A/N: Did you know that Aveline has like the least amount of stories ever? What a shame. This story is a gift for my muse, but also a challenge, and in my mind it's twisted and complex and will have me write characters I have never mentioned before. I hope I can pull it off. As always, reviews are very welcome! A special thanks to th1nm1nt for proofing for me. You're a star!

Hawke wanted Aveline, hard. It was a random thought that occurred to her, disturbing in its intensity. Hawke blamed the heat, the sun an angry ball in the sky that even reached them down in the hold of the Kirkwall-bound ship. Hawke had her back against one of the crossbeams, leaning against it with knees drawn to her chest.

It stank in the hold, of too many people caged like animals, fleeing the blight in Ferelden. It had been difficult enough to secure them passage on one of the ships in Gwaren. So many wanted to flee. Now here they were, in the hold, and it smelled of sweat, grime, unwashed bodies and excrement.

Yes, no wonder that she was trying to distract herself with other thoughts. Nice thoughts. Like Aveline's incredible upper arms.

Hawke buried her sweaty face on her knees, ashamed by her own thoughts. The red-headed woman who had been fleeing with them was still grieving, freshly widowed. Not only widowed, but she had guided her husband's hand when ending his life, his blood fouled by the darkspawns' taint. Hawke had offered to take that task from her, but she had not let her. Aveline was a tragic, grieving widow. She deserved much better than one of her companions having lustful thoughts about her.

Still. It was hard not to. Aveline was strong, and her physique was almost to the point of sculpted. Hawke had seen sculptures at Ostagar that had been less perfect than the other woman. Thinking of Ostagar, she had never seen her there, even though she, Carver and Aveline had all served as soldiers in the King's army. Different regiments. Also, Aveline had been an officer, and the Hawkes had served as soldiers on the lowest rung of the army, too young and inexperienced. to have received any sort of promotion.

Hawke's eyes returned to Aveline's arms, holding her sword before her as she honed it with a whetstone. It did incredible things to her biceps, as did the red cords she had wrapped around both arms, matching the headband she wore to keep her hair away from her face. She was such a... warrior. Perfect. Even her skin was alabaster.

Hawke was a warrior as well, though not with sword and shield. She preferred the solid grip of a two-hander, its heavy weight straining her, pushing her to her limits. Despite her experience in the army, she was the tall and lanky kind, sinewy and fast. Speed was her advantage, not great strength.

Aveline leaned forward, entirely focused on her task. She was sitting across from Hawke, and as she leaned forward, she offered a good view of creamy, pale skin, dotted with freckles all over her collarbone. She was filling that shirt rather nicely...

Again, Hawke nestled her face against her knees, soaking the leather with her sweat and her utter embarrassment. Hawke should be grieving, like Aveline was grieving for Ser Wesley. They just lost her younger brother after all. It didn't matter that he had been abrasive, cocky and always trying to outdo her in anything they did, he had still been her brother, and she should be mourning. Her heated thoughts were the opposite of mourning. In her head, she started praying, reciting passages of the Chant of Light.

It didn't work. Aveline looked up at a sound, and her green eyes came to rest upon Hawke's face, watching her mouthing the prayers with an arched brow. Those eyes.

Hawke rose restlessly, starting to pace. The heat and the lethargy of just sitting around led to thoughts like this. If she could she would dunk herself in the cool sea, which looked placid and calm today for a change. "Maker, give me strength," she murmured, ignoring the puzzled looks of her sister and her mother. This heated infatuation needed to stop. Right now.

Unfortunately for Hawke, it never did.

"You look good in your new armor." The words came easily to Hawke's lips. To her, Aveline looked good in anything. "Different though. I liked your old leathers. This looks very heavy." She lightly prodded at the standard guard breastplate, the steel covering the chainmail layer underneath. She already missed the formidable arms, now covered by rows of chain.

Aveline stood proudly, in Gamlen's hovel, spinning slowly in place as if this was a sort of grim fashion show. Gamlen eyed her warily and muttered angry remarks about guards in Lowtown, until Bethany hissed at him to shut up and be polite to their friend. Aveline eyed him sharply. Gamlen Amell should not expect any favors from Aveline Vallen, newest member of the Kirkwall city guard. "I am one of the very few Fereldans they accepted, based on my merit as an officer in King Cailan's army. I will live in the barracks in the Viscount's Keep now instead of that cheap hovel I rented near here. Glad to escape the fleas!" Her green eyes were sparkling with excitement.

