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There's a Dog-Related Pun in There Somewhere (Don't Worry; Tony's On It)

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It happens in a flash. One moment, Phil is standing behind a SHIELD-issue SUV watching the Avengers fight Loki and calculating structural damage, the next he’s somewhere dark and soft, very close to the ground and feeling…strange.

“Coulson is down!” someone shouts. “Coulson is down!”

The yelling is close by, and Coulson tries to yell that he’s fine, just under something silky, but instead of words, he barks.

He barks again when he tries to swear, and the third time he barks—to swear some more—the silky thing is lifted off his head, and he realizes it’s his suit jacket. He’s standing on his pants and shirt and tie and underwear, and he is pretty sure he is going to bite the first agent who laughs at him.

An agent crouches down and reaches out a hand. “Agent Coulson?” he asks. It’s Agent Friedman; Coulson had hand-selected him to assist in the field with the Initiative. He is not laughing, but he looks very concerned. “Agent Coulson, are you a dog?” Friedman asks.

Coulson barks an affirmative, and he looks down at himself to gauge the situation. He has stubby white legs, and when he turns to get a look at himself, he sees a golden body and a stump of a tail. He lays down and drags his front paws over his head. He feels big ears and a good-sized snout.

“You’re a corgi, Sir,” Friedman says, and his bland expression starts to crack. “You’re actually pretty—”

Coulson growls before Friedman can say ‘cute’ or ‘adorable.’ He narrows his eyes at Friedman. Friedman’s bland expression cracks a little more. Coulson turns away, surveying the other agents. A few are glancing at him, but the others still have their eyes on the battle in progress. Coulson wants—needs—to see what’s going on. He looks at Friedman again, pointing his nose in the air.

“Sir?” Friedman asks.

Coulson points his nose straight up in the air, glances towards the action, and points his nose again.

“Sir?” Friedman asks again.

Coulson doesn’t make a sound, but he must do something with his face because Friedman is suddenly looking a little scared and backing away. Coulson whines to tell Friedman it’s okay, but that seems to freak Friedman out more. The downside to being the hard-assed one, Coulson figures, is that a sign of weakness is more terrifying than whatever he was doing before. Fantastic. He tries to figure out how to explain that he just wants up so he can see what’s going on, but as he turns to try again, there’s an explosion that makes him wince and duck under the SUV.

It’s a few seconds before Coulson can hear anything but the ringing in his ears, and the first thing he hears is Friedman’s voice. “It’s okay, Sir,” Friedman says. He’s crouched by the SUV, ducked down so Coulson can see him. “Looks like the Avengers finished up big.”

And then Friedman holds out his hand like he’s waiting for Coulson to sniff him to know he’s safe.

Coulson’s litany of swears comes out as a series of angry yips, and he briefly considers throwing himself under the nearest moving car to end the embarrassment. As he considers how quickly he can run on his stubby little legs, another head pops into view.

“Friedman, what’s so exciting—“ Clint cuts himself off as he spots Coulson and Friedman explains that it is, in fact, Coulson in corgi form. Clint stares at Coulson for a moment, and Coulson begins to think of all the places he will bite Clint when Clint mouths off.

“Congratulations, boss,” Clint says. “This is officially the weirdest thing to ever happen to either of us.” It’s matter-of-fact, as is the hand that reaches under the SUV to motion him forward, and Coulson walks towards Clint without a second thought. “I’m going to carry you,” Clint says as he scoops Coulson into his arms. Coulson growls at him. “There’s broken glass everywhere, and you’re going to go through enough at medical without having to worry about stiches in your paws.”

Coulson doesn’t make any noise to agree, but he does rest himself against Clint’s chest as Clint walks them over to the center of the damage.

“I thought Cap was the puppy-saver,” Stark says as soon as he spots them.

“It’s Coulson,” Clint says.

“Yeah, right,” Stark replies. Coulson barks at him, and Stark’s eyes widen. “Wait. No way.”

“If you laugh, I will hurt you,” Clint says.

“What, you’re gonna tase me?” Stark taunts.

“I have an EMP arrow, Stark. Try me.”

Stark goes speechless, and Coulson accidentally makes a pleased little noise at Clint’s victory. When he tries to cover that he’s done it, he finds himself hiding his face under his paws.

“I have to…” Steve starts to say, but he turns around before he finishes, and Coulson can hear him laugh. He’s pretty sure Fury will fire him if he bites an American icon, but it’s still tempting.

“I think you have doggie reactions, Sir,” Natasha tells him, stepping forward and blocking his view of the others, which means they can’t see him, either. She reaches up and scratches behind his ears, and Coulson sort of flops against Clint with his tongue hanging out. “Definite doggie reactions.”

Goddamnit.

*

Coulson grumbles low in his throat when he and Clint and Natasha get in an SUV and Clint doesn’t let him go. Natasha chuckles under her breath. “Let him go. He’ll be fine,” she says to Clint.

