The problem is, the other dog goes after Phil.
It's a big, black giant—easily a dozen times bigger than Clint at the moment—some kind of mixed breed with a broad chest and a deep bark, looking like it's half hellhound and half WWII tank. It comes barreling out of the bushes and ruins what up until then had been a really nice pre-bedtime walk. The thing barely glances at Clint, who feels all the hair on his back stand on end, and Clint starts growling before he even realizes it, a tiny puppy rumble that probably doesn't even register with the other dog.
Phil can take care of himself, of course. He's already poised to kick the thing in the head, and got his hand on his gun just in case he has to get drastic (because, yes, Phil takes his sidearm with him to walk around the block), but before the dog even gets to Phil, something in Clint just takes over, instinct rising in him like a red wave. He is suddenly viciously angry that this interloper is threatening an innocent human—Clint's human, Clint's Phil—and he goes after the black dog, size difference be damned, in a flurry of barks. Impossibly, stupidly, he charges at it.
Maybe something has carried over to his dog form, maybe a bit of the confidence that comes from being, even in this fuzzy little puppy body, one of SHIELD's deadliest assassins (most confirmed kills four years running, though that's probably because so many of Natasha's technically never happened at all), because it makes no sense at all, but the other dog flees, yelping as it turns tail and bolts. It takes a flying leap off the curb with Clint hot on its heels, and Clint's so intent on driving the son of a bitch off, he doesn't even see the car.
"Oh, a corgi!" the perky woman behind the desk at the emergency animal hospital says, fingers poised over her keyboard. "What's his name?"
"Hawkeye," Phil says, without hesitation. He's cradling a limp Clint against his chest, stroking his chin softly with his thumb. Clint finds that listening to Phil's heart—still beating way too fast, but a lot more slowly than it was in the car on the way here—makes it possible to not whine. "He was hit by a car."
That gets things going a little faster. They hustle Phil into an examination room that's too bright and smells like chemicals. Someone takes Clint out of Phil's arms, and Clint howls, scared and hurting and unashamed, until he's settled on the table with Phil's hand smoothing his ears, shushing him. Phil reeks of adrenaline and fear, which Clint hates, but he's in too much pain to focus on it much.
The vet seems way too young to be in charge of helping run-over dogs, which doesn't exactly make Clint feel any better. She asks Phil lots of questions that he can't really answer, like how old Clint is and if he's had his shots. "Yes," Phil fibs about the shots, for which Clint is very, very grateful.
Then the nurse tries to put a muzzle on Clint, and Phil says no, absolutely not, quietly but firmly. He says Hawkeye will not bite anyone, he can guarantee it, and the skeptical vet agrees to go without. Even in a T-shirt and sweatpants—and with his hair sticking up funny in the back—Phil Coulson is still a guy who can give an order and have it followed without question.
Clint manages to not bite anyone, even when the vet gently probes him all over, even when she finds the tender spot on his back leg, even when she puts him on the cold, lonely x-ray table and Phil can't be there. (Even when she takes his temperature.) When all the examining is done, it appears he wasn't actually run over by the car, just clipped and spun off his feet by a tire, so it's not nearly as bad as it could be, but he hurts all over and his leg is definitely broken. The other dog ran off without a scratch, that much Clint remembers, which just adds insult to injury.
The doctor gives him a shot that makes him feel a lot better, and he zones out for a while as they wait for her to come back and put the cast on. Phil leans against the exam table and pokes at his phone while Clint stares at the poster on the wall warning of the dangers of fleas, feeling more depressed by the minute.
Somewhere down the hall, another dog starts yelping in pain, stark fear in every high-pitched bark, and it makes Clint cringe against the table. When he accidentally lets out an anxious whine, Phil's attention snaps back to him immediately and he murmurs soothingly at him as he pets his head. Clint closes his eyes and tries to think about Phil's hand on his fur instead of the poor scared dog down the hall, and it helps calm him a bit until the noise stops. He hopes the other dog has a Phil, too.
Eventually, Phil puts his phone back in his pocket and stares at the flea poster for a while with Clint.
"You didn't need to do that, you know," he finally says, which Clint already does know, thank you very much. "I'm a highly trained SHIELD agent." Clint knows that, too. "I can handle a dog." He looks down at Clint. "As long as the dog isn't you, I guess."
Clint hunches a little closer, careful of his sore leg, and licks the inside of Phil's wrist, trying to look as apologetic as possible.
When Phil speaks again, his voice is hoarse. His hand is shaking a little as his fingers rub behind Clint's ears. "You haven't actually changed at all, have you?" he says. "You're so—"
Phil breaks off and looks away, clears his throat. Clint doesn't know what he so is, and he'd really like to know, but the vet comes back with the stuff for the cast, and he doesn't get to hear it.
Phil gets to pick the cast color, and Clint wants to lick him all over his face when he doesn't even hesitate before he says, "Purple." The bone isn't displaced, and Clint is still high on whatever they injected him with, so the actual wrapping of his leg isn't really all that painful, and the vet gets it done quickly. She offers Phil one of those awful plastic neck cones, but Phil insists Clint will not gnaw on his cast, so no thanks.
