The Iron Bull picked up on the pattern pretty quickly. After a week of camping with the mouthy mage the so-called Herald of Andraste picked up in Redcliffe, it was almost impossible to ignore: Dorian Pavus was a terrible sleeper.
The Bull had seen his share of folks who couldn’t get a decent night’s rest, both those who deserved it and those who did not. He’d traveled with insomniacs, light-sleepers, and nightmare sufferers. He’d seen guys too wound up on adrenaline to come back down, and he’d seen guys who’d gone too long without and were too tired to sleep.
He didn’t remember any of them being this bad.
Every night, Dorian arranged his bedroll just so, straightened blankets that hardly warranted the attention, and fluffed the roll of spare robes that doubled as a pillow. He laid down on his back, crossed his arms, and closed his eyes. A few minutes later he turned on his side. A few minutes after that, he turned over again. At some point he crawled out of the bedroll, lifted it up, and remove some rock or clump of grass that bothered him. Then the whole process started again.
“Hey,” the Iron Bull grunted the first time they had to share a tent. “Go the hell to sleep, ‘Vint.”
Dorian tensed at first, but he didn’t freeze. He turned a scathing glare back at the Qunari.
“Unlike some barbarians, I wasn’t raised in a barn.” Dorian snapped back, defenses up and honed razor-sharp to cut anyone who dared close in. “As such, I’m unused to having rocks for bedding.”
“Nobody’s got it any better,” the Bull said, and he saw the mage’s shoulders drop slightly as he curled in on himself.
“I’m aware,” Dorian said, tone faintly dripping acid that didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m doing my best to make this situation at least halfway tolerable. So sorry my attempts disturbed you.”
He flung himself back on the bedroll and laid with his back to the Bull. As far as Bull could tell, Dorian didn’t move again that night, but he never caught the subtle shift of the mage’s breathing to indicate slipping into deeper sleep, either.
[Dorian’s temper the next day was a force of nature unleashed on the unprepared; he hurled invectives like lightning and glared at the mercenaries they found with enough heat that the rest of the party wondered if he actually used any magic to light them on fire. It was a small favor, from either the Maker or the Creators or the Old Gods or someone, that he only took it out on their enemies. The one exception to this was a rock that nearly tripped him as they hiked up one of the many Hinterlands hills. Said rock took an impromptu flight off the cliffside courtesy of a Mind Blast that left everyone’s ears ringing.]
At Haven, there was little reason for the Iron Bull to interact with Dorian. The Bull and his Chargers camped out beyond the walls by the training grounds, while Dorian bunked up on the hill by Solas and the grumpy alchemist standing in for a proper healer. There was a lot of magic on that little hill, and Bull was grateful to be well away from it.
Still, in a place as small as Haven, with a group of people like this budding Inquisition, he heard things.
[Five minutes in Solas’ presence and the Bull knew that Dorian and Solas were going to get along like gaatlok; fine until something sparked, and then hope that they were pointed at someone else for the fallout. A sleeper and an insomniac in such close quarters was just asking for trouble.]
Skyhold put them even further apart, but in the aftermath of Haven’s destruction, both Dorian and the Iron Bull became staples of the Inquisitor’s party. There was no way to avoid each other in the field. Sometimes they’d go for days being the only people around; other times they were just the only people not trying to end the world.
The Iron Bull couldn’t help but notice that Dorian’s poor sleep quality had yet to improve; he kept to himself in the mornings, bleary-eyed and faintly frowning until he’d had at least two cups of tea, and woe betide anything that dared attack the party before noon.
[“Seriously though, you have to be used to it by now,” he said to Dorian as they tramped through the Forbidden Oasis. “You’ve been down south for what, months now, right?”
“It’s not a matter of being used to anything,” Dorian grumbled, but there was less heat in his bickering than there had been back in the early days, in Ferelden. “Anyway, what business of it is yours how I sleep?”
The Bull shrugged.
“I’ve seen guys get pretty messed up in the head from bad sleep.” He said. “If you’re gonna start seeing shit that’s not there or hearing voices or something, I’d like to know so I can clock you over the head before you accidentally light the Boss on fire.”
“Light her on—” Dorian sputtered, glaring and offended. “I wouldn’t—!”
“I heard you warning Cole about friendly fire.”
“Yes, because he pops out of nowhere and it’s actually impossible to see him when he’s decided he doesn’t want you to!”
As if on cue, Cole appeared beside Dorian in a puff of smoke. The mage yelped and stumbled back, staff brought up in front of him to block and half a glyph for Lightning Bolt hanging in the air.
“Wrong space, wrong shape, wrong fit. Not there, not here. No right, no rest. He closes his eyes and wishes it counted for something.”
