A Scoundrel's Company

Amber Penglass

An Atton/FemExile Snippit

Note: I am utilizing creative license and diverting from the canon of KotorII a bit, first with the entire concept of the fic, and by adding a security console to the room that Atton is in when the Exile first finds him. After starting another game, I realized that there was no console in the room, but it was already a fixture in the fic, so I left it. Deal. -Amber


Aelyn grimaced as she wiped the greasy black oil on her under...thing...jumpsuit... Even she wasn't quite sure what to call it.

She glared at the mining droid she'd been tinkering with, as if it were it's fault her hands had gotten so messy. She'd always hated having dirty hands... But it was worth it, she decided as the newly reprogrammed mining droid tottered after her on spindly metal legs. It would be good for someone...er, something to have her back in this place. All right, a droid wasn't her first choice, but it was better than nothing.

"Don't suppose you have any computer skills?" She asked the metallic creater when she'd made her way back up to the observation deck and the three sputtering consoles hosted there. The droid's only response was to continue scanning their surroundings, mining lasers at the ready. Aelyn sighed and rubbed her brow as she set down her scavaged virboblade on top of the console.She really, really, really hated situations like this... Trapped, nearly no idea what was going on... And what she did know, from the various holovids she'd found in some security files here and there, she didn't like one bit. And that creepy old woman from the morgue... She had been dead, she'd been sure of it... Yet obviously she'd made a mistake.

Aelyn set herself the task of accessing the administration console, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. Remembering the voice in kolto tank, the hall, and again in front of that oddly sealed hatch, Aelyn suddenly found herself, while trying to dredge up memories of her academy days. Any lesson, faint as it may be, that she could remember on mind shielding would be welcome right now... Ah, there it was. Not the memory, but the command file she wanted. That door with the forcefield had been in one of the security vids, and she had a feeling that whatever was in there was the key to everything... If nothing else, she was damn curious. Not a valued quality in a Jedi, true, but then again she wasn't technically a Jedi anymore, anyways.

Damn, the controls weren't responding... Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, Aelyn glared at the console as she reread the harsh, block test that marred the battered computer screen. Ah, there was an override switch, now she remembered. Now to find it... She got down on her hands and knees on the cold metal flooring, peering under the console. Ah, there it was. A bright red thing- not that the color did much good, what with it being hidden underneath the console and all. Aelyn would never understand engineers, techs, designers, any of those sort of people. She admired and valued them, sure, but she'd never understand them or why they did the things they did...

She flipped the lever, and at once a whirring sound filtered through all three consoles, and behind her she heard the unmistakable sizzle of a forcefield shutting down. She snatched the virboblade from where she'd set it atop the console, and triapsed across the expansive administraion deck, shivering a bit- damn, it was cold...and her hair was still wet from the kolto tank, too, to add insult to injury.

Behind her, the mining droid clattered along.

Aelyn reached the newly exposed security door, and glanced around from an access panel for a brief moment before sighing, and reaching for the lock with her bare hands-

-Wait.- came the voice that was becoming far, far too familiar in her mind. Aelyn ground her teeth, but said or thought nothing as Kreia continued. Beyond this door, someone yet lives... As Kreia fed the vision to her, Aelyn spied a brief and blurry image of a man within a golden tube- a force cage. He was looking around, suddenly, as if he sensed another... He was sharp, that one.

-Be careful around this one,- Kreia cautioned. She hesitated, then added, -His thoughts are...difficult to read.- Yet another pause. -Yet I sense you have nothing to fear from this one. And he might yet prove useful.-

'I'm remembering, with sudden vividness, the reason I was so glad when I advanced from Padawan to Knight,' Aelyn grumbled in the security of the deepest parts of her own mind, returning to working at the security lock. She hated taking orders. Tucking Kreia's advisement in the back of her mind, she set herself to the task of working out the security measures on the door. It took only a moment for the lock to whirl in place, then for the two halves of the heavy metal barrier to slid away, revealing to Aelyn a clearer version of the vision Kreia had sent her.

The man in the force cage turned to look at her, raising one cocky eyebrow before commenting, "Nice outfit," he drawled. "What, you miners change regulation uniforms while I was away? Can't say I'm complaining, though..."

"Just keep your eyes up and tell me who the hell you are," Aelyn glowered, promptly folding her arms protectively over her ample chest.

