A/N: Written for the Women of Dragon Age Challenge! Criteria, as taken from the FAQ: "Works should be able to pass the Bechdel Test, and for the purposes of this challenge the women must be the primary focus of the work. Works do not have to be sexual or intimate in nature, and could be focused on the friendship of two characters without a romantic nature."
Friends are there for each other in times of stress.
Best friends, however, tell each other to shut up or they'll stab you.
BFFs for life.
The oneshot kind of got away from me, so it runs a bit long and winding, but I did my best to encapsulate the friendship between Hawke and Aveline as I always saw it. As always, thanks to Analect for her amazing beta.
The Women of Dragon Age group is on tumblr (womenofda . tumblr . com), as am I now ( tinyfierce . tumblr . com)!
"It's that hill, there. On the far left."
Hawke frowned, her gaze following Aveline's gloved hand as she pointed out one of many identical grassy green slopes in the distance. "How can you tell?"
"Charring on the rocks comes from fire pits," Aveline explained, "which are a telltale sign of regular camps. They were sloppy with their tracks."
"Well," Mairead replied, stretching, "bandits aren't famous for their cleanliness." She took a moment to admire the scenery; rolling hills and moss-covered rocky outcroppings stretching out as far as the eye could see. It was typical of Starkhaven's borderlands, and the unseasonably warm spring had brought out early buds, dotting the landscape with yellow and white.
"So, Captain," she continued, turning to her friend. "What's your expert opinion?"
The redhead crossed her arms, made somewhat awkward by her protruding stomach. The babe was overdue, and its mother was beginning to resent it like an unwelcome houseguest with each passing day.
"There aren't many," she declared, "and they're overconfident. But the local watch should be able to take care of them with training, and help."
"Duly noted." The Champion watched as Aveline sighed and pressed her palms into her lower back, a habit she'd picked up just past the eight-month-mark. Would it not have resulted in a stab wound, she would have suggested taking a seat on a nearby boulder. Hawke had never been particularly maternal, but being around a pregnant and combative guard-captain had helped her better understand where the urge to hover came from.
"Want me to tell Sebastian," she offered, "or do you want to explain the details yourself?"
"You do it," Aveline replied flatly. "It'll do you good to do some real work for a change." She turned to make her way down their lookout hill, a protesting Hawke hot on her heels.
"I do work," she countered. "Ask anyone at the castle."
"I wouldn't get two words of truth, and you know it." She glared, sliding a bit on the scree path with an 'oomph!' and a muttered curse. "You might have charmed everyone else, but you've not fooled me."
It hadn't been a full season since Aveline and Donnic had moved to Starkhaven to fill the vacant guard-captain's post. It had taken some convincing, but Aveline knew, as Hawke did, that the collapsing pile of stone and sewage that was a post-battle Kirkwall was no place to raise a child. One look at the bright, bustling city on the Minanter river, and Hawke had known she'd won.
"Red is an awful color for a city guard," Aveline had complained about the arrow-emblazoned crest, "but it'll do."
She had taken to the position and the guardsmen like a fish to water, her pregnancy never a point of contention past the first day. The guards had never been more hard-working, more devoted, and Hawke knew best of all the kind of loyalty her friend could inspire.
Loyalty that was being tested, she groused, the surlier and more pregnant said friend became.
"I will have you know," Hawke scoffed, "that I am an excellent princess."
"Good," Aveline grunted. "Then order this babe out on your royal authority."
"I tried, remember?" She braced one hand on a rock for stability as she hopped down a boulder. "Besides, aren't firstborns said to be late?"
"He can get here any time now, thanks," came the replying growl, and Hawke fought down a smirk.
"You're so sure it's a boy?"
"Who else but a man would cling to his mother like this?"
"Fair enough." She was about to say something about how this was a poor indicator for the boy's behavior in the future, but movement behind a grassy heap of rock up ahead caught her attention. Drawing and waking her daggers, she slowed her steps and dropped her shoulders.
"Aveline," she warned.
