The concept of sleep had always eluded Naiya.
She understood that it was a necessary function for humans and dwarves and pretty much everyone she’d ever met that wasn’t an elf. She understood that it was how they recharged mentally and physically. She even understood that it was considered a pleasant experience amongst lazy individuals. But she didn’t get it. The elven way of rest made much more sense; it was briefer, more efficient, and lacked the risk of nightmares ruining your night and making you sleepy the next day. While she didn’t really have a great deal of racial pride when it comes to the elves, she had to admit not needing sleep in the traditional sense was pretty awesome.
However, this advantage meant that Naiya had a lot of downtime at night. In more dangerous places, that time was spent staring out into the darkness and steeling herself for when an unwary monster or bandit tried to take advantage of the late hour. In mundane places where the worst threat was a too-cool wind blowing in from the drafts near the window, however, Naiya just found herself bored. As such, she had taken to watching other members of the party sleep.
She learned a lot from these nighttime observations.
For starters, she learned that some people slept with different degrees of deepness. Aknier was like a rock at night, almost unwakeable. Ascha slept almost as soundly. With Theroian it was hit or miss whether or not he slept deeply or lightly, which was another interesting thing about sleep that Naiya hadn’t realized before. People didn’t sleep the same way every night—it was affected by factors such as level of exhaustion or necessity of rest to heal. Sleep was weird, but it was also complex and fascinating in its own way.
On the other end of the sound-sleeping spectrum was Lyn, who could be roused by breathing too heavily near him or simply getting too close. He had a penchant for sleeping under things (something that even Naiya knew was strange) and didn’t appreciate interruptions to his sleep. The first and only time she focused her attention on the rogue, she ended up waking him and was told in no uncertain terms to “stop being so fucking creepy and go find something to kill.” Naiya had retreated as he requested, although she didn’t really take his words too much to heart. Lyn slept too lightly to get close to at night. Lesson learned.
Naiya also learned that some people talked in their sleep. Well, at least some dwarves did; she wasn’t entirely sure if that tendency extended to humans or not. In any case, she got a kick out of watching Kraven as he mumbled about Hella Jeff or whoever he had decided was Lyn’s boyfriend now or how his beard was a fierce dragon. It was like a special story that only she was privy to, even if it meant leaning in close and deciphering the actual plot through all of the murmured nonsense. Naiya didn’t have the most active imagination, but she put her effort into imagining what he was dreaming anyway. If nothing else, it was a good mental exercise. Those elves back in the woods would have been proud of her.
And, finally, she learned that people can fall asleep without meaning to. Aknier had a tendency to drift off to sleep with his nose buried in his books. A few times, Naiya gently pulled the book out from beneath his head to try and discern what he was studying, but it always turned out to be a fruitless endeavor. No wonder he ended up so tired that he drifts off unintentionally—it probably took a ton of energy just to figure out all that writing. Giving up on the book, Naiya would close it and place it next to his head for him to find in the morning. Whenever he expressed confusion over the closed book, she kept her silence as he concluded that he must have woken up at some point in the night and done it himself.
Out of all the party, Naiya enjoyed watching Aknier sleep the most. Kraven was entertaining to watch when the mumbling occurred, but there was a strange sense of enjoyment that came from watching the wizard. Admittedly, part of the reason was the fact that he was such a heavy sleeper; Naiya could poke and prod at Aknier without doing any more harm than causing him to stir. Even when she pushed too far and he opened his eyes, all she had to do is tell him to go back to sleep and he collapsed. He didn’t even seem to remember in the morning. Plus, he was the easiest person in the party to get access to, considering the increasing tendency of them spending the night in the same bed. Once she was bored with seeing what she could get away with, she would settle in next to him and let her mind go blank, slipping into her own form of rest
Sometimes he had her pinned under him when she came out of her nighttime trance. On such occasions, she didn’t have the heart to move his arm from her waist or his head from her chest--even though she knew it wouldn’t wake him. Instead, she just stayed in bed with him until just before he woke up, watching the rise and fall of his chest and running her fingers through his hair. While she watched, she wondered if he was dreaming. If so, what was he dreaming about? Magic? His brother? The party? Her? He always looked so much at peace while he slept, so his dreams must have been pleasant ones. Dreaming seemed nice, so long as the dreams weren’t nightmares.
In those moments, she envied his ability to sleep.
