Downtime in Las Vegas
Chapter 7—Red Leader
by Aggy

She couldn’t believe they had done it. How those two flyboys could go from one extreme to the other was beyond the scope of her imagination. Charming during their dinner date, but the next morning they had somehow infested her room with plastic spiders. They had taken her anger better than she expected. After they realized how offended she truly was, they had quickly sobered and allowed her to resign from her post as quasi-ambassador.

Erin had thought she had seen the last trace of Wes and Hobbie in Lisa’s office. (The hotel housekeeping service had removed all fake arachnids while she was away.) But then a musical delivery boy had presented her with a gift from the two chagrined Rogues. Unlike their previous "gifts," the latest had been a very pleasant surprise.

She had completely forgotten about the dinner party that was being given for the Rogues until moments before the package had been delivered. As if on cue, the delivery boy had arrived with a box containing…She ran a hand over the red satin of her gown. Erin could barely believe that the two jokers had thought of buying her a dress as an apology. She smiled at the thought. Actually it had been Wes, Hobbie, AND Lisa’s idea to give her a gown and all the needed accessories for a formal event.

She had worried when she saw the expensive gift, envisioning an astronomical Visa bill in her name, but a note from Lisa had been wrapped in the tissue. Don’t worry about the cost. I chose the dress, they pay the bill.

She seriously doubted that Lisa had been the one to choose the dress. It fit like it had been tailored to her body, following each curve and line of her body. Erin had always wanted to wear an elegant gown that looked like it should have been gracing some beautiful Hollywood star, but she had never thought she’d ever get the chance. Or wear one such a shocking color.

Everything in the box had been RED. Red satin gown that made her flame-colored hair look boring in comparison. Red shoes. Red underthings. The only things that hadn’t been the same almost blinding shade of crimson was the note Lisa had left in the box and the black stockings that had accompanied the scarlet garters.

And now she was standing in the middle of the Nevada desert, in front of a discretely decadent mansion that looked like it had been carved out of the landscape. Not just standing, visually screaming, she thought with a chuckle. She felt like a beacon in her scarlet dress. She was sure EVERYONE would stare at her. Gods, I hate being the center of attention.

But tonight, Erin sensed she would have to suffer through being the center of attention. How could people NOT stare at me in this color. Resigning herself, she put one scarlet heel in front of the other and marched up the golden paving stones that lined the stairway.

At the landing, she was greeted by two soldiers in uniforms Erin didn’t recognized. The pair saluted, causing her to smile before they opened the French doors leading to what Erin assumed was the main hall.

Erin felt her jaw drop as she slowly entered the room. It was exquisite. Rich and elegant, but still welcoming to all that passed through those wide French doors. Every inch of the hall was done in warm, sun-drenched tones. The floor matched the honey-colored stones that faced the building and stairs. Pale yellow walls, bleached wood furniture, sunset-hued rugs patterned in geometric shapes. Simple in its elegance. Decadent in its warmth. Perfect.

The hall was filled with Rogues, Wraiths, and the various beings that were accompanying them during their stay in Las Vegas, adding a wild swirl of color to the simply decorated room. As she expected, two pilots separated themselves from the others to greet her. Her stomach tried to locate itself somewhere in the vicinity of her heels. Wes was wearing THAT grin. The one that she had quickly learned meant he was going to do something that would most likely give her nightmares. Hobbie looked a bit less morose than usual, almost as if he were in a pleasant mood.

The cliched line all but galloped through her mind. I've got a BAD feeling about this.

The pair slowly circled her, each pilot eyeing her from head to toe. A line from another movie came to mind. “What? Were you vultures in a past life?”

Hobs and Wes ignored the comment. Erin shrugged, doubting that the pair had her taste in animated films, let alone watch one about a missing Czarina.

"She is lovely." That comment came from Kilvian and she felt herself blush under their inspection.

"The color suits her better than I thought. I told you she’d clean up well," Wes announced, whistling his approval. Erin considered tripping him for either the comment or the whistle. She decided not to scuff her new and most likely hideously expensive shoes.

"She’ll suit them perfectly," Hobbie offered. Suit who?

Wes gestured to someone in the crowd milling about the hall. It seemed that an eternity before another pair of pilots managed to weave through the small conversation groups that littered the room.

Erin snagged a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, drinking it down in one long swallow when she realize whom the terrible twosome had signaled.

Oh Sith. Oh Sith. Oh Sith.

Erin was sure her brain would short-circuit the moment the duo got close enough to say hello to her. They contrasted each other perfectly, each setting of the other’s features. Though opposites, at the same time they were a well-matched pair. The same contrast of features, light and dark, could be seen in Hobbie and Wes, but somehow this pairing was more striking between Face and Ton.

Of course, by themselves, each pilot would have been striking. She knew she was staring…How could she NOT stare? She wasn’t even sure which one she should ogle first.