Hawke wanted to kiss her and spin her around in celebration of her escape from Lowtown. Instead she mildly smiled and lightly whacked her on the shoulder. "Well done, Guard Aveline. I hope you can still hang out with us and that...our paths won't cross, you know." She rubbed her forehead with a sigh. They had more than nine months left on their year of service to Athenril, fencing and smuggling and collecting debts.

Bethany sat on a chair and smiled admiringly at Aveline, but as so often, there was a hint of trepidation in her soulful eyes. "You wouldn't turn us in for anything, would you? I mean...not all of what we're doing is entirely legal." The amount of templars in Kirkwall was intimidating, and Bethany was more worried than ever that she'd be caught and brought to the Circle. Having run-ins with the guards would not help her cause.

Aveline stopped spinning and strongly gripped the pommel of her sword, while reaching out to touch Bethany's shoulder reassuringly. "Do not worry. I will protect you. You are the closest I have to family now." She looked proud, and fierce, and utterly beautiful. Hawke had no doubt she meant it. Aveline was a protector, their defender, sharing a connection with the Hawke family. Bethany looked reassured.

"Well, can't linger much, but you know where to find me. I will keep my eyes on you. Now, I must go find my guard captain. Name's Jeven. Not sure what to think of him. He doesn't like Fereldans, but he is my superior. I have many suggestions to make. Lowtown needs more guards, if you ask me!" Aveline's enthusiasm was catchy, and the Hawke sisters and Leandra all looked pleased for her. Gamlen kept shooting dark looks at them all. "Just so you know, Gamlen, I will also keep an eye on you. No more dodgy business for you." Aveline touched two fingers to her right eye and then pointed them at him, before turning to leave.

"This will be nothing but trouble for you two. Mark my words. You better not let that interfere with your work for Athenril, because I sure won't be able to pay her back." Gamlen spit out his words the moment Aveline left, before heading out himself. Probably to alert some of his friends to watch for that new Fereldan guard and avoid her.

Nothing but trouble for them. Aveline's pleased expression was etched into her mind. It was her first moment of genuine happiness since they had come to Kirkwall. Hawke was in so much trouble.

Hawke shook her head vehemently, looking down at the elven woman who was her boss. Athenril's features were sharp. Very attractive, but lacking any warmth. She did not look as alien as many of the other Kirkwall elves. If she was less delicate of physique and if you imagined rounded ears instead of the sharp pointed ones, she would almost pass as human. A cold, business-like, successful human with a pleasant smile and barbed tongue if she felt like it.

"Oh come on, Hawke, surely it wouldn't hurt to ask? Would it? We are talking about food for the Fereldans. We smuggle extra produce into Kirkwall, sell at high price, and they are well fed. Your guard friend can assist us, because isn't she Fereldan as well? Shouldn't you guys stick together?" Athenril was trying to charm her now with smiles and winks and a touch to Hawke's arm. Awkward. Bethany stood a step behind Hawke, deferentially, but the older sister was sure that Bethany would have a look of disapproval. Or worry, because there were a bunch of templars down the street, on their way to the Blooming Rose.

Again, Hawke shook her head. "I have so many issues with this. I know we have to work for you another couple months, but this is so unethical. You are asking us to participate in a scheme to wring more sovereigns from my already impoverished countrymen. Have you no shame? They left everything behind. They are poor, starving and suffering here in Kirkwall. This is extortion. Find us another task to do." Her voice was full of the indignation she felt, forceful.

She considered for a moment, and then stepped forward, putting a hand on Athenril's shoulder. The elf leaned against it. She had never been shy with remarks and hints that she found Hawke very easy on the eye. Hawke leaned down towards the elf, until their noses were almost touching. "If you ever try to involve my friend in the guards again, in any of your schemes, I'll report you myself. It's not right. She's the most correct person in the world and would never work with you. Don't mention her again." Hawke's voice was a mere whisper now, a sound of warning, the threat of the righteous - just loud enough for Athenril to hear, but too soft for Bethany to understand.

