Frankie Valentine takes his investment out for a "business dinner."

Initial Setting:

The Step Conservatory, followed by the swankiest Purple restaurant on the Island. 


Shortly after Claud has started his lessons with Ardette.

Followed by Clash of the Titans: Part I


Ardette holds open the door to Studio A as an army of ballet dancers stream out, red-faced and sweating, with hair plastered to their foreheads and leotards soaked through. Some of them look slack-jawed and spent, while others are chattering happily amongst themselves. It's nice, to watch this moving mass of white, black, and grey, and not be able to tell what faction they are at a glance. "Good work everyone," she barks over the din. "Quigley, I want to see fouettes to the left next week. Ramirez, you had better go home and listen to your music! I can tell when you don't! Falk--!"

Frankie sits in one of the spectator chairs, apparently reading one of the magazines and looking rather bored and unassuming . Only a few of the students pass by even notice him, but as they do, the chattering becomes softer, and spreads through the room. Falk is taken aback when they are left in silence to be singled out by Ms. Bombaerts. "Yes miss," they mutter quickly and sink back into the ballerina herd.

Ardette passes her gaze over the group, looking offended by the sudden silence... until her eyes fall on the one and only Frankie Valentine, sitting in her lobby. Well, well. She hums to herself, but then shoots a warning look to her students and dismisses the rest of them with a flick of her hand. "At ease." Except for you, Falk. She glances at Frankie, then turns her back to him so he can't hear her conversation with the UG ballerina. After a moment, she gives Falk a little pat on the shoulder and sends the lanky girl on her way. Ardette turns around to face Frankie and just crosses her arms, giving the man an affectionate smirk.

Frankie isn't watching the group, of course not, although his eyes are aiming over the magazine, and seem to be wandering quite far from where they ought to. When Ardette turns to him at last, he closes his reading material with exaggerated care. "Well hello miss. Fancy meetin' you here," he says lamely, but his debonair, unselfconcious grin helps to sell the act. "I was cleanin up around my office and I seem to'v found some cred that was 'spossed ta reach ya..." he looks at his watch... "Tomorrow mornin. Whoops, what'a scatterbrain I am."

Ardette saunters towards him, shaking her head. The hubbub hasn't stopped, but no matter. Let her students stare. She wants them to be used to seeing bosses in her studio, and she wants them to learn how to goddamn carry themselves accordingly. "And bless your scatterbrain, Frankie Valentine," she drawls warmly. Bless it indeed, for bringing cred, and reputation, and good company besides. "I thought I saw a familiar silhouette through my observation window." She approaches his chair and puts her hands on her hips, looking almost scolding. "Matters of cred belong in my office." But the way she's smirking at him makes it as friendly of an invitation to chat as any.

Frankie 's expression falters slightly when Ardette storms up to him- a panic wells up in him- had he already upset her-? But then she's talking and she sounds pleased and Frankie immediately relaxes back into the part he's playing. "Ah well, I didn't wanna interrupt," he explains humbly, but he glances to the group of students who are taking a suspiciously long time to dry off, grab water, and change shoes. The mafioso winks at some of the women, and receives a variety of reactions, from giggles to intimidated silence to outright glares. Satisfied, the man swings to his feet in a casually ethereal motion. He pulls one of her firmly planted hands off her hip and kisses it stubbornly before releasing it. "Absolutely. Let's not delay this anylonger. Morning is comin' fast after all."

Ardette's shoulders bob with a startled little shiver when Frankie gives her a kiss on the back of the hand so exaggerated and loud, it's almost comical. She rolls her eyes at him and backhands the air, alright, alright, enough with the kisses already, darling, don't let my students get any ideas... She ushers Frankie into her office and, with a pleasant nod to her students that says 'nothing to see here,' she closes the door. "Morning can wait a little while longer," she coos, perching on her desk. She can be casual with Frankie. "Especially when you're in such a fine mood this evening. What's this all about?"

Frankie is very pleased with her dismissive, dramatic reaction. He just adored when Miss Bombaerts played along. Frankie looks properly chastised as he follows behind Ardette. Before the door closes, a half-hearted wolf whistle can be heard from the crowd of students. Frankie bites his lip to stop his pleased grin from ruining the show.  And then they are alone. "Ahh miss, ya know I wasn' kiddin about the cred thing. Not somethin ta joke about, of course." In a flourish of sparkles, he pulls a hefty purple and goldleaf envelope from nowhere and hands it to the woman. He passes it over and remains standing, inspecting the office idly. "Talked to Mister Claud today. Seems yer runnin him ragged."

Ardette accepts the envelope with a nod of thanks and sets it down on her desk next to her. It's a calculated gesture. She doesn't open it to look inside, or count the cred to check the amount, or even keep it in her hands to be a distraction. The integrity of their business relationship makes it unnecessary. "It's called boot camp, Valentine," she drawls, crossing her arms. "You have to break a person down before you can build them back up again."

Frankie nearly smiles and ruins their routine at the focus the woman takes on not opening his envelope. She is trying so hard to be a proper business woman... completely charming. Frankie crosses his arms as she defends her methods. As if he’s mad. Mad at the miraculously perfect woman who had brought hope to a situation that had been clawing at him everyday for nearly half a year. “And your boot camp... You really think it’s doin him good, huh?” he drones softly, as if he’s mad. It’s a miracle his jubilant glitter doesn’t manifest, but he can’t keep the shimmer of mirth out of his eyes.

Ardette leans forward and pins Frankie in place with narrowed eyes. "I know it's doing him good," she says. But her eyebrows quirk a little when she looks into his eyes. Is this a test? You don't hand the Choreographer an envelope of cred and then express doubts; that isn't the right order to do things at all. She studies that peculiar gleam in his eyes and then grunts, leaning back. "And if Mr. Claud says otherwise, it's because he's the one that has to go home and take an ice bath every day, not you," she scoffs, flinging a hand in his direction. "But yes, I think it's doing him good. I think it's doing him damn bloody good."

The creeping grin freezes when Ardette’s icy gaze lands on Frankie. An intense urge to come clean, to make the woman smile and assure her that he was not really upset, not at all, that she is the most wonderful person in the city, please don’t be mad with him, please, he was just playin’- It all passes as soon as the woman marginally softens her expression. He had only just managed not to fidget, but the smallest sign of approval- well, that’s going too far, more like lack of complete disdain- sets him back on the path of thinly veiled delight. “Oh, Claud ain’t been complainin’, Miss. Bloody good’s right. Fact is, I think this is the best I seen the kid lookin in months.” Frankie’s businesslike expression parts into a sunrise of a smile. Lacking it’s trademark joking insincerity, the man seems to de-age as the clean office brightens with glitter. Ardette’s aggressive gesture draws a haze of the Mafioso’s glowing sunlight vibe. He clears his throat and tries to regroup. Seems that little display wasn’t part of the plan.

“Ahem. But really, I’m jus’ checkin up on my investment, ya see...” The beaming smile appears again. “And wonderin if said investment’s ate yet. I put off dinner fer this debriefin’. Whatsay ya help a poor starvin soul out an’ we chat over’a meal?”

Ardette startles and blinks rapidly, temporarily dazzled by the glittering light that bathes her office. She stares at Frankie, not offended, certainly not angry, but... simply drawing a blank, now that she realizes she doesn’t have to defend herself. He’s pleased. And when Valentine is pleased, the world knows it. “Wh-- Dinner? Valentine...” Ardette laughs uncertainly, tossing her head to look around her office, as though addressing an invisible audience. She squints at Frankie, beholding that smile of his that’s dazzling on its own, even without the pyrotechnics. “You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you,” she drawls warmly. “You sly dog.”

Frankie smiles coyly at the woman as she laughs, his eyes filled with delighted triumph at her reaction. “If you mean keepin’ an eye on business, I can proudly say I am,” he says with feigned innocence, but his pleased expression betrays his personal investment. “So what do ya say, Miss Bombaerts? Stay here’n chat, or throw this poor ol’ dog a bone?”

Ardette sighs breezily and looks down at her feet, calming her chuckles. Damn you and your dazzle, Frankie Valentine. Damn your charm for making that Vendybar in the top drawer of her desk seem so unappealing now... She holds her hands up and shrugs at him, effectively out of arguments, except... “I’m a little underdressed,” she admits, smiling back. But that’s as good a ‘yes’ as any.

The very least he could hope is to be more appealing than a vendy bar. Her reaction tells him that he is, though he misinterprets Ardette’s response. "If ya'd like ta hit the shops, well by all means," he responds enthusiastically. He hadn’t been aware that Madam was a fashionista, but the more options he has in showing his gratitude, the better, he thinks with pleasure. "Ah course, since its the family that's inconveniencing ya like this, your expenses will certainly be covered."

Ardette reaches out and puts a hand on his arm. “Valentine, darling, you’re never an inconvenience. Besides, the poor dog is starving, isn’t he?” she simpers at him. Yeah, she’s buttering him up a little, but that’s an outright gift she isn’t sure she can accept, even if Frankie is ever the exception. “Why don’t you make yourself at home, and I’ll go see if I can’t throw something suitable together, hm?”

Frankie closes his eyes at the continued praise. He laughs lightly, seeing the brazen flattery for what it is, but enjoying it nonetheless. He opens his eyes to give her a knowing expression- he knows exactly what you’re doin, Miss, but by no means does that mean you should stop. “Ah well. Yes, I suppose I am. Next time, when we ain’t knockin on deaths door,” he says solemnly, but his eyes haven’t stopped twinkling. Perhaps he’ll get some girls to select for Madam some swanky dresses, save her the hassle of shoppin.... Hmm. “Ah? Oh, yes, absolutely. I’ll be as patient as ya like, take all the time ya need Miss Bombaerts,” he says with a slight bow.

Ardette smiles and gives his arm another pat, a silent 'good boy.' She takes the thick envelope of cred with her, to put someplace safer than even her lockable office with its lockable desk. She walks down the hallway and turns the corner, and as soon as she's out of sight, she runs towards the back storage area, unlocks the door, and takes the stairs up to her apartment two at a time, light on her feet and making barely a sound. Her mind is already on what's available in her modest wardrobe, something, anything she can finagle to be formal enough for one of Valentine's choice venues. There's just one logical option, her V-Day dress, and oh, she hates to repeat it so soon, but it's all she has. As soon as she's in her apartment, she's all but ripping her clothes off of her. Dammit, dammit, dammit, some warning would have been nice, Valentine, you big old bloody romantic!

Frankie bursts out laughing at the over the top praise. He gives her a small wave as she leaves, following her out of the office and taking his vibe with him. The students are gone, and soon so is Ardette… He feels suddenly uncomfortable in the empty building. His eyes rove until  they land on the large dance room . “Hello, beautiful,” he says softly. Make himself comfortable…. Frankie enters the room, shoeless, sighing happily as he stands in the center of the glossy floor. He lunges slowly, gracefully and begins limbering up.  The warm up flows into a smooth drill of basics. Though his vibe builds, Frankie concentrates on keeping it down. His face says it all: Happiness.

Ardette huffs out a satisfied sigh and appraises herself in the mirror, straightening out her dress. Not bad, for 60 seconds, Bombaerts. You've still got it. (Thank you, "The Nutcracker - Act I" backstage quick-changes for that particular talent). She combs her fingers through her hair as she slips her bare feet into simple black heels. A touch of perfume on her neck and wrists, a quick brush of powder on her face, and a dab of lipstick, and... she still looks like she just did 60 seconds of fashion-aerobics, but damn, she makes it look good. Whatever. At least she doesn't need blush, now. Once her cred is safely stowed, she grabs her coat and goes back downstairs to join Frankie. Her office is empty, but Studio A's door is wide open... Ardette smirks and approaches at a saunter. Studio A is her baby, her pride and joy, and she loves seeing it filled, even with only a single dancer. Frankie looks so happy dancing there that it makes her smile. "Well, you look right at home," she drawls, leaning against the doorframe. "You should take classes."

