then it would have gone down ages ago." The more Reginald really drinks in how much space there is here, the more he admits to himself that he really wouldn't mind watching a class or two at least.



Ardette feels a swell of pride, watching Santiago slowly turn on the spot to behold the space. Yes, this is hers. Question my Vendybars now, will you. But she can't muster up much anger at the memory, content to just see someone standing in her studio. Paradoxically, Santiago looks even taller, standing out as a sharp silhouette in this sprawling box of white and grey. "Impressed yet?"



Reginald lets out a short laugh, "That's an understatement, love," he replies, though he quickly corrects himself, "Miss Bombaerts." He'd gotten a little lost in his own head for a moment there, forgetting just who it was that was showing him around.



Ardette regards him coolly. If the pet name bothered her any, she isn't showing it. She looks down her shoulder to the ground, tapping her fingers against her arms. Oh, she hates to gloat... but right now it's just too satisfyng. "Come on," she says, pushing off from the door frame. "Leave your shoes."



Reginald was about to stoop to try and get them back on again, but it seems there's still more to see. Just how big is this place, he thought to himself. Inwardly he notices that she didn't react from his accidental slip of the tongue, which is curious. "Ah, so we're not finished? You have been doing well for yourself."



Ardette flaps a hand and sneers. "Bah, well enough. We can ignore the boring stuff back there, dressing room, restrooms, storage..." ...the locked stairwell leading up to her apartment, they can certainly ignore that. Just a turn out of Studio B and they're at the door of Studio A, her main stage, her pride and joy. "Don't faint." She smirks and opens the door.



Reginald isn't about to make any promises, considering that the second studio was already more impressive than what he'd expected. Then he sees the third. Miss Bombaerts you really HAVE been doing well for yourself. "Can you leave the lights off just for a moment?" He wants to take this in at his own pace, and he'd like to without the glare from the overhead lights.



Ardette's hand stops right above the light switch, and she looks up at him curiously. Well, this explains the ridiculous shades... whatever this is. She nods and gestures for him to enter. The floor is yours, Santiago.



Reginald removes his glasses and allows himself to step into the center of the massive studio, again, just in awe of the space, and the thought of how many potential steppers danced here, how many were finding themselves here. It reminds him of when he was younger with this new vibe that he didn't understand, and how he went from studio to studio until something clicked. "It really is wonderful Miss Bombaerts. I can't believe how many times I've been here and I've never seen this." Lessons are starting to sound more and more appealing by the second. Even if it is ballet, he'll learn.



Ardette slips off her shoes and walks inside a few paces, but she only stays within the pool of light spilling in from the open door. She smiles her subdued little smile and runs her hand along the barre, proudly, as though saying, you did good. She can see Santiago's outline in the black, cavernous space, but little else. It occurs to her that this ought to make her feel unsafe; it also occurs to her that she doesn't feel unsafe at all. "You wouldn't guess it, seeing it from the outside, would you?" She leans back against the barre and traces the line on the ground where shadow ends and light begins with her toe. "Who knows. Maybe that's a good thing."



"Ha, no, I never would have thought..." Reginald can see his shadow, meaning the door was still open, so he doesn't turn around. "This is all yours. I mean, it's incredible..." he takes in a deep breath feeling perfectly content, almost as if he could feel the very vibe in the air. It's probably just him. He's getting sentimental again, but he can't even berate himself for it. "Maybe it is time I took formal lessons again. I like the feel of this place." Even if it was cross-faction.



It is incredible, isn't it? Ardette slept in that far corner the first night she set foot in this place, before it had floors, or walls, or an entrance that locked, in that limbo between V-Day and the War. It's been hers ever since, but this room in particular had her heart, mostly because it doesn't look a single trace like what it used to. "Don't get ahead of yourself, Santiago," she drawls, crossing her arms. "I don't think I'm your style."



Reginald turns as much as he's able, though he keeps his eyes shut, just in case. "In terms of dance style, or just in general?"



Ardette scoffs out a laugh, and she has to think about it. "Well... now that you mention it... both?"



Reginald sighs, turning away again and just letting himself take in as much as he can in the moment he had. "I suppose you're right."



That sigh carries more than he realizes; that's the problem with a space this big. Ardette tries to pinpoint the source of her hesitation and can't, not really. She just hums. "Watch the eyes," she mutters, before turning the lights on.



Reginald is quick to get his glasses on, and is silently very grateful that she warned him. As usual, it takes him moment to adjust, but he's more than accustomed to it. "Well... you've worked really hard for this place Miss Bombaerts. It shows. I hope you're proud of it," he says, his voice a little distant, but he's still admiring the studio.