Hawke realized she was less enraged about Athenril's extortion scheme than she was about her wish to involve Aveline. How pathetic. It made her see red. It made her feel selfish and dirty and sanctimonious, all traits that she didn't want to possess.

"Alright, alright, no worries, it was just a plan. I have other irons in the fire, more business at hand." Athenril stepped back, shaking off Hawke's hand, frowning at her. "Tonight, docks, warehouse south. A shipment will arrive. Protect it and see to it that it's delivered to the Lowtown Foundry. I'll see you tomorrow." She stalked off, towards one of the stairways leading out of her niche in Hightown.

Moments later, Aveline stepped out from behind a pillar, in uniform. She was always in uniform these days, even on days off. Bethany touched Hawke's arm, in surprise. Hawke merely stared, her eyes burning, her heart racing. "Unexpected. I didn't expect you lurking around by a brothel, Aveline." She smiled faintly, maybe a touch nervously.

"I told you I'd keep my eyes on you. I am patrolling in Hightown today, and saw a glimpse of you earlier, so I...kept my eyes on you some more. Just in case you were getting into trouble." Aveline crossed her arms in front of her chest, and stood in this way that she had, feet wide apart, as if she was a wall and ready to fend off any attack. She didn't smile, she looked solemn. "I heard what she suggested, and I caught most of what you said to her. You did the right thing, Hawke, I am glad you did. I would never aid you in your work, not like this. I know you're still indebted to her, and in a way I am." She looked displeased by it, but it was the truth. Without Athenril's deal with Gamlen, she would have remained with the other refugees, maybe never let into the city. Instead she led a better life than most, as a member of the guard force.

Aveline didn't have to like it, but she did acknowledge it. "That still doesn't mean that she should misuse you. Try to stick with the 'clean' jobs. Only a couple more months."

Bethany stepped closer. "And then what, Aveline? Then we'll be on our own, trying to carve out a life for ourselves here, without any funds. Have you tried living with Gamlen?" Her sister's face fell and Aveline gave her a sympathetic smile.

"You'll sort things out, I am sure. Look at you, both of you are resourceful. We'll figure something out." Aveline was full of confidence on their behalf, always, and Hawke strove to justify all this confidence. It wasn't easy. Sometimes it was entirely overwhelming.

Hawke's throat felt constricted when she evenly stated, "Of course we will. I'll get us out of that hovel, and we'll be doing great things. That's our destiny, clearly." There was no sarcasm in Hawke's voice. She meant it. She would strive to do great things, mighty deeds that would make Aveline smile, that would please her, and then she would declare herself for the guard.

Aveline chuckled at the proclamation before she took her leave to go back on patrol. Was it one big joke for her? A laugh? Did she have her eyes on someone else, or was she merely blind to Hawke's affections? Hard, no, impossible for Hawke to tell.

Brennan sounded incessantly grateful. The look on her kind - if a touch mousy - face was one of relief at not having been caught in the ambush that Aveline and her friends had intercepted. She owed the other woman her life. "You're a good one," she stated. Hawke could only nod assent. There was something fishy going on, and Aveline was fighting to get to the bottom of it.

"I will talk to you later, Brennan," Aveline said, barely smiling, her mind already on the next step. Hawke could only admire the woman's tenacity, her drive to get things done. "So the satchel gets heavy the same day we discover an ambush."

Hawke rubbed at her neck. "Rather suspicious. An obvious setup to deliver the satchel to those ambushers. As it failed the first time due to our intervention, it's bound to happen again." Logical assumptions, and Aveline had come to the same decision.

"Another guard walking into the same trap. I can't let that happen." Again, it sounded like Aveline had decided she was the only person in the whole world who could stop this, her always preeminent need to protect. "Brennan said Donnic...a good man." She turned to study the duty roster. "A night patrol in Lowtown. Let's go make sure his quiet patrol stays that way." She didn't even wait for Hawke, Bethany and Varric to follow on her heels. Night was falling.

In passing, Brennan watched them go, worrying on her bottom lip, almost as if she wanted to join them, and yet didn't. Hawke nodded to her, offering a reassuring smile, even though she barely knew the woman.

She didn't even know why she did that. Maybe just to be kind.