Frankie is trying to tighten up his foxtrot pivot when her voice interrupts. Not that he hadn’t been expecting her, but he’s devoted himself entirely to his movements and keeping the emotions and vibe down. His eyes jump from the mirror to the choreographer, his intense concentration shattering into a thousand particles of light. “God blessit-! Ah, ‘scuse me miss…” He straightens his tie and moves to replace his coat and shoes. The vibe slowly backs down as Frankie calms. “Well you know how it is. Can’t go wrong givin’a stepper a flat surface. And what a flat surface ya got here,” he sighs admiringly, running a hand over his hair as he checks himself in the mirror. “Classes huh? Lady, yer one helluv’a business lady,” he grins. “Fraid yer a bit late, I already been picked up by a lovely lady by the  name’a Malitowski,” he sparkles again, assuming Ardette with recognize the name. But he surveys the gorgeous room again, wishing suddenly that Dette was one of those dames that took hours to get herself ready… “Maybe an occasional visit…”

Ardette startles when he does, bringing her hand up to shield her eyes until the light dissipates. Well, at least Frankie was able to recharge his vibe before going out. Studio A had that effect on people. She admires Frankie admiring her studio, feeling no small amount of pride. Oh, yes. Valentine will be back. Look at his face, he's smitten with the place... She does a double-take when Frankie brings up Malitowski. "Oh, Yulia!" Ardette says, her fondness for the woman apparent in her tone. "How is Yulia? Giving you hell, I hope?"

Frankie rarely had trouble with too little vibe- quite the opposite. But the calm professional atmosphere has helped him control the powerful force of nature that has been his core since V-day, if even for a short time. “Oh?” They are on first name terms then? He should have guessed. Frankie exits the studio with an echo of Ardette’s fondness in his expression. “She is unbelievably patient. Far better than a scoundrel like me deserves, yet she continues ta work with this hopeless case.” He speaks like he’s describing a saint. The parallels to Ardette and Claud doesn’t escape him, and as Frankie opens the door for the lovely square, the admiration in his voice quite obviously spills towards Ardette.

Ardette nods to Frankie in thanks, shrugging on her coat as she steps outside into the cool night air. She stops almost immediately, though, when she sees a shiny purple limousine cutting a sleek line through the backdrop of her normally dull street. Frankie always seemed to bring a bit of his style everywhere he went; the limo is a sight that simply doesn't belong in the Square district. Of course, this shouldn't surprise her at all, but now she's especially glad that she got changed. Ardette turns at the waist to smirk at Frankie. "Shall we, then?"

Frankie watches her admiration from the corner of his eye. He can hear a murmuring from down the street as well. Ardette had shared her beautiful baby with him, now it’s his turn to share the kindness. The car pulls up with a smooth hiss, and a nondescript, well dressed man gets out to open the car door. “As you wish,” he answers casually as they enter the car. Dizzy Gillespie fills the cabin, and drinks are offered as the limo begins to move through the grey district once again.

Ardette nods to the chauffeur in thanks. She finds herself trying to remember his face as soon as she leaves it, and it’s difficult; the man is either a Square trying to make his way out, or a Mafia man trying to work his way up. No matter. She marvels at the interior of the limo in polite silence, taking a seat along the side of the cabin, to give Frankie his choice of seating. The leather is buttery soft and smells new, and the ice in her drink clatters happily as they drive. Christ, there’s enough room to dance in this thing... the windows have bloody goddamn shades. Well, Valentine - she smiles at him in the dim lighting - if you’re anything, you’re consistent. “To you,” she says, raising her glass to him. “And to our Mr. Claud.”

Frankie slides into the couch across from Ardette, a small glass of gold whiskey in his hand, his foot tapping idly to the music. “Ahaha. You’re far too kind, Miss. But I’ll toast ta that, and add the city. Commin tagether ta help one another, regardless’a color.” He winks with less than subtle grateful praise, and touches his glass to Ardette’s. Privately, he toasts to cred, the great unifier. Frankie leans back and tastes his drink with very visible enjoyment. “Sadly I can only offer ya what I got in my limited stock, but once we arrive, I can have them whip ya up somethin more ta yer taste.” he apologizes. The limo is better stocked than many grey, and even some orange bars. “In the meantime though... here’s a little treat. Would’jya just take’a lookit this view?” The shades are pulled away to reveal the jewel-like city rolling by. Much prettier, at a distance.

Ardette neatly crosses her legs at the ankles and shifts in her seat to look behind her, to watch the squalor and splendor of the Grey District rolling by in a blur of concrete and lights. These are her streets, where she lived since the day she set foot on the island. What she’s thinking, but what goes unsaid, is that, yes, Valentine, everything looks prettier from the inside of a limousine, doesn’t it? But truth be told, he’s right. With fine whiskey on her tongue and good jazz in her ears, the city is reduced to a blur of textures and colors that is, indeed, beautiful. She wishes she had her notebook on her; there’s choreography hidden in this moment somewhere. “It’s truly something, isn’t it,” Ardette muses, looking out the window for a few moments more. But enough about the view; this a business trip. She turns in her seat to face Frankie again. “So. May I speak frankly about our Mr. Claud?” she says lightly, and without moving her head, she rolls her eyes toward the partition at the front of the cab. The chauffeur may be a nobody, but nobodies have the best ears.

Her streets, his streets... the city was vast, but the population lived here for a very long time. Odds being what they were, roughly a third of the city would know this district like the back of their hand. Frankie and Ardette unknowingly share a moment of possessive affection for the glorified trash heap that is grey, though Frankie’s feelings are complicated with the memories that made him flee for purpler pastures. “Somethin’ is exactly the word for it.” In that short moment, all the bubbling charm he’d thickly laid down for Ardette vanishes. The youth in his grinning face is subdued, leaving the boss Valentine that she is more familiar with. “Of course, Miss Bombaerts. That is the point after all.” He had thought to wait till they reached their destination, but the sudden melancholy begged for distraction. He looks to the square hopefully, but she is looking away- “Ah. That is my man Tom. He’s family. Most loyal man in the mafia. Ain’t that right Tom?”

“Yessir. Been with Valentine since jus’ after the war, Ma’am. Discreet’s my middle name,” the driver assures in a chipper voice. A student’s lesson was cake to the scenes Tom had witnessed.

...And a student’s lessons, at least Ardette’s kind of lessons, have historically led to the kind of scenes Tom has witnessed. She won’t be wooed by the Family; client confidentiality is paramount for Ardette for a damn good reason. Though Mr. Tom Discreet Undisclosed provides some shallow reassurance. She looks at Valentine squarely and gestures to him with her glass. “You know that I was... hesitant, at first, to take his case.” She shrugs and leans back in her seat; she looks comfortable sitting in a Mafia limo, confident, even. “I’ve built quite a reputation for myself as an offensive choreographer. I enjoy that reputation. I don’t want the Island to think that I’ve gone soft.” Soon, parents are going to be bringing their children to her for lessons. Bloody children! To think! Ardette takes a modest sip of her drink and sighs at the taste. “But... I have to admit that it’s refreshing, to work on a case like his.”

Frankie returns the look with an expression of his own. It tells of a lifetime of hidden depths and unbroken secrets.  “Hah, yes, I remember well, miss. And you can’t be imaginin’ that I don’t know the value of a good reputation!” His lighthearted laugh is a stark contrast to his eyes. “What do ya think the theatrics’r for? The secrecy? Why, just me showin’ up tonight all mysterious like’s gonna send’a buzz around town like’sa what you never seen. You’re gonna be swamped, lady,” he grins, hiding the lies with blunt honesty and good old fashioned business sense.  And then she frets about the island thinking she’s soft and Frankie can’t help but smile at her, he cannot believe she is serious. “Miss, anyone who’s ever met ya’ll know better than that.” The ones that didn’t certainly would never forget the vendy bills after the vicious tongue lashing from the square. “One student ain’t gonna destroy ya-“ He realizes that that is almost exactly what it had done to him and shuts his mouth before he can shove his foot farther in. “Anyways. Refreshing how-?” Frankie comes up short again as the limo pulls to a stop.

Ardette holds the cool glass to her lips and hums thoughtfully, thinking about the curious Claud, and Frankie’s delightful amount of savvy when he chooses to use it, and how the quality of Mafia liquor could make a whiskey-drinker out of anyone, thoughts far away and very close. “Well...” She pauses. How does she put this briefly? They’ve come to a stop and she doesn’t want to hold up Valentine, or his faithful Mr. Tom, but she knows Valentine will only leave his limo when he’s bloody well good and ready, anyways. Ardette nods, deciding on the words. “I suppose, after a day of teaching steppers creative ways to kill each other,” she tilts her head and looks at Frankie, “It’s nice to teach excellence for excellence’s sake.”

Frankie covers his wince at Ardette’s description of her job with a smile. But when she continues… “Poetry,” Frankie breathes. Possibly plain old fashioned flattery, but the dimming of his mood disappears at Ardettes words. “And there I was thinkin’ it was all about business for you Miss Bombaerts! This is certainly a pleasant surprise.” He hadn’t thought ill of her for her cold hard professionalism, far from it, but the revealed devotion to artistry certainly strikes a chord. Of course, Frankie’s pay was enough to make an artist out of any killer. His smile goes wry just as the limo opens. “But I’m curious ta find out what kind’a excellence your meanin, seein’ as the kid’s got the dancin’ part down, long as he’s got a good reference- You mean vibe? Ah, Miss you’re gonna have ta fill me in on all the details.” He stands, sets down his empty glass and offers the square a hand up, eager expression hungry for gossip.

Seein’ as the kid’s got the dancin’ part down-- Ardette smiles at Frankie’s childlike self-centerdness (yes, because swing is the only dancin’ there is, isn’t it) and sets down her drink. She hugs her coat a little tighter around her and politely gathers herself up to exit the limo, and finds herself staring at Frankie’s offered hand, inches away from her face. She looks up at him and, quirking an eyebrow, slips her cold hand into his. “Oh, but you don’t want to hear what I have to say about your references,” Ardette says. Perfectly harmless scolding, but a matter of principle she’s been meaning to have a talk with him about...

Frankie would never deny being self centered, he's well aware that he's in love with himself, but on this particular occasion, he's referring to Claud's ability mimic any dancer's style. "My references? I meant- Claud's..." He balks under the scolding, unsure what he'd done. "Have I displeased ya somehow, Miss Bombaerts?" He asks as the bouncer moves aside for them to pass.

Ardette turns her head to thank Mr. Tom, but he’s already disappeared inside the limo and Frankie’s whisking her inside with a firm but gracious hand at her back. “You personally? No,” she scoffs. “The state of the boy when he landed in my capable hands?” She raises her eyebrows at Frankie, a clearly implied ‘yes.’ They move past the bouncer, and Ardette meets his eyes, trying to remember his face, and to make him remember hers: a rule of thumb for her, because bouncers are as good to have on your side as bosses. “And I don’t just mean your references. I mean any references.”

At the reassurance, Frankie's feathers smooth back down in time for him to smile and charm the hostess, who giggles and leads them both up a elaborate stairwell to a private balcony that looked out on the other patrons and a center floor where many ballroom dancers flutter like butterflies. Frankie sits down after Ardette, watching the dancers for a moment with a proprietary air.