Clint lets him go, and Coulson stands up on his lap, front paws resting on the window edge, gauging their distance from base and trying to calculate exactly how long he has before the world’s most uncomfortable physical. Natasha takes a corner, and Coulson’s legs go out from under him, because paws don’t grip like hands. He lands on his back in the foot well, all four paws up in the air.

“And what have we learned?” Natasha asks when Coulson pops his head up and snarls at her.

“Come here,” Clint says, holding out his hands. Coulson ignores his hands and plants his front paws in Clint’s lap, planning to jump. Instead, his back end sort of wriggles, and he finds himself splayed on his back again.

“I’m gonna pick you up, Sir.” Clint says, doing it before Coulson can get himself right side up and bite Clint on the hand. “There,” Clint says as he puts Coulson back on his lap and removes his hands. “And I promise, when we get back to base, I’ll let you move around on your own furry feet.” Coulson snaps at Clint’s fingers, but Clint moves his hands out of the way.

“Hey, any more of that and no steak for you tonight.”

Steak? Whatever dog face Coulson is making is causing Clint to fight back a grin.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” Clint says, “but you’re kind of ridiculously cute like this.”

“Bite him,” Natasha tells Coulson.

“I’m saying it now so I don’t say it in front of people who will actually repeat it,” Clint says, holding his hands above his head as Coulson goes for it, his front paws planted on Clint’s chest.

“Corner,” Natasha says.

Clint presses one hand to Coulson’s back to keep him in place as Natasha takes the corner. Once they’re driving straight ahead again, Coulson settles into Clint’s lap, looking out the windshield. Clint doesn’t remove his hand as they keep going. “Thanks for not chewing off my face, Sir,” Clint tells him.

Coulson grumbles an affirmative and doesn’t miss the smirk on Natasha’s face that calls him cute as loudly as Clint had a moment ago. He doesn’t even try to snap at her. She’d have him in a one-handed throat grip before he even moved.

*

“I seriously thought Stark was full of shit,” Fury says when the three of them walk into the debrief, Natasha and Clint flanking Coulson like he’s still the man in charge.

“Hey!” Stark yelps.

“Shut it,” Fury responds, not even looking at him. He walks around the big conference table and eyes Coulson for a long moment. “Feel all right?” he asks. Coulson nods his head. “All right. Now get down to medical and prove it.”

He’s not sure what sound he makes, but whatever it is, it causes Bruce and Steve to look away quickly while Tony howls with laughter that stops abruptly when Natasha whacks him on the back of the head. Thor just looks confused but waves at Coulson in a friendly way. Coulson thinks of all the myths that included people turning into animals and realizes that Thor is unconcerned because half his family has been four-legged on more than one occasion and that his confusion stems from it being a human who’s in animal form instead of a god. It makes him feel a little better even when Stark starts laughing again.

“I’ll go with you, Sir,” Clint offers as Natasha sits next to Stark with a warning glare. “I only shot at Loki, so my debrief is pretty thin.” He looks to Fury for confirmation, and Fury nods his assent.

Coulson turns and walks towards the door, hearing a remark about his ‘adorable little stump’ from Stark as the door closes. He lets Clint lead the way to the elevator and only looks up at him once they’re safely inside.

“I could short-sheet his bed,” Clint offers. “Or you could leave him a surprise in his shoes.” Coulson’s mouth falls open, and his tongue lolls out, and Clint looks about half a second from cuddling him. “Don’t bite me,” Clint says as he crouches down and scratches behind Coulson’s ears and then down his back. Coulson wants to growl or snarl, but it feels really nice, especially when Clint takes a second to stroke his ears. “Okay,” Clint says, standing up again as the elevator slows. “That’s out of my system, and we don’t ever have to mention it again.”

Coulson yips an affirmative, and Clint laughs. “That was sarcastic, wasn’t it?” he asks, and Coulson dips his head in a nod. “I have been around you way too long,” Clint tells him, but he’s still grinning as the elevator doors open.

*

They check his weight and height and stick lights in his ears and feel his teeth and gums, and then the vet (where they got her, Coulson isn’t certain, but she seems completely unfazed that he is actually a man in a dog’s body) pulls out a thermometer, and Coulson drops into a hard sit and refuses to move, growling and snapping when the vet tries to maneuver him.

“Give it up,” Clint says as the vet tries to make a rectal thermometer sound like a necessity. “He’s fine.”

“I was informed that the dog—”

“Agent Coulson,” Clint corrects.

“Required a full work-up,” the vet continues. “Where I come from, that includes checking his temperature.”

“You feel sick, Sir?” Clint asks Coulson. Coulson shakes his head and presses all his weight onto his haunches as the vet comes at him again. “Good enough for me,” Clint says, scoops up Coulson, and walks out of medical. Coulson grumbles softly to say thank you, and Clint gives him a small squeeze.

“You’d do the same for me,” Clint tells him.

It’s not worrying that Coulson would admit he would. He and Clint have worked together a long time; they understand one another. What worries him is that he now lives in a world where they’re having a legitimate bonding moment because one of them is a fucking dog.