The captain understood, unhooking her shield and snapping into a defensive posture out of reflex. As she drew her sword, they heard the crunch of gravel underfoot up ahead, and Hawke listened for the distinct pattern of paired feet. "Two," she mouthed, flashing two fingers to her companion, who nodded. Mairead quietly scaled the jagged side of the rock heap that was covering their would-be attackers, counting on the element of surprise to make this clean and fast.
What she was not counting on was several hundred pounds of muscle and fur.
"You have got to be kidding me," she swore as she ran, feeling the heat of a roar at her back. "Aveline, run!"
"Not on your life, Haw– " Her brow furrowed as the Champion's expression of sheer terror came into view, followed shortly by her own less-than-graceful stumble backwards as her pursuer came into view. "Bear!"
"I know," Hawke snapped, clanging her daggers together to draw its attention as she half-ran, half-tumbled through the heather. "Two pairs of feet!"
"I know, I know!" She grabbed a fistful of mud, flinging it straight into the snarling brown face. Dead-on, she noted as she ducked away, watching him bellow angrily and toss his head, but not enough to blind him fully. He charged again, lumbering after her and picking up speed...
...only to grunt in pain as a fist-sized stone struck him on the neck. He turned, and Hawke watched in horror as he began to advance on the offending assailant.
"Then you'd best get rid of him before he reaches me," she issued, hurling another.
Gritting her teeth, the Champion hit the flame runes on her daggers, enveloping the blades in fire. "Sorry, big guy," she muttered as she flung one weapon toward its rump.
After a mess of panic and burned fur, Hawke watched as the wild giant limped back up and over the rocky hillside. She walked over to where her blade lay in the grass, picking it up to wipe it down and stomping out the fire. "He probably wouldn't have come after me," she called, "if it hadn't been spring. But he's hopefully learned his lesson, at least until next year." When no answer came, she turned to glance over her shoulder. "Aveline?"
The pregnant woman was leaning against a nearby rock for support, grimacing and clutching at the craggy surface. In the blink of an eye, Hawke was at her side, all fuss and hands.
"Donnic," Aveline managed through gritted teeth. "Get Donnic. Tell him it's time."
Hawke ran to the top of the boulder pile again, spotting the guardsman walking in the distance and frantically waving him over. As soon as she knew she'd been seen, she slid back down, loosing rock and scraggly plants in her wake. "Damn bears," she swore, sliding an arm under her friend's back and helping her move off of the rockside and out of the red-tinged fluid coating her leggings and the grass below. "This'll be a story to tell him when he's old enough. 'My water broke fighting a bear as big as an ogre and I was saved by a princess.'"
"Don't let Varric tell it," Aveline muttered, and Hawke felt a sharp gasp send a shiver down the guard-captain's back. "Then it'll be three bears and I'll be stark naked."
Then Donnic was upon them, and after refusing to be carried, Aveline forcibly walked herself back to the village.
"...for a visit from the prince himself for such a small village!"
Sebastian sat across from the village head, letting the man finish his pleasantries. "Please," he replied cordially, "there is no need. I came to see the situation for myself, and it's being assessed by my guard captain as we speak."
The older man visibly relaxed, stiff posture easing slightly. "And this is someone you trust?"
"Aye, completely." He crossed his legs, folding his hands in his lap. "We were fellows-in-arms in Kirkwall, and has an especially capable hand with criminals." With a warm smile, he ran one hand through his chestnut red hair. "And my wife wouldn't accept anyone else for the post."
The village head smiled at that, too, nodding in understanding. "Mine's the same. Women, eh?"
"It has nothing to do with her being a woman," Sebastian corrected him, "and everything to do with being Hawke."
"So I've heard!" He chuckled, then settled back in his chair thoughtfully. "Truth be told, I'm relieved you're here. The bandits were fairly quiet this winter, so we thought..."
The insistent knock at the door and subsequent bursting in without waiting interrupted the older man's train of thought. In ran a boy from the village, scrape-kneed and tousled.