Ardette tilts her head and watches him; to think that in a moment of pessimism, the thought had crossed her mind that he'd try to mug her tonight. She sighs and looks away, almost ashamed of the thought. But she knew Santiago the Mafioso. She's learned how to deal with Santiago the loan shark, and she got used to Santiago the Bandito a lot more quickly than he has. She knows Santiago the swing dancer and briefly met Santiago the war veteran this evening. But Ardette still hasn't worked out Santiago the man. "I am," she says quiety, pushing off from the barre to walk forward a few paces, holding her arms out to the room. "This," she smirks humbly, "is why I eat the Vendybars."



"You always were better at seeing the bigger picture, but you know, I really don't have a problem with bringing you something nicer from time to time." Ha, that almost sounds desperate there. A plea to continue seeing the only person that hasn't completely spurned him since his dismissal from the Mafia. "If it's not too much trouble for you, I mean. I promise no disguises next time." If there was a next time.



Ardette looks at him sharply, as though saying, damn straight, no disguises next time. She slips her hands into her pockets and saunters around him, looking at the walls, as though she needs to reacquaint herself with her own space now that she's sharing it with a-- well, Santiago's not a stranger. He's in a strange class of his own. "Well," Ardette sighs gustily, "I don't accept favors from you, and I don't accept charity from anyone else..." 



The temporary silence made Reginald uneasy, and by the time she speaks again, it does little to chase that uneasiness away. "I already told you, I have no interest in trapping you into one of my contracts. You're too smart for that and I have more respect for you than that, so don't think of it as a favour or as charity." He didn't blame her for distrusting him, but he wishes there's a magical phrase of some sort that would convince her that he isn't trying to run some scam.



Ardette stops her prowl - because that's really what it is, in the end, circling Santiago, evaluating him - and just looks at him. It's still strange to her; the man that Reginald was as a Mafioso, she wouldn't have allowed through any of these doors. Granted, considering his status back then, she probably wouldn't have had a choice in the matter either way. "Good," she says simply, lifting her chin. "I won't." 



Reginald will never get used to this feeling of being scrutinized, and it's been happening more and more these days. At least with Ardette he knows she's not up to something too nefarious. "So does that mean you won't mind? Regardless, I think there's still dessert waiting for us in the front hall."



Ardette wrinkles her nose and gives him a peculiar smirk. Well, that was an effective change of subject. "'You think?'"



Reginald "Providing Cross didn't really come in and sneak things while we were admiring your studio."



Ardette gives Reginald a flat look - ugh, don't even bring him up - and rolls her eyes, walking out of the studio. "We would have heard the bell." And Cross would be more likely to drop off food than to steal it.



Reginald is all set to follow her out until he remembers his shoes are still in the other studio. "So you really don't mind then? If I come by with food once in a while, I mean?"



Ardette stops just outside the door to retrieve her shoes. "Well, if it isn't a favor," she slips one shoe on, "and it's not charity..." she slips the other shoe on. She puts her hands on her hips and raises her eyebrows at him. "...you're going to have to come up with a creative reason to bring me another salad."



"...but not a date." Reginald says, almost as if to test her. This meal isn't a date, she made that crystal clear. He doesn't know why he keeps bringing that up, as if a sophisticated and increasingly influential dancer would even consider being seen around him.



Ardette gives him an equally challenging smile, tipping her head to him. "But not a date." Her eyes flit from his socked feet to his dark shades, another gesture of harmless scrutiny. "I'm looking forward to hearing what you come up with."



"Hmm, you drive a hard bargain, but I think I can figure out something that will be satisfactory. Now, if you'll excuse me, my shoes are in the other studio." Besides, now Reginald can have a moment to try and give his head a shake and be a little more logical about this. This whole situation 'this'. Everything 'this'. He lingers in the darkened second studio for a moment or two before slipping his shoes back on and rejoining Ardette.



Ardette's already back in the front lobby, putting the lids back on what's left of their entrees; it's all too good to go to waste. When she hears Santiago approach, she looks over her shoulder at him. "All food items present and accounted for." No Cross or any other member of the rat family come to steal it. "Except for this dessert you're talking about, where's that?"



"That's good, I'd hate to have someone else I'd have to chase down. I still don't know who tagged your wall." Reginald goes to the front desk again, where the his coat and the second bag of food was hiding. It was mostly different types of cake, all the kinds that he, himself can't eat, but he didn't know what kind Ardette would like. "Take your pick, you'll have leftovers for a couple of days."



Ardette visibly hesitates, before picking a little styrofoam container at random and opening it up. She stares at the contents. She looks over at the rest of the bag. "Alright," she snaps, putting the container down. "What do you want?"



Reginald sits back at the bench they shared when they first started eating. "What do you mean?" It's a loaded question, but he wants to make sure he has the right answer to the right question.



Ardette narrows her eyes at him and holds up the container like damning evidence. "This is a bribe." But then the front dissolves into a chuckle and she sits down with him. "It has to be."