“Easy, Sir,” Clint says, massaging his ears (which is just as amazing the second time around) and stopping the tremors Coulson didn’t realize he was having. “We’ll get through this.”

*

Clint takes him to his office without being asked, setting him down just inside the door. Coulson walks to his desk without thinking and looks at his chair longingly. All he wants, after a day like this, is to throw himself into his chair, have a good hard stretch, and sit for a few minutes.

“You want up?” Clint asks. Coulson shakes his head and backs away, inadvertently ending up under his desk. “You want me to leave you alone?” Clint guesses.

Coulson growls and comes back into sight, lying down and putting his head on his paws, looking up at Clint with what he is sure is a long-suffering expression.

“Today has sucked pretty hard for you,” Clint agrees. He drops to the floor in a smooth motion and flexes his hands in his lap. “I’m sort of tempted to offer you a belly rub.”

He should growl at him, Coulson thinks, but Clint’s face is pinched around his eyes, like he’s got a headache coming on. Phil knows that look. It’s as stressed as Clint ever looks, and Phil wants to tell him that it’s okay, that the Avengers assignment is definitely the strangest thing they’ve ever had to deal with, but they’ll get through it because that’s what they do. He wants to remind Clint they’re a team, but he can’t do that right now. Coulson lets out the closest thing to a sigh he can manage as he flops onto his back, exposing his soft underbelly on such a literal level it’s almost embarrassing.

Clint doesn’t ask if he’s sure, knowing Phil only offers what he’s willing to give. He reaches out and scratches over Phil’s ribcage and down to his stomach, and Coulson would be embarrassed if the pinched look around Clint’s eyes didn’t fall away immediately.

“I had a dog once,” Clint tells him. “She was a birthday gift when I was four.” He doesn’t say anything else, just rubs Coulson’s belly and grins at him, soft around the edges until the door opens, and they both jump to their feet.

“He here?” Maria asks.

“Yeah,” Clint replies, stepping back so Coulson can get around him.

Coulson looks up at Maria. She’s carrying a folder in one hand and a duffel in the other. She sighs at the sight of him. “Can you get on your desk? I can’t take you seriously at that height with those ears.” He snaps at her ankles, and she sighs again. “If I wasn’t serious, I wouldn’t ask, Phil.”

He growls low in his throat and walks over to his desk chair, eying the height and wondering if he’ll make it without falling.

“Sir?” Clint asks. He’s not reaching for him, but he’s definitely ready. Coulson cocks his head towards the desk and feels his ears droop at the displeasure of having to be picked up. Clint picks him up by the belly and puts him on the desk, flashing Coulson a rueful smile. Coulson sits at the far edge and looks at Maria, who has seated herself in one of the guest chairs.

“Better. Thank you,” Maria says. She holds up a folder. “Preliminary research says you’ll be like this for at least a couple of days. Thor tells us Loki’s little animal jokes generally last about that long.”

Coulson yips. This is a joke? He wonders if it would hurt Loki to shoot him in the kneecaps the next time the bastard pops up.

“You’re off base until you’re back to normal,” Maria continues. “You’ll need someone to keep an eye on you.” She grimaces. “Take you on walks, that sort of thing.”

Walks. Coulson hadn’t thought about walks, or what walks entail. He flops onto his belly without meaning to, the sheer idea of having to be walked taking the fight out of him for a moment.

“I’m taking care of him,” Clint says. Coulson turns his head to look at him. Clint’s standing where Coulson’s desk chair usually is, arms behind his back like he’s getting final orders before a mission.

Maria looks from Coulson to Clint and back to Coulson. “Is that the plan?”

Coulson barks an affirmative.

“Okay.” She reaches into the duffel and pulls out a doggie-sized vest, a leash, a collar with tags, and a piece of paper. “We’ve got you listed as a service animal. Barton, anyone asks, he’s your comfort dog. You take him everywhere.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Clint says.

“You’ll have to wear this vest to go into stores and the like,” Maria says to Phil, holding it up so he can see the service animal designations on it. “The address on the tags is your apartment. Figured you’d want to be as comfortable as possible while you wait this out.” She stands and hands the vest, collar, and leash to Clint. “The vet says if you keep him on a diet of lean meats, veggies, and berries, he won’t need dog food if he changes back soon.” She hands him the sheet of paper, and Coulson catches the heading: Dietary Needs.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Clint repeats.

“Do you need directions to Agent Coulson’s apartment?”

“No, Ma’am.”

Coulson doesn’t turn around, but he can tell from Maria’s raised eyebrow that he’s making some sort of face.

“Is he supposed to know that?” Maria asks him.

Coulson gives the closest thing to a shrug as he can. He’s never officially told Clint where he lives, but he knows Clint’s shadow like he knows his own, and there have been a few post-mission times when he’s been injured and been certain Clint’s been watching. He’s never asked, and Clint’s never told.