Face with his thick dark hair and those pale green eyes…Oh Sith, she’d always had a thing for men with pale green eyes. And Loran’s eyes were a strange almost frosted mint color that sent tingles of cool warmth down her spine. As described in the novels, he was outrageously handsome. Erin couldn’t think of any man she had seen either on screen or in real life that was more stunning than the actor-turned-Wraith.

Or should she stare at Ton? With his lean features that were strangely emphasized by the metal prosthetic covering the left side of his face. He had been described in the novels as cold and dispassionate, but Erin thought this description shallow. The metal added a hardness to his face, as did the ironic humor shining from his blue eye. But the goatee and soft fall of gold hair softened the pilot’s almost haughty attitude into a personality that Erin found both appealing and annoying enough to present her with a most welcome challenge.

The sound of someone clearing his throat brought Erin back to reality. Wes was grinning at her, which Erin knew meant trouble. But somehow that didn’t worry her. She was sure she was going to enjoy the sort of trouble Wes and Hobs had thrown at her. "Lisa said you were a fan of the Wraith Squadron novels. So we thought that maybe you would enjoy a change in assignment."

"Change in assignment," Erin echoed as the Wraiths waited patiently for introductions, completely oblivious to the triumphant look that Wes threw Hobbie, all of her attention focused on the men standing in front of her. Wes gestured to the ex-actor. "This is Lieutenant Garik Loran." The "Face" smiled slightly as he bowed to Erin. Ton captured her wrist before Wes could introduce him. "Ton Phanan; Pilot, Wit, and Superior Intellect." He kissed the back of her hand. "And you must be Red Leader."

"Red Leader?"

Ton chuckled. "What better description for you when you’re dressed like that. With that flame-colored hair."

"Of course, she’s MUCH better looking than Master Skywalker or General Antilles," Face added.

"Of course, but Wedge can’t hear us say that, even if he does agree. It’d wound his ego."

"Tear it to shreds."

The banter between the Wraiths continued for a moment and suddenly Erin felt dizzy. She gave Wes a pleading look. "Are they ALWAYS like this."

She paled when Wes gave her that demonic ewok grin. "Usually they’re worse."

Hobbie patted Erin's shoulder sympathetically. "Don't worry. They're not that bad." He smiled weakly. "And they promised not to hurt you."

Ton focused on Kilvan and the dour pilot took a step back. That electronic eye IS unnerving. "You'll give her a bad impression of us, Hobs. We haven't terrified a woman in..."

"Hours," Face quipped.

Ton elbowed him in the ribs and Face quickly amended, "Days." They both attempted to give her innocent looks, and of course, failed miserably.

Erin rubbed her right temple. "Why do I have the feeling my situation may have went from bad to worse?"

Face chuckled. "Love, you put up with Wes and Hobbie. We're kittens compared to those two." The actor gave her a beseeching look. "We promise to behave."

"More like, MISBEHAVE."

Ton smirked at Face. "I think I’m going to like her."

Face grinned. "I KNOW I'm going to like her."

"Ahem, I’m standing right here, flyboys. No need to talk about me in the third person."

"Witty and able to stand up for herself." Ton clasped a hand to his chest. "I think I’m in love."

"Bite me, Phanan," she replied flippantly. Erin clapped a hand over her mouth, realizing what she had said.

She expected him to be angry, but instead he grinned at her. "Well if you insist..." He caught hold of her hand turning it over to expose the inside of her wrist. She gasped when he gently nipped the sensitive skin over her pulse. Ton tipped his head to one side so he was looking up at her with his blue eye, the metal section of his face hidden in shadow. "I hope I'm being too forward."

She couldn't help laughing as Ton winked at her before releasing her hand. Face pretended to scowl and pushed him away from their new guide. "Don't be greedy. She deserves a chance to bask in the glory known as Face Loran."

Erin rolled her eyes, then caught sight of Wes chatting with an athletic woman with dark brown hair. Sometime during her verbal fencing with the Wraiths, the other pilots had melted into the crowd. The brunette Wes was charming was blushing furiously, but somehow through her bashfulness she managed to find the nerve to lean forward and kiss the Rogue’s cheek. To Erin's amazement, Wes blushed just as hard as his companion did.

Face slung an arm over her bare shoulders, sending an electric tingle coursing down her spine. Bad, Erin. No thinking about how attractive he is. Oh, Gods. He's The Face! How the Hell am I NOT suppose to think about it. He pointed to Wes and his lady friend, distracting Erin from her risqué thoughts. "She seems much happier now."

Ton nodded and wrapped an around Erin's waist. Another bolt of energy charged through her nervous system, almost causing her knees to buckle. And I thought Wes and Hobbie were going to be trouble. Force keep me from acting on these thoughts. Er...keep me from acting on them in public.

She dragged her thoughts back to more polite topics as Ton spoke. "If she was any happier, she'd be floating instead of walking. I'm glad she's enjoying herself. She was a great girl, but she just wasn't the right choice for us."

