It had been a wild year. The moment Winter arrived at Jade Mountain Academy, his life changed in unforeseeable ways. Scarlet manipulating Icicle to kill the Dragonets of Destiny, the Diamond Trials with Hailstorm, being exiled from the Ice Kingdom, even witnessing Darkstalker waking, one of the most powerful dragons to ever exist, to be defeated by a mere strawberry. To think that this strange academy had altered his life to such a large scale was ridiculous, but it happened. Despite what had happened, he was sure he didn't want it any other way. The dragons he met and befriended made everything worth it, and helped him realize what he really wanted.
Moonwatcher, the shy NightWing. Although Winter was first harsh and skeptical towards her, he eventually set aside his bias against NightWings, and became one of her closest friends. Kinkajou, the energetic RainWing. Winter found her to be quite the annoyance upon meeting her, and while she still was, Winter found himself accepting her company. Turtle, the reserved SeaWing. Upon meeting him, he seemed quite secretive, but as they got to know each other, he learned more about who he once assumed was just an anxious dragon, and grew close. Then there was Qibli. He had never met anyone quite like Qibli, with his intelligent remarks and his light and joyful attitude. That irritating, yet endearing SandWing had stuck with Winter, ever since they had met, even though he had shut out Qibli early on. They had been there for each other, always willing to help. He owed everything to Qibli, for pushing him to find Hailstorm, for making him realize what he really wanted, breaking away from the Ice Kingdom. Winter would have never learned to break through the cold hard shell he had built up in the early years of his life, make friends, and learn to enjoy himself. Qibli was Winter's first true friend, something he was forever grateful for. He felt relaxed and happy around Qibli, and truly cared for the SandWing. It had been a great year, and Winter hoped the following years would continue to get better in this new chapter of his life.
"Hey slush brain, get your lazy tail out of bed, you don't want to miss the party, do you?" Qibli shouted, walking up to Winter.
"Yeah, yeah, Jade Mountain Academy anniversary party, whatever. Let me stay in." Winter wearily replied, lifting an eyelid. "Go find someone else to annoy."
"You're the one and only snow sniffer that I'd annoy and you know it." Qibli snickered, grabbing and tugging on Winter's talon.
"Remind me why we're friends again." Winter grumbled, standing up.
"You love me." Qibli teased, pulling Winter towards the door.
"Hmmph. You wish." Winter snorted. Despite his response, Winter knew very well that what Qibli had said was most definitely true, but he was reluctant to admit anything, scared of being rejected and ruining their friendship.
The two eventually made their way to the Great Hall, where a large amount of dragons were gathered. There was music all around, continuous chatter in the background. Dragons were dancing, some flying, others grouped up talking to each other. A large blue banner was hung high, with "Happy birthday Jade Mountain Academy!" woven in a shimmering gold. A section of the hall was cut off, filled with cows, chickens, and other livestock. A massive pile of fruit towered over, presumably for the RainWings. The sun was almost setting, its warm orange glow illuminating the large space.
"So… what are we going to do?" Winter stopped and glanced at Qibli, who had dragged him the entire way.
"We should probably find the rest of our winglet." Qibli’s eyes darted around the room, taking in everything.
"There are more than a hundred dragons here, how do you suppose we do that?"
"Well, for starters, we could go to that group of SeaWings around Queen Coral, where Turtle should be. And wherever Turtle is, Kinkajou is there, and Moon too." Qibli pointed to where Tsunami and Queen Coral stood, surrounded by many SeaWing dragonets, probably all of Turtle's brothers.
Winter sighed in defeat, knowing he couldn't argue against Qibli. He found Qibli's logic annoyingly on point, which he simultaneously loved and hated at the same time.
They made their way over to the group of SeaWings, where they saw Moon standing at the edge.
"Qibli! Winter!" Moon waved at them as they walked over. "I'm surprised you got Winter to come, Qibli."
"Oh, he can't stand being away from me. He wouldn't survive a day alone." Qibli replied, playfully shoving Winter.
"I'd say the same for you, do I need to remind you that you were the one that dragged me here?" Winter shot back, voice heavy with fake exasperation. In reality, he was quite happy Qibli cared enough about him to bring him along. A warm feeling surfaced in his chest, one that Winter really wished didn’t exist at times.
Kinkajou and Turtle walked up to Moon after what seemed like an awkward conversation with Queen Coral about animus powers.
