He had not expected the part where he’d spend six hours a week working on dancing and deportment with a woman he’d met dancing in a strip club. He possibly would have declined the offer if he’d known, as one thing Wesley knew he couldn’t do was dance. But Ashley swore up and down that it was all valuable to his work and he had no choice but to do as she said.
“Makeup smears, latex suffocates, wigs fall off,” she said, forcing him to partner her in an absurd routine to horrible, horrible American pop music. “Again!”
“I’m trying!” he gasped, as a bland male voice informed him the freaks sure do come out at night, out at night while the beat behind him went at about the speed of light. “It’s fast!”
“It’s club music!” she snapped. “And if you haven’t realized, most of the best opportunities for operatives to insert is in a club/social setting. You have to blend, white boy, blend! Even if you can’t dance! And you can’t!”
Faith, who Wesley knew had been a very good dancer, would have had a hard time keeping up with Ashley. Still, she said keep up and he was going to do his damnedest, even if it was to damn Britney Spears. If nothing else, he was going to come out of training with the ability to outdance any of his former friends in public.
“Your disco needs you, Wes!” Ashley snapped. “If you were in the middle of a crowded club, what would you be paying attention to right now?”
“Wrong!” she replied, swirling around into a sudden flamboyant pose. “Why would you need to pay attention to him? You’ve ascertained his position already, haven’t you?”
“He could move,” Wes replied, taking her hand and starting the very fast tango she’d initiated. The rudiments of ballroom dancing he’d learned to please his mother had made this much easier, even when they were dancing to a Pepsi commercial.
“Why would he move if he was comfortable? This is his territory, not yours,” she said, leaning into Wesley’s competent dip. “If he moves, it’s your fault.”
“What are you paying attention to right now?” Ashley asked, twirling into his embrace with faux passion.
“You,” Wesley said. That seemed to be the correct answer and he really couldn’t pay attention to much else, not with her ass rubbing up against him quite like that.
“Because what else would I be paying attention to?” he snapped.
“Exactly!” she said, slowing down and complicating the dance at the same time. “On the dance floor, you are a hot Eurotrash guy on the prowl. That’s it. Your partner will keep an eye on the target. You are a Brit with connections in Hong Kong, looking for some fine ass. Your only problem is making sure that your dance partner doesn’t decide that your connection in Hong Kong is Jack. Don’t lose the beat!”
“Hong Kong?” Wesley asked, absently leading Ashley through the complicated dance. “Why would I go to Hong Kong?”
“Because that’s where Sydney is, and once you figure out what the fuck is up with Rambaldi, I know Jack’s taking you along for the ride. That is, if he can get the situation with little Will taken care of,” Ashley said acidly, breaking away from Wesley and beginning her own dizzyingly rapid improvised dance routine.
“I am not keeping up with that,” Wesley wheezed, watching her spin and gyrate wildly before throwing herself into an impossibly sensual backbend and snapping up like a stripper on meth. “I don’t think it’s physically possible.”
“Sydney is good because she blends. Nobody thinks a skinny babe is out to steal their data. People think shiftless dudes with no real agenda are there to steal their data,” Ashley explained, finally coming to a full stop with a pant. “You’re attractive, fairly young, and most importantly, you look like the kind of guy who’s out to get some.”
“That’s–” Wesley said, choking on the words. “That’s entirely untrue.”
Ashley smiled, looking almost impish in her typical outfit of sports bra, ponytail, and shorts, revealing teeth that could’ve used a serious cleaning. “Maybe it is and maybe it’s not,” she said. “It’s not important. What’s important is that you stay in character, because if you don’t raise eyebrows, no one will ask questions you don’t have answers for.”
Wesley nodded, flicking his eyes toward the doorway. Jack was waiting there, looking typically expressionless. Wesley knew by now that was mostly a front, part of Jack’s “character” as Ashley might call it. He also knew Jack was a ruthless son of a bitch, willing to kill at a moment’s notice to fulfill his plans. Wesley respected that.
“Here for the prize student?” Ashley asked, strolling across the dance studio and putting her shirt on. “I wore him out using my secret blend of Britney, Kylie, and *nsync.”
“Well, that’s what we like about you,” Jack said. “You’re willing to do what it takes.”
Ashley laughed, buttoning up her Hawaiian shirt. She’d explained to Wesley that she spent four or five hours a week leading tours in the shirt to explain how she afforded her life as “a dancer.” Cover stories, Wesley, she told him, simulating sex in choreographed form to the Neptunes’ remix of Britney Spears’ “Boys.” Cover stories keep us alive.