“Could you please not do that in the middle of someone else’s conversation?” Dorian dropped his spell and sighed.
“But you wanted an interruption,” Cole said, dismayed.
Dorian huffed, his face reddening slightly. The Iron Bull chuckled, and the mage threw his hands up and stomped ahead to keep pace with the Inquisitor.]
The situation didn’t exactly improve; everywhere they went, Dorian tossed and turned throughout the night. Sometimes the Bull would wake at the sudden stillness in the tent because the mage finally managed to drift into deeper sleep, but eventually something disturbed him, and he was restless again.
In the Fallow Mire, it was the pervasive scent of decay. Bull didn’t blame him for that one; it put most of the party off.
In the Emerald Graves, it was the twigs that were always underfoot and crackled every time someone moved more than half an inch.
On the Exalted Plains, it was the way the wind crossed the land like a sigh and a moan.
The Hissing Wastes had shifting sand, and in the Western Approach every slight change of the breeze brought foul smelling fumes from the noxious flats in the north.
Out of curiosity, the Iron Bull offered Dorian some Maraas-Lok, just to see if intoxication would help the man sleep. But Dorian turned out to have a high tolerance despite his preference for fine wine, and, more impressively, a remarkable amount of control even while drunk. He swayed a little on his way to the tent, but otherwise his nightly ritual remained the same.
The Bull would have thought that Dorian resigned himself to insomnia entirely had he not caught the mage fast asleep in his chair in Skyhold’s library when he went to deliver a Ben-Hassrath report to Leliana one day.
To look at him, it seemed impossible that he could be comfortable enough to sleep. Dorian sprawled bonelessly across the chair, one leg over the arm and the other angled out towards the hall. His head rested precariously against the high back, kept from slipping only by some grace of the twisting carving to the wood frame. One book lay open across his lap. Another was open but face down on his chest. A third hung limply from his fingertips. He breathed deep and slow, in what had to be the first deep sleep the Bull had ever seen him get.
To the Iron Bull’s surprise, Dorian didn’t so much as twitch as he edged past. Ben-Hassrath training made him quieter than one would expect a man of his size to be capable of being, but Dorian was also, in his experience, a notoriously light sleeper. And yet, nothing.
The Bull passed his report on to Leliana and glanced over the railing of the loft. From this angle, he could just see the mage’s slumbering sprawl.
“Does he do that a lot?” he asked, drawing the spymaster’s attention to the lower level. Her lips quirked into an unreadable smile, either amused without affection, or affection without amusement.
“Often enough,” she said. “He is almost always here when at Skyhold. I do not think he rests well elsewhere.”
“Tell me about it,” Bull rolled his eyes and then cast a knowing look to her, one spy to another. “Is he getting enough here?”
“If he kept regular hours, it might be, but most times this is the end result of more than a day’s hard work.” She leaned on the edge of the rail. “If he loses his place, he will be quite cross when he wakes.”
The Iron Bull hummed thoughtfully and ambled back down the stairs.
[A few moments later, Bull eased the book out of Dorian’s hand and marked his place with a spare scrap of paper. He draped a blanket over the mage. Dorian didn’t stir.]
When the Iron Bull and Dorian first started sleeping together, there was very little sleeping involved. Dorian was a creature of deep passion, and the Bull was a creature of immense control, and somehow they managed to connect just so, bypassing the incalculable probability of imminent disaster and jumping directly to incredible indulgence. Their first nights together were pleasurable, though Iron Bull thought very little of Dorian gathering his clothes and slipping out of the room when they were done. The mage wasn’t used to anything else, but Bull wasn’t about to rush him and ruin whatever it was they had going on. He was patient.
His offers were clear but passive, no pressure beyond the extension of invitation itself.
He spoke of it warmly, and in public places, showing no shame about their interactions, nor any reason for shame.
He kept an easy tone and a fond eye, waiting, but open.
It was simple. Not easy, but simple.
Dorian kept taking those openings, and then started offering some of his own, and then Iron Bull was pretty pleased with how things progressed from there.
[He cracked open his eye to see Dorian sitting on the edge of the bed, half the sheets draped around his waist. He looked sleepy; not the same weariness that dragged on him whenever they were in the field too long, but warmer, slower, like he could just ease back into the Bull’s arms and close his eyes. It took him a minute, but eventually he stood up and went hunting for his trousers.
Bull may or may not have started throwing them further across the room, making them a less tempting target than the heat of the bed.]
What surprised him, what really surprised him, was the day he woke up after one of their trysts and found Dorian half on top of him, fast asleep and faintly snuggling.
