“You know, they are looking for you,” Dorian’s voice came from behind her and almost startled Amara as she was leaning against the door leading towards the great hall.
“I know,” she sighed. “But it is early and I don’t know if I can understand the complexities of Orlesian politics before I even had breakfast.” Her whole posture screamed exhaustion, and she was glad that it wasn’t Josephine who saw her in this state. The other woman had enough on her plate without worrying about someone else’s unhealthy habits.
“You look like you just took down another dragon after not sleeping for a month.” Dorian raised one eyebrow as he leaned on the balustrade next to her. “Are you alright?” He sounded concerned, and Amara felt herself shrink a bit. Did she really look that bad?
“I am fine, don’t worry. Just a long night.” She tried to wink at him but failed horribly when a yawn took over. “Just trying to avoid responsibilities before I’ve had food.”
He nodded at her sympathetically before he gestured to the door behind him. “In that case, might I suggest the other exit?” With a grateful nod Amara rushed past him.
“You know, if you need something to help you sleep you could probably ask Solas for help. He seems to have a lot of solutions for that,” Dorian suggested behind her, making her pause in her step.
“What?” Amara spluttered. “I don’t have trouble sleeping. I sleep fine!” She hoped silently that her tone didn’t sound overly defensive.
Dorian gave her a peculiar look that made her just a little bit too uncomfortable. “Of course not, my mistake,” he said very pointedly and his whole behaviour made it clear that he didn’t believe a single word. For a brief moment, Amara considered coming up with a better story but her tired brain came up empty. Without another look, she made for the door and fled the rather uncomfortable mood of the rotunda. Dorian kept staring at the door until he heard someone clear their throat behind him.
“Fascinating.” Vivienne’s voice was a mixture of curiosity and a slight sneer. “Our dear Inquisitor manages to stun you into silence, I see. What a remarkable feat!” The other mage was not a rare sight in the library. Their conversations were usually spiked with more or less thinly veiled insults that had lost the heat behind them many months ago, but today Dorian felt strangely off.
“She just lied to me,” he admitted in confusion. “We are friends, close friends I would even say and she just blatantly lied to my face.” Disbelief coloured his voice.
Vivienne sighed, sounding almost dramatic as if it was a personal affront towards her that she had to explain this to him. “Of course she did. The dear girl is probably terribly embarrassed and doesn’t want you to think badly of her. I thought that was rather obvious?”
“That is ridiculous! Why should she be? She is under a lot of pressure, having trouble sleeping is nothing to be ashamed off,” he huffed. There was no way that this was the actual reason. Dorian was certain of it.
Vivienne only raised her eyebrows at him, waiting. When it became clear that he was waiting for her to give him a better reason she shook her head with a pointed look. “My dear, I doubt it is dreams that keep her from sleeping.”
Dorian rolled his eyes. “Then that is even less reason to be ashamed. She knows I don’t care. She could sleep her way through the entire Inquisition, and I would never judge her for that,” he stated with conviction. And he meant it. What someone else did in the privacy of their bedrooms was not his concern.
“Then you, my dear Dorian, are probably a very rare exception,” Vivienne remarked with a slight hint of respect in her voice. She agreed with him in theory, but she also knew that reality often was quite different.
“Do you two think it is very wise to gossip about the Inquisitor's nightly habits out here in the open, where everyone could overhear?” Both of them were startled by Varric’s voice for a second, then they exchanged an uncomfortable look. They couldn’t really disagree with him, even though there were not many people around the library this early in the morning.
“What are you even doing here, Varric?” Dorian asked.
“Looking for you, Sparkler, things to discuss,” the dwarf stated like this was an obvious everyday occurrence.
Vivienne smiled politely and gathered the books she had come for. “I will take my leave then and let you two do whatever you do.”
Before she could leave the library, though, Varric’s voice stopped her again. “You know, you are both wrong about her,” he stated.
“Excuse me?” Vivienne sounded like she tried to sound insulted, but her curiosity shone through far too prominently. Dorian just looked at him questioningly.