"The state'a the boy was why we sent him ta you, Miss. I'm sure he's not the first stepper you met with too powerful'a vibe." Wine arrives- compliments of the house, of course. "But if you take issue wit what I've done for him personally, there's no need ta dance around yer point." He swirls a glass of dark liquid. "But when the boy got ta me, he was terrified'a dancin and the act itself nearly killed him." He looks to Ardette with challenge behind his calm gaze. "I am very aware of his issues, miss. What I want to hear of tonight is progress."

“Well,” Ardette sighs graciously, jutting her chin out at Frankie in equal challenge. “You’re not going to get any progress until he learns to stop relying solely on his references.” She leans back in her seat, lifting the wine glass to her lips, and breathes deep. She doesn’t drink until he does; whether this is out of respect, or habit, is anybody’s guess. “What you did for him was give him confidence. Artificial confidence, but--” She raises a hand before Frankie can take offense, because there’s no offense meant. “Still confidence. Enough confidence to dance again. That’s invaluable.” She watches the ballroom dancers twirl around, oblivious to everything but each other. It’s a reminder of the freedom she enjoys, not needing a partner to do what she does. “I need him to have enough confidence to lead. Hell,” she laughs, “I need him to have enough confidence to solo. His vibe is a remarkable thing, but it should be a complement, not a crutch.”

The raised hand is enough to stop a heated argument.  Frankie's eyes follow Ardette's back to the dancers as he carelessly sips his wine. He fills with envy at their intimacy, their cooperation to create something achingly lovely. And fun. Perhaps he can coax Ardette out there later... "Confidence ta lead? Hah. God, I've been tryin' for months- solo-?" Frankie hadn't even considered it, the kid just screamed partner dancer... He'd assumed that was his style, as much as swing was his own... But he'd learned ballroom and Latin... He peers at Ardette, about to be swayed-  "A crutch? Is yer leg a crutch? Yer arm?"  Frankie was of the opinion that vibe was not something to be ignored- it's a person's soul for god’s sake! But... Ardette was already creating results, regardless her methods. He finishes his glass. "If you can get him to work without his vibe, you really think that'll do the trick?"

Ardette holds her wine glass - virtually untouched to Frankie’s drained - next to her cheek, and just peers at him for a long moment. Oh, Valentine, forever the lead; she finds herself as determined to re-wire Frankie’s comprehension of things as much as Claud’s. She narrows her eyes, and the candlelight and glow of the dance floor seems to catch in them and fix Frankie in place. “You really think I want him to work without his vibe?” she asks, sounding somewhat mystified. Oh, Claud has spoiled him. “I want him to redefine his vibe. He isn’t programmed to follow, strictly and exclusively.” She sets down her wine glass and leans forward, giving Frankie a confident stare. “He’s programmed to coexist.”

Frankie squirms under Ardette's gaze, until she clarifies. "I don't know yer methods, Miss Bombaert's. As ya may've noticed, I'm trying ta understand." Frankie smiles thinly as a waitress refills his glass, while another sets down two beautiful works of art that are also coincidentally salads in front of the two diners.

"I've tried ta get him ta lead, like I said. I mean, you'd think he'd just be able ta tap inta me an' it'd be fine, but..." He trails off with a expression of defeat. "He's not coexistin'. I can't get him ta lead, or solo, or anythin but follow after whether he even wants ta or not-!" Frankie sips. "You can think what ya like about me. Yer here for him, and so far yer doin a good job." He raises his glass to the square, judgement and all.

Ardette smiles her subdued little smile and clinks her glass with his. Yes. She is doing a good job. “And so are you.” She takes a sip of her wine. For a moment she just closes her eyes in the dim and holds the wine on her tongue; it’s smooth and rich and goes down like nothing, and depending on how this meeting goes, it could be a year before she tastes something else like it, or a day, so she savors it. “He thinks very highly of you, Valentine. In fact, I think his fear of disappointing you is his primary motivation.” She looks at him slyly as she puts her napkin on her lap. “Not that you need to do much, but... keep it that way. It’s working.”

Their cozy area sparkles softly at Ardette's words, but Frankie watches the woman with mild irritation as she enjoys the fine wine. He's not here to be treated like a child-- but she continues. "Look, at the risk'a comin' off like a pig, a lo-t'a steppers think highly--" he starts dismissing the square's assessment but flushes into silence when he makes her point.  He prods at a jewel on his plate that reveals itself to be delicious but otherwise indistinguishable. It's working. For the first goddamned time in months, something with Claud is going right. "So... how are ya gonna teach him a new program? I'm dyin ta know."

Ardette enjoys a tiny bite of her salad. Oh, god, vegetables. Food with colors she can identify. The Vendybar in her office desk drawer feels lightyears away, with this medley of textures and flavors and architecture on her plate. She dabs at her lips daintily with her napkin. “Well, ballet is a very different animal from swing, as you well know. He needs to completely relearn his technique, find his center again. He needs to be balanced, grounded. And that’s just our foundation.” Time to shelf her love of a good meal in favor of her love for a little something that she called in the industry, good-bloody-form. “His problem is that his vibe is too powerful, oui? You said it yourself. It’s constantly on high alert and reaches out indiscriminately for a partner.” ...whether Claud wants it or not, or whether its recipients want it or not, as Ardette learned very quickly. “So, we eliminate the need for a partner.” She smiles at the concept’s simplicity. “I’m giving him a forum to dance alone, probably for the first time in his life. Sure,” she flaps a hand, “He can prefer to dance with a partner - many steppers do - but if I can teach his vibe the difference between preferring a partner and needing a partner... Well.” Then maybe Claud could learn to control his connections. Ardette smirks and tips her glass to Frankie in a wry salute. “Necessity so often robs us of choice, non?” Case in point: Vendybars.

Frankie gets a grip as he listens, his vibe and flushing fades as he enjoys Ardette enjoying her food. For all her cleverness and charm, she deserved far more than shitty vendy food. He drinks as she speaks, leaning in as the fascinating answer he’d been struggling with falls easily from her lips. Grounded. Well of course Frankie had no luck. The moment he reached stability, his emotions and vibe sent him off in a shot of light and chaos. He was the last person in the city to be teaching groundedness… hell, perhaps when she got a handle on Claud’s issues, he and Madam here could have some lessons of their own… “You make it sound so obvious… Damnit woman, it’s hard not ta want ta just fall at yer feet and kiss em. Lucky fer you I gotta keep up appearances.” He sighs tragically, watching Ardette with fondness. “How’s the food. You like’n the food?” Maybe he won’t lie down in worship, but he can at the very least make sure she has a good meal.

Ardette chuckles and looks up at Frankie from under her brows as she eats her salad. She’s always enjoyed Valentine; he’s one of the only people with whom she can tolerate these kind of theatrics and find it endearing. Getting that treatment with a healthy dose of high praise doesn’t hurt much, either. “Mais--” Is she liking the food? What kind of a stupid question--? “It’s excellent.” And she gives him one of her rare smiles in thanks. This food is fine enough to completely oust Vendys from the food chain, and worlds more enjoyable than Cross’ bribery-food... She finds herself thinking of Santiago and his dinner visits, a relaxed menu in plastic containers spread out on a bench in her lobby, with conversation for lack of candlelight... and then her thoughts brush over a familiar callous on her conscience, the simple fact that she eats on the kindness of others. No, this isn’t charity, this is business, Bombaerts, so enjoy it. They finish their salads, and no sooner does Ardette lift her wine glass from the table than does a waiter top off their glasses and disappear. First course, over. Time to pull out the customary courtesy. “And how is the Family, then?”

Her dismissive, aloof praise of the food is just… endearing. And the glances she sends him no longer contain those traces of contempt. Frankie sighs with pleasure. No, he won’t press her to join purple, but god is he pleased he’s in a position to reach out to Ardette. Frankie grins crookedly around a mouthful of something that can only be described as ‘summer’. “The family? Well, we finally got all the flare damages repaired- architecture and stuff, 'course some things ya jus’ can’t fix…” His glass empties and it is immediately refilled. “Ah, more wine- lovely, thank’ya m’dear.”  Their plates disappear, only to be replaced by a puzzle of medallions, oysters and caviar. “And the flashes… well. Most people don’t even sseem ta notice’m anymore,” he laughs lightly. “Business as usual, I ‘sposse.” He looks at his plate. “And that’s quite alright, seein as that means dinner wit’ professionals like yerself.”

Light, cordial, nothing personal, and it keeps coming back to compliments of Ardette. Frankie is versed in the art of harmless dinner chatter, though the red of the wine is beginning to stain his cheeks, and that is not quite according to plan…

Ah, the flares. It’s true; the island as a whole moved on from them with startling grace because... well... what other option did they have? Ardette had long ago put down the cred to have the Conservatory vibe-proofed, but her business wasn’t untouched by the flares. When she had time to worry about something other than herself, her heart went out to Bratva; it hurt to consider losing a jewel like that in the chaos. Frankie sucks down his wine with dependable efficiency and Ardette keeps her sips small when she sees the flush high in his cheeks. At his compliment, she scowls at him affectionately. “Oh, Valentine,” she grumbles, carefully cutting a medallion. “I would scold you for flattery, but you’re just so bloody good at it.”

Any thought for the god awful long lasting flashes and their hideous habit to strike out randomly and last for what felt like years is washed away with sweet wine and words. Frankie hides his mouth behind a napkin as his smile grows inappropriately wide.”Well it’s awful kind’a you ta say, Miss Bombaerts. Of coursse tha’ jus’ means I’m gonna have ta keep doin it~” The glittering vibe become thicker, and the restaurant actually turns down their lighting to maintain the low lit atmosphere. They were prepared for Frankie Valentine’s patronage.

“Course, there wass’a nice part’abou’ all tha’ awfulness. Haha.. Did ya ssee it where, where a few times, somet’in terrible would happen, but- bam! The whole city came ta help, din’t matter the faction, din’t matter the rivalries... God..” The mafioso sighs and smiles as he tastes an oyster.

Ardette clears her throat politely and ducks her head a little when Frankie, quite literally, starts to glow, and she glances around them, expecting unwanted attention. She vainly hopes the, ah... 'assisted lighting' doesn't make it obvious to this crowd of polished Mafiosos that she barely had time to touch up her makeup after a day of combat lessons. But she could probably be wearing a potato sack right now and Frankie would still be glowing at her. "Hmmoui. Easy to forget, but empowering to think about, isn't it?" She owes a handful of her students continued thanks for helping to keep her building intact. She owes several more thanks simply for not being too scared to attend her classes. Hers is a brutish but necessary line of work, but the fairer side of that coin is the loyalty her students have to her. "The flares certainly didn't discriminate. Why should we?"

Frankie admires the woman in his gold lighting- why doesn’t he tell her? She loves flattery, right? From him? Oh that thought just fills him with warmth. “Oh dear ma’am you should wear more gold, ya look absolutely stunning~” Oh, and their plates are being removed. When had they finished? It was exquisite, he’s sure... “Empowering. Yea! Exactly! Ya think’about nintey nine- you think UG woulda helped the mafia then?? Or Mafia help squares? No! But jus’ a year ago they did an it was glorious!” The light around them bursts into colors. “No discrimination! I love how yer thinkin, Madam!!” He raises his glass just as two plates of fish land before both of them, looking as if Neptune himself had requested a last meal. Two more glasses of wine, white to match the dish, are set before them. “‘N how bout this! Take’sa Mob boss ta get squares ta help each other. Hah! Well, least I can help,” he beams sweetly at the woman without any indication of the bitterness in his words as he takes up the new glass.

