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looking for something i've been afraid to find

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Phil had never been the kind of person who had trouble following orders. He'd followed them all his life, in one way or another, had always clung to the rules, to doing the right thing, because that was safe, it kept everyone safe, that was sane and reasonable and kept things under control, and most importantly him in control of himself.

He knew where he stood when he followed the rules, knew that if anything went horribly wrong at least he would know that he'd followed procedure, that he'd done what he could, the best that he could. It couldn't have been his fault, whatever damage had been done, because he'd done the right thing.

He wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up here, so far away from his safe, well-ordered life and participating in the most blatant violation of orders he'd ever even conceived of. He'd known from the moment Gin had come to stay with him, in his tiny posting on the edge of civilization - the very last fort between them and the Hills, in the middle of the desert far from Home - that it was dangerous for both of them, that this was a bad idea.

But their father was dead, now, and she had nowhere else to go, she was his responsibility, and he couldn't just hand her off to some relative who might or might not be able to handle her and her stubborn streak, who would be helplessly bewildered by her and never, never understand her, where she would never be truly happy.

He understood her, he always had, even if that scared him sometimes, even if, more often than not, he would rather just not know. The heritage they both carried in their blood, or at least the possibility of it, seemed to run far closer to the surface in her, in a way that frankly terrified him sometimes. But he did understand, and he was all she had left, and no matter how it worried him he'd brought her back with him, had found her a place to stay with the kind, motherly wife of the diplomat liaison assigned to the base, and he had hoped that it would be enough.

He'd hoped that she could at least be content and that nothing terrible would happen. That living so near to the Hills one of their ancestors had come from, a great-grandmother or possibly great-great, he wasn't sure; on their mother's side, and maybe that was why she felt it more - but regardless, he'd had to hope that it wasn't tempting fate, bringing her out here in the very shadow of those Hills.

It had happened anyway, and she had gone missing, kidnapped, stolen from her bed in the middle of the night, and he'd been half out of his mind with desperation to find her, to keep her safe, perhaps to save her even from herself as the dread in the back of his mind had whispered to him exactly where she'd gone, the little voice of knowing that he'd shoved fiercely back into the dark and refused to acknowledge.

Then she was back, and she was different, changed, the wild proud streak of their heritage unleashed and the fact that she was still his sister underneath scared him in a different way - that he knew she wasn't under any spell or coercion, that for the first time in her life she was able to be all of herself, strong and brave and free. That it was still her, the sister he'd always known but somehow more herself that she'd ever been, scared him even more.

And she was asking for his help, and he'd never been able to really deny her anything, and no matter how uneasy it made him to join this small band of rebels and follow them, follow her on this mad, insane mission, he'd never really had a choice. It was inexplicably the right thing, even as he threw away his career, his orders, his calm and reasonable orderly world of duty and honour and rules.

There were no rules out here, no orders, no control, and he had no idea what he was doing. He felt out of place, unsettled, doubtful and worried sick and very possibly, they were all going to die. He'd never been so out of his depth, so helplessly adrift in a situation where he didn't know the rules, didn't know how to do what was expected of him, or what that even was.

But this wasn't really about not following orders. He could follow her, and he could watch her back, and he could do his best to somehow keep her safe, even if he more afraid than ever that his best simply wasn't good enough. He'd spent his entire life trying to fulfill the expectations of his family and society and superiors, and now he had smashed them all irrevocably. The fact that he might die for it was something of a comfort, really.

She's going to stay, you know, the seer had told him gently, and Phil had nodded. He knew that. He knew better than anyone that Gin fit here in a way she had never fit anywhere else, in the way that he had always known she would. That if she'd gone into the Hills she would not be coming back, because they would awaken that part of her, of them, that he'd always been afraid of.

He'd always been afraid that if he came anywhere near here, he'd lose control of that odd wildness (sorcery, whispered the dark voice in the back of his mind, some wild magic) buried deep inside him as well, and he wanted desperately to keep a tight leash on it, even now. He hated being out of control. He was terrified.

Gin may have been terrified too, but he knew it was a different sort of fear, the kind of elation mixed with agonizing anxiety because she wanted this, wanted to keep the place she'd won for herself, wanted to prove that she did, in fact, belong here.

If by some miracle they all survived this battle against ridiculous, overwhelming odds, she would stay, she would beg forgiveness for disobeying her own orders from the king she'd grown to love, and plead to keep the place she had made for herself, strong at his right hand.

He couldn't imagine that she would fail. The Hills loved her as much as she loved them, and in a wistful sort of way he was happy that she had found a place where she could be accepted for all of who she was, where her strength was accepted and even valued. A place to belong.

It made him feel even more lost, in a way, because where did that leave him? He didn't have a place here, doubted his ability to make one, and there was no longer a place waiting for him back at the base. Back home, even if he had to admit now that it had never been home for him either, not really, no matter how hard he'd tried.


When it was all over, the quiet was deafening, and he felt stunned even as he was grateful that Gin had survived whatever she'd done, the incredible force she'd unleashed from somewhere within, some sorcery he still didn't understand that had brought down half a mountain on the army arrayed against them.

It had been terrifying but also amazing, and he'd never been more proud. They'd been losing badly until then, and she had saved them all, just like, deep inside, he'd always known she could. She would be fine, she would be safe here. This could be home for her, for what he thought was the first time in her life.

It didn't mean he wouldn't still worry, of course - it was what he did. But he could trust that the choice she'd made, whether he understood it or not, had been the right one. Orders or no orders, they had all, unequivocally, somehow done the right thing here.

