Callum had never been particularly comfortable with physical contact. There was something about it that put a knot in his chest, a little bubble of discomfort, of stress.
His mother and Ezran were exceptions to this. Harrow was too, to a certain extent, but Callum had never fully come to terms with physical contact with his step-father until it was too late. Claudia touching him would just send all of his brain cells misfiring and Soren very rarely engaged with him in physical contact, except to pick him up off the ground while sword fighting.
But then Rayla came along, and everything Callum had grown accustomed to with physical contact went out of the window.
It started off with a casual hand on the shoulder, then progressed into comforting hugs. And the bizarre thing was, Callum found himself itching to return the contact, or even initiate it, something he'd neverexperienced before.
There was something about Rayla he was drawn to, both emotionally and physically. Especially once they'd crossed into Xadia and Ezran had departed, their dynamic completely changed. Partly due to necessity, partly due to Callum longingfor Rayla's touch.
It began in a protective manner, Rayla opting to lock her fingers with Callum's to hide his extra finger, while he shoved his other hand into his pocket, a furious blush on his face as his heart hammered. Usually, Rayla only did this when they were near a Xadian town; however, they'd almost got caught by an elven scouting party when camping a fair way away from a town, causing paranoia to set in somewhat. From then onward, they held hands whenever they were travelling, regardless of their vicinity or lack thereof to a town.
Callum was reflecting on this as he sketched out an image that had been in his mind for some time. When Callum had been in his Dark Magic dream state, he had recalled a conversation his mother had had with him when he was younger, to help him overcome his anxiety and panic attacks. That image of Sarai rubbing his back and comforting him, that was what he was translating onto paper, but his mind kept wandering to the Moonshadow elf sat in a branch on the opposite side of the campsite, and how he found himself almost craving her touch.
Even now, Callum's skin seemed to crawl at the fact that Rayla was so far away. It was bothering him almost all day and all night. He was having distinct trouble sleeping without Rayla next to him.
Callum knew what was happening to him and knew what feelings he was trying to subdue, but gods, this need for physical interaction with Rayla could potentially cause a block to form between them, should he reveal it to her. And he didn't want that, not one bit.
Callum's eyes continuously darted from his sketch, up to Rayla, back to his sketch, back up to Rayla. The Moonshadow elf was leaning back against the tree trunk with her eyes closed, with rays of new moonlight shining onto her face and, suddenly, Callum found an alternative sketching itch that he needed to scratch. He flicked to a new page and set to work.
Halfway through his drawing of Rayla, the sensation of his skin crawling transformed into one he was more familiar with, but he couldn't fathom why it was coming on now. That familiar pit in his stomach and chest, the little knot of frustration, of discomfort, of anxiety.
Callum's brow furrowed as he worked, trying to keep his mind distracted from the indescribable panic that was threatening to flood his brain. He could feel strain forming across his forehead, dangerously close to slipping into a headache. He took his left hand, which had previously been balancing his sketchbook on his lap, and began to rub his temple, while he continued sketching with his right.
Focus, Callum. Breathe,he told himself, Sarai's guidance floating in the back of his mind. But his thoughts felt loose, disjointed, so much so that he couldn't pinpoint who had given him that advice and why. He was sketching on autopilot, his brain a fuzzy mess. He was on a boat with rocky waves and dark, ominous clouds starting to form.
Callum's vision began to blur as tears formed in his eyes, his head span, his headache flared, his extremities began to feel numb, his subconscious tried to focus on helping his brain. Eventually, it all became too much and his pencil dropped from his hand, which rushed up to the other side of his forehead. His breathing became laboured and his vision and hearing completely tunnelled. He was being tossed overboard into the vicious stormy sea.
Callum's body forced out a shaky sob. He was distantly aware of footsteps, of a pressure on his back, but it all felt a long way away. His body curled up into a protective ball, his sketchbook slipping off his lap. Tears streaked down his face as his body racked with sobs. He was being tossed around hopelessly, mind and body battered and bruised, dragging him under.
The waves began to calm, allowing Callum to resurface.
"Callum, please, I'm here!"
The clouds began to part and the vibrant moon began to shine down onto Callum's face.
"Please, Callum, just breathe!"
Callum's body flew upright and he choked violently, tears falling from his cheeks onto the ground as he blinked rapidly. He could feel her arms around him, he could breathe in her scent, he could hear her voice, all pulling his mind back in like an anchor.
He gasped and threw his arms around Rayla in a tight hug as feeling returned to his limbs. He became aware of her own sobs, the way her body was shaking against his, the way her hand was rubbing comforting circles on his back, while the other gently stroked his hair.
Callum took a deep breath.
He pulled away from Rayla slightly, so his hands came to rest on her hips and hers on his shoulders.
Rayla's hands rose up and wiped the tears off his cheeks, relief creeping into her features. Callum leaned into the touch.
"Thank you," he breathed, shakily, hoarsely.
Rayla smiled sadly at him, her violet eyes glistening with tears in the moonlight. "Any time. Always," she assured him quietly, pulling him in for another hug, anchoring his body and mind once more.
Rayla had been having a relaxing evening. She, Callum, and Zym had made good progress that day, so they'd set up camp early. Once they had the fire going and food cooked and eaten, Callum had sat in a lotus position under a tree and started sketching, so Rayla had plonked herself up in a tree branch and tried to have a little nap before she would offer to take night watch, as her vision in the dark was far superior to Callum's, in addition to her spectacular elven hearing.
She'd been dozing when something had tugged at her mind, a not too unfamiliar sensation. It was similar to an adrenaline rush before a fight, when the hair on the back of her neck would stand upright and her instincts would kick in. Her eyes had been halfway open when she'd heard the pencil drop.
They'd flashed open quickly. Callum never dropped his pencil.
The condition he'd been in had made Rayla's heart drop and panic flush into her heart. She'd leaped off the tree as he'd slipped into a fetal position, hands clutching his head, sobs breaking the quiet night. Zym had yapped with worry and bounded over too, lightly nudging Callum's head, but the human prince had shown no sign of a reaction.
Callum had explained to her once that he was prone to anxiety and panic attacks when he was in a heightened state of tension or emotion. Rayla assumed that having to be undercover everywhere for fear of being killed would be enough to tip him over the edge, but she had no idea what emotional battles he'd been fighting too.
He'd told her that, when he had them as a kid, his mother would rub circles on his back for his mind to trace, giving him a way to focus on something real, instead of the demons in his head. She would speak loudly and call out his name, to help bring his hearing back into the present time. She would holdhim until he stopped sobbing, to give him a smell to remind him of what was reality and a physical presence that he was comfortable with to provide a solid anchor.
Rayla had followed all of his instructions to the letter, but hadn't been able to keep her emotional composure at the horrific sound of his crying, and tears of her own had begun to fall. She'd kept him in a tight embrace regardless, rubbed circles on his back, called out to him.
It had felt like hours passed before Callum's body pulled away from hers and a small, emotional, grateful smile graced his lips, and he breathed out a thank you. Rayla was filled with relief, and pride. She'd managed to anchor him, with her words, with her hands, with her hugs, and pull him out of his head.
In that moment, Rayla promised that she would always be there to support and stabilise him, no matter where, no matter when, no matter how.
And Rayla kept that promise.