"Leland!" the mayor scolded, but the archer leaned over warmly.
The boy dragged the back of one muddy sleeve across his nose. "The Princess sent me t'say that she's called for th' midwife."
The midwife's home would have been warm and cozy and maternal if it hadn't been for all the yelling.
"Tell th' lads to bring in more wood," she barked as she tied her apron around her waist. "And do something with that armor, I won't have it lying about."
The midwife, Greer, was a woman Leandra's age, with the bedside manner of a wolverine and hands that could crush ironbark. Aveline wholeheartedly approved. She hadn't so much as blinked when the guard-captain had been brought in, ushering her into the birthing room and stripping her plate like she was plucking leaves off a daisy.
"Honestly," she scoffed, "who goes on patrol when nine months pregnant?"
"Aveline," came the immediate chorus, with an unmistakable "I do" from the woman herself.
"And it was a bear, not bandits," Hawke protested, to which Greer simply raised a red-and-gray-speckled eyebrow.
"You're not helping, Hawke." Aveline grimaced.
"Was I trying?"
The open door into the main room was ajar, and Hawke could hear the rough tumble of chopped wood and short, staccato footsteps.
"Where should I put this?" came Donnic's voice, strained and wavering. "Should I stack it, or..."
"In the rack just there's fine," the midwife's apprentice instructed gently, followed by raucous clacking, a murmured apology, and a hasty retreat back outdoors. She poked her head into the birthing room, calling for Greer. "There's nearly half a cord along the wall, mistress. How much should I have him bring in?"
"Until he drops from exhaustion," the midwife snorted, pulling a shift from the chest of drawers beside the bed. "We've got more than enough t'birth three babes on end now, but best put some of that energy t' use so's to keep him from pacing like a wildcat in my sitting room."
It was a good theory, but Hawke doubted its efficacy. This woman hadn't seen what the Kirkwall guardsmen had been through; stamina was the one reason any of them had survived day to day.
"That," her aide said with a smile, "and the men'll have their turn with him."
Frowning, the Champion turned at the possible innuendo as Aveline allowed the midwife to help begin peeling off her underclothes. "The men?"
The young woman's smile broadened. "Starkhaven tradition, Your Highness."
That hadn't explained much, Hawke began to protest, but every thought in her head screeched to a halt as Aveline forced out a long, slow breath from between clenched teeth, frantically gripping the bed's side so hard her knuckles blanched.
With a bit of prompting from the midwife, Hawke balled her fists up and pressed them into the guard-captain's lower back. "How hard should I do this?"
"Harder," Aveline hissed.
"Hard as ye can," agreed Greer, though Hawke hesitated.
"I've killed a dragon," she said meaningfully.
"Aye," the older woman countered, "but it weren't in childbirth."
"Fair point." Mairead kneaded firmly, rolling her knuckles against seized muscles as the contraction subsided. "How you holding up, Aveline?"
Her friend's long exhale seemed to be an answer in itself. "This is just the start, isn't it?"
"And I've far worse in store."
Aveline shot her a weak smile over one shoulder. "Some comfort you are."
Nonchalantly, Hawke spread her hands. "I am happy to lie to you. Say the word and it's done."
Sebastian had arrived at the house at the right moment to witness Donnic being lovingly and unceremoniously thrown out by the guard-captain and her midwife.
"It's between her and th' babe," Greer declared as she shooed him out. "And I stand by what th' lady wants."
"I understand," Donnic protested, crossing in front of the fireplace and being ushered toward the door. "And I believe in Aveline. But there must be something I can do."
Hawke clapped a hand on his shoulder. "I know this is hard to hear," she asserted firmly, "but you are useless right now."
"If it helps," Sebastian offered, "I am prince, and I am equally useless."
Donnic managed to smile at that briefly before concern worked its way back across his usually warm features. "And am I expected to sit idly by while the woman I love goes through this alone?"