“All right,” Maria says. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a set of keys. “Company car, apartment locks,” she explains as she holds up individual keys. She gives Clint a hard look. “Don’t let him run into traffic.”

Coulson yips at her, but she just laughs as she walks out of the office. Coulson turns around and gives Clint what he’s learning from feel is his long-suffering look. Clint grins at him. “Someone was gonna say it. At least it was someone you like.”

He has a point. Coulson pads to the edge of the desk and lifts his front left paw towards the desk chair. “You want to get down on your own?” Clint asks. Coulson nods. He needs to know how to move in this body, even if he’ll only be like this for a couple of days. Clint rolls the chair into place and holds it still as Coulson stumbles into it. Once he’s found his footing, he gives a mighty leap and ends up rolling across the floor for a few feet before righting himself. He growls a warning when Clint looks amused.

“Oh, come on. Corgi flops are hilarious. It’s an objective fact.”

Coulson growls again, and Clint shrugs. “Whatever. Come on, let’s get out of here.” He walks across the office and opens the door. Coulson trots over and walks out first. Clint falls into step half a step behind him, like he’s still human and not a fuzzy, stump-tailed, short-legged cuteness monstrosity that people are cooing at as they walk down the hall. Coulson’s surprised no one’s leaning down to pet him—SHIELD agents are only human, after all—but then he catches the look on Clint’s face as they wait for the elevator. It’s stony. Coulson realizes he must have been leveling that look at every agent coming down the hall, and he wishes there was some way to say thank you that wouldn’t require licking or barking or rolling over to show his belly.

Not that he’d mind rolling over for a belly scratch again, but the first time was in the privacy in his office and because Clint needed to know it’d be okay. To do it on the elevator would just open him up for ridicule, and to do it without prompting feels weirdly intimate, like asking someone to kiss him out of the blue.

“You all right, Sir?” Clint asks as the elevator takes them to the parking level. “You’ve got worried face.”

The one thing he has—the one thing he always has—no matter what, is a better poker face than everyone but Nick. He’s sat through explosions, decapitations, pistol whippings, and more violence than he cares to remember without showing a damned thing, and now here he is, a fucking corgi, and there’s nothing he can do about his fucking face giving it all away.

Forget kneecaps; Coulson’s going to tase Loki right in the balls.

“Sir, you’re growling like you’re about to chew my leg off,” Clint says, matter-of-fact.

Coulson looks up at him and waits for him to laugh, to give him an excuse to actually go for it, but Clint just looks concerned. Coulson stops growling and walks over to Clint, leaning against his leg until Clint reaches down and pets him just behind the ears. It’d be a neck massage if he were human, and it’d probably feel just as damned good, and he is completely exhausted and sort of hates the world right now, but Clint’s hand is warm, and when the elevator dings, Clint scoops him up like it’s no big deal, and Coulson lets himself go limp against his chest.

*

A few blocks into the drive, Coulson levers himself into the passenger seat and looks out the windshield. They’re headed to his apartment. He wonders how to tell Clint there’s nothing resembling passable food at his place. He generally lives off coffee and the SHIELD canteen because he’s never home long enough to eat things before they spoil, and he’s not much of a cook anyway.

“You okay?” Clint asks, glancing away from the road for a second. Coulson gives an affirmative yip. “Good,” Clint replies. “You want to stick your head out the window?” Coulson makes a small, questioning sound in the back of his throat. “I always wondered why dogs are so into that,” Clint explains. “I thought maybe you’d want to try.”

He kind of does, actually, but it feels silly to even think it. Just because he’s in a dog’s body doesn’t mean he has to give into urges. He lies down in the seat, resting his head on his paws and manages to do the equivalent of a bored eyebrow raise when Clint glances at him.

“Let me know if you change your mind,” Clint says. He reaches over and rubs Coulson’s ears, and Coulson closes his eyes in enjoyment. Giving into this isn’t embarrassing. It’s just an ear-rub. There’s a human version of it, he’s sure, like someone giving you a hug or rubbing your back when you’re sick. This is an instinct he can easily ignore when he’s human again.

He still sort of wants to stick his head out the window.

*

His apartment looks big and looming from Corgi-height, and Coulson has to take a moment to adjust himself to the view. Clint walks around pretending not to notice that Coulson’s sort of frozen. “I’m going through your cupboards,” he says as he walks into the kitchen.

Coulson doesn’t respond. He stares at the underside of his coffee table for a moment and then hides under the two-person table in the dining nook. It feels safer there. He can see the whole floor plan, but he doesn’t have to be in it.

*

He wakes up without realizing he’s fallen asleep, and the first thing he notices is the absolute quiet. Clint can be super-spy silent with the best of them, but there’s no reason for him to do it right now. Coulson stands, feeling worried and stressed, and one of his paws lands on something crinkly.

WENT TO THE STORE. FIGURED YOU DIDN’T WANT TO WEAR YOUR SNAZZY VEST. BACK SOON. IF YOU TELL MARIA I LEFT YOU ALONE, I HAVE A PICTURE OF YOU FLOPPED OUT AND SLEEPING AS BLACKMAIL.