"Atton," he answered just as promptly. "Atton Rand. Excuse me if I don't shake hands. The field only causes minor electrical burns..." The drawl of sarcasm slipped into his voice a second time, even as he opened his mouth to add some other witty repetoir. He never got the chance, though. He started, and she whirled as the security door behind her slammed shut with a loud slam, the lock turning shut before she'd even taken the three short steps to the door- the whirl and clank of the locking slipping back into place was echoed by her fist meeting the solid metal. Outside, she heard the mining droid titter around noisily, then clattered away and out of hearing distance.

"Damnit!" Aelyn groused, kicking the door uselessly.

"Hey, mind letting me out of here before you go tumbling the rest of the place down around us?" Atton shouted, annoyed at how quickly she'd forgotten him. She turned, glowering.

"Mind telling me what you're doing in a force cage to begin with?" She countered. Atton shrugged, a helpless, innocent grin on his face.

"Eh, security claimed I violated some trumped up regulation or another..."

"Right," she snorted. "Can you at least tell me what happened here? The place is deserted."

"What?" His surprise was genuine, she could tell... It frightened her, how quickly her newly formed connection to the Force was coming back to her, now. Frightning and wonderful, all at once. She suppressed a shiver as Atton went on, "Deserted? You gotta be kidding! They must all be off-surface, probably evacuated for some reason. I heard a big explosion from below a few days ago, that might have been it."

"A few days ago?" Aelyn echoed. Just how long had she been out?

"Yeah, shortly before they stopped feeding me," he grumbled. "Now that's just criminal..." He crossed his arms, scowling. Aelyn looked at him again- he did look a bit pinched.

"Listen, I know a heavylock when I hear one- you're not getting out of here without me," he said. "So listen, I can help- just let me out of this force cage."

Aelyne gazed at him for a long, hard moment. She turned over the situation in her mind, knowing he was right. She remembered Kreia's words, 'You have nothing to fear from this one.' She sighed, almost inaudibly, but Atton heard it; a wide grin spread across his face, a smug grin that had her glowering at him even as she moved across the room to the security console. A few key-clicks, a bypass or two, and the golden force shield vanished.

"Ah, at last, the smell of air that isn't my own recycled exhalations," he breathed deeply, with mock enjoyment. Aelyn snickered to herself, but couldn't help but grin, just a bit. Humor, it seemed, had been missing from her day to day experiences long enough for even Atton's dry wit to amuse her. It was a humbling experience...

"Let me see that," her companion said, coming over to the console, close enough that she could see the shadows of stubble on his jaw, and get a slight whiff of the result of little or no bathing for several days. It wasn't strong enough to be all that unpleasant, but it was noticable- at least to her nose. Nevertheless, she stepped aside and gave him a wide berth as he stepped up to the console, clacking and tapping away.

"Someone's locked us in," he muttered.

"Oh?" Aelyn responded delicately, raising one eyebrow. He gave her a swift glare, then continued.

"Someone not on this level hacked into the security mainframe and...aw, shit. That door's not going anywhere...not anytime soon. It's on a level three timer lockdown."

"Shit." Aelyn echoed. That meant the door had not only been locked, but the locking mechanisms had fused, and would remain that way until the very acid in the locks that thad fused them in the first place merged with the chemicals released from the newly fused metal to form a new acid that would eventually erode the locks into nonexistence, and then the doors would pop open, and not before.

Not, at least, without some high-grade explosives.

-Kreia,- Aelyn called out, gritting her teeth. So focused she was on her inward mind, that she didn't notice the ever so slight tensing of Atton's shoulders. Kreia didn't respond,but Aelyn tried again anyways. -Kreia, I don't know if you can hear me like I could hear you, but we're locked in! There's someone else out there, someone who put the security door into a level three lockdown. We can't get out. If you can get here, there's a mining droid around out there somewhere that I reprogrammed to be friendly. If you could get it to fire at the security door, it might trigger the acid/chemical fusion quicker. It's worth a shot. Otherwise, the guy that was in that force field cell and I are going to be stuck here for a while...-

A moment of silence, and then...

-I will attempt what you ask.- Then Kreia was gone, and Aelyn breathed a sigh of relief. Even if her gut told her the woman was bad news overall, it was still good news that they had someone on the outside. Aelyn hadn't realized she'd spoken this observation aloud until Atton answered.

"Who?" he asked, glancing at her over his shoulder from where he stood at the security console, glaring at her now. "You told me everyone else was gone."

"I said all the miners were gone," Aelyn responded. "I found an old woman in the morgue-"

"Good place for those to be."

"Pardon?"

"Old women. Morgues."