The archer interrupted at this, placing a hand on his guardsman's lower back to guide him into walking again. "She won't be alone," he reminded, then cleared his throat pointedly. "And, ah, you'll be far from idle. Starkhaven tradition holds that men are kept out of the way by the other men of the village, by any means necessary."
"To get them good and drunk?" Hawke asked, following behind.
The corners of Sebastian's mouth curved upwards, and there was a light in his eyes. "Aye, that, and to keep their wives from strangling them out of annoyance. Some are more difficult than others." Chuckling, he stepped with Donnic into the cool night air. "My own elder brother had to be tied to a tree."
"If you try anything, Hawke, so help me I will throw you out too."
"Oh, I believe it." Hawke wrung out a damp cloth in the basin, flicking stray droplets from her fingers as she turned back toward the bed.
"Ye've got strong hips," the midwife observed approvingly. "That's good for th' babe."
Propped up on her elbows, Aveline gritted her teeth. "Lovely for him."
Dabbing at her friend's forehead, the newly-crowned princess took note of the sweat-soaked red strands clinging to the skin. "What should I do with your hair?"
"Get it out of my face," Aveline snapped, closing her eyes, "or I'll cut the whole lot of it off right here and now."
After pulling loose the braided leather thong that usually held back the coppery strands, Hawke set to the task of restraining it in its entirety. Running fingers along her scalp seemed to soothe the guard-captain somewhat, so she took her time in pulling even sections back into a simple plait. She tied it off just in time for the onslaught of the next contraction, reaching for the cooling cloth right away.
"That's it," Aveline huffed as it ebbed, pushing herself upright and swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "I can't stay in this bed a moment longer." She stood, swearing under her breath as she did so, and the midwife's apprentice walked with her to the door.
"I– " Hawke began, watching in awe. "Can she do that?"
"Ye going t' be th' one t' tell her she can't?" Greer replied, wadding up the cushions at the headboard. "Besides, walking a bit's good for birth. And if she wants aught t' eat or drink, th' better."
Hawke sat on the bedside stool, weary shoulders slumped. "I was too young to remember when my younger siblings were born." She turned to the ever-busy midwife. "It's already been hours. How long is normal?"
Greer spared her a sympathetic look as she arranged a set of clean blankets. "It's her first, so she'll likely be at it for at least half a day. She's a strong one though, so th' Maker only knows."
Hawke bit her lip. "And my part in all this?"
"Keep her going," the midwife answered without a moment's hesitation. "Talk t' the woman, distract her with stories or arguments or what have you."
Hawke's eyes brightened.
Stories. She could work with that.
"...and then Aveline grabs the arrows she's deflected with her shield and hands them to Sebastian to shoot right back!"
The midwife's apprentice sat on her stool on the far side of the room, tending to the small fireplace and listening with rapt attention.
"Maker's breath," she gasped. "So the prince hadn't run out after all!"
Grinning, Hawke nudged Aveline. "Not so long as she was around! I mean, a handful of arrows now and then still wouldn't have been enough with the numbers we were facing. Sebastian's good, but he's not that good. And while they were busy with the slavers, Merrill and I were dealing with the drakes."
From the bed, Aveline groaned. "I remember." She grimaced. "Merrill nearly ruined my armor with those spells she was hurling about."
"Right, so she was tossing spells around to distract the mouths, and I would slide up to the underbelly and go for the weak scales. And we were in a cave, and more kept coming." Hawke waved her hands. "I thought we were over and done with for sure!"
"So what did you do?" the apprentice prodded eagerly.
"Well," Hawke leaned in, "suddenly, any of the slavers who'd been shot with arrows started dropping to the ground, writhing and twisting. Merrill hadn't done it, and I hadn't done it, so as soon as we finished the last giant reptile, we ran over to those two, and saw what they'd been doing. And what do you think it was?"
"Dragon's blood," the guard-captain finished, much to Hawke's chagrin. "It was all over the ground the arrows fell on, and it's poison."