But only a little.
- - - - -
The topic of sleep came up somewhere on the road as the party moved from one town to the next, although how the conversation had migrated there was mostly unremarkable. Conversation minutia just happened when you saw the same five people all of the time. Naiya, a master of subtlety and tact, cut into the conversation mid-way and proudly announced that she knew quite a bit about the subject.
“How?” Lyn shoots back almost instantly, a healthy sense of skepticism permeating his words. “You can’t even sleep.”
“Oh, that’s easy.” Naiya’s tone was blithe and almost dismissive in its ease. “I’ve been watching all of you do it for weeks now.”
The reactions from the party varied widely. Lyn looked horrified. Theroian looked only slightly less so. Ascha’s hand came up to her face in a familiar gesture of disdain. Aknier cleared his throat and averted his gaze to hide the flush that came to his cheeks. Kraven, the first to find his voice and the only one totally unfazed, simply lit up. “Oh! Have you watched Hella Jeff sleep?” The thought of watching the pink pony’s sleeping habits hadn’t occurred to Naiya; she made a mental note to do so sometime in the future. “I used to do it all the time back when he was a little pony, he’s so cute when he—“
"I thought I told you to stop doing that!" Lyn interjected, completely unable to restrain his disgust with her. The way he stared at Naiya, one would have thought she had murdered his young. For her part, she totally didn’t get it.
The elven barbarian crossed her arms. "You told me to stop being creepy." Naiya was prepared to stick to that point; it was what he said, pretty much verbatim.
"And that's really fucking creepy, Naiya!"
Before Naiya could make a rebuttal about how it absolutely was not creepy, Theroian cut in. "Wait, you knew she was watching us while we slept?" He turned a highly-disapproving gaze toward Lyn. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Because I thought she'd stopped!" Lyn was hunched in a posture that Naiya was very familiar with. He had one hell of a fight-or-flight instinct, even during verbal altercations. She wasn’t sure he was even fully aware of it himself.
"You two do realize that Naiya's an elf, right?" Aknier’s voice lacked the hostility of Lyn’s and Theroian’s, although his words were no less firm than theirs. It wasn't clear if he pointed that fact out as an issue of biological clarity or as a defense of Naiya. More than likely, it was a bit of both. "There's no real reason for her fully to understand social norms and regulations about how we sleep or how we respect other people as they sleep. When elves go into their trance, they—"
Lyn scoffed. "Bullshit! She grew up with humans, she should know better!"
"I agree," Theroian chimed in, suddenly siding with Lyn instead of blaming him.
"She grew up with barbarians. Do you really think they made an effort to teach her manners?" There was a resigned sort of why am I even having this conversation aspect to Ascha's statement. It was pretty much her default tone of voice when the party began bickering over insipid details or began acting like inept children. It seemed to happen often.
While the bickering continued, Kraven took Naiya by the arm and tugs her aside. The way that he smiled and bounced was almost manic in its glee; he had Ideas. Naiya knew her dwarfbro well enough to know that expression on his face."Hey, hey Naiya. The next time you're watching someone sleep, wake me up."
Naiya blinked at him. That went against everything she thought she knew about sleep. "Why? I thought that waking someone up in the middle of the night is bad."
"No, trust me. I'll show you what you can do to someone who's asleep with some whipped cream and a feather."
"Don't you have to be awake for that kind of thing?" This suggestion sounded awfully out-of-place, especially coming from Kraven. It seemed more in line with something she’d instigate Aknier into trying, not dwarven mischief.
"What? No, no, no, no, nothing like that.” Kraven waved his arms as if to wave away the very thought of anything besides pure, simple fun. Naiya’s confusion quickly dissipated as a result. “It's really funny, I'll show you tonight. Who sleeps heaviest?"
"Aknier." Without a doubt.
"Then we'll do it to Aknier.” Kraven didn’t leave any room for Naiya to protest, mostly because it was implied that she was on board just from answering his question. Naiya didn’t question him; he was right in that assumption. “ And afterwards, can we watch Hella Jeff sleep? I haven't done that since he was a little baby and I miss it."
A grin slowly spread across Naiya's face. Leave it to her dwarf bro to really understand her and her interests. "I'll wake you up, then."
The most important lesson that she should have learned about sleep—that it's usually considered private time—had gone entirely missed.
Naiya never was good at learning the larger lesson in things.