Falling QuicklyMature

Jasper made an effort, after "the Incident" in the baths, to make more contact with Layla. He made a decision to join her, and Zane, at meals. He didnt feel inclined to speak, and didnt try to make conversation with the bonehead. It was only after Zane left and the silence grew too noticeable to ignore, that he made the effort. His thoughts buzzed around his head crazily in Layla's presence, and he thought each sentence through very carefully before he said anything. He wanted to ask her about the ring, about why she was still wearing it, but, it seemed too risky to bring up, so he tried the previous subject first.

"Are you going to the sparring?" His voice came out a little forced, he felt.

"I might do." Layla replied quietly. "Will you?"

"I might do." He replied, he flashed a grin.  "You're still wearing the ring?" The question came out with less effort than he thought it would.

She nodded and looked down at it; she had meant to ask Erik about it but had decided not to in front of people. She would find him after the duel.

"I'll give it back if I find out whose it is." She whispered. She looked down at it, and Jasper followed her gaze. He did not like the idea of it's absence on her finger. He looked back up at Layla, met her eyes for a few seconds, before standing up.

"I'll see you at the sparring." He walked off at a quick pace, heading back to his tunnel watch until the event began.

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Jasper was late to the sparring. He slipped in the back and stood near the archway, watching Zane and Erik hack away from each other. They were well matched, and over the clash of steel on steel, they shouted encouragement to each other. When Ceri called for a stop Jasper noticed Laya standing just on the other side of the arch. As he noticed her, she approached.

"Jasper?"He came closer to hear her better. "About... well..."

"You don't have to talk about it." He interrupted hurriedly, he did not want to discuss "the Incident" Especially when Zane, Erik, and worse, Ceri, would be around to potentially hear something. And it was pretty obvious what he saw of her back, her scars, was not something to be discussed.

"No... not about that... the pools. Do you go at a certain time... I just; I don't want us to have to be awkward with each other again." She looked very awkward right now, but Jasper considered it. He hadnt really thought about it being an issue yet, only about people finding out.

"I just go when everyone is asleep." He said after thinking about it. "In the future we could leave something outside when we're washing, so the other knows?"

Layla nodded, obviously relieved at this simple solution. Jasper thought nothing of it personally. He did not want a repeat of that embarrassment.

"That is a good idea." She said, her eyes beginning to scan the crowd. "Excuse me." She hurried away, catching up to Erik as Jasper was left behind. The crowd was cleared, leaving only Jasper near the entrance, and Zane, still standing in the arena, breathing hard from his battle.

Jasper turned to face Zane, fingering the hilt of his little knife as he turned.

"What did Ceri have to say?" He said, barely containing his hostility.

"None of your business." Zane said, adjusting the grip on his sword defensively.

"Do you think you can take me with that monster?" Jasper challenged, a malicious grin twisting his features.

"You think you'd be able to survive with that toothpick of yours?" Zane spat back.

"Try me." Jasper climbed into the arena, unsheathing the knife and brandishing it. Zane, goaded into action, lifted his sword in a ferocious downward arc. But he was tired from the previous battle and Jasper sidestepped the blow easily.

Zane tried ever combination of sword swings to break through Jasper's guard, but Jasper either stepped out of the way or deflected the blade with his knife to graze harmlessly past clothing or along the soft powder of the arena floor. Oddly, Jasper never landed a blow himself.

Zane tried a lunge next, giving it as much power as he could, but Jasper, not fighting with a sword and sheild like Erik or the training dummies, simply deflected the blade and Zane, carried by the force of the lunge, staggered forward, nearly into the railing, but Jasper caught him by the collar, saving him from the fall, before sliding the knife along Zane's collar, tearing the fabric easily, but the tip did not touch the skin.

"Go get some rest. Looks like you need it." Jasper said. He didnt realize it, but he was breathing heavily himself. Zane's attacks had been ferocious. Zane nodded and staggered to his feet.

"Rematch. Tomorrow," he said. "You had an unfair advantage this time."

"If you say so." Jasper said, controlling his breathing so Zane wouldnt know how tired he was. Zane left to clean up before dinner, and get his shirt mended. Jasper sat down right where he was and let himself drop his guard for the first time in months. 

The End

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