Rayla. Ezran. Harrow. Claudia. Ezran. Rayla. Faces swirled on his wavering consciousness like oil paints in water. Callum had fallen into an uneasy, shallow rest waiting for Rayla, with Zym in his lap. He was determined to go looking for her at first light but eventually the exertions of the past day had gotten the better of him.
When she stepped under the overhang, reality and dream mixed and it took a moment for him to gain control of his faculties.
“You’re back!”, he cheered hoarsely, falling in her general direction since his legs did not immediately want to support his full weight. Zym danced around her legs.
She snickered, then winced. “I really wish they’d stop sendin’ their henchmen after us.” She dropped two bags on the ground, “I broke camp. And a rib. I need you to check if it broke off in one piece.”
He shuddered. “How you just deal with pain is beyond me.”
She sat down between his legs, facing him and gave him a weary glance that he could only see because of how close she had come. “I don’t wanna have to deal with it but it sure beats all-out war between humans and xadians. About that...” She grabbed his scarf and roughly pulled him even closer.
Frantically, with fear in her voice, she whispered, “You can’t try and save me like you did tonight again. Zym needs to get home and you need to be the one bringin’ him. I. Am. Completely! Expendable.”
He defiantly held her violet gaze for a moment.
Then they both started tearing up.
“You couldn’t have said anything more horrible”, he whispered, “You are not expendable and I won’t let you think of yourself that way. You are not our bodyguard! We are a team! Zym is important to me and so is avoiding a war, but trading lives is not how we should be solving our problems.”
He carefully wrapped his arms around her so her head could rest on his shoulder and vice versa. They spent a while like this, crying in silence, with the whelp trying to cheer them up.
“Ugh, that was dramatic, I’m sorry”, she took a few deep breaths, shuddering with each.
He ran a hand through her hair, then they separated.
Wiping his face with his dirty undershirt, he scanned her expression.
“Ready to play doctor?”, she asked, snickering but still wiping her eyes.
He shakily nodded and asked, “How can I tell if the rib came off in one piece?”
“I’d do it myself but it’s hard to do since it hurts and you have to really apply some pressure to be able to tell where the bone is. Try to push down, find the point where the bone goes from hard to springy. If you push on it, lightly, and it stays down, it’s broken off. If it springs back, it’s still attached and just cracked”, she took a slow, deep breath, looking around as though she was expecting something to fall on her.
She lifted her arms above her head, “Help me get these off.”
He helped her out of her jacket and the rigid chest guard she wore which also held the attachment points for her blades.
“Callum, look at me”, she ordered, clasping both hands against his cheeks, forcing him into a pout.
“You are about to hurt me. I need you to know that’s fine. Please don’t stop until you’re sure about what you’re feeling because I am not doin’ this twice. Is that clear?”
He nodded, cold sweat pooling in his palms. She let go of him and carefully laid down to rest her head on a knapsack.
He carefully ran his spread hands over her rib cage.
There was a soft spot halfway down her right side.
Callum looked at Rayla nervously. She bit down on a balled up rag and smirked encouragingly.
He pushed, feeling her tense and inhale sharply.
There was the break. Rayla groaned. Zym whined at him to stop.
He ran his hand further toward her abdomen where he found no more sharp edges.
“Feels like its a single piece and its still attached.”, he reported with a dry mouth.
She spat out the sleeve and breathed flatly to regain her composure. “That is good news. I’m not tastin’ copper either. Got lucky. We really need to lay low for a few days. Like, no fires, no washing clothes, nothin’. Just sittin’ and eatin’ hard tack.”
She happily took the canteen proffered by Callum and emptied it in one gulp. “At least the bounty hunters will leave us alone until they can figure out how to get out of their restraints. I put the big one in an auto-choke.”, she sighed, ”hate to say it but we really should move further away. ”
He helped her back into her armour. They got up wearily and shouldered their burdens. Zym trotted right behind Rayla, keeping her in his concerned view.
She stumbled ahead since she was able to see where she was going.
As the day began to break, they found a wide cavity within a cracked boulder. The entry was barely wide enough to squeeze through standing up. They fell asleep almost as soon as they’d settled in.
When Callum came to, he was disoriented at first. The small entrance left little room for light to filter into the cavity. He crawled over to where he thought Rayla was sleeping. Even in the dim light and despite the dirt and matting, her white hair stood out.
He briefly considered going outside to search for medicinal herbs but decided it would be too dangerous, especially on the first day. They were stuck here until they ran out of supplies or until Rayla felt ready to move again.
“Hi”, she crowed, responding to his searching touch.
“You’re up?”, he inquired softly.
“Wish it weren’t so”, she chortled hoarsely, “Sleepin’ with a broken rib’s hard enough in a bed. Hey... I just realized that I didn’t even check on you. How are you holdin’ up?”
He thought on that for a moment. “I’m doing well enough to be your personal nurse-butler”, he proclaimed, “In this, the finest hotel-hospital in all Xadia.”
“You are real bad for dodgin’ questions.”, she scolded with a weary smirk.
“It’s true though. I feel fine. Just really needed that sleep. My biggest concern right now is how little you seem to think of yourself.”
She carefully sat up. “I have a very high opinion of myself!”, she quipped.
“I. Am. Completely. Expendable?”, he quoted tersely.
The following silence dragged uncomfortably.
“Callum, there’s nothin’ more important to me than seeing you and this tiny Dragon to your goal. Nothing. Not my health and not my life...”
He cut her off firmly. “Though, and I’d really like you to consider this, what if that’s not how him or I feel? If we lost you, I wouldn’t even know what to do – how to act. I’m learning so much from you about field medicine and foraging but I don’t know nearly enough to survive this place without you. Zym needs you. I need you.”
From the position of her dirty hair and two faint specs of reflected light, he could tell that she was looking at him.
When she didn’t answer, he reached out to place his hand on her shoulder. “Neither of us can do this alone, Rayla, and you really need to stop that warrior princess trip you’ve been on since we first ran into trouble here. You shouldn’t put it all on your shoulders.”
She turned away and sighed deeply.
“I ‘spose you’re right. I’ve been a right hag this entire time...”
Interrupting her, he carefully wrapped his arms around her. She tensed up.
“No. You’ve been nothing short of amazing. But nobody can do what you did without a break and now it’s time you took a good one. Did I hurt you?”
“No, it’s just that I’m not sure if this is the part where we kiss or sob for the next twenty minutes”, she quipped shakily, “Was that too forward?”
“No?”, he answered, equally unsure.
“Well then”, she grabbed his scarf and pulled him in for a short kiss, which he didn’t fight. She smirked slyly, “That scarf’s real useful. Been usin’ it as a handle a lot.”