Coulson huffs something like a laugh at the threat and looks at the front door, expecting Clint to walk in at that exact moment, but the door stays closed. Coulson looks out at the expanse of his living room and hunkers back down under the table. He should be braver than he is in this moment, but his bravery usually comes in high-tension situations amid many, many explosions. This is his apartment, and it looks weird, and he doesn’t like it.

And that, Coulson realizes with annoyance, is absolute base doggie logic. He’s angry at himself for being so scared, and he uses the anger to step out from under the table and start looking around. He can actually walk under his coffee table, he discovers, and it takes a couple of false jumps, but he can get on the couch. He walks the length of it, stumbling in the softness of the cushions, and he settles in his usual spot, against the arm that’s farther from the door. It feels good to rest his head on the sloped arm of the couch, and he wishes he could turn on the television just to get some background noise, but the remote is on the coffee table, and he’s pretty sure if he jumps for it he’ll slide right off on the other end and hit his entertainment center.

There’s a key in the lock, and he turns, ears going back in uncertainty until the door opens a crack, and he sees a bit of Clint’s face, and then he’s off the couch and wriggling in front of the door, giving a happy little yip as Clint comes through the door.

“Hey,” Clint greets, bending down and ruffling Coulson behind the ears. He goes completely still mid-scratch, and Coulson wonders why until he realizes what’s just happened. “This is a little weird when I think about it,” Clint says, but he still hasn’t lifted his hand. “I mean, you’re never this excited to see me when you’re human.”

Actually, he is, but Phil’s made a point of keeping it a secret. It won’t do him any good to give Clint any more attention than he already does because if Phil lets go a little, he’s pretty sure he’ll want to give Clint all of his attention. Their relationship on base or on ops wouldn’t change, Phil is sure, but he can picture the two of them off-base, on his couch in sweats and t-shirts, mocking the supposed hardasses on Survivor and spending their very occasional days off reading or going hiking or watching shitty movies.

Phil may have overthought this, and he’s definitely been thinking about his overthinking too long because Clint is staring at him, face sliding between happiness and wariness. Phil tries to back away, but Clint gets him by the scruff of his neck. Phil growls, but Clint doesn’t flinch.

“You like me,” he says. “I mean, I knew you didn’t want to kneecap me, and I knew we got along all right, but I think this might be more than like because you have guilty puppy face, and I’m pretty sure you didn’t piddle on the carpet.” Clint grins when Phil growls again. “I think you might like-like me.”

Like-like? Phil is pretty sure he wants to be dead.

“Oh, shut up,” Clint says, letting go of Phil’s neck but not straightening up. “And I know you didn’t say anything, but your snarky doggie face and your snarky actual face are kind of scarily similar.”

Phil growls again, but it’s more out of affection than embarrassment. He nips at Clint’s arm, and Clint laughs as he stands up.

“Yeah, yeah, big scary Coulson,” Clint mocks him as he carries the bags into the kitchen. Phil follows and watches Clint unpack steaks and berries and vegetables and cereal and milk. “I found something I thought you’d like,” Clint tells him and reaches into the bottom of the bag, pulling out a tiny tie fastened to a tiny shirt collar.

No.

“Your face is amazing,” Clint tells him, chuckling under his breath when Phil yips and goes for his ankle. “I bet you miss your taser right now,” Clint says as he dodges. He reaches down and scoops Phil up by his belly, rubbing his face into his fur as Phil wriggles and tries to get loose and tries not to think about exactly how long he’s wanted the human-version of this.

“I’m sorry you’re a corgi,” Clint says, tucking Phil against his chest while Phil continues to wriggle and make a half-hearted escape. “And I swear I will put you down and not mandhandle you again, but I’ve wanted a reason to completely invade your personal space since…awhile, and I’m gonna be a total shit and do that right now because you are ridiculous like this.”

Phil has been amazed for years that there are people at SHIELD who think Clint is just a mouthy, cocky asshole. He knows part of that is due to Clint’s cultivation of that exact image to give himself a certain amount of privacy in a completely not-private arrangement, but he’s heard Clint be honest like this with people who aren’t him, and he wonders how those people still have beating hearts because right now Phil is pretty sure his has stopped cold.

“And I’ve officially freaked you out,” Clint says because Phil is completely still. He crouches down and puts Phil on the floor like he might break, backing away a step and holding up his hands in apology. “I’ll just never mention this again, all right?”

It’s not all right, Phil thinks. Clint’s here and taking care of him and being honest, and goddamnit, why does he have to be a corgi right now? He wants to sit down with Clint and talk about what they want because he knows now that they want the same thing. Or at least close enough he’s certain he can negotiate them to an agreement. His negotiation skills are legendary.

“I’m gonna make dinner,” Clint tells him, not meeting Phil’s eye as he rummages around in the kitchen drawers. “Want me to turn on the tv for you?”