"So," the Champion continued, undeterred, "when we pieced it together, Merrill put up a barrier while I carved out massive hunks of dragon flesh and ran over with pounds of it in my arms so that we could tip the arrows from those already dead! And there was blood everywhere. I was absolutely covered in it, head to toe. I looked like a qunari, that's how red I was. Fingers, armor, boots– "
"We were all a sight," agreed Aveline, forcing tense breaths through her nose and mouth. "My men hardly recognized me walking back into the city."
"And when they went back," Hawke added, "they said that they found over a hundred men's corpses – but no dragons." The last bit was in a hushed voice for dramatic effect, delighting the midwife's apprentice but eliciting a sigh from the redhead beside her.
"That's because they'd been lost to looters," she explained. "And it was closer to four dozen than a hundred."
"You," Hawke informed her, glaring, "are ruining my story."
Aveline smiled, the familiar crinkles at the corners of her eyes. "This babe's not even taken his first breath and you're already lying to him."
"Embellishing. And he's got to meet Varric eventually."
Suddenly, the color drained from the guard-captain's face, and sweat beaded on her forehead. "Hawke," she managed, "I think I need that pail again."
Her comrade obligingly brought it over and rubbed her back as she retched into the vessel.
"You know," she said brightly, "this reminds me of that time in the deep roads..."
Sitting in front of the fireplace, Hawke sipped at the broth she'd been given. Cold mutton and a few generous slices of bread sat untouched on the plate beside her, having been offered at the start of the apprentice-enforced rest break. It was but an hour or two before dawn now, and she hadn't slept. Judging from some of the raucous laughter she'd heard from the common house when stepping out for fresh air, neither had Donnic.
Sebastian had briefly appeared in the night air to check on Aveline's progress, delivering an update on the traditional revelry taking place nearby.
"Thus far," he shared wearily in his thick brogue, "he's been made to chase and diaper several grown men and swaddle just as many unruly lambs."
"Typical parenting practice, I see." She shifted, drawing her cloak closer about her shoulders. "How is he doing?"
"He's been an excellent sport through all of it," Sebastian sighed. "Though I can understand his frustration. If you've any news..."
"Still telling me to shut up and stop spreading nonsense, so I'd say she's doing well."
"I'll be sure to tell him." He closed the distance between them, wrapping his arms about her waist. "And you, mo graidh?"
Hawke leaned into him, eager for the familiar smell of rabbit's fur and doeskin leather, tinged with the smell of hearth smoke. "I'm worried for her. She hasn't even gotten through the worst of it, and she hasn't slept or eaten."
"Aveline is one of the most incredible women of the age," Sebastian reassured her, planting a warm kiss across her mouth, "and there hasn't been anything the two of you couldn't accomplish together." A din and shouts catcalled the two of them from the crowded hall, and he chuckled. "It seems I'm needed again. As are you."
"Go,"she said, sending him off with a grin. "Try to get some sleep tonight."
Back in front of the fireplace, she felt somewhat cheered by the exchange. Sebastian's words rang true in her ears: there wasn't a single obstacle that she and Aveline hadn't been able to best. Together they'd escaped the Blight, jailed slavers, slain a dragon, and countless other trials that had seemed insurmountable at the time. Now they were nothing but accomplishments, stories to tell and accounts of their combined skill and heroism.
If only the rest of the world knew that 'skill' and 'heroism' had also been accompanied by sarcasm, inane arguments, and enough trips to the Rose to practically declare it a second residence.
Re-energized, Hawke stuffed a chunk of bread into her mouth and wiped her hands on her pants, striding back into the birthing room. From the looks on their faces, the midwife and her apprentice had heard a few choice and colorful words from the guard-captain, who was now on her hands and knees in the sea of rumpled sheets.
"I've just spoken with Sebastian," Hawke said through a mouthful of crumbs. "Donnic's in a fit."
Aveline glared through a curtain of hair that needed to be re-tied. "How is it that he wins your pity while I'm pushing an infant out of my– "
Holding her hands up defensively, Hawke moved to rein the escaped hair back in. "Just letting you know that you're loved."