Hawke leaned heavily on her sword, using it like a crutch. Hot droplets of blood were drying on her face, and there were dead coterie thugs, everywhere. They had stopped the ambush in time, even though Guardsman Donnic seemed defeated, curled up on the ground, yet alive. Hawke stood behind him, ready to help him up, but Aveline was first, aiding him.

The man looked like nothing much. Dark brown hair, long sideburns, and an attempt to grow side whiskers. Or maybe he just didn't like to shave his jawline. He was not completely with it, holding on to Aveline's arm. "Who...Ave...Aveline?" He hesitated, and then added in quiet wonder, "You are a beautiful sight."

And she was. Hawke's heart was grabbed by a giant fist, squeezed painfully. The effect of those words on Aveline was painful to behold. Her face was spattered with blood, as she had been on the front line, as always. But her smile was deeper, warmer than anything Hawke had seen in the time she had known her, for over a year. Her green eyes lit up, and she breathed out, "Guardsman?" How lovely she was, and how obviously smitten by the compliment of the first man to make her one after Wesley's death.

Why did I never tell her she's a beautiful sight? Would she have smiled for me like that? Hawke shook her head. Never.

She distracted herself with the satchel on the ground, full of valuable information that the coterie would have treasured. Hawke barely contributed to the discussion, unable to bear looking at Aveline now, who was so full of fire to expose Jeven's corruption.

"Exposing this kind of corruption could make the guards look weak," Hawke mildly added at the end, trying to extinguish the flames of Aveline's righteous anger, and passion. She did not want to make her seem even more beautiful to Donnic. She was so selfish. But of course, nothing would stop Aveline. She sighed with resignation as they headed back to Hightown. It would be a long night.

Hawke was convinced that the rats were louder than ever tonight. She heard their insistent scratching and squeaking sounds. Sometimes she was grateful that she had the top bunk. The mighty Hawke, scared of rats. Thankfully, Bethany had never told anyone. She restlessly rolled over to her other side. Her mind was racing with useless, pointless thoughts. Would they ever get the sovereigns for their expedition? Would Athenril stab her in the back for dropping her the moment the year was over? Would their mother ever smile again? Was Aveline sitting in the barracks, laughing, giggling with Donnic? She could not stifle her sigh.

"Sister, I will never sleep if you don't stop tossing and turning." Bethany's gentle voice sounded from the lower bunk. "Do you want to talk?"

Hawke sat up and then jumped down, plopping down on Bethany's bunk, sitting by her feet, stretching out one leg against her younger sister, the other foot on the floor next to the bed. "I am sorry, Bethy. I didn't mean to wake you, or keep you from sleeping." Bethany smiled sleepily, brushing her dark bed hair from her face.

"It's alright, sister. What's keeping you up?" Bethany sat up in bed, more awake now.

Turning her head, Hawke stared at the dustbunnies in the corners. Was that a cockroach over there? Probably. Better than a rat. "Everything. Nothing." She stretched her arms up to touch the underside of her lumpy mattress in the top bunk. "I don't want us to live like this. We deserve a better life. I want to be out of Gamlen's hair. You were right to suggest the expedition, I just want it to happen sooner rather than later." She rubbed her eyes, hoping this sounded convincing. They were all valid concerns she had, thoughts that ran through her mind as she carried the burden of responsibility for their fate in Kirkwall.

"We will get there. But..." Bethany hesitated, then touched her sister's calf. "If you never tell her how you feel, she will never regard you as anything but her younger sister. Is that what you want? I don't think so, based on tonight." She spoke these words lightly, with that kind smile of hers on her lips.

Hawke was speechless, gaping at her younger sister. How did she get so wise, so smart? But then, what a foolish question. Bethany was a mage, sharply intelligent, and incredibly perceptive. The first to spot troublesome templars in a crowd, the first to call out when thugs jumped them in Lowtown. The first to recognize that her older sister was in love with Aveline, or presumed she was. It was hard to sort out what those feelings were. Infatuation, crush, lust, love. Which was it? She didn't know.

"No, that's not what I want. How did you...I mean, seriously, Bethy? How?" Hawke stared, with a slight pout. This required explanation.