Phil woofs in response and follows Clint into the living room, getting himself onto the couch again as Clint flips on the television and navigates to the DVR.

“Bridezillas?” Clint asks, finally looking at Phil. “Really?”

Phil will not apologize for his taste is shitty television. He stares at Clint until Clint cracks a grin and starts the first episode on the list. Phil settles in to watch, head on his paws. Clint walks back into the kitchen, and Phil listens to him move around. Clint mutters as he opens cupboards and puts a pan on the stove. He tries to concentrate on the show—The bride is especially screechy, something Phil usually relishes—but he keeps thinking about Clint and listening to Clint hum under his breath and wondering, exactly, how he can tell Clint that he’d like to try if Clint would. He could wait until he’s human again, but that’s not Phil’s style. There’s an issue. It needs to be fixed, and while he’s only a foot tall and bat-eared, he’s certain there’s still a way to make everything right.

“Dinner’s up,” Clint says, and Phil realizes the episode is over, and he’s missed whether or not the groom got smart enough to run screaming from the bride (those are the best episodes). He jumps down from the couch and pads over to Clint, who’s putting a full plate down on the floor next to the kitchen counter. There’s cut-up steak and a few pieces of broccoli and half a potato, and Phil gives it all a sniff as Clint slides down next to him, balancing his own plate on his knees.

Phil bites into a chunk of steak and pauses, looking up at Clint and trying to cock what passes for his eyebrows.

“The vet’s instructions said undercooked meat could have bacteria,” Clint tells him. “It’s still better than dog food.”

Phil is pretty sure it’s not. Well-done steak is a sin against nature, like decaf coffee and Tony Stark having better hair than him.

“I am not putting you in danger of intestinal worms or whatever medium-rare steak thriving in bacteria does to dogs,” Clint continues when Phil keeps staring at him. “I’m not taking the chance of you getting sick on my watch.”

Phil tries whining.

“Nope,” Clint says.

Phil tries making a cute dog face. It feels very weird, but Clint sighs and cuts a small piece of his own steak, placing it on the edge of Phil’s plate.

“That’s all you get,” Clint tells him. “I’m happy to help you out and hang out with you, but I am not taking you to the vet if you drag your ass on the carpet.”

Help you out and hang out is very different from Clint of an hour ago. He’s retreating, Phil realizes, trying to pretend he’s not by using friendly language, but Phil knows him better than that, knows that Clint took Phil freezing in his arms as a sign that Phil doesn’t want Clint to touch him like that, to have that kind of familiarity. Phil eats the rest of his well-done atrocity and cleans his plate as he decides that bat-ears or not, he is fixing this now.

“You want to go for a walk?” Clint asks as he stands up and reaches for Phil’s plate. “You’ll have to be on the leash, but you won’t have to wear the—”

Phil licks the inside of Clint’s wrist and looks up at him. Clint stills, bent double, fingers gone slack around Phil’s plate. He doesn’t look away from Phil, and his face is blank.

“Do you want water?” Clint asks. His voice doesn’t shake; he’s too well-trained for that. Phil licks the inside of his wrist again. Clint grips Phil’s plate and lifts if off the ground. “I’ll get you some water,” he says.

Phil growls low in his throat. When Clint glances at him, Phil yips, high and angry, ears going back.

“You okay?” Clint asks. “Dinner sitting wrong?”

He’s playing dumb. He’s always been very good at it, the muscles and the way he can furrow his brow working for him in situations where SHIELD needs a meathead to blend in. But Phil’s the one who trained him how to do it perfectly, and Phil can see straight through it.

When Clint puts down a bowl full of water, Phil steps on his foot until Clint looks down again. He yips and presses his weight down.

“Walk?” Clint offers.

Phil growls and noses at Clint’s leg.

“Want me to put on another episode of something?”

Phil throws himself onto his back legs, his front paws landing just above Clint’s knee. He yips and growls at the same time, doing his best to goad Clint without being able to insult him. Clint watches him, looking blandly confused. Phil is certain it’s a mask, but Clint’s damned good, and it stays in place.

Fine. A strategic retreat it is, then.

Phil drops down to all four feet and laps up some water. When he finishes, he walks over to the front door and stares at Clint.

“Walk it is,” Clint says and grabs the apartment keys and the leash and a bottle of water before opening the door. “There a park nearby?” Clint asks as he clips the leash to Phil’s collar, and Phil barks an affirmative, leading the way to the small park a few blocks over. It’s just a few acres of grass and shrubs with some benches and a walking path around the edge. Clint will have clear lines of sight, and Phil can get a better feel for his dog body as they make their way on the path.

“Let me know if you need to take care of things,” Clint tells him as they reach the head of the path. “I’ll look the other way.”

Phil yips an affirmative and leads the way down the path. He walks it occasionally when he gets home and can’t sleep, using the solar lights along the edge to find his way. Clint keeps up with him as Phil works his way from a walk to a trot to a dead run. They run in step, Clint’s sneakers pounding the pavement, and Phil feeling weirdly free when all four legs are off the ground at the same time. They round a curve in the path, and there’s a woman coming the other direction. Phil tries to stop short and skids into the grass. Clint just manages not to step on him.