Ardette gives Frankie at flat look at his blatant compliment - that’s right, Valentine, you scoundrel, lay it on thick - and she smirks. She doesn’t need to hear things like that from Frankie, but if he’s flattering her, that means he’s happy, and that means good things for business. Christ, his head is already filled up to his eyeballs with wine and they haven’t even started their entree yet; maybe tonight she can coax him into writing her a grant, just... plant the seed there for his consideration. But at his words, Ardette looks up from her plate and just stares at him, her expression serene but otherwise unreadable. It takes a great effort to stamp down the flare of bitterness in her chest; oh, yes, the Squares are just an every-stepper-for-themselves pocket of poverty and short, brutish lives, that need a mobster to teach them some humanity. Not the words that were said, and probably not at all what Frankie’s implying, but it’s all she hears. She smiles at him and cuts into her fish; her knife goes through it like butter. “Ah, oui, a big help,” she says. “You’d be surprised how many of my students are sponsored.” He shouldn’t be; he knows what sort of cred she charges for her specialized services. “There’s a surprising amount of generosity in Grey. Local businesses... Purple bosses like yourself...” she says, gesturing to Frankie with her fork. “UG crews...” A ballsy thing to say deep in the VIP section of a Mafia restaurant, but hey, no discrimination, right?

Frankie nods agreeably to Ardette, not batting an eyelash as she speaks well of UG “But tha’ss jus’ it, ain’it?? Strings’r connect. Attached, I mean. They’re invesstaments, not… char’ty “ He frowns… he doesn’t like how that came out. His eyes slide to his untouched, forgotten fish. Of course, the wine pairing is quite happily depleted. A waitress with the bottle hesitates, but Frankie jovially motions her to over. She gives Ardette an apologetic look as she refills the mafioso’s glass, not quite full, and hurries away.

“But like you said or I sssaid, don’ recall, ahah- it’s gettin’better! Like, like, way back when, fer’ ‘xample!! God, had’a flassh’ov it lass’ week, of… OH! The Rebellion!” His slurring softens. “I heard Orange disstric’ haad it bad too, an’ ‘m ssorry, but ssee, but, the thing is, the thing! Mosst’ uss’n grey were livin hand ta mout’ aas’t wass, righ’? Hah, maybe you’sswere there? I dunno… But anyhhow, hhad’a neighbor, knew tha’ fella what… five yearss?? Sssince I came ta the fuck’n city!” Frankie’s glass sloshes in passionate emphasis. “Dance lesssons? Char’ty? HAH! Th’ man wass lurin’ people- sssteppers- ahnyone, lurin’ em in, promissssin’m…. food…” His muddled gaze grows distant as he remembers a time when grey was just an every-stepper-for-themselves pocket of poverty, where short, brutish lives were the most anyone could hope for. “Would’a got th’ whole damn buildin’, cept’e tried’t on me... ” Frankie’s muttering dies. He looks back down at the dancers as if he can’t quite believe they are real. The staff rushes to turn up the lighting as Frankie’s glitter burns out and leaves the patrons in gloom.

Ardette nods and gives the waitress a tight smile, and they share a look of understanding. Frankie's past the tipping point, now, and the current of the drink is chasing him down a dark and twisted road. Time to do some damage control. Ignoring the hubbub of an entire restaurant suddenly doused in darkness, Ardette reaches across the table and puts a hand on Frankie's arm. "It is getting better," she assures him. "The virus has burnt itself out and now we're healing." Yes, the Scientists, or at least the power of the group that called themselves that, is gone, and the evil borne of the desperation they caused... well, it's quiet, now, at least. Ardette turns her head to watch the dancers with him. Quick thinking "Hey, how about a quick turn around the dance floor before we're both too full to move, hm?"

They’d been dying, tearing each other apart while the purple district snobs simply laughed and danced on... His watchful gaze flickers with anger at the mass of carefree patrons. Frankie nods in silence at Ardette’s assurance, but tenses at her touch. He looks at her with shock. “Huh-? Did’I hear’at right you’ld like’ta dancse madam oh well tha’ssa whole ‘nother t’ing!” He can’t ignore an invitation like this. Frankie is successfully distracted and coaxed out from his brooding. “I knnow’yous ’ate tango but I’c’n do’a lot’a sstyles e’cept ballet but I’d try it fer you, misss, honess’ I would.”

Ardette smirks at him and gives his arm a little pat. The light's back in his eyes, the sparkle is back in the air, ladies and gentlemen, Frankie Valentine has returned. Thank god. "How about a waltz? Or a foxtrot?" Something safe, benign, something not a tango. She doesn't hate tangos - far from it - and that's part of her problem. "You know I can do more than ballet. So, you pick. Not my house," she tips her head to him, "Not my rules."

The returning hints of Frankie’s vibe swirls exclusively around Ardette. “Oh but I wa’na do ssome’tin you‘slove cause I addore’ya madam yer jus’ like this.... angel-!” But he wants to foxtrot. There was no ignoring the word now that she’s brought it up. He’s going to die if he doesn’t foxtrot with Ardette. Frankie stands in a very unconvincing impression of a functional, balanced bipedal entity. As he sets his glass down, it topples onto the table, but it’s fortunately quite empty by that point. “Thi’ss’ aasmuch yer houss’s mine, ‘f sssomeonesayss ot’erwise juss’sen’ em ta me’n they won’t ssay shhit ever again, sssee?” He smirks confidently as he takes Ardette’s hand after only the second attempt. “Ssso how long yous’sbeen foxtrottin do ya like th’ ssstyle? Issn’ it juss’a fuckin beesss knees??” Frankie’s enthusiasm has distracted him from his earlier wish to defer to Ardette’s preference- he doesn’t actually remember her not agreeing to that style.

Ardette jumps a little when his wine glass topples over, and on pure reflex, her vibe sets it upright again, and even folds his napkin for him. She looks up at Frankie with raised eyebrows, thanking her vibe in advance because this could get messy. Dancing off some of the booze will do him some good, if he can even find his way to the dance floor. She neatly unfolds herself from her chair and links her arm with his, mostly to get a feel for his balance and how upright he's willing to stay. "Oh, for a few years, now..." she says, somewhat distracted as she guides him towards the stairs leading down to the dance floor. "It's lovely. Classy." Boring. "Ethereal, even."

Frankie hadn’t noticed his glass fall, but the table moving to reorder itself grabs his attention. …Too much to drink. The Mafioso’s bright laughter sprinkles the balcony with colorful vibe.  And she links her arm in his and all the darkness and bad memories flutter away completely in the wake of his light. “Rollsssroyce’a dancing!! Romaant’c, ssmooth- sso many people thinki’ss …Oh, Foxsstrot! Tha’ss eassy! Hah!! Gotta’be moresskilled’n anyot’er style- waltz?? Quich- quicksssttep?? Forrgettabout’it!! But’I don’gotta tell yous’do I Madam! You’sun’ersstand!” Throughout his excited gushing, the man has nearly fallen face first down the stairwell nearly four times and ended up leaning against the elegantly wallpapered restaurant wall more often than he’s stood up straight. Ardette is aided by two waiters, one panicked and one boredly amused. Between the three of them, Frankie makes it to the ground level, but they have hardly touched the floor before the Mafioso is pulling Ardette eagerly towards the dance floor. The lights dim in preparation, and the soft, unobjectionable classy music stops in favor of something  for the mafia boss.

Ardette laughs a mite hysterically, needing to answer Frankie's wild grin with something as he peels himself off the wallpaper. It's a concerted team effort between her and the two waiters to get him downstairs, and she doesn't even have time to thank them before Frankie's tugging her towards the dance floor. Remind her to remind Frankie to give them big tips, the waiters, the waitress with the wine, tips all around! Ardette gets into a proper closed position, her posture, impeccable, almost clinically so, compared to the relaxed sway of Frankie's spine. "Are we alright, Valentine?" she says. She lets go of his shoulder so she can put a finger under his chin and tilt it up where it should be, oh god, he's drunk. She raises her eyebrows and smiles at him brightly - brightly, mind you, not panicked - as tinny piano scrolls past them. "Shall we?"

Frankie nods almost hungrily, so enthusiastic that some in the nearby crowd giggle. Frankie hears and beams at the taken aback steppers, his vigorous waved greeting leaving streaks of gold mist above. And then the song starts! Frankie is caught off guard despite Ardette’s warning, and his leap of surprise becomes a disconcertingly graceful spin that only ends so that he can pull Ardette into yes, finally, a foxtrot. They glide over the floor as if it is water, and the laughing crowd immediately begins to cheer, possibly for the grace, possibly for the fact that Frankie hasn’t yet tripped over his lovely, composed partner. Frankie hops, waits for her to do the same- even the slightest delay is an audience pleaser. Frankie’s confused expression is full of delight and comical concentration. The crowd’s cheering grows, and they and Ardette are wrapped in an intensity of sparkling, colorful jewels of light.

Ardette hops when he does, glides when he does, and it takes her sharpest reflexes to follow his cues when it seems like Frankie doesn't even make the cues voluntarily; each movement is simply where the momentum of Frankie's body wants to go next. Frankie's positively beaming, he lives for this, but Ardette's trying not to be distracted by the shimmering air, or the cheers, or the booze on Frankie's breath. Even if there's a nanosecond's hesitation, a gasp when Frankie yanks her into a spin, by god, her footwork will be impeccable; she won't give any of these Mafiosos anything to hold against her.

While their erratically beautiful movements are leaving ethereal patterns of vibe trails, the dance floor now has a higher alcohol content than some bars. But Frankie does live for this, it’s absolutely clear to everyone watching. But something becomes clear to Frankie as he pulls the woman intimately close, her form immaculate, Frankie’s somehow managing to be accurate despite the illusion that he’s simply draped on the square. Despite his pickled brain, despite his joy- his partner isn’t having fun. Is he dancing poorly?? What has he done? The song hits back on a minor key with this epiphany. Frankie tries harder. His lead becomes more deliberate but his movements more wild, vibe more showy as his dance sneaks towards lindy hop territory. The mafioso pulls off some seemingly impossible leaps that slouch back into the appropriate style. The crowd’s noise is lost to him now, his only concern as he dances becomes thoughts like- did her frown fade a little bit? Did he just see her scowl more as he turned her? Is she hating every moment of this?

Oh, Jesus, if Ardette was trying to offer any resistance to Frankie's lead before, he's making it impossible for her now, with not an inch of space between them unless he's spinning away from her to burst into a crowd-pleaser, leaving her standing there helplessly, before sweeping her away again. At least now she's latched onto some semblance of his rhythm. Her only concerns are not botching the dance, and keeping them both standing. But their movements are growing wild, and they spin together in an increasingly wide circle, pushing other couples from the floor until the hem of Ardette's dress whips close enough to the surrounding tables to leave their tablecloths swaying. It's when Frankie twirls her into him and dips her, and she extends her leg in a graceful développé that nearly kicks the cigarette out of a diner's mouth with her pointed toe, that she decides -- okay, enough is enough. She rights herself again with such force that it sends Frankie backpedaling a few steps, and before he can lose his balance, Ardette grabs the lapel of his tux in one hand, and wraps her other arm high around his back to steady him, like some strange mix of a man's closed position, and the grip of a woman who's either about to kiss a man, or punch him. They're still for a moment, just swaying cheek to cheek. "Down, boy," she laughs breathlessly, glancing at him. "This isn't a throwdown."