Outside the sky only just began to blush with color; mornings in the mountains meant the sunrise came in bits and pieces as it navigated the labyrinth of peaks. Birds sang joyously to hurry it on its way, but Dorian registered none of it.
The Iron Bull took the opportunity to have a closer look at the mage’s sleeping face. His hair stuck out in every direction where it wasn’t pinned between Dorian’s head and Bull’s chest; his mustache was likewise rumpled, and there was the faintest dusting of stubble along his jaw, just where Bull had pressed a kiss and scraped his teeth last night. His long lashes fluttered ever so slightly under the Bull’s breath, but his eyes did not open.
Bull realized, quiet suddenly, that he had spent the last quarter of an hour staring at Dorian’s face, and took the extrapolated conclusion with stoic good humor.
Another five minutes passed. Dorian didn’t stir. Another ten. Bull had to shift slightly to keep his neck from cramping. All this provoked from the mage was a small, soft noise of protest and a short flicker of movement that could have been a nuzzle or a head shake. Either way, he settled back to sleep and didn’t rouse again, even after Iron Bull huffed in amusement.
“Dorian,” he said, when another ten minutes passed unheeded. “Dorian, wake up.”
Dorian answered with an incomprehensible string of sounds that were undoubtedly vile curses.
“You have that trip back to the Oasis today, remember? Boss got more of those weird shard things? Wants you to take a look at it?”
Another muffled sound followed, this time accompanied by Dorian digging his fingers into the Bull’s hip.
“If you don’t wake up now, you’re not going to have time to pack.”
Dorian sat up then, but it was a slow, languid movement, like a great cat rising from a sunny spot.
“Shit,” he muttered, extracting himself from the bed and collecting his clothes more blearily than the Bull could ever remember seeing him before. “Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”
“I tried, but you were really out of it,” Bull shrugged. “You needed it, anyway.”
Dorian shot him a look too fast for him to actually read, but Bull figured it was the usual combination of defensiveness and embarrassment.
Eventually Dorian huffed and left, because Bull was right; he barely had time to pack before the Inquisitor dragged him out to western Orlais.
While Dorian was gone, it occurred to Bull that maybe the mage’s sleeping problem was finally fixed. He did, after all, sleep through the entire night beside Bull, and if he could sleep there, surely he could sleep anywhere. This turned out not to be the case, since half the party came back from the Oasis glaring daggers at each other, and the other half had the vacant, horrified look of people who survived a catastrophe.
[Dorian slunk in first, stiff and scowling while Sera ranted about something to do with canyons, blood lotus, and creepers up at all hours of the morning.
“Don’t ask,” Blackwall warned him under his breath, pale as a man who had seen the true face of fear and had it sneeze on him.
“Never again,” muttered the Inquisitor darkly. She shook her head and dropped her pack in the middle of the court yard, heading directly for Cullen’s office.
Iron Bull raised an eyebrow.
“Did it go that badly?” He turned to Dorian, who slumped against him.
“It may be possible that certain spells are not the most spectacular choices to cast when trying to simultaneously keep enemies away from one’s camp and rouse all of one’s allies,” he sighed. “Though in my defense, if I had not been so particularly amazing at multitasking, we would be out several members of our dear Inquisitor’s inner circle by now.”
“You would have loved it. A Venatori camp set up near the Oasis. They brought a giant, but we didn’t didn’t get to our camp until late, so we didn’t notice it. That night, it came looking for food, and what happened to be delightfully at giant eye-level but our camp?” He shook his head. “I hit it with Spirit Mark and then a Lightning Bolt, hoping the thunder would rouse the rest of the party.”
“Yeah, except the giant was standing in the middle of the damn water, so everything friggin’ lit up!” Sera snapped. “Including all the blood lotus. You know what that’s in? Friggin’ grenades! Arsehole!”
“So, everything was on fire, and the others took the giant out pretty quickly, but...” he shrugged. “Spirit Mark.”
“We think we’re all done, and up stands the bloody giant, half its damn skull showing, and on fire!” the rogue gestured rudely. “Scarred for life, I’m telling you. Friggin’ arse!”
“You should be lucky I was already awake,” Dorian replied. “Otherwise that life would have been dramatically shorter, considering it was reaching for your tent.”
Sera glowered at him, but stalked off towards the tavern, and Dorian buried his face in his palm.
“So, I take it you didn’t sleep well,” the Bull said, and Dorian whimpered.]
The Iron Bull had a hunch, and he wanted to know for sure, so he started trying things. Dorian would have called it “testing a hypothesis”, but really, it was almost entirely spontaneous trial and error and a lot of observation.
