SignificanceMature

Four days passed smoothly, Jasper noticed Layla each day as she stood in line serving food to people, but he never made contact with her, going without whatever food she served. She was captivating, but Jasper could not afford to... could not afford that kind of distraction.

For four days, he noticed her with Zane and Erik, the blacksmith. He noticed them laughing, but also noticed her silence. He'd take in the sight of her face, her bright eyes, for a few minutes, before bolting down his food and leaving the dining hall.

Jasper's routine was simple, he'd wake up early and help start the fires that heated the pools, the forge, and the large kitchens, then he'd patrol the outlying tunnels, keeping his dagger at the ready in case he heard any enemies approaching. It was usually very quiet. After patrolling, he'd locate the scouts for any information about the outside of the tunnels, then go sit watch in the main tunnel for hours. Anyone else would go stir-crazy, sitting in the dark forever, but Jasper liked it. It felt safe, enclosed in the tunnels, and the quiet told him that he couldnt mess anything up when there was nothing to mess up. After dinner, he'd go back to his quarters, block out the sound of his roommates' talking as they prepared for bed, and once again try to imagine if things had ended differently that day. Once his roommates were snoring, he'd slip out with his towel and nightclothes and pad silently down the dimly lit tunnels toward the bathing pools. Bathing at night was so much more peaceful than trying to wrestle for soap and enough water space to get clean and dry before dinner. Jasper was a decent fighter and had excellent balance, even when the surface was a bit slippery, but it was inconvenient to have to gain the upper hand every evening just so he could bathe in peace.

So imagine the surprise when Jasper entered the room, to hear the faint splashing of someone getting clean alone. Carefully peaking around the corner, squinting his eyes so he could close them before he could see anything he wasnt supposed to, he saw a very pretty female figure turn her back toward him and dip under the water, which went up to her waist. She came up a moment later like a mermaid, holding something in her hand. It was at this moment that Jasper noticed the scars on the woman's back. Ugly, red lines that crisscrossed the pale skin like the tunnels crossed through the rocks, all the way from her shoulders to where her skin met the water. Jasper couldnt help the small intake of breath at his surprise and dismay. How could anyone endure that kind of pain? Then the girl turned her head, and saw him. What she'd been holding in her hand dropped to the ground, it's small clatter ringing loudly in the silence.

It was Layla.

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"I-I'm sorry." Jasper stuttered, shutting his eyes tightly, knowing he was blushing ruby red in embarrassment to be in the presence of a very beautiful, and very naked, girl. "I didnt know anyone else would be in here, there usually isnt and thats why I'm here, I came in for a bath now because I kind of like the silence and--" Jasper clapped a hand over his own mouth to prevent it from running away with him. He kept his eyes shut, but the image of Layla's back was burned into his mind's eye. He slowly withdrew his hand. "I'm sorry." He said, it was for more than just intruding on her bath.

"It is not your fault."

"I just...came in for a bath." Jasper repeated, this time slowly enough for her to understand. He opened his eyes, but kept them firmly glued to the floor. He noticed the item that dropped, and picked it up, it was a ring. He heard a few more splashes then the sound of wet feet on stone, followed by the rustling of cloth and she was beside him, fully dressed, she looked at the ring in his hand.

"I dont know who it belongs to." Layla said. "It was on the bottom of the pool."
Jasper looked at her, she seemed entranced by it. It was a fairly simple piece of jewelry, but she'd probably seen so little beauty in her life, so few items of worth.

"I'm sure they'd have already asked Erik for a replacement." Jasper said recklessly, an idea entering his head that was absolutely brazen. " Being our best metalworker he makes jewelry too."

"Oh." Layla replied quietly, disinterested. In an impulsive move Jasper maneuvered the ring out of the palm of his hand and transferred it quickly onto the ring finger of her right hand. It fit perfectly, and Jasper and Layla both stared at it in surprise.

"I'm sorry, I dont know what made me do that." Jasper said quickly. "But... I think you should keep it."

Layla smiled a very small smile. "I shouldn't, whoever lost it will be missing it."

"I'm sure they wont mind seeing it on your finger. It suits you." Where was this boldness coming from? Jasper could have hit himself. Layla blushed prettily.

"I should...get in the bath." Jasper said awkwardly, trying to mend the situation. "Need to be clean..."

"Right." Layla replied, gathering her towel up. "I'll be seeing you, around, maybe."

"Maybe." Definitely. Jasper watched her slip quietly away out of the room, then he really did hit himself.

"Idiot! You can't do this! You are a danger to yourself and anyone you get close to. Give up on her! She's better off with more cheerful, lively people, like Zane or Erik." He kept up the anti-pep-talk as he furiously scrubbed the dirt off his skin and out of his sandy hair. Usually the bath relaxed him, but this time, it left him more agitated than ever. He marched quickly back to his room and fell into a restless sleep filled with memories.

The End

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