Varric glanced around to make sure there were no more bystanders around. “She doesn’t jump from bed to bed nearly as much as you think,” he stated. The other two were looking at him like they didn’t believe him at all.“Oh come on, can’t you see it? It is kind of obvious.”
Both mages just shook their heads.
Varric pinched his nose as he continued. “You are really not as observant as you all think you are. She wants you to think those things about her. Meanwhile, she has never spent the entire night in someone else’s bed and if you ask the housekeepers, they will tell you that the Inquisitor has never once slept in her own room either.” He looked at them like he was waiting for something.
Dorian was the first who processed the new information. “Why does she do this? I mean, it makes no sense to me?” He looked at Vivienne who seemed as surprised as he was. “And where does she actually sleep?”
Varric shrugged. “Excellent questions. I asked the same thing but neither Leliana nor I have been able to figure it out yet. So your guess is as good as mine.”
“Perhaps you should ask Sera or the Iron Bull or some of the others she associates herself with more frequently,” Vivienne suggested. “She seems very close to some of them, they might know?”
Varric shook his head. “Our dear nightingale already tried, they said they don’t know.”
Dorian laughed loudly at this. “Of course they did. Have you met Sera? Do you honestly think she would give our spymaster or even Cullen or Cassandra an honest answer?”
“She is deeply troubled when it comes to authority,” Vivienne agreed, and Varric scoffed. “Well, that is one way of putting it.”
“I’ll ask them,” Dorian decided. “Either one of them might be much more open about this to me than to any of our dear leaders.”
This time it was Varric’s turn to laugh. “Maybe. But I can’t really see you spending your evening in the Herald’s Rest.”
Vivienne looked thoughtfully at Varric. “Be that as it may, Dorian is right - he might actually be the best person to ask.” She ignored Dorian’s shocked gasp. “Do tell us if you find out something useful, please,” she added with a pointed look at Dorian.
“My dearest Vivienne, are you asking me to collect gossip for you?” Dorian put his full acting skills into the mockingly shocked expression on his face.
“That you think this is about gossip when the fate of Thedas rests on the shoulders of our currently very on edge and sleep-deprived Inquisitor is almost adorable in its naivete.” She shook her head at him again before she left the library without even saying goodbye.
“You know,” Dorian mused to the dwarf beside him, “I almost think she actually cares.”
He was surprised when Varric slapped him on the back with a laugh. “You are only figuring that out now?”
~ . ~
That very evening, Dorian decided to go and find some answers. Curiosity aside, he had meant what he had said that morning. Amara was his friend, and he couldn’t help but worry about her. The moment he entered the tavern, though, he was starkly reminded why he usually spent his evenings elsewhere. He didn’t have to look around much to find who he was looking for.
“Dorian!” The Iron Bull roared through the entire tavern. “Join us!” He was surrounded by most of the Chargers, Scout Harding and Sera. The music was lively, and Dorian assumed that the drinks had been flowing for quite some time already. He made his way through the other patrons until he was at their table.
“Finally here to take me up on my offer?” Bull joked and did his terrible imitation of a wink that really lost all its meaning with only one eye. He seemed unconcerned by that, though.
“He must be, why else would he grace us here with his company?” Sera chimed in, her wink being much more pronounced.
Not for the first time Dorian was glad he had gotten used to the more brash and direct ways of both of them. “As tempting as this offer is, I actually need to talk to you.” He smiled his most winning smile as he addressed the Iron Bull. “It is about the Inquisitor."
Bull put his drink down and looked serious for a moment. “Hey, whatever you heard, it is just rumours! There had been nothing going on but heavy, almost filthy amounts of drinking that night, and she left on her own two feet!”
Sera nodded emphatically. “I can vouch for that!” She took another large swing of her drink.
“Actually, you can’t - you were passed out under that table over there,” came Harding’s voice from her left.