"Shut up- the woman I found was still alive," She hesitated, then continued honestly with, "Seems she knows some Jedi techniques. She used them to go into a deep sleep. Apparently she was never dead to begin with."

"Great, another Jedi..."

"I didn't say she was a Jedi. I said she knew some techniques."

"Sure, because those are so easy to learn. Bet she picked it up playing pazaak somewhere."

"If you're going to be this assine the whole time we're in here, I'll put you back in the force cage and turn the sound buffer on." She meant it. Honest, she did, wholly and fully. Atton must have believed it, and not only that, but believed she could do it; she was the one with the only weapon, after all. His lips formed a tight white-rimmed line and his shoulders hunching a bit as he turned back to the console.

"Find anything?" She asked after a moment in false hope. Atton scowled and moved away from the console after viciously logging out.

"No," he groused. Aelyn nodded. She hadn't expected any different. She tilted her head towards the ceiling, searching for ducts of any kind... Nothing. The ceiling was a solid mass of metal. She looked at the floor instead- but again, solid. No grates or hatches or anything moveable. The only things in the cursed room was the two force cells and the security console.

"Great, from one cell to another..." Atton grumbled, planting his hands on his hips and looking around the room, too. "Well, at least the view in this cage is a little better." He looked to her when he said this, smirking just a bit. She glowered at him, and he looked away quickly- but he still had that smirk.

Damn infuriating man...

"All right, so what do we do?" She inquired aloud, half to herself.

"How the hell should I know?" Atton responded anyways. She glared at him again- it was becoming near reflex.

"How about you try again explaining to me what you were doing in the force cage?" She actually hadn't meant to ask that, but she was curious, and it was a topic that, she sensed, would keep them busy for a while...

But then it was proved to her just how out of touch with the Force she was, for her senses proved to be way, way off. Atton Rand glanced at his 'rescuer' for a moment, then away, then back again before finally, "I have another idea." He went to the section of wall seperating the two old-fashioned cages opposite the force cages, and slid down along it til he sat indian style on the cold cemete floor. He cocked his head, indicating she should join him. Reluctantly, she did so- her legs were tired from all the running around. She hadn't done fighting of any kind in a long, long time... It would take her awhile, she realized with a forboding sense of loss, to get back to her 'old game.'

"You should hope it's a better idea than your plan forgetting us off this station," she replied sharply, letting herself fall into a position far too familiar for her liking. All she needed was a quiet round room,a thin cushion, Master Kavar telling her to clear her thoughts...

She shook herself, and spied Atton, still with that cocky grin plastered to his face, reach inside his pilot's jacket and pull out a battered deck of cards. She frowned.

"Howdid you get those into the cage with you? Wouldn't security have taken all your affects?"

"They did, and they would have taken these...if they'd known they were there." Another grin, this one more cheeky than cocky, and he began to shuffle the deck without looking at it. She looked at the cards, and frowned.

"What, never played pazaak?" He asked. "Don't worry, I'll go easy on ya."

"Oh, I've played," she retorted, her gaze flicking from the cards back to his face. "Just not with cheaters."

"Hey!" He protested, pausing his splitting of the cards, looking genuinely offended. "I don't need to cheat to win!"

"But it makes it easier, doesn't it?" The corners of her mouth turned upwards a bit, as she discovered the almost innocent, boyish quality that befell Atton when he was indignent.

"So I suppose you've only played with Jedi, then?"

"Oh, no, Jedi don't play cards. Not as a rule, just..." she paused. "Not very Jedi-like, I suppose."

"I thought you said you played."

"Do your math, criminal." she snipped, taking the extra cards he'd taken to make her a sidedeck. "I'm not a Jedi. You said yourself, most of them ended up switching off the 'sabers. I was one of them."

"Hm, explains how prissy you got about my Jedi comment earlier."

"I was not prissy!"

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really!"

"Right."

Swiftly, the old Jedi mantra of peace and knowledge began to run through Aelyn's mind as a flush of anger rose in her cheeks, and she resisted the urge to throw the cards at him. Then she pictured the act, realized how childish it would look, and lowered her somewhat raised hand back down to her lap. Atton saw it, and smirked yet again.

Before she got the chance to throw that Jedi code to the wind, and the cards to him, Atton said, "So, Republic rules or Nar Shadaaa rules?"