Bethany continued to smile, but it was a wistful smile. "I saw your face tonight, when Donnic and Aveline had their...moment, I suppose. I guess Aveline doesn't receive a lot of compliments, or he reminds her of Wesley, or...she simply likes him." When Hawke pulled painful faces at all the statements, Bethany gently patted Hawke's leg. "You looked so sad, as if someone took something away from you that was precious. Like when...Carver would take your favorite toy sword, but more meaningful." What a terrible conversation. Was that what Aveline was to her? A shiny toy she could not let anybody else take from her? No.

They exchanged a sad smile when Carver was mentioned. Hawke weakly added, "She means more to me than a toy sword," as if there had been any doubt about that. "It felt like I should have told her something like that, you know? To make her face light up like that. I don't think she understands how beautiful and precious she is. But I don't know how. I really don't know. It would be easier if I felt she would take me seriously. I couldn't bear if she laughed or shrugged it off. She's always been such a good friend to us, what if I fuck that up?"

"Promise me you'll tell her. I love her like a sister too, but ultimately, I want you happy. You two are very similar, did you know that?"

Hawke shook her head at Bethany's question.

"Promise you'll tell her. It need not be right now, but sometime soon." Bethany had a dreamy look on her face. "Isabela has some romance novels, she said. She wants to show them to me, in private. Maybe I can find the right expressions in there for you. I wish to help you."

Hawke slapped Bethany's foot. "Don't fall for that trick, she just wants to corner you. Don't set foot in her room, if you lose your virginity to her, I'll make her pay!"

Bethany looked outraged and deeply flushed. "I'll help you anyhow! With Isabela's novels or without. Maybe Varric has them too!" The two of them giggled, before Bethany turned more serious again. "How long...have you felt like that about her?"

What an uncomfortable question. Like right from the start? No, that would seem improper. Absolutely impossible to admit this. "Uh, shortly after we got to Kirkwall, I suppose. When she joined the guards? Maybe? I don't know." Hawke looked away, staring at the long shadows in the room.

"That sounds vague. Did you not have an earth-shattering revelation, the precise moment when you know that she was the one you were into?" Bethany had all these romantic notions. But no, she could hardly tell her sister she had her revelation like two weeks out from Lothering. "What made you fall for her? I am sorry that I am so curious. I have never liked anyone like that. Sometimes I wonder what it feels like."

Hawke ran her hands through her tousled hair, a nervous gesture while she collected her thoughts. "Um, well, I obviously find her...attractive. Not in the blatant in your face way like, say, Isabela. Her beauty is more subtle. She's strong, and dedicated. She's like this...beacon. She always thinks of those she is loyal to first, fiercely protective. It's like she lights up the room with her inner fire. She's everything I aspire to be."

Bethany pursed her lips at the gushing description. "Interesting. Do you just want to be like her and fawn over her, or do you really care for her? I mean, I admire all those traits in her too, but it's not the same, clearly. What's different?"

A valid question. Was it really just hero-worship that governed her feelings? No. Could she tell her baby sister about her passion for the woman? Andraste help her. "Uh, well, I am pretty sure you don't have uncouth thoughts along with all the admiration. I don't think you admire how the setting sun can make her hair glow like a bright halo of golden light. How the freckles on her nose stand out when she is angry. She actually blanches when she gets really angry. Have you ever seen her flex her arms when she does swordwork? Her eyes are beautiful, emeralds. I mean...Merrill has lovely eyes too, but they seem so alien to me. Aveline is all grounded, like a statue, and I think she makes me a better person."

She actually felt better having put all of this into words. Bethany looked quietly impressed. "That sounded lovely, and really from the heart, sister. I am rooting for you. And I am rooting that I will ever feel the same about someone, just like that."

Hawke bitterly regretted having listened to her mother, leaving Bethany behind in Kirkwall. Too late to save her. Alas, too little, too late.

All that her beloved little sister now had were the bars of her prison in the Circle of Kirkwall. She would not share in their new riches, would not read romance novels. Would not scoff at their drinking in the Hanged Man. Would not tease her and laugh with her, and certainly would not help her with winning Aveline's heart. Would not get a chance to feel the same way about someone, like Hawke felt for Aveline.

Ironically, it was Aveline who comforted Hawke, and held her in her arms when she cried for her sister, whose worst fears had come true. Hawke hadn't been able to save her. Aveline hadn't been able to save her. They shared the bond of their failure and loss.