“That I am,” Ashley said. “And just remember, Jack–”
She walked past the older man, brushing him lightly with her arm. Wes was impressed at how playful she was with him, as if he were just another potential conquest. Jack smiled lightly.
“Any time you need dancing lessons, I’m here,” she said. “Later, Wes.”
“Until next time, Ash,” he replied casually, turning to Mr. Bristow calmly as she disappeared down the hallway. “Where are we headed?”
“We’re going to SD-6. I think it’s time you met a few people,” Jack said. “Besides, I have a job for you that I think will be germane to our projects.”
Jack was the only person Wesley knew besides himself and Rupert Giles who could use the word germane in day to day conversation and not sound utterly implausible doing so.
“Can you tell me what?” Wesley asked as they walked out of the building and toward Jack’s car. “In the general area of what, anyway?”
“I want you to visit a certain former ally of yours in prison,” Jack replied without slowing down. It took all of Wesley’s skill not to stop dead. Visit Faith? Now? With the stink of his betrayal of Angel still thick in the air? Wesley would be lucky to escape with his skin, and that would be if Faith was in a good mood.
“Of course,” Wesley said, the words slow. “I’m not certain she’ll be pleased to see me.”
“She’ll have a reason,” Jack said. “You’re going to be carrying her release papers.”
Wesley nodded, realizing that only a week ago, his eyes would have widened in panic. There was something to all this training, and not just the intensive workouts. But there was the question of release papers, and the knowledge he could not tell Faith where Angel was, even if he had known.
The two men got into the car. “Are you really going to take me to Hong Kong?” Wesley asked as Jack put the car into reverse.
“Probably,” Jack replied. “What’s wrong, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce? I thought you were looking forward to field work.”
Wesley swallowed, but not noticeably. “I am,” he said. “However, I’m not sure that I want to get too deeply entangled in another family psychodrama.”
Jack nodded. “I understand that,” he said. “But you’re not actually getting involved. You’re simply in a quid pro quo situation, Wesley. You help me, I help you.”
“Right,” Wesley replied. “And of course, the fact that you’d cheerfully blow my head off if I chose to get un-involved in this situation in no way entangles me, right?”
A slow, bitter smile spread across Jack’s face. “Have I ever mentioned I like you, Wesley?” he asked.
“You and quite a few people I don’t trust, either,” he replied. “It seems as if the only people who do like me these days are dangerous people who need me desperately for private reasons they don’t share.”
Jack’s expression didn’t change as they turned a corner, the Credit Dauphine building coming into view. Wesley wondered again why Jack had chosen him, of all the people in Los Angeles, to work with him. There were other people who were cognizant of prophecy, other translators. The only thing remarkable about Wesley was the size and frequency of his failures.
“I like you because I’ve been you, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce,” Jack replied quietly, sliding his card across the slot in the parking machine. “You’re not the only one who’s failed.”
That reminded Wes of what Ash had said about the former Mrs. Bristow, Irina Something-Or-Other. A KGB agent. Sydney’s mother. Faked her own death and laughed at how easy it had been to deceive her husband…
Perhaps Jack wasn’t wrong about the commonalities between them.
“I’m sorry,” Wesley said. “I mean, about the distrust. You understand how it gets to be a habit.”
“All too well,” Jack replied ruefully. Wesley thought he might say more, but he didn’t. Instead he turned the car off awkwardly, running a hand through his hair with a certain familiar weariness. Wesley found himself looking at the other man’s hands and wondering. Nothing untoward, just wondering. Angel’s hands had been as normal and human as Jack’s. One couldn’t smell the violence on them. “You’ll be meeting Sydney’s partner today. Dixon. And our technical wizard, Marshall.”
“Are they as inhuman as Sloane?” Wesley heard himself asking, not caring about the answer. I have set my life upon a cast of a die, he thought to himself, watching Jack’s hands, and I’m not the one doing the casting. I have trusted my life and my future to this man because I recognized on some level that he knew what it was to fail his loved ones.
“Who could be?” Jack said. “Come on.”
Wesley, distracted by the weight of his realization, followed Jack into the building. He was already entangled, he knew, and no matter how Jack swore it was no more than a simple quid pro quo, there was no doubt Wesley was going to be around for a while.
And that was not necessarily a bad thing.