"Nar Shad-?" She cut herself off, incredulent. Nerve, she thought. He's all about nerve. Then again, most pilots she'd known were the same... Quickly shutting down any route leading off that thought, in fear one of them might lead to memories of the war, Aelyn simply tossing an icy glare at her companion. She selected her cards from her borrowed sidedeck, and put the rest down in the middle, on top of Atton's own rejected cards.

"Hm, just as well," Atton quipped, glancing at Aelyn's short list of attire. "It'd be too short a game, anyways."

"You mop-rag, Sith-born gizka!" She growled at last, and this time she really did throw her cards at him. The idiocy of their situtation hit her, suddenly, as she stood and walked away from her forced companion. Trapped in a cell-room, in her underwear, with a man she'd just met and instantly disliked, loosing her temper quicker than she could remember loosing it ever -even after she'd abanded the Jedi Code of resisting temper tantrums- at the simplest of his snide, leud comments.She crossed her arms, feeling a bit chilly as she fought the urge to laugh uncontrollably. Oh, Kavar, Talvan, Atris...if they could see her now!

So lost in thought was she, that when the hand laid itself on her shoulder out of nowhere she jumped, whirled, instantly aware that she'd left her virboblade on the floor across the room- damnit! Avoiding fights like one avoid plagues for ten years had made her far more uncautious than she'd thought it would. But it was only Atton she turned to face -who else had she expected?- looking at her with a mixture of annoyance, carelessness, amusment...and the barest hint of genuine concern. Or was it curiosity? Suddenly terrified by how badly she wanted to know which it was, further startled that she didn't automatically know, Aelyn reached out to that horizon in her mind that was the barest edges of the Force, newly visible to her.

She coaxed out a tendril, wrapping it and melding it to her will, pushing out of herself and towards Atton, like a cable she intended to hook to a computer to access it... Then she came to the wall, and realized what Kreia had meant when she'd said this man's thoughts were difficult to read. It was like someone had placed a glass pane between her and him. She could see his mind, his heart, the tangle of glowing substance that represented his emotions -and oh, how tangled it looked!- but she couldn't examine it, touch, feel it... But he, apparently, could feel her.

Atton jerked away, half glaring, half staring at her. There was a new collection of emotions on his face, now- fear, hatred...but the curiosity remained.

"Not a Jedi, huh?" He spat. "Then what was that you were just doing, crawling around in my brain?"

"I never got to your brain, idiot," Aelyn snorted. "Even if I could get to it, it wasn't the brain I was going for." She thought of the gnarled mass of emotions. It was just as well she'd never gotten to it- she never would have been able to decipher what he'd been feeling, curiosity or concern, from that mess, and she said so. Her words seemed to stop him. He halted his backing away, and some of the hatred dimmed. But hints of disgust were visible at the edges of his mannerisms, and Aelyn was abruptly shocked at how that realization slashed through her. She hadn't been feared, or loathed, or had such disgust flung her way for a long, long time. She'd put up walls, long ago, but it seems they'd crumbled with a decade's passing of no use. When one avoids being near other sentients, the need for barriers against those sentients fades.

"What? Well, then, what were you going for? The lungs? That's a popular one, I know." Ah, there came the acidic tones she'd come to expect, when she made the mistake of staying in the same place long enought for someone to figure out what she'd been.

"How long were you in that force cage?" She snapped back. "That's a Sith power, jama-brain."

"Is there a difference?" He was being sarcastic, but that didn't stop her from gnashing at the bait his words provided.

"Hell yes!" She snarled, advancing forward a single step before gathering up the reins of her self control once again and bringing herself to a halt. Atton smirked at her, but it was a far different smirk than the ones before. This one was cold, hinting at a person that was a far, far different man than the flippant scoundrel Aelyn had been so annoyed with. She whirled, burying her face in her hands and leaning against the wall between the force cages. She drew in a deep, slightly shuddering breath between her fingers.

They couldn't do this. She couldn't do this. If she really was back in touch with the Force -gift or curse, it didn't matter- she needed to exercise self control. Again. If she let her temper get the best of her, while she had her influence over the Force within her control... Things could get ugly. She knew herself. They could get very ugly. Aelyn shivered, and not just with the chill of metal and concrete room. So, swallowing her pride, Aelyn turned and said, "Listen, I'm sorry-"

At the same time he said, "Gah, look, sorry for-"

They both stopped, looked at each other. An understanding seemed to settle over them both, and they exchanged one simultaneous nod. Fighting wasn't going to help either of them, right now.

"Allright, apologies exchanged. Now what?" She moved out from between the powered-down cages. Something about her movement, though, seemed to trigger something in Atton's mind.