“Are you all right?” the woman asks.

“Fine,” Clint tells her, straightening up and smiling at her. It’s his aren’t-I-charming smile, and Phil growls in the back of his throat.

“Is your dog okay?” the woman asks, kneeling to get a look at Phil.

“You all right?” Clint asks Phil. Phil snuffles and shifts his weight, walking backwards until he’s behind Clint’s legs because the woman is reaching out to pet him.

“Oh, isn’t he darling?” she coos. Phil wonders what part of the normal dog brain translates the baby-talking voice of most owners into something pleasant. He sort of wants to chew his ears off so he won’t have to hear it again. He growls and lays his ears back when she reaches for him again.

“He’s protective,” Clint says, stepping to the side to put Phil fully behind him. “It’s best not to pet him.”

“Oh.” The woman stands and gives Clint an appraising look Phil doesn’t like at all. He presses his nose to Clint’s leg, and Clint looks down at him.

“What’s up?”

Don’t flirt with her, Phil tries to say with his eyes. Goddamnit, you’ve told me you like me. Don’t flirt with her.

“It’s adorable you talk to him like he can understand you.”

That’s it. Phil turns on his heel and starts walking in the opposite direction. When he runs out of leash, he keeps walking away, straining as hard as he can, wanting to be anywhere but here.

“Easy,” Clint murmurs as he scoops him up and holds him close. “That’s my cue,” he tells the woman.

“Poor thing,” she says. She doesn’t try to pet Phil again, but Phil can see she wants to try. “He must think you’re in danger.”

“Yeah,” Clint agrees. “I’ll see you around.”

Phil sags against Clint’s chest as they walk back down the path. His neck hurts where his collar was digging in, and he has to go to the bathroom, of course. He wriggles until he can look Clint in the eyes.

“Yeah?” Clint asks.

Phil glances to the side of the trail where there are bushes.

“Okay,” Clint says and sets him down, turning his back while Phil takes care of business. When he taps Clint’s foot to let him know it’s okay, Clint looks down at him with a mixture of uncertainty and hope on his face.

“Were you jealous?” he asks.

Strategic advance is go. Phil nods his head. He maneuvers himself so he can sit on Clint’s foot. He presses his nose against Clint’s leg.

“You went still,” Clint says.

Phil grumbles in his throat.

“I don’t know what that means,” Clint tells him.

Phil tries to figure out what series of yips and barks and growls will translate to, “I wasn’t expecting you to say that, and I have amazing reflexes unless personal conversations come into play because half of being good at what I do is to have the emotional reactions of a sea snail.” He attempts a few variations on doggie noises, and Clint just stares at him. Phil flops onto Clint’s foot and looks up with the most exasperated face he can pull.

“I think you’re trying to reassure me,” Clint says, and Phil yips an affirmative, feeling hopeful.

“Thanks,” Clint says, dropping a hand to lightly scratch the back of Phil’s neck. Phil goes limp in enjoyment. “So, we’re good?”

Phil yips an affirmative.

“And you…” Clint clears his throat and bites his lip. “You were jealous-jealous? Because you thought I’d flirt with her?”

Phil jumps up at Clint and licks his face.

“I’m gonna take that as a yes,” Clint says, grinning as he wipes his arm across his cheek. Phil jumps up and licks Clint again.

“Stop it,” Clint says, laughing. Phil wants to jump a third time, but he sits instead, settling all his weight on Clint’s foot. “Marking your territory?” Clint asks.

Phil growls and noses against Clint’s leg.

“I’ll take that as a yes, too,” Clint says, standing up and scooping Phil into his arms. “Come on, I’ll put on whatever you want, and we’ll chill for the rest of the night, all right? We can have the long, weird conversation about this once you have the right vocal cords again.”

Phil curls into Clint and snuffles his approval. Mission accomplished.

*

They sit on the couch and watch Keeping up with the Kardashians, Phil’s head in Clint’s lap as Clint laughs and scoffs and Phil growls in agreement. After two episodes, Clint stands up and yawns. “Need to go out again?”

Phil shakes his head.

“Wanna show me where the linens are?”

Linens? Phil makes an inquisitive noise.

“To make up the couch,” Clint tells him. “I figured you’d crash on the bed.”

Phil growls low in his throat. He jumps off the couch and sits on Clint’s foot.

“I’m not backing away,” Clint says, leaning down to scoop him up. He nuzzles the top of Phil’s head before putting him down again. “I just figured I’d take the couch because you’re probably still weirded-out being a dog and might want some space.”

Phil walks down the hall, looking over his shoulder to make sure Clint is following him. When Phil stops in front of the last door on the left, Clint opens the door for him.

