Here We Are (or, Between Friends)
Disclaimer: I don't own Order of the Stick; I don't even own Annette Hanshaw's music. Rich Burlew owns 'Order,' and I am very grateful to him for it.
This was made shortly after the release of strip 789. And yes, here, Vaarsuvius is a female, but it's not a big deal.
"Here We Are" is sung by Annette Hanshaw in the original. I originally learned of it from 'Sita Sings the Blues.' Check it out, if jazzy animated Indian epics sound interesting at all.
In dungeons, cities or in forests one might ignore the dawn. Trees, buildings, and of course heavy stone walls came between the sunlight and the eyes. Only noises change, and those can be attributed to anything.
Not so on the high seas, or in a desert. It's nothing but wide empty sky yawning over wide empty water or wide empty sands. The wind passes over all.
But deserts are still, while the sea is always swaying or pitching. To Vaarsuvius, watching the sun rise, it was good, the stillness. Though she never got seasick – of course – the ocean's swells would have been upsetting, while flat sands and empty sky were calming. Calm. Yes. She needed –
She turned at the sound. Haley walked towards her, rubbing her arms against the desert chill. "V, have you gotten any sleep?"
"I have tranced sufficiently for the day's needs; you need not trouble yourself about my nocturnal habits."
Haley fixed Vaarsuvius with a look. "Elan's told me you nearly killed yourself with not-trancing while out on the ocean. I don't want that happening again."
"I assure you, I can look to my own well-being. I only placed trancing at low priority because –" Vaarsuvius paused. For a moment the last three months seemed absurd. "Because…"
"—You were looking for me." Haley touched Vaarsuvius' shoulder and the elf almost started at the touch. "And I wanted to say, thank you. I know that Roy appreciates it too, but he's kind of too busy to mention it. But I'm really glad to know that you never gave up on me."
Vaarsuvius' eyes widened. Something pricked at the edges of her eyes – it had to be sand.
She rubbed her eyes as she said briskly, "Oh, well, of course, you're welcome. Of course for my comrades in arms, no one gets left behind – as my master said, the sin of accidie is the worst – but nonetheless, It was also a more companionable instinct that spurred me to do so, as, well…"
"I get it," Haley grinned. "We're friends."
Vaarsuvius fell silent as the sky lightened. A mockingbird started up singing. "Yes… friends." And she gave a tiny smile, which died quickly, but it was the first smile she'd had since – that day.
"Yes. Friends. And that's why, as your friend, I'm asking you what's wrong."
"Yeah, right. Please, V. Maybe none of the guys notice it, but I can tell. You haven't cast Explosive Runes on Belkar once since we all got back together, and since Sandsedge you've been – different. You know I won't tell anyone."
"Since you prize secrets so highly, why are you so eager to learn mine?"
"Look, V, I told you about that whole aphasia fiasco – it was because I had so many secrets I didn't share. I don't want you to make the same mistake, can you blame me?"
"No…" Vaarsuvius saw Blackwing wake up and stir, out of the corner of her eye. With a sharp nod, she indicated he should occupy himself for a few minutes. So he did, and Vaarsuvius turned back to see that Haley was still watching, waiting for an answer. Haley could wait for a long time.
She took a deep breath.
"Inkyrius has sued me for divorce."
"And I agreed to it."
"WHAT? How could he? On what grounds?"
"Neglect. I've only spent the last…" Vaarsuvius looked to the sky, "Oh… six years away. It was probably something that should have been done ages ago…"
"V, how could you have given up on them so easily?"
"Because my mate had every justification. Kyrie can raise the children better without me. They will be safer without me."
"What made you think this?"
"V…" Haley leaned over, trying to get a better look at the elf's face. "Did something happen?"
"If it is necessary for you to know, one day I will divulge it. But until I have determined that it is…"
"Okay." Every good rogue had to know when a treasure was just too well-guarded. "But divorce. No trial, no custody battles?"
"What custody battles? Inkyrius was always more at ease with the little ones than I was. I thought I would drop and shatter them when they were babies… I admit, I was hoping that when they reached an age of appropriate consciousness, I might be able to better forge a connection with them. Now…"
"I'm sorry." Haley put a hand across Vaarsuvius' shoulders.
Not responding, V went on, "It's very strange… only now do I realize the full implications of the choice I made six years ago. The choice to leave. What I was really risking, all the time, with every step I took away from them. I mean… I always thought of them when I thought of home. I had a vague but happy picture in my mind – always, at the back of my mind. But how prepared was I to actually be a part of that – to make it more than a picture? Maybe I was never meant for a family – to have a mate."
"Hey. V. Stop it."
Haley fell silent – they could hear Roy moving around, starting to wake up. And Elan was awake and singing already. This one appeared to be a light jazz piece:
"Even while I waited, somehow, dear, I knew
You'd find me – I'd find you – Hi, Haley!"
"Hi, Elan, I'm busy right now," Haley waved to him. He smiled and skipped away, kicking up sand as he went.
Haley continued talking in a swift undertone: "Look. You've told me so much about Kyrie, and those kids of yours. And they've got to love you back. So you're divorced from them, now. But you still love them."
"Therein is born my anguish," Vaarsuvius muttered.
"I know. I know this sucks for you so much – and your children and your mate are probably hurting for it too. Well—"
"I'm not going to dwell on it. I will not be an asset to the team if I keep wallowing in my own self-wrought misery."
"Did I ask for you to wallow? No. But you'll keep fighting the good fight, for them. And when it's over, if there's any kind of an ending – you'll find them. And you'll see them again, and you'll all understand each other. Maybe it won't be as easy as you'll all get back together, happily ever after. But – you'll see them again. This isn't over. Nothing's over as long as you're all alive."
"Stop talking like that." Vaarsuvius clasped her hands in her lap. "For all we know, I'm not going to be alive when this is over, and I didn't contest the divorce out of the hope that they would remain alive when this is over."
"V, I hear you, but did you really listen to what I said?"
"… Yes. Yes, I did. You're trying to sway me away from melancholy and self-effacing, which is… in a way… though it's taken me years to get over it… my natural state of being."
"Exactly. You'll never give up on those kids – just like you never gave up on me. Don't let it weigh you down; make it into your hope." Haley looked back towards camp. The men were stirring; the sun was fully up. She clapped Vaarsuvius on the back, and turned that into a one-armed hug. "If you ever need to talk – no matter what – you know I'm here."
Vaarsuvius looked at Haley, and Haley smiled.
And V had to smile back. It was more comforting than she could ever express, to know – Haley was there. And would be, whenever Vaarsuvius asked her.
The two friends got up and went to breakfast. Elan, despite threats from Belkar, was wrapping up the song, and hugged Haley as she walked up to him:
"Here we are, alone together,
What matter whether we wander far?
And though we haven't got a bankful,
We can still be thankful,
That here – we – are!"