“Maybe,” Sera reluctantly agreed, “but I was there in spirit!” She snorted loudly, and for a moment, Dorian was afraid that there would be ale coming out of her nose. She elbowed Bull into the side, but Dorian strongly suspected that the Qunari didn’t even notice her tiny elbow. “Get it?” she giggled. “In spirit!”
Dorian couldn’t really help but laugh along. Her amusement over her own accidental pun was infectious. After the general laughter had subsided, Dorian focused his attention on the Iron Bull again. “It is a bit more serious than that. If you have a moment?”
Bull’s expression changed from amused and slightly drunk to very serious in an instant. “Of course.” When he stood up everyone moved out of his way instinctively. “Coming through,” he shouted playfully. A few chairs were shuffled over the floor as the rest of the group went back to the drinking game Dorian had unknowingly interrupted.
“Where to?” Bull asked when he had reached the Tevinter. Dorian was glad that he obviously understood this to be a private matter.
“Somewhere we won’t be overheard preferably. The Battlements?” he suggested. Bull only nodded and made his way out of the crowded place. Dorian followed him quickly. For each of Bull’s strides, he had to do at least two steps to keep up. He briefly wondered if that would look comical to people watching just before he decided that he really didn’t care. They didn’t talk while walking - not until they had reached their destination. Right in front of one of the unused towers on the battlements, they stopped.
“Alright,” Bull wasted no time. “Out with it, what’s the matter with her?”
Dorian was glad he didn’t have to tiptoe around. Talking to the Iron Bull was surprisingly easy and refreshingly direct.
“She is not well, and something weird is going on.” Dorian wasn’t sure how much Bull knew and noticed. The Qunari’s face gave nothing away.
“‘Not well and something weird is going on’ has been the general state since Haven, though.” Bull was still waiting for Dorian to get to the point.
“True. But beside the point. She is not sleeping, and in debating how we could help her, we realized something odd going on.” The Iron Bull looked at him questioningly. He didn’t say anything, but Dorian could guess what he wanted to know.
“‘We’ being Vivienne, Varric and myself. Leliana probably too,” he explained. “According to Leliana, everyone she spends her evenings with assumes she just goes back to her room to sleep. But according to our dear storyteller, she has not slept in there even once.”
Bull still appeared relaxed, but Dorian realized he was paying attention now. Something about his posture had changed ever so slightly, and for a moment, Dorian wondered when they had gotten to know each other well enough for him to notice. Right then he realized another thing: Bull didn’t sound surprised.
“You already know?”
Bull only shrugged. “Some of it. I don’t have the whole picture, but I’m guessing no one but Amara has that. So where do you think she sleeps?”
“That is the odd thing, no one knows. And it cannot be somewhere comfortable or much sleep in general because she looks like she could fall asleep mid-fight most days now.” With a frown, he remembered the training session he walked by this afternoon. That former templar Amara liked to spar with, Belinda something, nearly ran her through with her sword by accident. Amara had been unusually sluggish during their training and kept staring into the distance at the most inopportune times.
“Does Red have someone following her at night?”
Bull’s question ripped him out of his thoughts and Dorian shook his head. “I think that would not go over well with Amara, and Leliana knows that.”
“You’re all mighty daft sometimes!”
Startled by Sera’s voice, he jumped a step sideways. Bull didn’t move a muscle and seemed entirely unperturbed as Dorian cursed. “Kaffas, where did you come from?”
Sera had the nerve to look at him as if he was the odd one. “Duh, from right behind. You said all the stuff ‘bout ‘Mara, can’t blame me for following, really.”
Dorian forced his breathing back under control. “I guess not,” he conceded. He looked accusingly at Bull. “As a spy weren’t you supposed to notice that we were being followed, though? Or are you one of the not particularly good ones?”
The Iron Bull just laughed at that. “You mean you didn’t know she was right behind us? I assumed she was supposed to be here, left the Tavern together with us.”