Reginald figures that's exactly what she would be thinking, "I ask you this honestly, Miss Bombaerts... what would I have to gain from bribing you? Do you really think there's not enough burnt bridges that I have to set one aflame, myself?"



Ardette settles into her dessert with a slowly growing smirk; it doesn't matter which one she picks if she's going to get to meet them all eventually. "Oh, I don't know..." she muses. "Rights to harass my UG students... free studio time... rights to disguise as Cross..." Come on, Santiago, get that that was a joke, because she doesn't make them often.



"I'd have to buy you a lot more cake than that to convince you to let me disguise as Cross." Reginald replies with a knowing smirk. "But... things have changed, I'm finding more and more just how much things have changed, and I suppose I'm just trying to not get completely cut off from the people who know me."



Ardette looks down, scoring the dollop of frosting on her tiramisu with her fork. "I'm sure you've already found that the island is a lot bigger, once you step out of Purple." She shrugs at him. Anonymity is almost as powerful as celebrity, these days. "Maybe some strangers will do you some good?" 



"I suppose." Reginald replies as he watches the motion of her fork. "I just haven't had much luck so far. I didn't realize just how much the colours you wear really affects how people respond to you... especially considering what I've done." Not that he still thinks it's his fault mind you, but everyone else makes such a big deal out of it... 



Ardette knows better than anyone the importance of Color; that's why she doesn't allow any in her studio. Santiago is still speaking from a place of privilege with that attitude, having been a tenured Mafia stepper until the day he quite suddenly wasn't. It sounds naive, and it makes her laugh. "Well, get used to it. No matter what faction you are, a third of the island will want to kill you for it. At least."



"You think I don't know that?" Reginald replies, raising his voice in a way he hasn't in Ardette's presence before, his whole body growing tense with every word. "I don't even have a third of the island wanting to kill me, I have the whole island wanting to kill me! Everything I worked for, everything I've ever done meant nothing! I...." He stops very suddenly, as if some unseen voice had scolded him for losing his temper. "I'm... I'm sorry, that was..."



"--Honest," Ardette answers for him. And then she relaxes her grip on her fork, and her grip on her vibe, when she deduced very quickly that he wasn't going to do anything more than yell. There it was, some of that hubris from when Santiago was a man much younger. She puts down her cake - virtually untouched - and turns in her seat to face him. "How much of the island actually wants to kill you, and how much of it is just... fiercely indifferent to you, now?" And which, she wonders, is worse for him?



Reginald can't believe he actually yelled at her. He hasn't yelled at anyone in a long time, especially not over something as ridiculous as this. He can't even look at her right now, he feels so ashamed for losing control. Is this it? Is he starting to lose his mind? "I don't even know. My own faction doesn't want anything to do with me, what am I to think?" That overwhelming feeling of loneliness that has been eating away at him since his leave of the Mafia felt even heavier than before, but he still can't bring himself to say anything about that. He couldn't.



Ardette has to think for a moment about which faction Reginald's referring to when he says 'my faction,' but it doesn't really matter, does it? So, he isn't looking for a confessional in her. But whatever he's looking for, she isn't sure she can offer it to him. "Find strangers," she repeats. "I'd tell you to try shedding your colors for a day, but I know that option is off the table so I won't even suggest it."



Reginald sighs, "Too many people know me. I don't exactly have the kind of face that blends into a crowd, and I don't think using my vibe to make friends is going to work out." He folds his arms in front of him, still so much on his mind, but that's not what he came here for. She wasn't going to solve his problems, he just wanted to prove to himself that she was still willing to put up with him. Perhaps even see exactly where they stood with each other, but she's made her position very clear. "I don't mean to trouble you with all this. That's not why I wanted to see you."



Ardette wants to ask why he did want to see her, but she knows that's a loaded question, and she'd rather the answer go peaceably unvoiced, for now. Before she can stop it, her mind goes to Inkyung, the friendly neighborhood pick-pocket; to Cross, a bastard, but an open-minded bastard; even to Benson, that insane, swing-dancing anomaly... stop it, Bombaerts, this isn't your job, Santiago needs to make his own allies... A heavy silence settles between them. She rests her cheek against her fist and considers it. What more can she say? "Thank you for the food." She rolls her head to smirk at him gently. "And for painting my wall, for that matter."



"Oh, uh, it was no trouble. A pleasure, in fact. Whether you believe me or not, I'm always willing to help you out if you need it." Perhaps it was time he took his leave. He's embarrassed himself enough for one night, and knows when he's chasing down a dead end all too well. "I... can show myself out."



Ardette believes it, now. What with his persistence, his uncomfortable honesty... how can she not? "No, no, allow me," she sighs graciously, standing up, and it's like a switch, the two of them assuming a polite, business-like tone, back to normal, nothing to see, here. "Do you want to take any of this home? This is..." Too kind. "Too much."



