“Happy Hatchday!” the group chorused.
Zym only looked up at Callum and warbled questioningly, tongue lolling out.
The mage shook his side of the large parchment and whispered down, “come on, buddy! Like we practiced!”
The young dragon only tilted his head.
“Of all the times he won’t-”
Ezran knelt and lightly scratched at the painted side of the paper. “I’ve got it- here, Zym!”
The ‘birthday’ boy immediately took to the game, wiggling back on his haunches before springing towards- and through- the banner stretched between his three non-dragon parents.
Despite the delay, the assembled crowd clapped, cheered, and aww’d as the roughly-painted egg was split open by its former occupant. Airborne flowers cascaded around the group, and an array of foods from the reaches of Xadia were brought forth for the guest of honor.
“Okay,” Rayla laughed, “I’ll admit- that was pretty cute.”
Callum beamed. “Well, we’re probably gonna get shown up by Lujanne’s magic retelling later, buuuut I wanted us to do something with just the fou- five of us!” Bait had rejoined them in Ezran’s arms, eyeing Zym’s feast.
The moon nexus was decorated festively, in the storm dragons’ blues and purples. Rayla’s dragonguard armor would’ve made her seem an attendant instead of a guest- though technically she was on duty. Always, with Zym around, despite the other dragonguard in attendance.
Sitting to eat with their close friends, the group reminisced, joking and laughing along the way as they watched the dragonling tear through his gifts. Ellis dragged Ezran away for an animal-centric playdate, and Lujanne couldn’t help but cause mischief amongst the other partygoers.
Callum and Rayla rolled their eyes together at the elder elf’s pranks and stood, leaving their host to her fun.
Their hands automatically slipped together as the pair strolled through the party, waving hellos and exchanging pleasantries with the occasional guest.
Rayla quickly had enough. She leaned their shoulders together and groaned. “Let’s get out of here- that’s enough jabbering for me tonight.”
Chuckling, Callum steered them towards the more remote pathways even as he jokingly admonished her with an Opeli impression. “Now, now, Rayla. You’ll have to learn to put up with a lot more of that, in time.”
She arched a brow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Caught in his implication, the prince blushed. “Um. Because, well, y’know, with the whole- ohlookit’sSoren! Soren, buddy!”
Rayla's eyes half-lidded at him, face flat, and that , for sure , wasn’t the last he’d heard of it.
The crownguard turned towards them. “Oh, hey you two! Nice party! Don’t worry, Farique is with Ez. He’s great.”
Luckily, his girlfriend took over, giving Callum time to order his thoughts. She smirked teasingly. “Well, it’s not our party , but thanks. Why’re you all the way out here? Skipping the talking tonight?”
Soren nodded. “And the drinking. I, uh. It’s just been a while, now. Since the first time I was here. Not my greatest moment. Moments, really.” He glanced over the pair, a sad frown appearing. “Sorry, though, about all th-”
Rayla waved the apology away, dropping her hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Soren. You’ve apologized more than enough. It’s been a year. We’re ‘good,’ like you always ask. Don’t worry- you should really go enjoy the party. You’ve earned it.”
Callum nodded along with every word, adding “She’s right, Soren. Go party.” Then he tried to lighten the mood, drawing himself up square and using his best fake-snob voice. “Don’t make me order you!”
Soren surrendered, hands up, his regular winning smile breaking through. “Alright, alright! You two can be very persuasive! C’mere!”
With a double-sigh, the pair let themselves be lifted airborne in a bearhug, knowing this was good for him. Callum tapped out early, having forgotten to let go of Rayla’s hand, and that crushing pressure was just a little too much.
They waved goodbye to their friend, continuing up toward the nexus balcony.
“You know,” Callum broke the silence. “Zym hatching is just one of many anniversaries coming up soon!” His eyebrows bounced upwards teasingly.
Rayla snorted. “I know, I’ve seen your yearbook thing with all the notes.”
“That’s what I said.”
Callum had fallen for that too many times already, and pursed his lips.
“Oh ho, finally caught on, have you?” She grinned. “Looks like I’ll have to find some more word-traps for you to walk into.”
And she would, too. Easily.
The prince tried to roll his eyes, but knew the goofy smile just made it look fond. “ ANYways, yes, my calendar with all its anniversaries is perfect, thank you.” He began lifting fingers to count. “When we met, when Zym hatched, when we outsmarted Sol Regem, our first k- when we got together, when we told Ez,” he started lowering them in reverse order. “When we-”
Rayla’s hand covered his mouth, and her grip on his hand tightened. “Callum, if you do that it’ll be almost every day for weeks. They can’t all be anniversaries!”
He looked over the hand at her blushing face and smiled into her palm, then gently kissed it. Huffing a breath in response, she smirked and gently pushed him away, then pulled him back with their joined hands. They chuckled together, mounting the final staircase.