"Hey Winter, hey Qibli! You two are holding talons? Are you dating? It’s about ti-"
"No! Never!" Kinkajou was cut off by Winter, who had a dark blue blush spreading across his face, contrasting well with his white scales. He glared at Kinkajou, but he continued to hold Qibli's talon tightly.
Desperate to change the subject, Winter asked "So, what are we going to do here?"
"A few families have visited, though I suppose yours coming would be an unpleasant surprise." Moon replied, grimacing at the thought of Icicle coming back to the academy.
Winter shivered at the thought of family. That word was not good for him.
Kinkajou’s scales desaturated for a moment, before recovering with her usual bright yellow and pink colors. A look of mild discontent crossed her face, remembering that her parents didn’t even care enough to find out who she was. Qibli noticed this, and decided to make a joke about his not so nice family.
"If my family were here we'd have another war on our hands." Qibli kept a light tone, but he stiffened up a considerable amount before settling back down. His eyes shot around the room once again, paranoid that they somehow had made their way to the academy.
"Ugh, my head is going to explode with all these voices in my head. Did you guys bring your skyfire with you?"
All of them shook their heads in unison.
"I'll go find my mom and then head back to my cave." Moon sighed, walking away from the four, pressing a talon to her head.
"Aw, I hope Moon feels better, that must not feel good! Hey Turtle, do you want to dance?" Kinkajou excitedly asked, grinning widely.
Turtle went silent, taking a few seconds before murmuring "Yes."
Kinkajou pulled Turtle away, quickly getting lost in the crowd of dragons.
"Oh Winter!" Qibli turned around with a mischievous grin on his face.
"Yeah?" Winter questioned, before realizing what Qibli’s intentions were. "Oh no. You’re really gonna ask me to dance?"
"Oh come on, I know you want to. It'll be fun! Besides, you're fine with holding talons, dancing can't be that bad."
Winter gave Qibli an incredulous look. Qibli knew him so well it was hard to believe he wasn't a mind-reader.
"I would, but I've only danced once in the Ice Kingdom and… it didn’t go too well." Winter sighed, wings drooping down.
Qibli's heart practically jumped out of his chest. Winter actually wanted to dance with him? Does he... like me? No, no, that's impossible. Just because he wants to dance doesn't mean he likes me back. That doesn't mean anything, I'm just getting hopeful. Qibli scolded himself for thinking about such a thing. They were just friends, and Winter was just being nice for once. There was no way Winter would like him in that way. His heart sank, before going back to the thought of dancing. At least I can get him to dance with me, that'll be fun. Qibli thought.
"Hey, you'll never learn how to dance if you don't try, besides, I don't care about how good you are, I'll dance anyways." Qibli put on a brave smile, and held both of Winter's talons.
"Well," Winter said, "lead the way."
Winter’s movements were awkward and stiff, while Qibli danced wildly and out of control. Combined together, the dance turned into a clumsy mess like one found in a game of sped up twister. They were with each other and having fun though, so it was the least of their worries.
They eventually found themselves on the floor, stumbling over each other, laughing.
“How was it?” Qibli asked as he rolled off the IceWing.
“Better than I expected. Most fun I’ve had in a while, actually.” Winter had a genuine smile on his face, one Qibli had only seen a few times in the year they had known each other.
“Maybe… we can try again later?” Winter hesitated, hoping Qibli wouldn’t react too strongly against what he said.
“Of course! I knew you adored me!”
“Oh, do I? Maybe I do, sand snorter.” Winter turned around and gave Qibli a teasing look. He had an amused grin, snouts less than a talon's width apart.
Qibli’s snout opened, but what would have been a smartass remark was replaced with dead silence. His face flushed a deep scarlet red, almost looking like a bloody massacre in the desert.
“Speechless for once? That’s a welcome change.”
“H-hey! You aren’t supposed to do that” Qibli stuttered, flustered from Winter’s sudden change of attitude.
“Nice while it lasted.” Winter snorted, walking towards the wide opening of the Great Hall. “Let’s go outside, I swear I'm going to melt into a puddle here.”
Qibli knew there was something Winter was hiding, as the Grand Hall was as cold as the air outside, but he couldn’t figure what. He took off, trailing behind Winter.
Winter landed near a lake, surrounded by a grove of trees. Long shadows cast over as the sun slowly set below the horizon, its luminous haze filling the sky, blending many shades of purple, blue, and orange together, all painted into an ocular miracle around them. The lake reflected everything, even ripples traveling through the water, warping the mirrored image. He stared at the sky in wonder, losing himself in thought, snapping out when Qibli spoke up.
