The door slammed shut, awakening the two nonhumans by the fireplace. Vaarsuvius blinked the weariness from their eyes until they became aware of their surroundings, at which pointy they broke away and rose to their feet, whirling around to face the slammed door. Belkar fell to the side seeing as his support had slipped out from under him.
Elan stood sheepishly in front of the door, wrapped up in a thick coat and face red with cold. "Sorry, V, I rolled high on my stealth check coming out the door, but not back in, I guess."
Vaarsuvius pursed their lips in frustration. "There is nothing to apologize for. I must have been more fatigued than previously thought if I had managed to fall into a trance while not in the comfort of a bed but that of the fire."
Belkar picked himself up off the ground and chuckled quietly to himself. "Well that's because I'm not in your bed to keep you warm, now was I? But we can fix that later. Or now, if you want."
Vaarsuvius ignored his comment and instead tried to regain their composure as they listened to Elan's response. The blonde boy smiled as he kicked the snow off his boots. "Don't worry, V, I won't tell anyone. What kind of bard would I be if I just spoiled the 'secret relationship' plot for everyone?"
Vaarsuvius's eyes narrowed. "I assure you, as I have in the past, that nothing of a romantic nature is transpiring between the halfling and I. Perhaps your theatric view of the world turns any interacting persons into hopeless irrational vessels of pure and undignified love and lust, but may I remind you that such emotions do not behave in such illogical conduct in reality."
"Riiiiiiiigghttt... There's nothing going on between you two." Elan winked as he crossed the room.
"No. There is not." Vaarsuvius insisted with a sharp edge in their voice.
Elan smiled and lowered his voice as he approached the bedrooms. "Yup. Of course. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone about your not-relationship." He quietly ducked into his room before either of them could get a sentence in.
Vaarsuvius sighed in frustration and put a hand to their face. Their ears pricked as they heard Belkar moving. They looked over their shoulder to see him stretching his arms behind his back. They opened their mouth to speak but got no further than taking a breath before Belkar spoke up. "Yeah, yeah, I know, Ears, I'm not gonna tell anyone. If you want to keep it to yourself then keep it to yourself. What do you want for breakfast?"
Vaarsuvius sat in the large chair in front of the dead fireplace with a book on their lap, calmly reading its contents while listening to the sounds coming from the kitchen area. They found themself to be quite calm, despite the fact that they had had a rude awakening this morning whilst in a rather... compromising situation. Though they were sure that they could guarantee Elan's silence on the matter, it was still unsettling that Vaarsuvius had put themself in that situation in the first place. They were silently thankful for the gravity-nullifying effects of trancing- had they been truly unconscious and prone to gravity, when the two of them had fallen asleep they would have fallen to the ground instead of propping each other up. And surely it would have been more embarrassing to wake up on Belkar's chest, his hand still around their waist and holding them so close-
These wandering trains of thought also had to be put to a stop. Vaarsuvius grimaced and tried in vain to refocus on their book. They glanced about the room for a moment to find something else to focus on. Their eyes wandered aimlessly about the area until they stopped at the window. They blinked at it for a moment before standing up -quickly and quietly. Belkar looked over from the kitchen, noticing this. "V?"
Vaarsuvius did not react. They did nothing for a few seconds. Suddenly they rushed to the front door and dove out it. Belkar raised an eyebrow and followed. Vaarsuvius stared at the scene with wide eyes. Now they knew what Elan was doing outside earlier.
There was a snowman for each member of the Order; each snowman was of a different height and girth, though all wore the same big smile on their faces. Durkon's snowman was short and stout with a stick positioned next to a rock to act as a hammer. Roy's snowman was depicted with the fighter wearing a familiar crown and holding a long, flat stick. The snowman portraying Elan was wrapped in a hug with another snowman- Haley.
Vaarsuvius's snowman had a tall and flat shape, almost cylindrical. Belkar's small snowman depicted him with his hood up and was positioned next to the Vaarsuvius snowman.
And they were holding hands.
Vaarsuvius took a step back, panic growing as they heard fair sounds from the shack that indicated the awakening of their fellow party members. They looked to the house and back to the snowmen, not seeming to care about the confused halfling standing outside the doorway. As the sounds of the rousing party grew louder, Vaarsuvius's eyes snapped back onto the affection-displaying snowmen and the mage let loose a Fireball from their palms.
Their cape and robes billowed from the sudden gush, and within seconds fell to rest once more. Vaarsuvius swallowed and looked at the large circle of mud and scorched pebbles in front of them.
"Hey, guys, what you are doing-" Roy's head popped out the door, and his expression changed as he saw the giant melted area "out... here...?"
Vaarsuvius shut their eyes for a brief second to compose themself before turning around. "A solar flare. Dreadfully abnormal for this time of year, and frightfully close in proximity to our resting quarters. Thankfully I was aware of our surroundings and was able to prevent what would surely have been a catastrophic fiery oblivion this morning."
Belkar gave the elf a disbelieving look. Roy blinked in confusion "Um... Okay... Well, uh, we're going to go check for that Bentley guy in a minute. You coming?"