She’s not smiling- he had seen her smile and knows that is a thing she does and knows that she is most assuredly not anymore- his dancing must be getting worse, he’d drank too much and now she’s going to hate him forever for his pathetic attempts- The vibes dies a dark and sudden death as an electric crackle sounds from the shame flooding his heart- He gasps as he falls away from the woman, unsure what has just happened- Oh he’s being grabbed now. She hates him, he’s fucked everything… up? Frankie blinks at the playful words, the lack of anger as she hold him still. “Didya… what’d. I’msssoryy I know’ssnota throwdown I jusswanned’ ya t’ have fun’an I know ya weren’ an…” he pants as the audience roars wildly at the end of their dance. They’d imagined it was all part of the performance, Frankie’s drunken antics, Ardette’s patience, the man becoming wilder and wilder until the indomitable woman had put her foot down. Just at the end of the song, too. Certainly their routine would be copied, regardless of the original intentions. But to Frankie, the cheering paired with Dette’s disapproval is mind boggling. He stares at her with wide, confused blue eyes that dart to the crowd, back to her. A very hesitant, befuddled smile twitches into existence. “Did… didj’yawanna dance’nymore I promissse I’ll do bedder nex’ time?”

Ardette tries to catch her breath, deaf to the cheering and clapping and sputtering of the man who just lost his cigarette, and she just stares at him. And then she turns her cheek and starts laughing. Frankie, you drunk, you scoundrel, you well-meaning boyish thing that exhausts her sometimes. "You did just fine," she says, panting. She beholds his crooked smile and ruddy cheeks and clear blue eyes and just shakes her head at him; he could have such a lovely face sometimes, too. "Now--" She swallows thickly and lets go of his jacket, smoothing down the lapel. "'Ow about you twirl me out, we give them a bow, and go back to our meal, mm?"

“Oh.” Frankie is enveloped in gold light when Ardette says this, and it swiftly floods the square as well. Some patrons flinch at the intensity, but the cheering becomes overwhelming. The staff not also captivated are talking urgently amongst themselves with concern; other wealthy, demanding Mafioso had reservations, and if this kept up, no one would leave. When the sun-like Mafioso spins his glowing guest off the dance floor, their relief is tangible. Two rush over to help the man back up the stairs, but Frankie waves them off, sending large flecks of gold into the air- “No, ohyer ssweet’but’m fine you daarlinnsh~” They stand nervously at the base of the stairwell while Frankie sways up with Ardette. He sheds more flecks of vibe that lay against the steps, petal-like. He’s notably less jelly legged than the way down, and quickly they make it back up to level grounded privacy. “Forggot’about’a ffood. How could’I do that?? Nonsssense, thissstuffs ffuckin.. ssshould make’a sssong’about it.”  He actually manages to pull Ardette’s chair out for her without knocking it over, only because he manages to catch it. And then he lands in his own seat with a fresh puff of vibe.  The wine seems to be missing from the table, and before Frankie can call for it, a glorious peacock-like creature is set before them on a plate, the steam drifting off it’s glazed skin smelling of buttery, hot ecstasy.

Ardette glances over the edge of the balcony to watch the dance floor and dining area below, smirking to herself as she watches the waitstaff glance at each other in confusion to find napkins already folded and empty tables already set. Hm - she quirks a brow - even the tables themselves are arranged in a circle around the dance floor, a circle that you could draw with a goddamned compass. Not bad, Bombaerts. She's pulled from her thoughts when the plate is set before them and she stares. For a moment it seems almost comical, goofy in a way, because she cannot fathom that food like this can exist. "Christ, Valentine," she drawls, scanning the spread. "Do you eat like this all the time or is tonight a special occasion?"

With flushed anticipation , Frankie watches Ardette rather than the obscenely decadent food as it comes out, not even attempting to hide his delight at her reaction. “’ts a thing’a worsshhhip, ain’it??” he jokes back at her expletive.  “Cheffss’a ffoodie vibe- gourrrmet, even,” he laughs with surprise as their server cuts into the masterpiece- the gust of orgasmic steam alone could sustain a man for a week- and inside, dozens of smaller birds await. “An’ fucck, iss ’is’a sspeshul’occasssion??” He repeats the question incredulously as he looks across the table at Ardette. As if she is a goddess. “Whaat’ya di’, doin’ fer my boy… fer Claud. All’I evver wanned ta do wass ’elp ‘im, an’, god- ya ssawwhere’e wass. Whhat I diddtohhim…” The waitress looks alarmed at being caught in this conversation and tries to serve faster. “Butyouu weren’even mad. A l’il naagin’, and… an ya jus… poof!” He throws his arms up with a gaudy spray of vibe. Poof. “Youss… youss fixedit!! So yea!! This’ssa special occaission, a’wright??”

Ardette finds herself once again dazzled, by the food, by the profundity of Frankie's drunken slurring, and by his ecstatic vibe, and she just watches him, speechless. As their server carves the bird and fills their plates, the same waitress from before approaches with visible hesitation and begins to refill Frankie's wine glass. Without taking her eyes from Frankie’s face, Ardette reaches over and, with a finger, tips the neck of the bottle in the girl's hands back upright; that's quite enough, dear. "We haven't fixed anything yet, Valentine," she says soothingly, like trying to calm down an over-excited child. "We have a long way to go. He's improving, but it needs to stick. We need to stay vigilant, oui?" Yes, and we need to stay sharp, don't we, Frankie, yes, we do, no, don't reach for your wine yet, eat your dinner like a good boy, please.

Frankie doesn’t notice the slight altercation over the wine glass, he’s far too caught up in admiring Ardette. “No, no I know tha’ of coursse’I know tha don’ be ssilly! Hahah unless’ya wanna, I couln’a imaaagine yous’ beinssilly I bet’ It’d be amaazinly chaarmin’caussse juss lookit’ya!” He grins at the beautiful meal that is too intricate for Ardette to take seriously. There’s something perfect about that. And god, he’d love a scotch with this- his hand meets the nearly empty glass. The vibe in the air forms tiny golden flowers that drift through the charged air of the restaurant as Frankie sips the fruity dark wine with great enjoyment. “Haard work! I knoww’ats’a think. Thing!  But you’cn’ practiceea’ move wrong, can’ya? Yea! Like, like- oh, there’sa slasa. Salsa t’ing I learned-- practissed m’ ffuckn ass off but I lean’t it wrong an-“ The Mafioso catches himself rambling. “Anhhhow!! Yer teachhin’ m’ boy riggh’ an’ if you’sll lemme buy’ya a fanccssy bird now’n then…” The man takes a bite of this artistry after all the admiration- his eyelids actually flutter, a soft whimper actually escapes him.

“...then I’ll still teach him right,” Ardette assures him, “Fancy bird or not.” She had a whole spiel prepared about how, outside of his generous contribution to the Conservatory, she didn’t need anything else from him - her standard anti-gift policy - except of course for the great honor and pleasure of his company... But she’s glad she doesn’t have to lie, because what started as a pleasant evening with a business partner is turning into babysitting in a cocktail dress. “And you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself,” she says, cutting into the glorious cut of meat on her plate. Even if he did do things the typical Frankie way, all leap and no look. “Who knows? Maybe Claud wouldn’t have had the courage to work with me if you hadn’t given him swing first.” By now, the flattery and appeasement is starting to taste false on her tongue, but... all in a night’s work, she supposes. What the hell; she finally takes a bite of her dish and-- oh, god damn it all, that’s so good it’s obscene.

“Well’nowyer juss humor’n me.. Don’ do tha’ Madam. Please... jus’ be honesss’ wit me, a’righ?. I c’n take it. I know’swat I did. He wasss’a swinger ‘fore I gotta’im.” He takes a caramel brown, gold leaf flecked morsel from his plate. It’s a work of art in it’s own right. He stares somberly at it for a moment before eating, then closes his eyes as he chews. It’s still one of the most perfect things he’s ever eaten, but it doesn’t taste as good as it had a moment ago. “H’ss vibe’hhurt’m, y’sseee. Nearsstopped ‘is… heart, tha’ssthe one. Juss’ built upp’is vibe too much. ‘ssm’ sparkle. ‘Ss what’ss meant for, y’ know?” He sips his- water-?? with a grimace, but the dancing had been thirsty work, he’ll stick with it for a while… “But’I’ma big boy. You donn’ggotta ssug’r coaat it, though I’s ssweet’a ya ta w’nna.”

Ardette sighs audibly and, just in case this evening takes another ugly turn - because it always seems to be a twisty, turny road with Frankie - she silently enjoys a few more bites of her meal, wanting to remember it. Just in case. "Alright," she admits, tipping her head to him. You caught me, Frankie. "It is a little sugar-coated. But it sounds like you brought him to me in the nick of time. Your timing couldn't have been more perfect." She lifts up her glass of water in solidarity - he drinks water, she drinks water - and looks at him squarely. "And this is me not sugar-coating it."

Frankie winces at the flattery; now that he’s inspecting it, all of it sounds flat, all of it sounds like she wants something from him. What more can he give? He just wants… more wine. Frankie sighs and nods, his head a bit loose. “Thankyassweetheart. I ‘preciate it.” And they descend into silence, which is great for efficiently consuming the incredible meal, but not quite as fabulous for the overall ambiance. He considers their dance… as the buzzing high of music and wine fades in the quiet, he realizes that she really did not enjoy herself. She smiled at him, but she didn’t enjoy it. “Ssso… Ballet… what’other sstyless’r clossse ’ta yer heart, madam?” He grins foolishly at her, trying to cling to the silly happiness.

Oh, but it wasn't actually flattery that time. Frankie in his drunken honesty is telling Ardette the things that Claud is either too respectful or too embarrassed to say about himself. And if what Frankie is saying about Claud's vibe is true, if they had waited any longer, the boy would have ended up another quiet tragedy found behind a locked door. Ardette reminds herself to devote a future session entirely to 'chatting' with Claud. She dabs at her mouth with a napkin, grateful for the change of subject, and hopes perhaps naively that this means Frankie is sobering up enough to realize that one needed to be made. "Well, ballet is my primary, as you know. Classical and contemporary. And all of its bastard children," she says, smirking, and it's clear the term is used with utmost affection. "Modern, contemporary, jazz... But the real stuff, the jazz that actually requires jazz music."

Frankie nods. “Love’th ballet sstyless, love’mta death, e’ry time’a Braatva’splaayi’n Ssswan Lake, an’… that other one.. god, ’sgot the bess’ mussic’a any production’I ever ssaw…” The song plays through his mind, but he shakes his head, unable to recall the name. “Russsian… ssome’tin..” He shrugs helplessly. “M’a train wreeeck’t ballet my’sself. Gott’a han’le on mosst ot’er ssstyless, t’ankssta thrrowdown’ssn all. But ballet… hah. ‘ssnot fer me... jus’canna wrap m’ head aroun’it.” He sighs and sips his- fuck why is he drinking water? And where are their waiters so he can get some goddamned service? Jazz- the word alone is like balm to his soul, it distracts him completely.  “Jazz…” He repeats the word, reverent as a prayer. “Sssoo.. what’kin’a jazz dancssiin’ya go’n fer, Dette?”

Ardette silently supplies it for him as she eats - Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - and she supposes that if Frankie Valentine is going to enjoy a ballet of all things, what better candidate than one of the quintessential classics? Tchaikovsky's easy to like; she wonders if he'd be open to a more comprehensive education when he's sober. Wait-- 'Dette? Eh - she takes a sip of her water - she supposes it's better than 'Madam.' "Classical jazz," she says somewhat smugly. "Fosse, Robbins, Tharp... I'm more of the... Fosse school of thought, but he's mainly inspiration." She gestures nonchalantly with her water glass. "I have to update it for the kids, you know how it goes." Youth these days, no appreciation for their roots...

“Tharp? Fossse? Classsic??” he laughs genuinely. Robbins though… He knew there was a reason he liked this woman, despite her tendency to lie to his face. “Ahhaha.. yeah. Gottassomma’thm at’a Grooveline. Daarlln’ li’l thin’s, gotta new’vibe, tha’sswhaat m’ clubssh fer, right? They come’n, all… excited...” He’s smiling into his glass, the same honest, gentle smile he’d had at the beginning of the night, a million years ago. “They’re ‘ll sso… eager- ssome’vm’r nervousss, but al’’vm jus love their sstlyes.. no matter what’s goin’on wit’ their vibe… god’it’d break’yer heart,’ss sso sweet…” He rests his heavy head on his hand. “Nev’r had noneso difficult’ss Claud. Maybe’s causs’es older.. I d’nno.”