He still didn't know where that left him, in this odd no man's land between what he'd been and no longer could be, and what, in a possibility he hardly dared to think about, he could become. He had no idea how. He had no idea what that was, or if whatever was inside him would be safe, would be sane after all, would fit in this world if he managed to set it free.

"I don't know what I'm doing here," he confessed to Hawkeye, shrugging ruefully and feeling both uneasy and strangely drawn to the archer's thoughtful gaze. It had seemed natural to seek out the quiet stillness of his company once the battle was over - once they had, against all odds, saved both of their worlds and miraculously hadn't died of it. "I don't know what to do, or where to go."

He felt tired, the strain of the last few weeks catching up with him all at once and leaving him weary and oddly hollow inside. He didn't belong here, was afraid he'd never belong here, in this strange wild land that nevertheless sung in his blood, whispering to the part of him he'd always refused to acknowledge.

He couldn't answer it now, didn't know how, no matter how easy Gin made it look. This wasn't his world, wasn't his place, but he had nothing else left.

"It calls to you," Hawkeye said simply at last, tilting his head to study Phil with that clear, piercing gaze that made him feel laid open; in a terrifying way that nonetheless made him shiver with something that was not entirely fear, something that was maybe a little bit like longing.

"You are one of us," Hawkeye told him matter of factly, with a quiet certainty that made Phil's head swim and his heart ache with despair. How could Hawkeye know that, when he didn't even know himself?

He shook his head in automatic denial, but he felt shaken, his troubled expression betraying the doubt that filled his soul. He wanted to, maybe, he could admit when he stood next to this man that he wanted to stay, too, that he wished this could be where he belonged, but how could it be?

"I'm not," he insisted. "I can't be."

"You are," Hawkeye said, shrugging lightly with a faint, wry smile touching his lips, quirking up the corner of his mouth. Phil had the sudden insane urge to kiss it, and despaired of himself entirely. This was madness, this must be what going mad felt like. "You'll find the way," Hawkeye told him softly, and his eyes were as steady as the hands on his bow, filled with affectionate amusement. "I'll wait. I'm good at waiting."

Phil laughed helplessly, waving his hand at the forest around them. "I don't know what I'm doing," he said again, more sadly this time because he wished he did, wished he knew how to live up to this man's faith in him. "I don't belong here, I can't."

Hawkeye snorted softly. "You will," he said dryly, in a tone that suggested what he really meant was You already do, idiot, are you always this slow? "Come on," he said, taking Phil's hand and tugging him to his feet, pulling him away from the camp and further into the trees. "I want to show you something."

He didn't let go, keeping Phil's hand in his and linking their fingers, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if it were his. Phil wasn't sure that he was wrong, because it felt warm and safe at the same time it sent sparks shooting up his arm and tingling down his spine. It felt right, like they fit, like it belonged there. Like this was who he belonged to.

Maybe it was. Maybe it could be. He suddenly felt hopeful, for the first time since all of this had started, for the first time a long, long time. I'll wait, the archer's words echoed in his mind. Maybe he could stay, could find a way to keep this. Maybe, for the first time in his life, what he wanted was something he could have.

He could wait. He could wait and see. It seemed that Hawkeye would still be there, holding his hand, no matter how long it took. This was worth it, worth waiting for, what he suddenly felt he'd been waiting his whole life for, and maybe it could all be worth it in the end.

And when Hawkeye stood behind him, warm against his back, and showed him how to stand, how to hold a bow and shoot straight, he was inexplicably good at it, amazed and bemused by the way his hands seemed to know what to do, the way it felt like he'd always known how to do this.

Somewhere in the back of his mind it was like something was stretching, waking up, pulling free of the bonds he'd tied it down with, and the rightness settled over him like a second skin. He couldn't remember, now, why he'd been so afraid of this, why he'd resisted it so desperately. With a bow in his hands he suddenly felt more settled, more whole, more in control and more himself than he had ever been.

And when he turned, finally, breathless and elated to push Hawkeye up against a tree and kiss his smirking mouth, kiss him stupid like he'd been wanting to for days now...that felt right too. It felt like coming home. As Hawkeye's arms closed around him, pulling him closer and kissing him back hot and hungry and wanting, the rightness clicked into place and settled, warm and contented in his chest.

This was it, this was his place. This was everything he'd never known he wanted, and it was his. His to keep, his to stay. This was belonging.

"Mine," he murmured, nuzzling the side of Hawkeye's neck, lightly grazing his ear with his teeth and feeling rather gratified by the shiver it got him. "Mine."

Hawkeye laughed, soft and breathless, and then groaned as Phil growled a little and bit down on his shoulder, hips jerking reflexively against Phil's weight, seeking friction.

"Mine now," he countered, fingers digging in bruisingly where they clutched at Phil's back, holding on fierce and possessive. "Always mine."

Phil hummed in agreement because that was true too, it went both ways, he knew that. "I'll stay," he promised, pulling back just far enough to rest his forehead against Hawkeye's, staring into his eyes. "You can have me. I'll stay with you."

"Good," Hawkeye breathed, relaxing a little and smirking faintly again, some kind of tension leaking out of him as he angled his head for a soft, tender kiss. "Good. You stay with me, and I'll keep you."

Phil nodded, feeling strangely light with relief, and the knowing glint of laughter in Hawkeye's eyes - finally, it's about time you figured it out - and Phil let out a half-laugh, breathless and rueful. Yeah, he'll stay. Hawkeye can keep him, he can belong here.

"Okay," he murmured. "Yeah." He can do that.