Dorian slept fine in the library, stretched across his chair and surrounded by books.
He slept less well in his own rooms, which were, from what Bull saw of them the one time they were there, rather unused.
[“I couldn’t bring much with me when I left Tevinter,” Dorian explained, expression unruffled and seemingly unconcerned. “There’s little in the south in the way of tasteful decor. Did you see what the Inquisitor did with the main hall? Brilliant woman, no one I’d rather help save the world, but those ghastly statues...
“Besides, I’m hardly in this room anyway. I have too much research to do.”
The Iron Bull nodded amiably at the time, but it was just something else for him to pay attention to: Things Dorian Liked But Can’t/Won’t Get For Himself.]
Dorian slept exceedingly well when they were in the field together and shared a tent, but if Bull wasn’t there or for some reason they didn’t share, his sleep quality dropped sharply.
The last part of the test was the hardest, namely because Bull had to figure out a way to get Dorian to sleep in his bed when he wasn’t there with him. There was some coaxing involved, and a really sweet line about wanting the sheets to smell like the mage when he got back that made Dorian simultaneously prickly and pleased, and also no small amount of bribery to Leliana’s spies to let him know how Dorian’s mood was the next day.
[The report, when it came, was written in a shaky hand like the last confession of a condemned prisoner.
All it said was,
“He didn’t sleep.
Mood: BAD.” ]
The Iron Bull came back to find Dorian in a fine temper, running on tea and an earnest desire to be useful to the Inquisition and possibly the tears of those who tried to keep him from either of those things.
“It’s about time you got back,” Dorian said, absently marking his place in the half-dozen open books around him.
“Boss wanted to kill some dragons,” the Bull shrugged. “You made your feelings about Emprise du Lion pretty clear.”
“Nothing should be that cold.” Dorian scowled. “Nothing.”
“You wanna warm me up?”
Dorian grinned, and smoke curled out from between his teeth.
[Before they got into bed, Dorian made Bull lift up the mattress. He rummaged underneath for a moment, then emerged with a triumphant, “ah-HA!” and a rolled up sock that had somehow been stuck down there.
“What, really?” blinked the Bull, dropping the mattress.
“Scoff if you like, but this thing was driving me up the wall all night.” Dorian tossed the offending garment into a corner. “Bruised my back like you wouldn’t believe.”
Having seen Dorian splayed across his library chair with the sharp corners of a treatise on Nevarran Mortalitasi and their influence on politics digging into his spine, the Iron Bull found that harder to believe. Still, he grinned and said,
“Delicate little prince, ain’t ya?”
just for the spark of challenge it put in Dorian’s eye.
“Not so delicate,” the mage hissed, fingertips quite literally sparking. ]
Later, when Dorian blissfully passed out on top of him, Bull figured he had it all worked out and congratulated himself, following his mage into pleasant dreams.
And they slept happily ever after.
There was one time, however, that it wasn’t such a bed of roses.
Dorian wasn’t overly picky about how the Bull kept his own rooms, as long as they were warm, but he finally drew the line about axe stuck in the headboard.
“It’s going to jostle free and cleave my head open,” he said, “and that is not the preferred ‘little death’ of the evening.”
“It’s not going to come loose,” the Bull reassured him. “It’s pretty well wedged.”
Dorian raised an eyebrow and leaned back, shoving at the headboard. The axe shuddered and moved, ever so slightly, closer to him.
“We hit it much harder than that, Amatus,” he purred. “Move. The. Axe.”
Which led to the Bull staring at said axe the next day, trying to find a place to put it where he could easily pick it up if he needed to jump out of bed and immediately be armed. After a moment’s consideration, he stuffed it under the mattress. He’d find a better place for it later.
Except later got sidetracked with a dozen little tasks for the Inquisitor, and somehow he forgot about it entirely until he and Dorian collapsed into bed, utterly exhausted.
Bull felt the axe’s haft through the mattress and felt a sinking dread pull at his chest. If he could feel it, there was no way Dorian could miss it.
But Dorian shifted once, blinked, and crawled on top of Bull before nodding off, completely unconcerned.
Bull figured it was worth the crick in his back for an evening’s peace. He’d move the damn axe tomorrow.
[Cole made his way down from the topmost level of the tavern with a smile on his face.
“What’re you grinning about, creepy?” Sera asked, momentarily more curious than cautious.
“Safe space, right shape, perfect fit. Here is now, there is later. Respite at last. He closes his eyes and finally feels like he belongs.” Cole answered. “I can’t hear anymore.”
“Yeah? Well, good.” Sera pulled back, made a face, and closed her door.
“Yes,” said Cole. “Very good.” ]