Or maybe because he was homeless, Ardette thinks to herself. The Grooveline would never take in a scraggly, homeless Square with eyes that could shank you with a look when they weren't glazed over with some sort of chemical. But then again, neither did the Conservatory. Ardette threw a few cred Claud’s way every once in a while, until her suspicions as to what he was actually spending it on were confirmed. It feels so far away now, so long ago, and perhaps paradoxically, Ardette finds herself content when she thinks about Claud, and the very fact that they can say, gosh, wasn't that so long ago? Ardette lets out a happy hum and glances up at Frankie's wistful smile. "You're lucky. You get them at a very formative time in their lives. By the time they get to me, most of them have already decided on a style and have, euh..." She twirls her hand iffily, searching for the words. "...grown into their vibe a bit."

Frankie has his own theories. They'd have to compare them when he was thinking clearly. "Aahaha, welly'know we get all'ssors... Sssome don'even knowwha' vibe 'ey got... Adul'ss. Or th'r vibess'doin sommit new. Hah! You'd laaugh'it how offen we godda rebuil'th whole damn club!" He smiles tiredly. "Tha' an e'ry UG punk wit' sssometi'n ta provessgodda stickit ta ol' Valentine." Frankie rubs his face and drains his glass instinctually.

"But there'sa kidss. An sseein'a sstepper, sscared'a th'r own vibe, dance wit'out fear... Ss good." He motions the woman with the wine over- at her hesitation, he frowns and becomes insistent.

Ardette looks over to see what Frankie's flapping at and-- oh, that poor girl, clutching the wine bottle with worried white knuckles; she looks like she's just been chosen as the virgin sacrifice in Rite of Spring. Ardette glances at Frankie and sighs. Alright, let's get this over with... She raises her eyebrows at the girl - you. Yes, you! - and waves her over herself. Only then does the waitress approach and fill their glasses. When their glasses are half-filled, no more, Ardette waves the waitress away with her newly-established authority, not as the Square, not as the Choreographer, but as the Woman Who Drinks with Valentine. She snatches up her glass and raises it to Frankie. "To dancing without fear," she says briskly.

The sigh catches his attention and Frankie watches Ardette. Impatience. The glass is half empty when she waves the server away, and the hazy mist over his vision isn’t enough to obscure what’s going on here. Trying to reign in his drinking. It stabs his gut. Like he’s some kind of child. Queasy, sparking anger bleeds through him, and grits his teeth, ready to remind the woman that his goodwill was not a free pass to disrespect a mafia boss. The vibe light in the air begins to spark and pop, hissing as it lands on their extravagant meal. The waitress flinches and hurries away. But Frankie takes his glass as Ardette does, smiles as the two faced business woman raises her drink. At least her toast was nice. “Amen’ta that, Misss Bombaer’ss.”

He considers downing the pitifully shallow glass, just to spite her. But the more prevalent desire, to prove her wrong, whatever her unsaid point is, is far stronger. Small sip. “Ssso.. Madaam.. ‘nough’abou’ me’n mine. Nough’bout Sswaans… Lake.  ‘n tha’ ot’er one.” Igor something… No, still can’t recall. “Yer’th’ expert. Tell’me, whad’r the’ ssshows’wort’ sseein? Baallet, I mean. Hah.. ‘fcoursse’I did.”

Ardette doesn't even blink as Frankie's vibe crackles in the air around them and the waitress scurries away. She doesn't even lower her glass immediately when Frankie exits their toast to take a subdued sip of his wine. Oh, he's not happy with her; he can see right through her attempts to sober him up, can't he? Valentine, even without his vibe to translate, could be so transparent. Ardette hums to herself and tastes her wine. So many varieties of wine this evening and each one still tastes divine, unique, complex... She can already imagine the complexity of the headache she'll have in the morning, but how often does she ever get to enjoy those types of headaches anyways?

"Ballet?" Ardette raises an eyebrow at Frankie. Oh, these men... Valentine, Santiago, Cross, all of them, straining to exercise an interest in the craft, mostly just to appease her. "Well," she sighs graciously, folding her hands under her chin to think. "Don Quixote. If you want my honest opinion, it's as boring as sin, but technically excellent. If you've lived the years of your life with your eyes open, you've seen Kitri's variation." She taps her chin, and then points at Frankie sternly. "Romeo and Juliet. But with Prokofiev's score, not Tchaikovsky's; don't listen to a word Bratva says about that, I won't have it. Lines and Curves - one of UG's contemporary ballet troupes, I'm not sure if you're familiar - they're doing a showcase next month, Nacho Duato, Mats Ek, Maurice Béjart, some local choreographers... it'll probably all be delightfully avant-garde." Ardette realizes that she's rambling and clears her throat politely... She side-eyes Frankie, trying to get a read on his expression, and decides to pull out a familiar name. "And Yulia Malitowski and I may or may not have a bet going involving the Rite of Spring..."

Frankie watches as the all-judging-eyebrow softens into speculative contemplation. She’s genuinely interested in the question, of course she is. Who was too drunk for a polite and civil dinner conversation now? His narrow glare softens as she explains though, because despite his irritation, he has always loved ballet, despite his many failures at learning it.

“Don Quixote- ne’erssaaw nobody’doin’a whole sshow, y’know?? But’I alwaysh loved’at sstory, been mean’nta catch’it.. bori’n though… huh..” He nods, not catching the slight, because no, he had not caught Kitri’s variation, as he had not always been entirely welcome in the kind of places that held these performances. “Ah.. Romeo… no. No, I’lllisssen’ta th’ sscore ‘ll day, but…. Ss’not m’ bag. Bratva’sssr yerss ‘r Prokiem… Prokfie..” He laughs into his hand and waves the impossible name away. He shakes his head as she continues- no, he doesn’t know those- No are you kidding? Hah! The UG ballet troupes would allow a Mafia boss to their performances only if a DJ bot was supervising and there was a winner after the finale. Hmm.. scratch that, he’d seen their moves. Not impressed. His eyes rove away to inspect his wine, when she mentions Yulia- Frankie’s back straightens involuntarily- then.“AH!! That’ssaone I wasstry’na remem’er!! Bess’mussic’a any ballet thin’! Ssshow!! Ssstrvinsky!! Gorgeouss!” He’d sing it right there, but of course Frankie Valentine doesn’t do that anymore. “Moss’lovely classsicl’… not jazz thhhing. Love it! What’rrya bettin?? Issommeone’gna performit??”

In spite of the evening's turn to being cool with him, with being on-edge and so very, very sober, Frankie's excitement startles a genuine laugh out of her. In his drunken ramblings comes probably the most honest description of Stravinsky's masterpiece Ardette has ever heard the most lovely classical not-jazz thing. "Well," she hesitates, smirking. "Mostly we're betting on which company will have the courage to stage it, if anyone ever does." And Yulia, to this day, still thinks that onus will fall on the Conservatory. Ardette finds it incredibly kind of her to think so, but that's about all it is--kind; not likely.

“Oh’mgod!! Been waaiit’nfeersssome’one’a put tha’one taget’er sssince.. god…” He looks up at the ceiling, trying to recall… “God… couln’a beenmore’n twen’y… ssnuck’in, ya know?? Wass’a powerline’at wired m’ right to thisss rafffter.. Weren’t doin’ th’ whole t’ing, mixxedit’up wit Fffirebird.. Lucky even’ta get’at, yaknow’they had no passhience fer any’tin’ but dissco back’en…” He breaths the word and closes his eyes as the memory floods back. For those few seconds, Frankie’s mature features shift and soften- uncomfortably thin, young- couldn’t have been more than twenty. The flash is brief but intense, and the sound and lights of the restaurant fades, replaced softly by a creeping memory , bright stage lights, an intense feeling in the pit of one’s stomach—we aren’t supposed to be here, we are going to be in a life-threatening amount of trouble, but if we leave now, miss even a moment of this performance, we will regret it the rest of our lives-

Frankie gasps painfully as everything returns to the present- his glass has spilled into his meal, but he has quite lost his appetite. The poor abused and currently dazed server wobbles in to clear up the mess. “I… I hope ssomeone does.” He smiles shakily, trying very hard to pretend he hadn’t just had a little episode by continuing the conversation that now felt as if it had been years ago.

Ardette releases her grip on her knife and fork, slowly relaxing as the hubbub of the restaurant reluctantly returns and the lights come back up again. A flashback, a potent one... But rather than look accosted, horrified, startled, or even the slightest but unsettled, Ardette stares at Frankie looking... morbidly excited. Valentine, you ballsy sunnovabitch-- he hotwired himself straight into the mezzanine of Step City history being made! It occurs to her through the haze of returning reality that the fallen wine glass was probably her own fault; that adrenaline punch of emotion made her vibe hiccup, and she's grateful that it's not obvious that the mess is her fault. When Frankie smiles queasily, Ardette quirks a hesitant smirk. "Get me a producer, a venue, and my pick of dancers who won't try to kill each other, and your ticket is free."

Though the flash fades, Frankie has an irresistible craving that won't allow him to just move on for god’s sake-! “Cofffe! If- iffyou’d pleassse, misssy. Bitter, I do’na care hhow fanssy Misss’er gourmet wan’ssit. Cusstomer’s alwaysss righ, righ?” He smiles winningly at the server whose muddled expression becomes a death mask. The mafia boss wanted her dead. This was a hit, wasn’t it, she realizes as she nods politely and walks off with her heart in her throat. Time to to tell the domineering head chef the orders of a controlling mob boss. Peachy.

Frankie meets Ardettes eyes with a start- He hasn’t got the slightest idea what that look was about. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought she was about to come on to him, but he’s not nearly drunk enough for that idiocy. He dabs a fleck of spilled wine from his sleeve- the blood-red doesn’t show in the slightest, just the way he liked it. “Waiaitaa minute. Wait! Wait! Free tick’ess?? Ohh misss you’re sspoili’n me ‘ere!  God!!” Yes, he believes this, because it’s not remotely as farfetched as his first interpretation- all these criteria were a very simple thing for Boss Valentine.

Ardette chuckles and shakes her head. Technically Yulia would get a free ticket, too, because to stage such a production would mean Ardette heartily lost a bet. "Call it a hypothetical gesture of goodwill for a purely hypothetical situation," she says, voice warm with mirth. Yes, purely hypothetical, because the island doesn't call on The Choreographer to choreograph for art. Never has, never will. But one of these days, Frankie must tell her that Stravinski story. She raises her near-finished wine glass to Frankie and downs it. Waste not, on the hospitality of the Mafia. 

“Well, no, no ssee, it don’gotta be hyp’theticallat’all seein’as you’re’a dame’who’see got’a han’le on’all thissstuff, righ? Righ! Order! Thas’aall it’d need! We got’sa people! Whole city’a dancsssers don’ we? AWhhole city’a thhem’at wanna perfform. Tweeen’yous’n me, not’inss gotta’be hypocrit- hypo-the-ti-cal!” As he warms to the idea, his thoughts spin off- possible venues, the numbers and vibes of the most capable producers in the city that didn’t also hate him, the number of ballet troupes in each district, and the possible strategies for handling fallout that competition to be in this show would inevitably bring about... When the coffee arrives by way of harassed waitress, Frankie is beaming determinedly, mind clearly set on Ardette’s joking suggestion. 