"Where there's power, there's a way," he said suddenly, sounding as if he were either quoting or remembering. Aelyn turned to follow the path of his stare and found herself looking at the semi-roundedtop of the force cage to her left. More specifically, the square box she knew was hidden beneath that semi-curved top, containingthe force cage'spower cell. Hope flip-flopped in her stomach.

"Force power-cells are hard to combust," she mussed, surprised she remembered.

"Not if you know how to rig with them," Atton countered.

"Well, unless you know how to 'rig'..." she responded, her tone questioning. To her surprise -or lack of, she couldn't quite decide- he flashed her a genuine grin.

"Of course. What kind of smuggler do you take me for?"

"Ah, so you weren't in on a 'trumped-up' regulation!" It was Aelyn's turn to smirk, and she wallowed in it lovingly while the resident scoundrel glowered at her and grumbling a few choice curses beneath his breath.

"Don't feel bad," she said comfortingly, referring to his slip-up. "I would have figured it out eventually."

"Right. Just wait til I was asleep, then go on digging on your own," he retorted, bitter. He approached the cell he'd been in, and with a casual leap he hooked his left hand on the top, round panel of the force cage emitter. His right hand joined the first,he hung for a moment, then heaved himself up ontop. Keeping a careful balance, he ran his fingers along the seams around the panel between him and the power cell.

"Do you have any tools, of any kind?" He asked her absently, trying to get a fingerhold on the panel.

"Do I look like a tech to you?" Was Aelyn's answer.

"Now that you mention it..." Atton retorted, flashing a grin down at her, his gaze flicking from her face to her dirty hands, then back to her face, which was marred with the glowering set of eyes that flung daggers up at him.

"Amusing," she snarled.

"I know," he replied, smirking still. "But hey, do you have anything? This panel's giving me hell..."

"I might," Aelyn conceeded grudgingly. She took from her small, single pocket the security tunneler she'd found on one of the corpses. Body-picking was a disgusting, filthy thing. But it had it's uses; that was something she'd learned during the war, and something she hadn't forgotten. She handed it up to Atton, who's smile changed from smug to satisfied. He worked at the panel anew for awhile, before at last the panel popped free. A few moments later, and he'd pried the power cell loose. Thick, colorful cords followed him when he let himself slip down off the top to fall back down to the ground with a loud thump. Both feet landed squarely, and the cords snapped as one.

"Now, all we have to do is..." He trailed off, sitting down on the floor, crosslegged, with the power cell in his lap. Still using the security tunneler as an impromtu tool, he set to stripping and twisting some wires, completely severing others, removing certain components entirely, and putting others in their place... Faintly, Aelyn rememebered enough of her tech training to realize what he was doing. He was, ultimately, causing a feedback loop. Once the power cell was turned on, and the power had no where to go, it would begin cycling back into itself. The ion charges that were normally carried safely out of the cell by way of other wires -the ones he had removed- would become highly explosive. Once the pressure of building power raised to a certain point...

"Pure pazaak," he held it up, admiring it from all angles. Aelyn suppressed a snort. Men and their machinery- she'd never understand, nor did she want to.

"Will it do the trick?" She wanted to know, crouching down beside him to gaze suspiciously at the rigged up power cell. She could feel the thing staring back at her...

"It won't bite," Atton told her, a hint of amused disdain in his voice. He tossed it to her unexpectedly. She caught it easily enough, but continued to gaze at it with high suspicion before looking at Atton and tossing the contraption back.

"That's not what I asked," she snipped. "I asked if it'll work."

"It should. If not, there's always another one," he nodded to the top of the second force cage.

"We'd better not need to try again," she told him. She turned to look at the second cage and said, "We'd better take it out of that one. It's close enough to the door that if the first one goes, but it's not enough, we don't want our spare ruined in the blast."

"Good point," he agreed surprisingly swiftly. She gave him a look that was suspiciously similar to the look she'd given the rigged power cell, to which he replied with a simple glower before tossing her the completedcell and moving to haul himself up atop the second force cage. A few more minutes, and the second power cell was out. He hopped back down, and took the completed cell from her while handing her the un-rigged one.

"Now just give me a minute, and we'll be outta here in-"

"Pieces." She finished for him.

"Huh?"

"We'll be out of here, all right, but in pieces unless we find cover before we blow that thing," she nodded to the power cell he'd bent down to place before the locked door. They both glanced around the room, and both of their gazes settled on the two-footh thick concrete and stell wall seperating the two old-fashioned cages across from the now disabled force cages.

