Pazaak- during KotOR 2 LSF Exile and Atton.

Disclaimer: All characters, etc. from the game Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II belong to Obsidian Ent. and LucasArts.

Atton looked down at his empty hands, wishing he had some busy work to do. Anything to occupy his time. She'd been in there for a really long time. No doubt Kreia was filling her head up with more Jedi nonsense.

He was where he usually was, sitting in the pilot's chair of the Ebon Hawk, and Lycia was in the crew quarters with Kreia. He picked at the worn fabric of his left glove, just below his bare fingers. He felt his knees bounce, a sort of nervous jostling he'd do subconsciously whenever he sat too long with too much time to think.

Yeah, Jedi nonsense. No reason for Kreia to decide to tell Lycia all his deepest darkest secrets now. Surely she was just berating her again for helping out so many of the refugees here on Nar Shaddaa. Still... he couldn't help but worry.

The truth of the matter was that Atton knew he needed to tell Lycia everything, before Kreia did. Maybe hearing it from him would make it go over a little easier. But how exactly did one explain something like that? Listen, Sweetheart. There's some... things about my past that I think you should know...

His thoughts were inexplicably halted as he felt something odd come over him. At first, he couldn't believe his own instincts. He couldn't be feeling... But he was. He'd been there too many times, he'd know the feeling anywhere. Someone was brushing against his thoughts. Not a squirmy, invasive presence, but it was there, knocking at the door to his consciousness.

He dropped his hands, bracing palms that had gone clammy over his knees. He sat up so straight that he was nearly on the edge of his seat. Lycia. It had to be her. The presence was hesitant, warm, and sweet.

He almost wanted to let her right in. Against all of his gut reactions, he wanted to show her something. A tiny little piece of his darkness, the demons that clawed at him, sometimes silent and asleep, but occasionally, just under his skin, stretching him tight. He felt like showing her something nasty. Pictures of violence and death. Or maybe just the vague memories of his last binge at the red light district of this very planet. Too much juma, too many credits, and too many women...

But no. It didn't matter who it was, they didn't belong in there.

Looks like Kreia had been teaching her some of the nastier Jedi tricks. And now, Lycia was acting just like every other Jedi he'd ever met. Why not treat her just like anyone else?

Totals are 15-9. Draw one, the totals are 17-13. Use my lucky +2/-2 card, and the totals are 19-16. Now it gets tricky, but I've got those minus cards as backup...

He felt her leave him and released the breath he hadn't even known he'd been holding. What in space was going on? What did she think she was doing? And why did it feel so cold in here, now that she was gone?

It was bad enough that he felt so drawn to her. That he was hanging around only to make sure that nothing bad happened to her. Now it seemed like she was after every last part of him.

He'd have to be more careful. It wouldn't do to have her find out just how often he thought about her. And now it looked like she thought it was alright to just come on in.

He didn't know what disgusted him more at the moment; her actions or his own thoughts, so he decided to stop thinking about it entirely. This time, he'd play pazaak to change his thoughts, not to shield them.

It was beginning to get really late. Atton settled in for the night, propping his feet up on the ship's control console and folding his arms behind his head. It was best to stay on your toes here; there was nowhere on Nar Shaddaa that you could really consider "safe", even with a Jedi and her little band of Jedi-trainees on board. Tomorrow they were going to see what they could do about Saquesh, and the trouble he and the Exchange were causing the refugees here. Lycia had already told him and Bao-Dur to be ready when they'd arrived. Maybe while they were out, he'd scrape together the nerve he needed to spill his guts.

He felt her enter the confined space of the cockpit and couldn't keep his shoulders from tensing. Sitting up straight, he began to poke around at the ship's controls, reviewing the hyperspace routes to clear his mind and keep his hands busy.

"Something up?" he asked. Nothing like a what do you want? to let somebody know they were invading your space.

She cleared her throat but he didn't turn around. Facing away from her, he had to strain to hear her soft voice. "Atton. Um, can I talk to you for a moment?"

Clenching his jaw, Atton let his hands go still. She was probably just here to pass on some of Kreia's lecture. Or maybe she needed him to fix something for her. Big, stupid Atton; useless, except for his ability to keep the ship running smoothly.