"I would if I could, but leftovers and I don't agree with each other." Besides that, his cooler is broken, but that was another matter. "Besides, if you hang onto it, I'll be able to give you a couple days before I feel the need to bother you with my presense again, hmm?" This was a lie of course. Just because he knew she had leftovers didn't mean he couldn't come by with something else.



Ardette clasps her hands together and just stares at the food, enough to give her a few days of indulgence. It still feels strange to her, accepting this kind of gift from him - from anyone - but the feeling of warm food in her belly, the kiss of real spices on her tongue and the roof of her mouth, makes her stop questioning it for a little while longer. She side-eyes him. To say 'thank you' again would just water it down, make it less meant, somehow. "...you're alright, Santiago," she says, mostly to herself. And then she huffs out a laugh. "But next time, don't be so bloody extravagant; I don't own a tablecloth." 



Reginald shrugs as if it really was nothing, "I didn't think to ask you what you wanted, so I was just being thorough." He still feels like he should still apologize more for his outburst from before, but that would just end up drawing more attention to it. Besides, Ardette seems like she's fine, she's right back to her usual mannerisms and all. He should just leave it. "Well, uh, thank you for your company this evening, Miss Bombaerts. It really was a pleasure."



Ardette just keeps peering at him. There it was again, that formality, that borderline chivalry that was so unlike his earrings and his shades and his reputation. "Let me walk you out," she says, striding past him. "You, euh... don't mind making a discreet exit, do you?" It feels like a courtesy to ask. That, and she wants to get another glimpse of his vibe...



Reginald knew she was going to ask that. He can't blame her. "Of course. We wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea, right? Er, but not Cross again, right? I think that would hurt your reputation worse than if someone saw me, hm?" He shouldn't tease her about that, but he did find it a little funny.



Ardette stands at the door and waits for him to get his coat. "Well, that would depend on what people thought we were doing in here," she says delicately, and arches a brow. "What exactly are you implying, Santiago?"



Reginald slips his massive coat on again, "I'm not implying anything, but I know how people tend to talk when they only have a tiny piece of a story. All it takes is one person with a big mouth." He's trying to remember people, trying to think of someone that would be more likely to take late night classes and nothing else, but of course since he's trying his hardest to think of someone, his mind is blank.



Ardette snorts and shakes her head. She won't be modest about it; she's an attractive woman by conventional standards which somehow makes her lovelife interesting to the world, and that's an issue that's come up more than once in the past. "Bah, 'big mouth.' Well, my reputation is bigger than any big mouth." And she's pretty sure the whole island knows by now that Cross doesn't stand a chance.



"Ah, you have a point there, and goodness knows you aren't shy of setting the record straight." Well, Reginald can't make up his mind. He hates to waste so much vibe, but he only needs to go a block or two, so he uses his vibe to simply 'disappear'. He can't mask the sound of his footsteps, or the rustling of his coat, but that's how it was. "Just hold the door open for me would you? Looks less suspicious."



Ardette starts and takes a hasty step backwards, as though the sudden absense of him in the space next to her left a void that actually had physical force, its own goddamned gravity. She slits her eyes, her gaze darting around the space where she thinks his head is. God damn it, Santiago, now she has to reevaluate everything she knows about you with this little talent in mind. "Anything you want it to be, ah?" she drawls, opening the door for him.



"Anything," Reginald replies shortly as he makes his way out the door, his hands in his pockets and shoes making that satisfying 'click' against the ground. "I will see you again soon, Miss Bombaerts." Well, he thinks to himself, it could have gone worse, at least she didn't kick him out or tell him to not come back. Still, he still couldn't help but feel a little unsatisified, but perhaps he had just set his hopes too high.



Ardette wants to reply 'is that a threat?' but she can't be seen talking to herself, can she? She huffs, shivering at the chill of the night air, and goes through her usual routine. She locks the front entrance, turns off the light in the airlock, and locks that, too. Once inside, she rubs the chill from her arms and strolls through her front lobby, thinking. So, Santiago is a 'friend', now, and Santiago is coming back. Santiago can look like Cross, or look like nothing at all, and Santiago - she only seems to really register this now that she's looking at the food left on the bench - didn't just buy her dinner; he bought her three. Ardette wonders; is he just desperate for an ally? Wants to position himself near influence? Hell, maybe he's just looking for a quick shag. But she finds she can't bring herself to think too badly of him; that outburst earlier came from an honest place. With a sigh, Ardette sits down on the bench and picks up her untouched slice of cake. With a what-the-hell roll of her eyes, she takes a chunk of it on her fork and puts it in her mouth. When the flavor hits her, the sound she makes is obscene. Thank god she didn't try eating this until Santiago was gone...

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