Ezran wasn’t usually one to rise early. In fact, he despised it. More often than not, Opeli or Corvus would have to knock loudly at the door of his chambers before he rose, and still he would only do so begrudgingly.
But not today.
Because today was the first full day that Callum and Rayla were back in Katolis.
After the battle of the Storm Spire six months ago, Callum had come to Ezran twiddling his thumbs and looking more than a little sheepish. He told him that Rayla wanted to stay and look after Zym and Zubea while a new Dragon Guard was appointed, and Ibis had offered to teach Callum more sky magic if he wanted to stay as well. Which he did, Ezran could tell immediately.
He saw in his brother’s eyes how much he craved the chance to finally have a dedicated sky magic teacher, and more than that, how much he wanted to stay with Rayla. But Callum had promised that if Ezran needed him, he would go back to Katolis too.
Ezran had just smiled, hugged his brother tightly around the middle and told him to stay. Xadia suited him; it was where he needed to be.
He needed to be with Rayla.
It had been a tearful goodbye, with plenty of hugs and promises to visit as soon as possible. But it also held the question of what laid on the horizon -- a world that could, hopefully, begin to find its way to peace.
Ezran had turned to look back at the spire from the back of his horse while and saw Callum and Rayla, their free hands waving to him while their others were entwined together. Zym hovered at their shoulders looking longingly at Ezran while occasionally looking toward Zubea, who’d also come down from the spire to watch the humans depart.
They would be okay. Ezran knew they would. So he’d turned his gaze forward and rode home.
Since then, they’d exchanged letter after letter. Callum wrote him at least once a week, often more than that. He told him all about the new spells he was learning and apparently he was getting much better at flying too. According to Rayla’s letters, Callum had developed a love of swooping down on her to snatch her from the ground while she was training in the field or sitting on top of the pinnacle.
Ezran wrote them back about things in Katolis, of course. He told them about his classes in politics and economics, his meetings with the newly appointed rulers of Evenere and Del Bar and how Soren had gotten stuck in the passegways when he’d tried to show him how to sneak into the kitchens.
Callum also sent Ezran all kinds of sketches: Zym asleep beneath his mother’s wing, Rayla training in the field in front of the spire, Zubea stretching her wings before taking off to fly with her son for the very first time. They were all so beautiful and made Ezran’s heart ache to see them again.
Then, a few weeks ago, Ezran had gotten the best letter of them all.
Callum said two other eleven warriors had arrived as new members of the Dragon Guard. Rayla had immensely enjoyed being put in charge of their training, and now they were finally fit in her eyes to look after Zym and Zubea on their own. Meanwhile, Callum would be taking a break from his training so they could return to Katolis to visit, just in time for the winter festival.
Ezran had been ecstatic.
Pyrrah flew them from the spire to the moon nexus and from there, they’d traveled the rest of the way on foot before finally coming into town last night. They’d arrived under the cover of darkness, so there was no great spectacle when the prince of Katolis returned home hand-in-hand with one of the moonshadow elves who’d originally been sent to assassinate the late King Harrow.
There wasn’t exactly peace, more of an uneasy truce that had settled over the kingdom. Ezran understood their trepidation, even if he didn’t agree with it. When he and the others had returned from Xadia, they’d told the people about what had happened, how Viren had been corrupted and how they’d brought him down in the name of humans, elves and dragons.
The citizens had been grateful, if not cautiously optimistic about what the battle meant for the days ahead. So was Ezran, if he was being honest. But even though he’d told them again and again about how he’d traveled with an elf friend who’d saved his life and his brother’s life dozens of times, there was still apprehension.
He’d almost insisted that Callum and Rayla arrive during the daytime so he could announce her as a hero of Katolis with as much fanfare and celebration as they both deserved. But Rayla had sent back a letter with only three words:
“Don’t you dare.”
In the end, Ezran was glad their reunion was quieter and more private. Soren had escorted him out to the gates of the kingdom beneath a heavy cloak where they waited as a gentle snow fell around them. Eventually, Callum and Rayla’s figures came into view along the path.
They all ran to each other, colliding into a heap in the snow as they embraced. Soren followed and wrapped all of them in a large, lung-crushing hug. Callum fussed over Ezran as usual, bemoaning the fact that it seemed like he’d grown taller in the time they’d been apart. Rayla gave Soren an affectionate punch to the shoulder. Meanwhile, Bait had turned a vibrate shade of orange.
They walked back together, sharing stories and laughs, not feeling an ounce of the cold that had soaked into their clothes.
It was wonderful to have their little family back together.
When they arrived in the light of the castle, Ezran saw the fatigue in their eyes and hanging heavy from their bodies. He quickly ushered them to their rooms -- Callum in his old room, Rayla in one just down the hall.
Ezran had intended to put Rayla up in his old room, but Opeli said that wouldn’t be appropriate since the rooms were conjoined. He wasn’t quite sure why that was the case, but he agreed, chalking up to one of those grownup things someone would tell him eventually.
He said goodnight to Callum and Rayla before heading off to his own bed.
What he didn’t see was Rayla almost immediately peeking her head out from her room, glancing around and, after seeing nobody, silently creeping over to Callum’s door and slipping inside.