He stood up from his chair and turned, slowly. Keeping his expression blank, he looked down into her bright blue eyes. She really was something. Her teeth tugged on her full bottom lip as she looked back at him. Her mouth was pink, and set above the stubborn set of her small chin. Curly wisps of dark brown hair escaped the severe bun she constantly kept her hair pulled into. All that thick dark hair was the bane of her existence. Atton was secretly thankful that she hadn't managed to chop it all off yet, though she threatened to do just that nearly every day. And her pale skin seemed to glow in the dim light given off by the ship's controls.

She must have noticed his regard, for as he slowly looked her over, she began pulling the dark sleeves of her robe down over her black gloves. Meeting her eyes again, Atton felt his brows raise in question.

She flicked her tongue across her lips to moisten them. "Why do you play pazaak in your head?"

So they weren't just going to pretend it hadn't happened. Interesting.

Forcing his tone to sound as bored as he could make it, he answered on a sigh, "Passes the time."

She stood there looking up at him as if she was waiting for him to finish. He just looked right back, and after a moment, she squirmed a little, shifting her weight onto her other foot. "Come on. It can't possibly be that simple. Everyone... everyone here has all these deep thoughts and feelings. Things that they think and worry about. Kreia's convinced that you're a fool, that nothing's happening in your head because it's all just empty space. But I think I know you better than that."

He didn't know what to say for a moment. Suddenly, all of his anger at her violation was gone, replaced by suprise and an inexplicable happiness. Nobody had ever gotten wise to what he was doing before. All those Jedi, light and dark, had seen him as the simple, stupid creature he'd led them to believe he was.

He felt a lopsided grin curl up the corner of his lips. "But you've just seen past one of my greatest tricks. Part of my defense strategy."

"How's that?" she asked, an eager light creeping into her azure eyes.

"Here, let me show you," he said. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled forth his pazaak deck.

Shaking her head bemusedly, she went along, and they played a friendly game, just as they'd done countless times before. As always, she lost, and leaning back from his cards, Atton brushed his palms against each other wearing a full blown smile. He loved getting the best of her. Even if it was just at cards.

"Good match." He couldn't help but gloat a little. She could probably do better than him at a lot of things, but in this one area, he always had the upper hand. "Now, be honest. What are you thinking about right now?"

Her brows drew together in a frown. "Um... the fact that I need a better side deck? Really, how do you beat me every single time?"

He nodded and began gathering up the cards. "See, you're thinking about the game. That's all. Just pazaak.

"And that's why I play pazaak in my head," he continued. "If I don't, I might as well wear an open for business sign on my forehead."

She looked down at her gloved fingers, twisting them together a little. He watched her take a deep breath, her chest expanding under her Jedi robes. Meeting his gaze again, she spoke, "Atton, before, with Kreia's help, I... I felt your mind. I'm sorry."

Apologizing? But that was the same as admitting she'd done something wrong. "Of course you did. Never met a Jedi yet who didn't try."

She winced at that, as if she disliked being lumped in with everyone else. "But I... I think I understand now. You play pazaak to shield your thoughts."

Shaking his head, he answered, "No. I play pazaak to pass the time. But while I'm doing that, it's a lot harder for someone to just walk right in."

She nodded. "Can you teach me to shield my thoughts, too?"

"You can't look at it like that. The last thing you want to do when going up against someone who has the power over your mind is think about the fact that you're trying to erect a shield. You gotta... you need to just drop everything. Completely clear your mind by focusing on something entirely different. Something familiar.

"I can't teach you to shield your thoughts, it's not something that can be taught. I can only teach you to play pazaak. Do you understand what I'm saying?" he asked.

Understanding lit up her eyes, and she gave him a captivating smile. "Yes. I think I do."

"Good. Now, remember, the next time you feel someone come knocking, anyone, light or dark, play pazaak. And when they try to use their powers on you, suddenly it's not as easy as they thought it would be." It felt good sharing this with her. Something born and bred of his past, but something that could do good. Something to help protect her. "Don't think of it as shielding your thoughts. Think of it as your mind taking off to someplace else. When you do it, just image that you've left your body behind. And your mind won't be fighting. It'll be right here, with me, playing pazaak, where they can't reach you."

Looking at her now, he felt the moment stretch out, elongate.

She smiled at him again, and gave his right hand a squeeze. "Atton... thank you," she whispered.

Dropping his hand, she turned and departed, leaving him alone again with his thoughts.

Yeah... it was definitely time to tell her everything.