Oh, merde alors, Ardette could have anticipated this reaction from Frankie, from drunk Frankie, no less. Is dancing on the edge of his rabbit-hole really worth keeping the man smiling? The way he's positively glowing at her makes it difficult to tell, either way. "I'm an arms dealer, Valentine," she says, just as the waitress approaches with his coffee. The girl looks at her, horrified, making a hasty connection between her inevitable coffee-bearing fate and the occupation of the woman drinking with Valentine. Ardette smiles at her disarmingly and turns back to Frankie. "Let's leave the fine arts to Bratva, mm?" Because no amount of Order could possibly make a feat like that feasible.

Frankie takes her argument to heart, and quiets as his planning is derailed by practical truth. He nods as he sips- bitter perfection, the flavor is full of nostalgia, although the rich perfection actually has very little in common with the chemical Vendy coffee that could take off the roof of one’s mouth which Frankie had grown up with. “Ahh… but’it coul’ be like’a… thing… ssshowcasse. Marketin’, ya know?? God, can’ya imagine?? Whole’damn citty’d know’yer name, comin’ta ya fer movess.. Hell, sssay’a word ‘Bombaer’ssn the thhorwdown’d ‘d be’yover, juss’like tha’…” She’d be famous, city wide... The Mafioso’s eyes gleam with vicarious ambition.

Ardette laughs. She's been laughing a fair bit this evening, more often than she has for a while. But unlike tight, panicked giggles, or a disarming hah-hah, or an affectionately annoyed chuckle, this is an open, honest laugh, a laugh borne of relief. Valentine is happy. Valentine is happy and he's drinking coffee. She may come out of this night unscathed after all. "If that's all it would take to end a throwdown," she says, wagging a finger at him. "I'd be out of business in a week."

“No, but, yasseee… ok, well’not’th’ throwdownssh, caussse ta be hone’ss they’re kin’a won’erful, but, ya know.  Th’ life’r deat’ oness. S’battless. You ssay Bombaert’s an’ bam! DJ calls’it.” He grins wirily into his cup. That’s not how the world worked, even in his little drunken fantasy. Frankie was reminded day after day that fools would line up to die, even knowing they had no chance. “Na… na, youu’d be perfffect’ly ffine, Madam. Why, wit’out throwdownss you’d get’ta go’nd focuss’ on Sstravvinshky. An’ tha’ ot’er one. Prok’fffieev. N… Tchakowsshky. Productionss. Hah! What’dya sssaay’ta that?”

It's tempting, so tempting, and for a moment Ardette wonders if Frankie knows about the notebooks upon notebooks of artistic choreography hidden in her apartment, the costume sketches and formation diagrams, little gems of self-indulgence scattered about from a useless hobby. She wants so badly for her work to be staged - once, just once and she would be content - but that's not what her clients come to her for. That's not what pays the bills. "Well, I would say it's a pipedream," she sighs wistfully, "But a lovely pipedream."

Pipedream?? Dette, do’ya even know who I am?? I’m th’kin’a fella what makes dreamssscome true~” He maintains a sincere, theatrically serious face for only two seconds before his own absurdity sends him into peals of laughter. The restaurants lights dim again at the Mafioso’s joyful mirth, and even once the man has gotten a hold of himself, the glitter remains clinging to every surface. Frankie straightens up and wipes a tear from his eye. “Once’sa boy’ssin’a better place, we’llssee’yabou’ gettin’ya a sshow. Bratva’sssgot good tasste. Or’th’ Orange Blosssoms hall… Yea, yea, it’ss UG, but--“ He leans in exaggerated mock-conspiracy, “UG boss’ssgot’a sssof’sspot ffer yer kin’a dance.” The man gleams. Yes, he’s connected, knows things and people that most simply do not have access to. Yes, Ardette. The city has just become your oyster. And all it cost you was a good meal with a drunk clown.

Speaking of-- A singer server shimmies up the steps, glowing with a soft rose light. As she moves off the steps, her burden floating up after her. Frankie stops speaking to watch the sugar miracle drift steadily towards them and settle, still airborne, on their table. It’s as if the chef had taken an electrical storm, miniaturized it, and frozen it in time. The glowing wonder radiates the unmistakable scent of perfectly caramelized sugar and an undefinable fragrance of a happy childhood memory that can’t quite be recalled.

“We apologize for the delay-- the head chef wanted to ensure that your dessert was to your liking,” the server pants humbly, finally finishing her own dance. Frankie stares at it, looking as if he might cry. “It’s the moss’beautiful thin’I ever ssaw.”

Ardette should have expected this, too. The night had been a roller coaster, starting with a smooth, dignified ascent to the top of the hill where she could see every possibility the evening had to offer... which quickly plunged into a wild ride of sparkles and wine, daring twists and steep turns, and the harried inability to relax as things simply happened, all with a tinge of the outrageous. And this dessert is bloody outrageous. "It's a work of art," Ardette says, staring at Frankie, marveling at the gleam in his eyes. She blinks a few times and looks up at the server to respond, because Frankie looks, well, too beside himself to do so himself. "Our compliments to the chef. And to you," she adds unexpectedly, resting her fingers daintily under her chin. "That was a very smooth landing. Not all telekines are so meticulous with their landings." It's not an empty compliment, either; that sugar sculpture looks so delicate it could break apart if you looked at it wrong...

Frankie nods in distracted agreement. The girl curtsies in overwhelmed silence. Mafioso openly raved about the masterpieces coming from the kitchen, but in all her time here, none were impressed by her ability to move the damned delicate things. She forgets the standard 'can I get anything else for you sir and madam' and hurries off with a grateful glance.

"Ts' not jus light, ya know misss," Frankie mutters, still absorbed by  the final course. "Scientis' call it plassma. What do they know? They ain'never been it. " Frankie is solemn as a preacher, the tears and manic exuberance have all dried up. "Movement. Cannever sttop, we gotta keep goin, no matter what'th cosst... But we're not juss destruction'n death, ya ssee? Jus wann connect.. " Frankie trails a finger along one of the glowing candy paths and feels nothing. This is not a benevolent portrait of of himself. He suddenly feels foolish for having said anything. The whole night, he's been a clown. His eyes hunt in vain for a waiter to deliver his alcoholic salvation. Frankie resigns and offers Ardette his insincere smile. "Hah. Real'or ssugar, the thing speakssfor itsself." He plucks a wispy branch and offers it to Ardette.

Ardette takes the branch of sugar with a neutral smile and nods in thanks. Oh, Valentine... A moment of dizzying high, followed by a moment of startling low, over and over and over; such is a single evening with Frankie Valentine. She's grateful she's survived to see dessert. She's grateful the evening's almost over. She feels the low herself, in a hum of suppressed annoyance with the man that's benign, and likely brief, and therefore useless to even act upon. So, Ardette just snips off a bit of sugar delicately with her teeth. Oh, the taste is effervescent. It tastes of a hot summer afternoon, of the squeals of too many children and the cacophony of too many sources of music. It tastes pink. It tastes like something you could buy for less than a single euro back home. Thinking of home brings a familiar pang of something-or-other that she finds equally annoying, something to be shooed away like a persistent fly. "Well, that makes us like everyone else on this sorry planet," Ardette drawls. And it's true. Constant movement, constant go-go-go for some unattainable goal, with the hope that we might collect enough friends to attend our funerals when we die. She heaves a dramatic sigh. "Except, of course, when we move, we look damn bloody good doing it." She sharply snaps off another length of sugar. Thought punctuated. 

“Yes ma’am. S’ the sspark’n everyone. Not’in complicated” His vibe made it so obvious, it was pleasant to hear the woman blandly state what so many simply didn’t comprehend. He sighs empathetically, and is caught off guard by the joke. Maybe it’s not a joke, but the balcony rings with Frankie’s laughter. “That’ssrigh. What’ever happensshappens. All’swe can do’s look good. And don’ya always’sseem ta manage it?”

Frankie picks a vein of insubstantial sweetness of his own. It really doesn’t have it’s own flavor as much as tastes like other things half-remembered, not the food specifically, but the moments he’d had them. Sitting on the curb with his brothers and sisters, all sharing… something, he’d scrounged up the money for. The air is so hot that each lungful feels as if it is drying you out from the inside. But it’s summer and that’s to be expected, and they are together and too young to do anything but sweat and fight over the last piece of… something. Something that tastes exactly like this.

Frankie washes his mouth with water and does not touch the dessert again. “Looks better’n it tastess.”

Ardette smirks at Frankie and silently congratulates herself; the Choreographer is notorious for having a leaden rock of discipline in place of where a sense of humor should be, but by god, when the need is there, she can make Frankie Valentine laugh. What are the odds? She takes another chip of spun sugar, enjoying the sheer novelty of it, how unlike anything else she consumes to get by, but when Frankie snubs the dessert... she puts hers down too. Disappointing, but it's a gesture of respect, and her stubborn refusal to ever eat in spite of someone. This starts being a gift the moment they're not sharing it anymore. They sink into silence again and Ardette contemplates the aftertaste, an echo so sweet that it leaves the roof of her mouth tingling. "How open are you to letting me introduce Claud to a different style?" she says abruptly, studying the dance floor below. She flaps a hand. "Hypothetical, of course. And we'd keep the ballet as his primary, of course. But humor me."

It doesn’t occur to the Mafioso that Ardette would defer to him where the food is concerned, and he doesn’t think twice when she too sets the delicacy aside. Nostalgia simply wasn’t appetizing anymore. Got to keep moving forward. Her question about how to progress catches him off guard, but it is very welcome. “A new sstyle? Well sshure.. no harm’in’a new style fer moss’ people, less it goessn’ makes’r vibe do ssomet’in crazzy. Hah. Like the firsstime I did th’ ‘lectric sslide... hah. But- but anyhow. No. I mean’ta ssay, yea. Why not? S’longss ya don’ go forcinn it ta be hisss prim’ry thin’.. like what’th did wit’ dissco.” The Funk Mafia boss grimaces at the word. “Na. Ya canna know too many ssstyles. Whatts’it yer thhinkin, Misss? Hypoftheti-cal-y sspeakin.”

“Well, quite honestly, I would be willing to teach him any style that I offer, if it interests him,” Ardette says, shrugging. She has no intention of forcing Claud’s hand - the important thing here is to give him a choice, after all - although the fact that most of Ardette’s styles are predominantly solo dances is no coincidence. “I want to broaden his range, when it comes to dancing independently. So if he needs a break from ballet, he has something else to turn to.” ...that won’t undo the work they’ve done, she thinks, but doesn’t say. That isn’t swing, she thinks, but doesn’t say. She likens the concept to dieting, and swing for Claud is like a decadent chocolate cake: powerful, with a connection to his partner that’s indulgent, too easy, and should therefore be enjoyed in moderation. Although, Ardette supposes she shouldn’t be any authority on dieting. When she isn’t choking down Vendybars and water, or not eating at all, she’s sitting across from the likes of Frankie Valentine in the fanciest restaurant on the island, snubbing a dessert that looks like it belongs in a modern art museum. “Although, I wouldn’t mind seeing some contemporary on him, or classical jazz. Modern is probably too austere for his tastes... Hypothetically, of course,” she adds, flapping a hand dismissively. 

Any style… The thought warms him to his core. Now this was a dance teacher. Independently- Ah. He wants to be insulted. Claud had swing to fall back on, the boy could dance that alone-! But the offer of any style he’s interested in is simply too tantalizing. Could anyone ask for more? “Oh… class’cal jazz…T’ink he already’s got it down? Y’know when’I met’im I though’ the modern’sstuff wassis main sstyle.. fifties,ssixshtiess sstuff.” Except… Frankie had never had him perform alone… “Lord it’ssso obvious…” Hypothetically, he was a massive idiot. Frankie flaps a hand at the woman in return. “Yess yess. I truss’ya impliccidt.. ‘plicitly, in th’ matter.” Lessons in any style Claud was interested in…

“Excuse me… is there a problem with your dessert?” The waiter’s tone is perplexed. It’s a rarity that food was turned away here. This new server hadn’t actually witnessed it in the time he was here, only heard stories of the ensuing storms of the head chef’s tantrums. But the sugar is untouched, and customer dissatisfaction is unacceptable. Perhaps he would flee to orange district after delivering the news…. In note form… or an email… The server contemplates his future.