"I don't need you to tell me that." Another contraction seized control of her then, sending her grasping and grinding and arching and following her body's keen instructions without the right to refuse. Hawke was at her side, pushing the heels of her palms into the curve of her lower back and murmuring what she hoped were encouragements.
As it calmed, Hawke gently dabbed her forehead with the cold, damp cloth and moved to press it against her neck and chest.
Aveline's voice was as clear as ever when she spoke again. "You're loved yourself, you know."
A knot formed in the Champion's stomach, and her hands stilled for a moment before resuming their ministrations. "By you? That's just because I'm the one holding the rag."
"You know who I'm talking about and don't you dare pretend otherwise. It's an insult to him."
Hawke swallowed hard, re-wetting the compress and avoiding her longtime comrade's eyes. "I know."
"You'd best man up, Hawke." She shivered as rivulets ran along her throat and dripped from her collarbone onto the sheets below. "You married him. And with what he's been through by your side– " She hung her head and groaned. "He deserves that much."
"I know, I know!" Hawke frowned, dabbing at the excess water. "Maker, are all pregnant women so damn smug?"
"Your lies never worked on me," Aveline reminded her. "And I always made sure to keep you from believing them yourself."
"Hey, I knew what I was getting into." After a moment, she added: "And so did he." She kneaded her knuckles into the vertebrae in the back of the guard-captain's neck. "Basically, when I was trying to figure out which of my three best friends to gift myself to in marriage, it was between you, him, and Varric. You were at the top of the list but already taken, and Varric's far too much for only one woman, so I decided to follow the prince on his damn fool adventure and do something stupid like offer to be the princess."
Ignoring the apprentice midwife's snicker, Aveline tensed. "Don't get flippant with me, Hawke." She shuddered, and Hawke watched her forearms tremble with the strain. "He's a good man."
The Champion's hands moved to the muscles in her comrade's arms, massaging gently. "I know." After a moment, she huffed a bit, laced with indignation. "Maker. If you have enough energy to lecture me, you'll have this baby before breakfast."
That earned another smirk, though short-lived as an oncoming contraction nearly collapsed her again.
This time, her hand sought out Hawke's and held on for dear life.
When she was sent out to rest again, Hawke found Sebastian tending the fire in the main room and with a steaming mug of spiced wine waiting for her.
He turned to greet her, wiping the bark dust from his hands. "I stole away during the card games," he explained, gesturing for her to sit, which she did without complaint. "They'll think me a cheat after Wicked Grace nights at the Hanged Man."
Smirking at the memories, Hawke warmed her hands around the mug's surface, inhaling deeply before taking a greedy gulp of the rich heat. A hand rested on her shoulder as he stood behind, squeezing in that gentle and reassuring way he did so well. The shared warmth enveloped her, and she closed her eyes to let her head fall back against his body.
She cracked one eye open, looking up at him blearily. "She told me to be nicer to you."
He lifted an eyebrow, a smirk tugging at his mouth. "Aveline did?"
"She yells because she cares."
"Aye, that she does." His blue eyes glittered, and he reached one gloved hand up to run his fingers through her loose ringlets, tugging them free to spill over the chair's high back.
Frowning, Hawke stared at the beams in the ceiling. "She has this crazy notion that somehow, with a huge amount of nagging, I can be a better person."
A chuckle vibrated through the stomach she rested against. "Perish the thought."
"I know, right?" She took a deep, shuddering breath, the tension in her shoulders trembling all the way down her spine. The idea of something happening to Aveline, the thought that something she couldn't defend her from or fight could take her away, was terrifying. The possibility of never being lectured again, never being called an enormous pain in the backside or a horrible influence again, was something that Hawke couldn't stomach. The guard-captain was her second spine, her conscience, and the hand to pull her up when she had dug herself into a hole. And there were moments in the beginning of her life as a princess where, had it not been for a stern glare and a dry sermon on responsibility, she would have locked herself in a broom closet.