Then there is a truly terrible moment when the doctor turns to Phil and says, "You'll have to come back in six weeks to get the cast removed. If you'd like, we can set up an appointment to have him neutered then."
Clint, who had been half dozing, lifts his head off his paws and barks indignantly at the vet, and then turns to nudge worriedly at Phil, who does an admirable job of stifling a laugh. His mouth barely twitches.
"Thank you, but I've got a regular vet, so it'll be taken care of," Phil lies smoothly. Clint huffs and puts his snout back down on his paws—it really is comfortable, almost like the spot was made for snout resting—but he keeps one eye on the vet, just in case.
"I'd swear he knows what we're talking about," the vet says, smiling at Clint as she hands Phil the discharge instructions.
Phil pats Clint on the butt and says, "I know what you mean."
It isn't until they're back out at the front desk and Phil's handing over his credit card that Clint realizes this is going to cost Phil money. Money that Clint will absolutely pay back, but at the moment he's so abashed he can only huddle in the crook of Phil's arm and tuck his tail as far between his mismatched legs as it will go.
Things get even worse once they're in the car and Phil says, "Now I just have to figure out how to keep you hidden for six weeks so Fury doesn't find out I almost got his marksman killed."
Clint curls up in a ball on the seat, as best he can with one hind leg that won't bend. He hadn't even thought of that. He doesn't want anyone to blame Phil, because this whole thing is his own fault. Phil had the situation under control, but Clint's instincts got the better of him. Which isn't exactly an unusual occurrence, but it usually works out a lot better than this.
Phil fusses over him when they get back to the apartment, offering food and water and whatever else Clint might want, but Clint just hobbles in a circle on his purple cast and can't even look at Phil. He feels stupid and embarrassed, and like a giant pain in the ass. Finally he stops and just stands there, staring at the floor, and suddenly the term "hang dog" makes a whole lot of very personal sense.
"Hey. I'm not angry at you," Phil says, squatting down in front of him, hands dangling between his knees. Phil is not a bullshitter, and he isn't one to say things he doesn't mean just to make someone feel better, so it must be true. "I'm just glad you're okay."
Clint looks up hopefully and wags his tail a little, then shuffles close enough to touch his nose to the tips of Phil's fingers. Phil smiles at him as he carefully picks him up and holds him against his chest. His heart is beating too fast again, Clint notices, as Phil buries his face in the fur on the back of Clint's neck. But Phil doesn't smell scared. He smells--
"That's one of the things I like best about you," Phil says. His voice is quiet and rough, and Clint's pretty sure it's not just because he's got a mouthful of puppy fur. "You're so brave. You're also sometimes very reckless, but mostly brave. Very, very brave."
Clint would give just about anything to be able to talk right now, so he could thank Phil for knowing the difference; it can be easy to confuse the two, especially in the kind of work they do. He'd also like to be able to tell Phil how brave he is, too, because that's one of Clint's favorite things about Phil, and has been for years, going back to when the Avengers didn't even exist, and it was just Phil and Clint and Natasha pulling miracles out of their asses for Fury on a daily basis.
Phil is also frighteningly smart, an amazing tactician, and really damn loyal to anyone who proves they deserve it. Clint has firsthand experience with all of those qualities.
They both know Clint wouldn't still be with SHIELD if it weren't for Phil. Twice already he's gone to the mat for Clint, ambled into Fury's office and patiently explained that Clint absolutely did the right thing, and that even if his actions sometimes look a little…extreme from the outside, Clint's instincts serve him—and SHIELD—well. What Phil probably doesn't know is that he's also given Clint a reason to stay, just by being part of SHIELD. Just by being brave, smart, loyal Phil.
Clint can't tell Phil any of that, of course. And, well, even if he could, he doubts he actually would. Maybe it's better, in a way, that it's not even an option. Instead, he wiggles until he gets his head up on Phil's shoulder, and darts his tongue out to lick the underside of Phil's jaw, just once. Phil laughs softly and props his arm under Clint's butt, mindful of his busted leg, cradling him like a baby. His other hand strokes soothingly down Clint's back, over and over.
It feels wonderful, so Clint nestles in a little closer to make sure he doesn't miss out on any of it. Sometimes, it's good to just let someone be nice to you and tell you that you aren't a total fuck-up, especially when you're feeling little and helpless and broken. Phil's a guy who can do that for you, who will do that for you. He's always been that guy, at least for Clint, whether he knows it or not.
Clint pushes his face into the crook of Phil's neck, where he smells the best, and breathes him in until his little doggie lungs can't hold any more. When he finally gets his fill, he sort of melts into Phil's shoulder, which right now is the best place in the entire world to be. Phil's hand glides down his back again, and again, in time with the rise and fall of his chest. Clint closes his eyes and lets out a soft puppy sigh, and now he knows. He knows what Phil smells like.
He smells like safety, and acceptance, and. Love.
Also available: Can you hear when I say podfic by Liannabob, who also recorded two other Clint/Coulson corgi stories, including the one that inspired mine. \o/