"She was your old guide?"

Face sighed. "Yep. Michelle's a wonderful woman, but she wasn't comfortable around us. We were too..."

"Daunting?" Erin suggested.

Ton nodded in agreement. "She never seemed able to get over the whole ‘I'm tour guide for The Face’ idea." The medic watched Wes and Michelle and smiled faintly. "She'll have fun with him. And I think she'll give the prankster a few surprises."

Face grinned wickedly, the scar marring his cheek giving a particularly sexy-sinister look to him. "Gods, I hope so. He deserves it after the whole Kettch incident."

Lieutenant Kettch was the running joke of Wraith Squadron. While Wedge had been first interviewing candidates for the newly forming Wraith Squadron, Janson had convinced Antilles that one of the pilots he would be interviewing was an ewok named Kettch. Wedge's gullibility had led to rounds of Lieutenant Kettch jokes. Finally tiring of being the butt of Wes' jokes, Antilles had pulled a stunt that had topped any of Janson's previous endeavors.

Somehow, the Corellian had convinced Wes that there really WAS a Lieutenant Kettch and the viscous ewok had escaped his cage. In an attempt capture the creature, Wes was conned into stripping and covering himself in ewok food. And after being led a merry chase through darkened passageways, he found himself in a brightly-lit room filled with his squadron mates. And that was how Wes learned that the great Wedge Antilles was not above vengeful acts.

"Wasn't being buck naked and slathered with ewok food enough punishment for Kettch?"

Ton looked thoughtful. "Perhaps. But I didn't get to see that. I was back on Corsecunt getting patched up after..." His voice trailed off and Face looked disturbed.

She quickly realized what Phanan was referring to. The evil chapter she had spent half an hour crying over. The one that had caused her to throw the book down the dorm's garbage chute. The event denied by herself and most of her friends that were Wraith fans...the death of Ton Phanan.

She wondered how Ton had survived but had enough tact to know it was a difficult subject that he would not want to discuss. Squashing the curiosity that needled her, she made a note to ask either Lisa or Wedge what had happened to the squadron's medic and how exactly he had lived through the terrible incident.

"Well...The show probably wouldn't have impressed you much. I mean would you really have wanted to see Janson's bare ass? I'm sure that the female members of the squadron enjoyed the show but..."

She was babbling, as she usually did when she was nervous, but neither pilots seemed to notice. Actually, Face quickly picked up her line of thought. "Butt being the main focus of Wes' embarrassment..."

"Really," she drawled. "From the look of him, Wes has nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to his derričre."

"He doesn't."

One brow lifted as Erin stared at Face. "I didn't know you enjoyed that sort of thing, Loran." She smirked at Ton. "Maybe Shalla wasn't the one that said, 'Nice rear, Lieutenant.'"

The ex-actor blushed and Ton laughed, tightening his grip on her waist. "I am TRULY going to like this woman. She's as witty as she is beautiful."

"That’s not saying much," Erin rumbled.

Ton gave Loran a stricken look. "I do believe our new tour guide has problems with self esteem."

Loran gave her a stunning grin that made her realize why he was called "The Face." Suddenly she felt lightheadedness the blood left her brain and traveled south. "Don’t worry, I have enough ego for the three of us."

"Ego powered shields," she muttered. It was an old line that one of her friends had used to describe uses for Bor Jace's gigantic ego.

"Ego powered shields. What a great idea!"

"Oh, Gods," Ton groaned, burying his face against her shoulder. "Do you HAVE to give him these ideas?" Erin stiffened at his closeness, trying to keep from acting on the thoughts running rampant through her mind. Not in public. Not In Public. NOT IN PUBLIC!

Face gave her a pained expression. "I’m sorry, Erin. I was sure I had him properly trained." He grabbed hold of Ton’s arm and dragged him away from her, giving her an apologetic look. "It’s been sooooooo long since the last time he was around a woman who wasn’t wearing a bright orange flightsuit. He doesn’t know how to act."

As Erin began to laugh, Face began chastising Phanan. "How many times have I told you that it is inappropriate to bury your face in some woman’s bodice without her permission. Especially when you’re in public!"

Ton gave her a look that reminded her of a woebegone puppy that had been caught chewing on his mistress’ favorite pair of shoes except for the mischief in his eyes that was all but daring her to punish him for his indiscretion. Face grinned madly at her. No wonder Michelle couldn’t handle this pair. I don’t know if I can. But I’m sure as hell going to enjoy every attempt I make. "You two are incorrigible," she grinned.

"Too true," Face replied, clasping Erin’s hand. "But now is not the time to reprimand us…"

"Now is the time to eat," Ton added, putting an end to whatever grand soliloquy Loran had in mind.

A line from Starfighters came to mind. "Discuss reprimands later, feed the tour guide now."

Face glanced at Ton and couldn’t help grinning. "I’m REALLY going to like her."

Back to Part Eight