"That'll work," she said. She moved to the security console to find the controls to open the cage furtherest from the door, when a sound made her pause and glance over her shoulder.

"Um..."

"What?" She demanded, suspicious once more.

"You've obviously never been in prison of any kind," he snorted, standing up, but leaving the power cell on the floor.

"You're point?" Aelyn asked. Atton rolled his eyes, and came closer.

"Those are older cages- there's no security bypass for those. It's all old fashioned."

"Still not seeing your point."

"You need the key, Jedi. Those cages aren't hooked up to the same system as the force cage. You need an old fashioned key card or code to get those open."

Aelyn looked at the cages, glowering again. "All right, then what do you suggest we do?"

"Go at it like tarkrens," he shrugged, approaching her. Instantly to mind came the most common connotation of that phrase; wild, unending sex, like the tarkrens did it during mating season, the one thing they were best known for. She whirled and backed up, eyes suddenly wide with shock.

"Excuse me?" She growled- a growl that sounded like it came from a shrieker with clenched vocal cords. Atton paused and blinked at her for a moment, then suddenly threw his head back and let out a long, loud laugh.

"The bars!" He managed to cry through his laughter. "You're the one with the vibroblade- bash the bars! Go at it 'like a tarkren.' You know, big, stubborn tarkrens That are known to knock down entire trees?" His eyes sparkled as he added, "What were you thinking I meant?" He approached, his gait languid and easy. She backed away automatically, glaring the whole time.

"You know perfectly well what I was thinking," she hissed. "And you can't blame me for it- it's the most common interpretation in the galaxy of that phrase, and you know it!"

"Sure," he agreed, surprising her once again. He kept coming, she kept backing. She was aware, once more, that she'd yet to recover her vibroblade from the pile of abandoned pazaak cards... "But I'm still not the one who thought it," he told her.

"You perverted, manipulative, flee-bitten-" She didn't realize she'd backed against the wall until he put his forearm above her head, against the wall she was suddenly against. She swallowed harshly- how long had it been since a man had been this close to her? Since anyone had been this close to her, for that matter? "...inconsiderate, smelly..." she rambled off until he planted his hand over her mouth, and her breath hitched in the back of her throat.

"You know, as much as I love enduring your endless parade of insults, I'd much rather work on making us a place where we won't get our limbs blown off." Sarcasm dripped from every word, his face mere inches from hers.

"I bet you would," she grumbled when he'd removed his hand,using the tiniest amount of Force Push to shove him away from her and slip to the side, thrusting the unaltered power cell into his hands before darting to where her forgotten vibrosword lay, snatching it up. Pretending the past five minutes had never happened, she aimed carefully, and swung. Metal clanged on metal, and she raised the blade again...

Over and over she swung, willing the stubborn metal bar to break... But no, this wasn't going to be at all easy. She swung again and again, making only the most superficial of gashes in the hollow metal bars.

"Here, let me." Aelyn hadn't realized how exhausted she was growing until the offer was made, then she verily crumpeled to the ground as soon as the resident scoundrel took the battered blade from her, and took over her task. She went to the wall between the cage and the security console, the same piece of wall Atton had backed her against. Thankful that the flush of exertion disguised her blush of...well, something, she slid down against the wall and rested her arms on her knees. She took a few deep, cleansing breaths, wiping her damp brow with the back of her right hand. Oh, Force, she was tired... Her time in the kolto tank had, she suspected, done more harm than good. Jedi weren't meant to stay inactive for any length of time... And she'd been very inactive lately. 'Lately' being the past five years or so.

Aelyn found herself watching Atton's agile form, watching the way hidden muscles contracted and released with every swing, watching the way he planted his feet, the way his thigh muscles tensed as he braced himself for each impact... And oh, boy, did she watch when he paused to shrug off his sleeveless pilot's jacket and toss it towards where she sat. She averted her gaze when he looked her way to aim where he tossed the jacket.

"I'll keep at it for a while," he told her. "I've been in that cage with nothing to do for a few days, and I'm kind of enjoying the exercise. Wheras you look like you've been dragged in and out of a gizka- the sharp end. You might as well...get some rest, I suppose." He shrugged, and without the jacket she could see the muscles of a hard life ripple beneath his two shirts. Hhis fingerless, elbow-lengthgloves he'd stripped from his arms and tucked into his back pocket.