“Well why not? We’ll just make it an anniversary month!”
An eyebrow rose, but a smile tugged at one corner of her mouth. “Seriously? You think you can figure out that many in a row?”
Callum skipped fake indignation and went straight for sap, squeezing her hand. “Easily. You make me want to celebrate every day we’re together.” Rayla answered by taking a double step, keeping her face out of his sight, but he could see the dark shade coloring her ears.
She didn’t let him catch up, either, taking extra steps whenever he tried. “Ray-la! I’m serious!” He whined as they reached the final step, where she stopped and turned, a hard blush clear on her face, pulling him up alongside her.
“I know. So am I.” She looked away, towards the nexus, reflecting the sunlit clouds of early evening. “If us meeting is first, and zym hatching is second, I know a third anniversary that you don’t have in your book.”
Swallowing down another ‘calendar’ correction, he took her second hand in his, running thumbs over her knuckles, but she only looked up to the sky. Hands and voice the gentlest he could manage under his curiosity, he urged her on. “Yeah?”
“The day after Zym hatched. When Lujanne was working on my hand. I thought about that first week. And what you did- for him. For all of us. Smashing the primal stone. It really sunk in, how you’d thrown away something that meant so much to you- the piece of identity you’d only just found.”
He squeezed her hands encouragingly, and she squeezed back, dropping her almost stern face to look straight into his eyes. “That’s when I felt something for you. Really something. For the first time.” She flushed again, blinking, but added “ And I had time to think about it. So I was sure.”
Callum’s heart throbbed. “Rayla, that’s… beautiful. It being tomorrow doesn’t give me a lot of time to plan, but, at least...” He leaned forward, and she matched him, then coughed a little in her throat and jerked one hand from his to slap over his eyes.
“I can do the feelin’s or the kissin’, but not both. Not when you’re lookin’ at me like that .”
His confused pout melted into a fond grin. “Okay, okay, I won’t look can you just-”
“Shut up and kiss me.” He did. Well, responded in kind to hers, since he couldn’t exactly ...his thoughts drifted away.
They parted. “Really, Rayla? After all this time?” She silenced him again and hummed a positive ‘ mhmm ’ into his lips the way she knew would give him all the good feelings.
Callum relented, and her hand did eventually drop to elsewhere, but he didn’t look until they pulled apart.
Rayla smirked knowingly, and leaned her forehead to his to complete the reenactment. “Wrong anniversary, Callum.”
“So you’re going along with it, huh? Thank you for your addition to the anniversary month!” He mimicked scribbling a note into his glove’s palm, still within her loose embrace. “Third… Anniversary... Rayla… started… crushing… on… m-oof!”
She spun him around, arms pinned to his sides, laughing into his chest. “Yes, yes, I’ll have your anniversary month with you!”
His feet touched the ground again. “It’s not mine, it’s ours !”
Rayla nodded in agreement. “But two things.” She lifted as many fingers, half-breaking the embrace.
“First, no one else can know.”
“Yeah, I figured. And?”
“Tell me what you meant before. About putting up with more talking.”
He blinked. Oh. Oh. The flush crept up his neck quite easily, and she leaned forward when he didn’t answer immediately.
“Call-um?” she sing-songed inquisitively. Another ‘anniversary’ flickered in the part of his brain not currently fizzling out- a sword pointed at each of the princes when she said his name for the first time.
“It’s uh. In a while. Some years. With the two of us.” He glanced away and twiddled his fingertips together behind her back.
“If yoooouuu come back to Katolis? To stay? Like stay stay. You’ll have to talk to a lot of people you don’t really want to. Much more nicely than you want to. Because we’re a thing. And we’ll probably be more of a thing, by then. Maybe? Hopefully?”
She nodded slowly and gently spun them in an idle dance. Rayla was waiting for him to get to the point. Patient, letting him find the right words.
But he’d known them all along. It had been a year, right? It was probably okay to at least bring up with her?
Callum covered his face with both hands. “When we’ll be married and you’ll be a princess.” His anxiety immediately drained, with the words out in the open. Her arms dropped from around him.
Silence, but he waited without looking. Patient like she’d been for him.
A distant splash echoed up from the nexus lake.
With no Rayla in sight, Callum ran to the edge of the balcony, frantically looking down into the water, and hands slid around his face and chest, covering his eyes again and tugging him back against her.
Rayla’s breath tickled his ear, voice tight and maybe a little higher than usual, but not unhappy. “Not a peep! We’re going back down like this. You are not lookin’ at me right now.”
This wasn’t the fearful rejection he half-expected- it’d do just fine, for now. He sagged against her, laughing in relief and at the thought of another anniversary waiting for them in the future.