So the next day, and for the first time in ages, Ezran woke with the dawn, dressed quickly and happily made his way down the halls.
He had so many things he wanted to show Callum and Rayla: Viren’s hidden dark magic chambers had been stripped of all their foul contents; a portion of the garden had been replanted with Xadian seeds Ibis had given him; and they were even been preparing for a handful of elves to visit during the festival.
Ezran was proud of what he’d been doing so far as king. It was hard, and he often had to look to those around him for help. But that wasn’t a weakness, in fact, he saw it as one of his greatest strengths. He was lucky enough to be surrounded by wonderful people who supported him and wanted the best for the human kingdoms as well as Xadia.
He waved off a few guards who attempted to accompany him as he continued hurrying his way down the corridors, Bait grumbling in his arms.
Ezran didn’t bother knocking when he reached Callum’s room, they’d both practiced the art of waking each other up in the most jarring ways possible. Ezran’s own personal favorite involved being just noisy enough to get Callum to stir before launching Bait at his head.
He threw open the door, letting it collide with the stone wall with a loud “ thwack ,” as he raised Bait in his arms and prepared to launch.
“Callum!” He said loudly. “It’s time to wake u-”
Ezran paused as he took in the sight of his sleeping brother, his hair a mess, his nightshirt unbuttoned and his arm slung around Rayla, who was lying asleep with her head against his chest.
Callum had pulled her close sometime during the night, his hand on her shoulder and his cheek pressed against the top of her head. For a moment, they both looked so peaceful, their breathing in synch and just the hint of a smile on both of their faces.
Huh, guess they really didn’t need the second room after all.
They began to stir from the noise he had made. their brows furrowing before their eyes fluttered open. They looked at each other first, sleep still in their eyes and their goofy, dreamy smiles growing across their lips.
But all at once, they both realized what had woken them. Their eyes shot open wide as their heads snapped to Ezran standing in the doorway, an amused look on his face as he slowly lowered the glow toad in his arms back to his normal height.
“Morning, guys!” He said cheerily. “Sleep well?”
Bait croaked in his arms, Ezran chuckling at his sarcasm.
Rayla shot up first, her face bright red. She had evidently removed the outer layers of her armor, leaving her only in her undershirt and trousers. It was by no means an indecent amount of clothing, but it was definitely the least Ezzran had ever seen her wear.
Her thoughts must have been similar, for she yanked the coverlet up and pulled it around herself like a cocoon as she scrambled to move away from his brother, practically kicking him in the process. She leapt off the bed entirely and, without missing a beat, threw open the door of the wardrobe, climbed inside and shut the door behind her.
This left Callum now sitting alone in his underclothes, his face, if possible, even redder than Rayla’s.
Ezran started to laugh.
“I told Opeli to just let Rayla stay in my old room. I figured you guys must be used to sleeping in the same room at this point,” he said.
Ezran heard a muffled groan from inside the wardrobe, followed by a heavy thump.
“Uh, Ez...Did Opeli say why she didn’t want us staying together?” Callum said shakily as he fumbled to re-button his shirt.
“Just that it was ‘inappropriate’ or something. But I said that if we wanted the rest of the world to get along, we had to lead by example, so we shouldn’t separate you guys just because Rayla’s an elf. But then she just said that wasn’t the reason, and that it would be inappropriate whether Rayla was an elf or not,” Ezran said.
“Uh huh…?” Callum said, carefully examining his little brother’s face for a moment.
“Why would she think it’s inappropriate? She knows you guys are a...thing and I told her that you like to cuddle and stuff,” Ezran said.
Another, even louder thump came from inside the wardrobe.
“Uhhh…” Callum said, drawing the word out long as he could, pausing his effort to stand up from the bed.
“You know what Ezran?” He said finally, his expression brightening considerably. “I have no idea,” he said, a little too loud.
“Psh, why would she think it’s not appropriate? Heh, Opeli’s always been so weird about rules, huh?”
Callum wasn’t a good liar, Ezran knew that. But it sure was fun to watch him fumble.
“Why don’t we go for a walk while Rayla gets ready though. I want to see how the festival is shaping up.”
It was a deflection, but it was a good one.
Ezran’s smile widened.
“Yeah! It’s awesome, Callum! I let the baker have a bigger stall this year and he came up with a new jelly tart that’s amazing! Oh! And Aunt Amaya’s sunfire elf friend is coming too!”
“Well all right then, let’s go!” Callum replied with desperate enthusiasm as he pulled on his boots and winter jacket. “Uh, Rayla, you want to come join us when you’re ready?” Callum asked tentatively as he knocked once on the door of the wardrobe.
“Nope. No, I’m just gonna stay in here forever now, thanks,” her muffled voice replied.
“Hey, Ez? Give me just a minute, would you? I’ll meet you outside.”
“Yeah, of course. Come meet me when you guys are done being gross,” Ezran said with a smile.
He watched with amusement as the color rose in Callum’s cheeks once again. He laughed, clutching Bait a little tighter in his arms as he left, closing the door behind.
Yeah, this was going to be a fun visit.