"You know I couldn't be here without her, don't you?"
"Aye, I do."
She tilted her head to look up at him, as skilled archer's fingertips wove their way across her scalp and about her ears. In the firelight, it was easy to admire the pair of perfect lips and high cheekbones that would undoubtedly be passed on to their children. An apt thought, given their current situation.
Hawke was trying, new to being a wife and princess, and new to being so wholly and unreservedly loved. She went to bed with him and stayed, the warmth of his arms and sleepily-murmured devotions enough to hold her heart a bit more hostage every time.
As more of Aveline's guttural groans and curses floated through the walls, Hawke hoped that the men at the village watch were keeping Donnic good and distracted. Hearing her indomitable friend – who hadn't so much as whimpered when she once had a calf sliced nearly open – now moaning in pain shook her to the core. Strong, immovable Aveline.
Though she supposed it was different when something was fighting to come out, not steel going in.
A thought occurred to her, and she rapped her knuckles against her husband's chest. "Sebastian."
"Help me pray. For Aveline."
She could always see it in the former Chantry brother's expression when she took part in his faith, the beliefs that founded the city she was now princess of; it bonded her to the people, and to him. The resulting brightness it brought to his face was like the sun, especially when it had come unprompted.
"Don't read too much into it," she warned. "It's a special occasion."
"Of course, mo graidh."
"So help me do this, then."
He offered his hands, letting them fall at her collarbone, and she reached up to take them. After an awkward silence, she prodded him impatiently. "Now what?"
"Open your heart," he instructed gently.
"You know what I want to say. Make it sound good."
He chuckled, knowing well when not to push. "Maker," he began, his lilting brogue rolling over the syllables softly, "please watch over your faithful daughter Aveline Vallen as she brings a new light into this world. Guide them both through it safely, and deliver them healthy and whole through this most joyous of trials."
Hawke cleared her throat and thumbed next door meaningfully.
Sebastian smirked. "And we also ask that your mercy be shared by the good men of the village watch, in whose care we have placed Donnic Hendyr, brave soldier, loving husband, and terrified new father. May their enthusiasm not overpower their good judgment."
Hawke fought down a sigh. "Praise be to that."
"Praise be." He kissed the top her head, releasing her hand. She stood and stretched her stiff limbs, turning to face him over the back of the chair and wrapping her hands in the fur at his collar to pull him in for a kiss. His hands caught her hips, steadying them both as she took comfort in him.
She drew back, finishing the last of the wine in one long pull. "All right, I'm going back in."
He arched an eyebrow, but couldn't hide his amusement. "You sound as though you're headed off to battle."
She sighed, cracking her knuckles as she walked toward the door.
Hawke now knew two tempos for labor: wrenching, painfully slow progress – and all hell breaking loose. As the sun peeked over the horizon, it had brought with it the crown of a head and much less need for stories. Aveline was making low, desperate keening noises, the apprentice by her side and midwife at her knees.
"Set the blanket on the rack by the fire t'warm it for the babe," the midwife barked to Hawke, "and be quick about it!"
As Hawke leapt to comply, the apprentice scolded her mistress in horror. "You can't give orders to the princess," she protested. "At least say 'please' or 'Your Highness!'"
Muttering, Greer set her shoulders and huffed. "Apologies if I don't have time for courtly talk with my hands buried in a busy set of nethers!"
As she jogged back over, Hawke made a mental note to send for this woman in the event of her own labor. The midwife was worth her weight in gold.
She sat by Aveline's side, wrapping a hand around her head and pressing her own to it. "You can do this," she murmured, interrupted by the redhead's heavy moan. "This is just another one of our crazy adventures, except this one wasn't my idea."
Aveline coughed out a laugh, which morphed into a a tense whine as she gripped the sides of the bed hard enough to splinter the wood. "Hawke," she breathed, "if this kills me– "
"It won't," the Champion stopped her.
"If I die," Aveline repeated, "the babe..."
"I understand." Hawke's voice was solemn. "I'll help Donnic raise him."