"Gee, thanks, you look lovely, too," she groused, but nonetheless tossed him a thankful glance as she reached for his discarded jacket and slipped down to lay on her side, using the wad of fabric that was the jacket for an impromtu pillow. Sleep eluded her, however. After years of the silence of the Outer Rim for her only sleeping companion, the deep breaths of Atton's labored breathing, and the harsh clang of the vibroblade abusing the first bar, sleep was one of the things farthest from her reach. Frustrated with herself -she'd once been able to sit sleeping up in a cockpit with a half dozen techs gabbering on behind her- she sat up, hauling the jacket into her lap and leaning her head back against the wall-

She paused, peeking one eye open again, not quite sure she'd glimpsed what she thought she'd glimpsed.

Atton had moved beyond removing his jacket- he'd removed his shirt. Both of them. She swallowed, forcing herself to shut her eyes, tight, and take several deep breaths... She was furious with herself. She'd seen plenty of good looking, well toned shirtless men in her academy years, during sparring matches and during the hotter days they would escape to the lake country.

'But then, you and every single one of those shirtless Padawans all had been having the Jedi Codehammered into yours and their heads. Not now. Then, not now.'

Aelyn cursed herself, and that traitorous inner voice, even as she cracked open one eye again, then the other, til both of her eyes were slitted while gazing at the well-shaped scoundrel. By the time she realized her eyes had opened all the way, Atton had straightened, stretched, placing his free hand at the small of his back and twisting his backbone to work out the kinks that had formed by his repitition of such demanding motions. He rolled his neck, and she heard joints pop. He shrugged his shoulders in a rolling motion, and suddenly it seemed that all the moisture from Aelyn's mouth transferred to join the sheen of sweat coating Atton's broad shoulders, glistening in the dim lights.

"Oh, sweet Force..." she grumbled at herself.

"What was that?" Atton turned to look at her, having heard her murmur. She glanced up at him-

And wished she hadn't. Now fully facing her, she could see more than just his gorgeously sculpted back, but the doubly-gorgeously sculpted front as well.

"Nothing," she ground out, desperately trying to get ahold of herself and even more desperately trying to shove this ridiculous attraction to the back of her mind. It wasn't plausible, affordable, believable, delectable, edible, lickable-

'Gah!' Aelyn buried her face in her hands, pushing herself to her feet without quite meaning to. Stalking over, she snatched the rather beaten up blade from Atton's hand midswing.

"My turn," she said through gnashing her teeth. She raised her arms to swing, then stopped as a hand on her wrist stopped her. She looked behind herself, over one shoulder to find the still shirtless Atton standing there with a raised eyebrow.

"Something wrong?" he asked, drawling out the two words.

"Yes, your proximity," she grumbled, jerking her hand free and swinging at the bar that was at last beginning to give way.

"My apologies, your highness," Atton snorted, and she felt him move away with an inward sigh of relief. One more swing...another...and another... Then with a spectacular clatter, the bar not only broke where she and Atton both had been hacking away at it, but it popped free of it's bottom mooring, as well, creating a nice space through which she could squeeze through.

"Think you could fit through that, or do we need to knock out another?" She asked her companion without looking at him.

"That should do it," he said, and she felt him come up behind her again. She dared a peek over her shoulder, and noted with thanks that he'd put his undermost shirt, a sleeveless brown thing, back on. "I'll make myself fit," he added with a grumble, and she heard more joints pop as he rolled his shoulders again.

"I thought you said you were enjoying it," she responded, kickingthe piece of the bar aside.

"Yeah, that went away after the first fifteen minutes or so of back-breaking agony," he retorted dryly, moving to where they'd put the rigged power cell. "Go ahead and crawl in," he told her, shoving his sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes. "I'm gonna set this up, and we'll see what fate deals us."

Aelyn gathered up Atton's other shirt and jacket, shoving them between the bars and then shoving herself through the space the missing bar had made. It was a snug fit, and she wondered how Atton would make it... She settled herself in the corner, farthest from the bars, and leaned her head back against the conunction of the cool concrete walls. She heard the shuffle of fabric on steel as Atton knelt, and the clatter of him setting up the power cell. And at last, the hum of condensed energy as he turned it on, and the scuffle as he hastened to cross the room and dive through the gap in the bars. Miraculously, he wiggled through with as little, if not less, trouble than Aelyn, and she was once again reminded that this man had been in that force cage for a reason.