Belkar turned to face Roy. "Hey, hold up! Have you guys not noticed the spectacular meal I've been slaving over for the past hour or so? No, we're going to eat first."
Roy held the door open "Well come on in, then, so we can eat and get going." Belkar obliged, leaving Vaarsuvius to sigh silently to themself and follow suit.
"Bentley Sprucemill?" Roy called, knocking on the big wooden door.
"Come in!" Called a voice from inside.
Roy pushed open the door.
A halfling dressed in full plate mail armor greeted them. His black hair was tied up in a ponytail and he was smiling warmly at them.
"Greenhilt, right?" He asked, his voice slightly accented.
"Yeah. Nice to meet you, sir." Roy reached out and shook the halfling's hand.
"Pleasures all mine. Nice to see another halfling around." He gestured towards Belkar "Now, what can I do ya for?"
"Your friend, Takka, said we could find you here. He said he needed a replacement for his everlasting flame and that you could get it for us."
"Oh. Well, you see, I have it. But it's not that simple. That item is keeping my house warm, I can't just give it to you."
"Of course not." Belkar muttered.
"But if you could get me a certain jewel…" He scratched his hairy chin. "I could use it for my fiancé's ring. I'll be moving in soon and then I won't need the warmth."
"Aw, who's the lucky lady?" Haley asked politely.
"A dwarf paladin, Lady Gwen. We met back in my adventuring days."
"Okay." Roy returned to the conversation "Where can we find this gem?"
"Rumor has it you can find some in the abandoned mythril mines down the way."
"Got something more… confirmed?"
"You know how it goes, if there's rumors about something then it's there.
"Fair point." Roy turned around, waving goodbye. "We'll see what we can do."
And with that, they all left the hut.
Later, while they were all regrouping in the hut and gathering their supplies, Belkar decided to cook for them and had managed to corner Vaarsuvius while they were waiting alone.
Vaarsuvius looked up from their book, raising their eyebrows slightly at the halfling standing in front of them. "Yes?"
"We gotta talk. You embarrassed by me or something?" He asked, a hint of anger in his voice.
Vaarsuvius pointed back over their shoulder with a thumb. "I was under the assumption that you were in the midst of preparation for our consumables."
"It's marinating, don't change the subject."
"I am unaware of what you mean."
Please. When the others are around you act like you're disgusted with my very existence, but when we're alone you cut the shit and want to be with me. You're fine with holding my hand or falling asleep next to me, but once the others come around you want nothing to do with me." Belkar spoke accusingly, eyes narrowing.
"That is a falsehood. It is not as if my feelings correlate to the presence of our fellow party members."
"Maybe not your feelings, but how you act." Belkar shot back, surprising Vaarsuvius with how sharp he was being.
They paused for a moment before speaking, quietly and defeatedly. "It is true that I behave different when the two of us are alone. Regrettably so."
"Yes. Our interpersonal relationship has slowly grown to be closer than it should. The comfort between us on an intimate level is unacceptable, and my frequent experiences with falling victim to such contentedness is a telling sign that the change is becoming more significant."
Belkar blinked once as he paused to process this. Once he figured it out his face contorted back into anger. "What's wrong with it? If it's fine then then why isn't it fine now?"
"As I have previously and repeatedly informed you, the two of us cannot pursue a romantic relationship."
"Sizeist." Belkar muttered bitterly, earning him a sharp look from Vaarsuvius.
"Of all your faults, I find your size to be the least concerning."
"So, what, you're ashamed of me? Scared we're getting too close?" Belkar raised his voice.
"Of your personality and our history, that is a practical viewpoint. It is purely logical that as a pair we retain a certain distance. I have explained this to you in the past, as you may recall despite your apparent mental handicap."
Belkar felt a growl rise in his throat and his face heat up with anger. He leapt up onto the seat, pointing a figure up at the elf. "I don't know why you gotta play hard to get, asshole!"
Vaarsuvius fought to keep their composure, though they were getting increasingly angry. "I have just informed you as to my reluctance in such a manner and desire to bring it to an end. Perhaps you have suffered a lapse in auditory perception?"
"You're being ridiculous! What's wrong with the others knowing you like me?" Belkar spat loudly.
"I do not!" The elf's voice was rising as well.
"Yes you do! And you're too scared to admit it because you think you're better than me and that a relationship with me would be degrading."
"That is preposterous. I am refusing such an engagement because, quite frankly, I am not attracted to sociopathic murderers."
"Well, I guess I'm a first, then, huh?" His hands were balled up into fists.
Vaarsuvius stood up from the chair, book in hand. "I will not sit here and listen to your absurd accusations, nor will I yield to your physical advances."
Belkar practically yelled in frustration. "You know what, screw it! I'm not doing this shit anymore. I don't think I'd want to go out with such an arrogant asshole anyway!"
"So you agree on our incompatibility?" Vaarsuvius shot back with narrow eyes.
"Yeah, screw this shit; I'm done." Belkar stormed off to his room, apparently forgetting about the food he had been preparing.
Vaarsuvius glared after him for a while before sitting back down and cracking open their book. They flipped the page angrily, further frustrated by their inability to concentrate.