Sera nodded emphatically. “Wasn't like I was sneaking around or something! I just walked after you. It’s not my fault you don’t notice things…”
“Alright, alright, point taken.” Dorian cleared his throat and pointedly ignored both Bull’s and Sera’s matching grins. “Please then, enlighten me. What obvious thing are we missing?”
Sera rolled her eyes dramatically. “That she isn’t like you. Or Bull. Or anyone here, really. She lived kinda like I did, but with more darkness. Way more darkness.” The two men were just looking at her as if they were waiting for her words to make sense to them.
“Thing is: when you’re used to something, it’s hard givin’ it up, right? Can’t live without it. Everything feels wrong. Especially when it was dark and muddy and now is all pretty and bright.” She was gesturing wildly as she talked, and Dorian took a cautious step back to not accidentally get hit in the face. “I’m sayin’, a hovel, dark corners and stale food? That’s real. Familiar. A comfy bed behind sturdy walls in a friggin castle? Unreal. Will always feel wrong.”
Dorian was frowning as he shook his head. “I am afraid I still don’t quite understand.” Next to him, the Iron Bull was just silently listening, his face giving nothing away.
Sera scoffed. “You really have no idea what her life was like before, huh? Not the tiniest? The mighty Inquisitor you all keep looking at, and no one looks at the woman. But I guess that’s how she likes it. Keeps everyone away and herself safe.” Sera sounded a bit like she just realized the last bit herself.
“Safe from what exactly? From us? No one here wants to harm her.” Dorian was still trying to follow, but he felt like he was missing a piece of the puzzle.
“Not you, but yeah, people of course! There are all sorts of them. Never know when you get a good one or when you’ll stumble over the foul apple in the bunch.” Sera shrugged, slowing down her words like she was talking to a small child. “Look, if she didn’t tell? Means she doesn’t want people to know. Lots of things done to her she wants to forget. Pretty certain she did something, too. Feels mighty bad about whatever it is. Stuff like that? Leaves you with no trust.” She sounded almost a little sad as she continued, “Like, take us for instance. Sure, we hang out. She told everyone that matters that she is my friend. We laugh, we bake cookies and play pranks. But after? She leaves. No choice really. Wouldn’t ever stay over or anything.”
Dorian was perplexed. “You mean, she doesn’t want anyone to know where she is actually sleeping? That feels almost too paranoid. Even to me, and I’m from Tevinter.”
Sera almost sneered at him. “Got it that quick, did you! But is nothing paranoid about it, really. It’s hard! You sleep, you are defenceless. Guessing she doesn’t want to be defenceless in a spot where all of Skyhold expects her to be, either.”
Dorian was still making sense of this when Bull spoke up next to him. “Her room. Of course. It’s strategic. Don’t be where an enemy would expect you. Keep your rest location a secret. So no one can sneak up on you.” There were no indications of his own feelings on the matter in his voice until he continued, “I’ve seen this before. In Qunari who came back from Seheron.”
“You know something that could help?” Dorian asked tentatively. He was at a complete loss about what to do in such a situation.
“Yes, when it comes to my people. For her? Neither she nor any of you would like that.” Bull seemed to be in deep thought, his eyes focused on something invisible in the distance.
“Well, think of something then!” Sera prodded. “Can’t have the Inquisitor falling off the roof because she’s tired all the time.” Her words sounded like her usual brash self, but both Dorian and the Iron Bull could hear the worry she had for Amara in her voice.
“I will think of something,” Bull promised her and made his way towards the stairs downwards. “Let’s get back before they come looking for us, and we have to spin a scandalous story to explain why we are up here,” he suggested, and the other two followed him directly.
Sera snickered at that. “Pah, you two are probably the best liars around ‘cept for Varric, you could make up a good one! Hey, that’s a compliment!” The last bit went towards Dorian who already looked like he wanted to protest. But there was something he still wanted to know ever since Amara had first mentioned it to him.
“Why do you two even meet up on the roof all the time if it is that dangerous?”
Sera stuck her tongue out and started running down the stairs, yelling, “Because the ground is full of people asking stupid questions!”