He scooted over to sit by her, as far away from the bars as possible. He took his jacket from her and put it on, then angled himself so that as much of himself was between her and the open bars as possible. She was somewhat taken aback by this- she had half expected him to demand why she got the most protected spot, in the corner. But instead he put his arms around her, shoving them both as far into the corner as possible.

"Get ready to duck," he told her as an explanation when one of his hands snaked up her neck, cupping the back of her head. Shoved between him and the wall, she was suddenly and thoroughly familiar with more than a few creases of his bdoy through the single brown shirt and her skin-tight 'underwear' that seperated them. She looked up at him, one eyebrow raised, her expression deliberately suspicous.

"Don't worry, highness," he said with a hint of a sneer. "I just don't want my ticket off this dung heap deciding I wasn't helpful enough if she gets hurt by the blast I rigged." The hum of the power cell heightened in pitch even as Aelyn's own ire rose, and she bristled in his arms. She opened her mouth to protest loudly and harshly-

Both explosions came at once, the one that deafened and blasted at them both, and the one that suddenly lanced up Aelyn's left arm like carbonite-fueled fire. She doubled over in Atton's embrace even as he covered her with himself, as if on instinct, wrapping one arm around her head and pulling it against his chest and under himself. She grasped her hand to herself- no, not her hand, her wrist and her arm, perhaps. Her hand itself...it was frozen, numb... It was the worst kind of pain, that kind of emptiness side by side with the agony that slashed up and around her forearm, tightening like a bladed vice around her wrist.

She hardly noticed that the room had filled with smoke, that Atton was hauling her out of the cage, through the blasted-open security door and into the smoke-free air of the administration deck. Once outside, she doubled over again, breathing heavily, stumbling and falling to one knee.

"What? What's wrong?" Atton was beside her, a hand on her back, looking panicked. Doesn't want to loose his ride, she thought hazily. Then he said something else, in an entirely different tone, "Damnit, whatever it is, don't give up on me now! We only just got out!"

Slowly, Aelyn's breathing slowed to a normal pace, the pain around her wrist faded, and the feeling began to return to her hand. Her breathing, while at a normal pace, was labored and ragged.

"What happened?" Atton asked her, softer than she thought him capable of. He was still kneeling on her left, hishand was still on her back, his other hand around her front to lay on her right shoulder.

"I...I don't know..." she breathed hoarsely, wide eyed. "I've never felt anything like it... It felt like...like my hand had been dipped in molten carbonite..."

"Well, don't let it get to you," he told her gruffly, putting his arms under hers and lifting her up. She leaned against him for a moment, taking a few deep breaths before gathering herself together, and turning to look at the trio of administration consoles across the room.

"I'm okay," she said, steadying her voice. "Let's go," and she started across the room, Atton right behind her.

He kept one hand on her elbow the whole way.

Their day went from bad to worse, it seemed, by the time they'd contacted T3-M4, by the time he'd unlocked one of the emergency hatches, and by the time Atton had figured out their plan. Aelyn had been trying to call out, through the Force, to Kreia for sometime, to no avail. Rubbing her left wrist with her right hand, she shoved her stomach-sinking suspcions to the back of her mind for another time.

"Wait, you're not thinking of going down there, are you? You're crazy!" He took a step closer, towering over her. She glowered up at him.

"Someone has to go," she countered. "And I'd rather it be me."

"Why?" He demanded, grabbing her shoulders. "Those tunnels are filled superheated rock, noxious gas, and probably more of those insane mining droids you told me about." She batted his hands away, backing up a step and giving him a stern look.

"I'm going," she said firmly, thinking to herself, 'And I need to look for a certain white-haired witch...'

"Fine," he huffed. "But take this. I'll keep in contact with you, at least." She took the wristcomm he offered to her, having produced it from somewhere on his person. Just how many hidden places could he have on that body? Quickly averting her thoughts, she nodded and slapped on the comm.

"Keep me updated if you find out anything more," she told him, then turned and ran off the administration deck.

At last, she could think freely, clearly...

Once and for all, she damned her own curiosity. Something told her that even after they got off this acursed rock, her time with the too-sexy-for-his-own-good Atton Rand was far from over.

The infurating part was, she wasn't sure if she was glad about this, or not...

End.


You know, this ficlet had a point when I started it, honest. But by the time I realized the characters weren't going to cooperate -a nice, sexy make-out scene just didn't seem to be on the menu for Atton and Aelyn so early in their relationship- I was too far into the fic to just drop it.

Next one will me juicier, I promise, in emotion if not in actual kissie kissie.

-Amber Penglass