“Hey Winter, want to race?”
They dove into the lake, water splashing high as they wildly flailed around. The water was pleasantly cool, flowing around his scales. He swam across the lake, reaching the other side right before Qibli.
"Hah, I won!" Winter shouted, standing up triumphantly.
"I let you win!" Qibli wheezed, head popping out of the water.
"Right, now stop gasping for breath."
"Feeling's mutual." Winter replied.
Qibli found himself gazing at Winter, slick and glimmering in the warm light, gracefully gliding through the water. Winter, the one who had become his friend. The one who brought out the real Qibli, the one who he could be happy and have fun with. The one who had his heart.
They got out of the water and sat down. No words were exchanged, just watching the sun sink down, shrinking smaller and smaller until a sliver of it remained visible.
After night fell, Winter decided to do something he thought he'd never do. Something about being with Qibli alone made him want to talk, spill everything he had been hiding.
Winter hesitated before continuing. "Can I talk to you? I need to get something off my chest."
"I love you." Winter's voice was a hoarse whisper, but it was the clearest thing Qibli had heard.
"Ever since we met, you've stuck with me. Even when I pushed you away, you stayed with me. You were one of the first to actually… care. You make me feel like… like I matter. Like I have a place in this world." Winter's voice cracked, tears slowly falling down his face. "You were there for me. You kept me going when I wanted to give up. You've made my life worth living. I can't thank you enough."
Winter dipped his head, tears dripping off his snout.
“All those jokes you made...” His voice drifted off, like the words had flooded his head with memories. “All those times we joked around, played with each other, talked, argued, it eventually made me realize what that feeling was. It grew, and it hurt, more and more. It hurt me, and it still does. It hurt me, knowing that you would never feel that way, especially towards an ignorant asshole like me. It hurt me, because I knew I didn’t deserve you, and I still don’t. Every joke you made, every time you smiled at me, every time you pretended to flirt, it gave me hope, but it also feels like torture. Why do you do this Qibli? I can't take it anymore.”
Winter turned away from Qibli, unable to keep looking at the one who had brought the most joy and pain in his life. “I’m sorry you heard this. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep it to myself. I’m sorry you have to deal with me. I’m sorry if you h- hate me now...”
He started to slowly walk away, freezing in his tracks when he heard Qibli speak up.
"Winter, I- I… you..." Qibli was in shock. Surely he was dreaming. There's no way. He really does? Is this real? His thoughts raced, realizing what he had been wishing for all these months was true. They really shared feelings? He exhaled, breath swirling out as a white mist in the cool night.
"I could never hate you after all you’ve done for me. You've put up with me too, and became my first friend. You've always been willing to help, and you have the best of intentions. You... you've saved my life. I don't think I can thank you enough either. I guess we're even..." Qibli smiled, voice softening as he finished.
"I love you too."
Winter’s head snapped around, eyes wide with confusion and disbelief. His jaw dropped, breathing erratically. “You-you what? You do? What? Why? Why me? Do you mean it? Are you joking?”
“Winter, I’d do anything for you. I would never lie about that. Those jokes I made about... us, well, I was hopeful.”
Winter rushed forward and hugged Qibli, wings and talons wrapped around him. He was a crying mess, but instead of heartbreak and despair, he was crying tears of joy, overflowing with happiness. The two stayed like that for quite some time, until Winter spoke up again.
“I hate to admit it but… you were right. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Qibli.”
“I won’t ever leave you Winter. I don’t think you would let that happen anyways.” Qibli chuckled, leaning into Winter’s hug.
"What a year… Jade Mountain, Scarlet, Diamond Trials, Darkstalker, that forsaken prophecy, you… I thought I had finally gone insane when I fell for this idiot sand snorter of a dragon. I thought I had no chance with you." Winter laughed quietly, hugging the warm SandWing tighter.
"I’m glad I was wrong."
"I could say the same for you, my royal snow sniffer." Qibli hugged Winter back, embracing the chilly aura surrounding him.
Winter held onto Qibli, before stepping back to look at him. Winter held a weak smile, eyes shining with hope, visible even in the middle of night, lit only by the dim stars scattered in the sky. Pressing Qibli's snout against his own, he whispered,
"See, I'm your destiny."