Ardette looks up at the server and blinks politely at the interruption. The kid is young, smooth-faced and handsome, his features vaguely Mediterranean. She wonders how he would look dancing Jerome Robbins. "Oh!" Ardette glances at Frankie; great, is he leaving her to field the waitstaff again? Eh, probably for the best. "There's..." She chances one more glance at Frankie before answering for him. " problem at all," she says, smiling, and she rests her chin on delicately linked fingers. "We're just so full from our meal, and couldn't bear desecrating this..." She gestures to the... thing in front of them and her eyes flit to Frankie's; she wants to laugh. " of art."

Frankie catches the glance, containing just enough chastisement to get Ardette’s thoughts across without offending. He’s been a terrible dinner date. Getting drunk, getting moody-- she hadn’t enjoyed the dance he’d forced on her, and now she’s handling the hovering, sweating waiter with grace and poise rather than enjoying the dessert he’d insulted and, from what he knows of the woman’s expenses, she won’t see till the next time the mafia comes calling, which, after tonight he very much doubts will be welcome. Frankie himself laughs enthusiastically when Ardette repeats his words. Yes, he’d been laying it on thick, hadn’t he? Hah. Funny.

“Ah I assure you, the chef would far prefer it to be eaten than left for-“

“Just give us a minute, jessuss kiddo. Tryin’a stuff uss’till we burss’? Tell Daviss’downin’ th’ kitchen that we’re on’ta his game,” Frankie leans toward the man, who flinches. “Relax.” Frankie advises with a smile, patting the waiter’s pocket, which is left with a very visible sum of cred sticking out. The servers face loses its worry and returns to the confident pride that was expected of employees-- until he notices the large denominations. “And sssen’ tha’girl back, one from before, y’know? Brunette wit’telekeneniss?”

“Yessir. Thank you Boss Valentine!”  

He needs more wine. He won’t ask for anymore though. The woman deserved all the sobriety he could force on himself. He had the rest of the night to drink, anyhow. “Ssso.. I’m thhinkin’ I’ll try thiss’sstuff again. Ssee if I canna’grow a tasste fer what the rich folk go in fer,” he jokes as he picks out another sugar branch.

Ardette watches the waiter leave, turning her head until it's impolite to turn in her seat any further, and when she turns back to Frankie, her eyes are glittering with amusement. The rich folk, eh? Oh, Valentine, you're rich, rich in all senses of the word, you scamp. "You know, Valentine," she says, hushed, leaning forward conspiratorially. "You're a big boy. Nobody's forcing you to 'eat your vegetables' here." The man could refuse dessert if he didn't want dessert. Hell, the man could demand dessert for breakfast every day and half the island would call it the new Step Diet. But she has a feeling that, if he's trying right now, it ain’t Daviss'downin'th'kitchen that he’s trying for...

The sweet morsel has already sent him back to a crisp winter morning- cocoa. Hot, with cheap gritty marshmallows. She loved it, and though he wouldn’t spare a dime on his own comforts, the little blissful smile she gave him as they shared the silky drink... The candy has already dissolved, too late to spit it out. Ardette’s words catch him just as he considers this option, and embarrassment and humor combine into a wry grin. “Well you know, always sstrive ta do yer bessst, learn ssometin’ new? Preciate the finer things.” He debates wiping his tongue with one of the fine linen napkins as their waitress reappears.

“W-was there something the matter, Boss Valentine? Miss?”

“Ahhh don’ya worry yer ssweet’lol noggin, we juss wan’ed ta give ya a’lil token’a our ‘preciation, y’ssee?” He winks at Ardette and leans towards the girl- too close, he’s going to kiss her, she flushes, panics- But just before he connects with her, the mafia boss sits back in his chair abruptly.

“Ah- Um.” She looks down, flustered, to the thick packet of cred in her hand. “Um. This is for.. for tonight’s meal, right?”

“Ahh, not’at all, Daviss’n me gott’a undersstanddin, ya’sssee. Haha.”

She’d been informed of the arrangement well in advance, but as she stares at the money, she had difficulty believing it. The unattended dishes, candles and table decorations begin to float subtley- The woman takes a breath and sways her hips- everything sinks back down. “Thank you sir, ma’am. You are very, very kind.” She curtseys with great poise, only her persistent blush reveals anything- “And um. Ah, anything else I can get you??” 

"Just the check, please," Ardette says quickly, giving the poor girl one of her brief flickers of a smile. Is it rude to answer for her host again? Probably, but she feels she's earned the right, and the longer Valentine has to pretend to enjoy their dessert, the further away the end of this evening is going to feel for the both of them. The waitress nods graciously and shimmies away, holding the cred to her chest like a lady wearing her corset too tight and is about to faint. Ardette sighs and gives Frankie a flat smirk, and its meaning is clear: Valentine, for shame. "You mustn't tease them like that," she scolds, reaching across the table to swat the back of his hand playfully. "The poor thing almost had a heart attack."

The waitress gives Boss Valentine a questioning look; the deal was prearranged and the meal had already been paid for, courtesy of the Funk Mafia. Frankie nods her away and she hurries off, still dazed by the cred in her hand.

Frankie gives up on the filthy dessert. Yes, Davis and he would exchange words, and Frankie will simply have to resign himself to never be posh. Alas. Ardette’s reaction distracts from this great personal failing. “Ahhh well, I’ll do’m bess’ta never do ssometin’ like that again.” He places his swatted hand over his heart, the picture of honor.

A pair of new waiters stop at the top stair- the standard protocol was to bring an aftermeal drink, and they had been advised to be swift, just as they had been conflictingly advised that the Boss’s dinner partner was not enjoying her sloshed companion. “Ah, go on, get out’a here,” Frankie calls, noticing the conflict. “We got placesss’t go, people t’ throwdown wit’. Sscram,” he laughs, and they retreat, relieved.

“Well ma’am. Less you wanna finishh’up thiss ‘dlect’ble thing. Desssert?”

Ardette realizes as soon as the waitress does that she's caused a little hiccup in the understood plan of the evening by asking for the check, and the back of her neck grows warm. It's a plan Ardette’s been part of, but not privy to: a pre-paid meal, pre-imagined courses, even the wait staff must have been ready for them. She knows Valentine had planned this, but it doesn't occur to her until now exactly how far in advance he must have planned this... Jesus, Ardette hopes she never meets Davis on the street; the man must detest her by now. She puts her napkin on the table and stands. "Let's not impose upon Davis' 'studio' any longer, hm?" she says, smiling.

“Ahhh well, I ssposse I can come back’n harass’m later.” Have a talk, a bit of a dance.. He could decide the extent of his displeasure later. For now, Frankie feels.. good. He follows Ardette’s lead, and though he is noticeably unstable, the dinner conversation has brought him a long way back to the surface of his wine ocean. They don’t even need a waiter’s assistance descending the stairs, and the few that hover nervously with hopes of showers of cred are merely brushed off for their pains. The pretty hostess that smiles as she waves goodbye is luckier, and Frankie peels away from Ardette to dump another small fortune into the woman’s uniform. “An’a drink fer all’a the sstaff ‘ere tanight, on me. Cept Daviss’a course, the greedy basstard can buy hisss own hooch wit’ what he chargess each’a uss foolss.”

The hostess, used to all types of drunk rich patrons, senses the lack of animosity and laughs easily with the Mafia boss. “The fellas will really appreciate that, thanks Mr. Valentine.” She kisses his flushed cheek familiarly.

“Tell Daviss what’I ssaid’about th’ libasshions, awright Sher?”

“Absolutely, Mr. Valentine. He won’t get away with it!” They both understood that she was lying, and Frankie returns to Ardette’s side still laughing. The doorman is fortunate enough to benefit from his mood’s pleasant swing, and is trying not to break into celebratory dance as the chilly street greets Ardette and Frankie.

“Ahhh… well all’ss well tha’ endss well,” he breaths with contentment. “Now. Walk’r drive, Missss? Can get’a car here’n two shakes’a ‘a lambsstail.”

Ardette tries not to watch too intently the exchange between Valentine and "Sher," but she takes care to keep it in her memory. He's still drunk, still the pinnacle of Mafia dazzle, but when Ardette watches the Boss and the Hostess talk she sees Valentine simply being a person. Between this, and that extravagant, precarious display of a meal she just enjoyed, she feels like a fool. In spite of her poise and great posturing and being the woman who drank with Valentine, Ardette feels very, very Square. By the time Valentine joins her on the sidewalk, Ardette's cinched her coat tight around her waist and is ready to bid him thank you and goodbye. The night's left her exhausted, and so ready to make her exit, that his polite offer startles a laugh out of her. "Oh, please, Valentine, darling, you already spoiled me with that meal," she says, and when she looks into his smile it's easy to be sincere. "You don't have to escort me home, too."

“Sspoiled ya?? I did not’in’a the ssort! Thisswas’a business meetin! Who’ever heard’a anyones getting’ sspoiled durrin’ work? Nonsensse.” Frankie’s glow warms the night. The fresh air is doing him good. “And ssides. What kind’a guy dy’a think I am, that I wouldn’even walk’a gorgeouss lady through these terrible streets?” His thoughts catch up with his mouth- “And- hah, gotta protect m’ invessstment. Obvioussly.” The man’s eyes glimmer with the worn evasion.

Ardette stares, marveling at the glow around him. The pattern of the evening's mood zigged up and down like a goddamned electrocardiogram, but lo and behold, Frankie Valentine has chosen to end the evening... happy. She coughs - gorgeous lady? Oh, please. Investment? That's more like it - and crosses her arms tight around her. Even though all she wants to do is to disappear into her little Grey sanctuary, alone, that little voice of business-savvy pipes up. He's happy, Bombaerts. Keep it that way. "Well!" she sighs gustily, her breath a gracious puff in the cold air. "I assure you, this 'gorgeous lady' can handle these terrible streets, but if I know you - and I do - I know that if I start walking, you're going to walk with me anyways, because you're a gentleman," she heaves another flippant sigh and keeps going in the same breath, "And-- well, since it seems there's no deterring you, I can't on principle allow any harm to befall my biggest investor, so if you’re going to be walking to Grey anyways, it seems that tonight, I--" Ardette comes up next to him and offers her arm. "--will be the one escorting you." She raises her eyebrows at him brightly. 

There was something about the way she clammed up at compliments when he wasn't lathering them on, when they caught her off guard... Gorgeous didn't even begin to describe her, but Frankie will pace himself for better impact. The night was young, plenty of time to lavish her with more affection, which is imperative because she's calling him a gentleman despite both them knowing full well that he was simply a rich drunk idiot. And she's arguing that she can hold her own, and god, that's achingly attractive because he knows she's absolutely correct. 

"I muss'ssay, Misss Bombar's, yer conn..sssice 'sessment of the situation's pretty as'a ssong."  He hesitates at her offer however. Frankie had been feeling rather smug with how well he'd kept the wine out of his walk. But her eyes seem to match his own in their amusement, and Ardette successfully lures the glowing mafia boss to her arm. "Wellnow, did'na expect'a get a bodygaurd'along wit' the deal. It'ssmy lucky night~"

They stroll into Grey district as if they own the place, looking oh so proper.

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