"You'd better not!" she countered. "I don't want you filling his head with stories of dragons, darkspawn, demons and encouraging him like a tit."
"I was thinking more along the lines of how incredible his mother was," Hawke corrected. "And how she never let any of those things beat her."
"Well," Aveline grimaced, drawing in a staggering breath. "That's not so bad, then."
"Which is irrelevant," pointed out her comrade, "because if a ten thousand pound murderous reptile couldn't kill you, then an eight-pound naked howler monkey sure as hell isn't."
A groan reverberated through Aveline's entire body as every inch of her concentrated on moving this infant out. Her shoulders, her spine, her wrists, her toes; all of it, focused toward her core.
At the base of the bed, the midwife was firmly urging her on. "Past th' shoulders and you're through," she guided. "Come now, girl. That's it."
Shaking and heaving, Aveline let out a loud cry as she pushed – and suddenly, a second loud voice filled the room.
"Blanket!" the midwife called, and Hawke leapt from the bed to fetch it, standing back from the flurry of activity surrounding the screeching newborn as it was checked and cleared, its cord clipped and its pink skin vigorously scrubbed. All things told, it was barely minutes before the tiny, flailing limbs disappeared under the bundled cloth and it was handed to its mother. A few minutes more, and her body had expelled the remnants without a single hitch.
"Well done, girl." Greer stood with her hands on her hips, something akin to pride beaming from her weathered face. "Ten fingers, ten toes, and lungs like a banshee."
"Aveline, he's here," Hawke exclaimed as the apprentice ran to fetch Donnic. "And to think you doubted me for a moment."
Aveline laughed through tears, holding the mewling infant to her chest. "Shut up for a second, will you?"
Hawke obediently snapped her mouth shut, still grinning like an idiot as she watched Aveline in her first moments as a mother. She leaned against the bed table, adrenaline ebbing and exhaustion finally catching up with her.
"Donnic and I did like the name Connor," Aveline mused.
The midwife snorted as she cleaned her hands. "Funny name for a girl."
The guard-captain lifted her head.
Hawke and Sebastian watched through the open door from the main room, observing as Donnic and Aveline bonded with their newly-minted daughter. She took after Aveline at first glance, bright coppery gold curls in fine wisps against her head. But there was Donnic's brow, and his nose, and other features that would make themselves known as she grew.
"She's beautiful," Sebastian remarked, and Hawke didn't know if he was referring to Aveline or the babe. "Have they chosen a name?"
Still watching them, Hawke smirked. "Marigold."
The archer started, carefully inspecting her face for signs of jest, then chuckled upon finding none. "Oh, Maker."
"I know. It's perfect."
They watched as Donnic shed his gloves to better take hold of his new baby girl, the fatigue in his limbs suddenly gone as he couldn't be rid of the worn leather fast enough.
"She'll have anything she asks for the infancy," Sebastian affirmed. "A wet nurse, a maid, a governess. All the resources as though she were family."
"She is," Hawke declared. "Our family."
"Aye. She is." He chuckled, adjusting the straps on the backs of his gloves. "How long before she'll insist on returning to her post, do you think?"
"A month, at the most." She snorted. "With the baby strapped to her back."
"You'll be just the same, I think."
That caught Hawke off guard. She turned to look at him as he leaned back against the wall and smiled. "That was my end of the bargain, wasn't it? I agreed upon three."
"Or more, if we still need a boy."
Three had seemed a good number to request at the time, she recalled. Not that she'd had long to think about it – the entire affair had practically been accidental, but seemed arranged by the Maker himself as everything came together at once.
The expression on his face as he watched the new family tugged at something in her chest, and she smiled as she gave into it. Aveline had always given her courage, had never let her take a single step back in the face of adversity. Especially when the adversity was her own cowardice or pride.
They had a long road ahead of them, all. But as long as she had Aveline, everything would be all right.
"Aveline can pummel me all she wants – I'm telling Marigold where she got her name first chance I get."