“Holy shit,” Clint breathes out as he takes in the California King bed piled high with pillows and a thick comforter. The mattress rests on a raised bed platform, three wooden steps leading up to the mattress itself. “This is obscene,” Clint says as Phil steps up the stairs and sits in the middle of the bed.

Phil yips to get Clint’s attention. When Clint looks at him, Phil flops onto his belly and rolls across the bed, nearly toppling off the other side. When he straightens up, he yips again and bounds back to the other side. It takes four good leaps. He sits on the edge nearest Clint and gives him snarky dog face.

“Don’t give me that look,” Clint says as he toes off his shoes and undoes his belt. “I didn’t know how big your bed was. I was being polite.”

Phil makes a disparaging noise in his throat.

“Shut up,” Clint replies, but he grins as he drops his pants, pulls his shirt over his head, and bounces onto the bed. It makes Phil lose his balance and roll towards him, landing sprawled against Clint’s side. “Nice bed,” Clint says.

Phil sticks his nose against Clint’s ribs and gives a smug yip when Clint yelps from the cold.

*

The next day is uneventful. Phil spends the morning alternately napping, sniffing around his apartment, getting walked, and watching as much of his nearly full DVR as he can handle. In the mid-afternoon, Clint moves the coffee table and starts stretching as they watch Jersey Shore. When he positions himself for sit-ups, Phil hops down from the couch and lays on his feet.

“Thanks,” Clint says. He counts under his breath as Snooki and Pauly D. collapse drunkenly in their living room. “I’m starting to see the appeal,” Clint says when he breaks a hundred and pauses to steady his heartbeat. “They’re ridiculous but harmless in the long run. Nice to know there are people in the world who can be idiots and not try to kill you.”

Phil grumbles in agreement and shifts his weight as Clint starts another set. When he hits two hundred, Clint nudges Phil out of the way and rolls onto his stomach, positioning himself for push-ups. “Hop on my back,” Clint says. “I usually do this with my quiver on. You probably weigh more, but I don’t want to lose my rhythm.”

Phil hops up and lies down at an angle on Clint’s back. He can feel Clint’s muscles shifting as he moves and he loses track of why Sammy is screaming obscenities at Deena in the hot tub because he’s counting along with Clint in his head, the same way he does when they’re secured together during missions. Usually he counts the first few and distracts himself into stopping, but it’s different right now, actually feeling Clint move, smelling his sweat this close and sharp. Phil rumbles in his chest and settles in more deeply, letting himself enjoy the way Clint feels.

Clint finishes and lies flat, stretching his arms and legs as far as they’ll go. He doesn’t make any move to get Phil off of him. Instead, he pillows his head on his arms and turns his face away from the television. “My dog was named Bucko,” he says. “She was a girl, but I thought she was a boy, and by the time I realized she wasn’t, she wouldn’t answer to anything else.”

It’s Clint’s story-telling voice, a tone and cadence that Phil is pretty sure only he and Natasha really know. It’s soft, meant to carry to whoever’s sitting closest to Clint. He shares his stories, but he doesn’t share them very far. Phil snuffles at Clint’s T-shirt and makes himself as limp as possible. If he were human, he’d have leaned back in his chair and waited.

“She was a mutt. My dad got her from some guy on the side of the road who was giving them away for free. Mom put a bow around her neck, but she’d chewed it off by the time they gave her to me. It was the last time my dad tried to pretend like smacking us around was something he wanted to fix.”

Phil scoots up Clint’s back and presses his nose behind Clint’s ear. He wishes he could say something useful but is almost glad he can’t. He’d mess it up, he thinks. Clint reaches back and scratches him behind the ears, and Phil figures he’s done well enough.

*

Clint’s communicator goes off in the wee hours. Phil jerks awake from a dead sleep and barks because he’s trying to swear. Clint’s already upright and reaching for his comm, dropping a hand onto Phil’s back when Phil barks again. “Got it,” he says.

Phil can hear both sides of the conversation (advantage giant dog ears). Doombots are out in force, trashing everything in sight. Clint’s dressed by the time Sitwell finishes the sit-rep. Phil leaps from the bed, falls onto his back as he lands, and is on his feet and on Clint’s heels in another second.

“I’ll be—” Clint stops when he turns and finds Phil directly behind him. “You can’t come,” he says.

Phil growls at him, baring his teeth.

“You’re a dog.”

Phil snarls. They are his team, damnit, and he will be there.

“Fury will kill me,” Clint tries.

Phil walks over and sits in front of the door, glaring at Clint as Clint tries to stare him down.

“We’ll be in Midtown,” Clint argues. “It’s corgi-central. How the hell can you be sure animal rescue won’t cart you off by accident?”

He has a point. Phil thinks for a second, then barks and points his nose towards the kitchen.

“What?” Clint’s brow furrows. He walks over to the kitchen and looks around. “Phil, there’s no time for—”

Phil jumps up so his front legs are on the front of the drawer nearest the sink. He jerks his head back. He knows it’s up there. He saw Clint lay it aside.

“Phil, seriously I—” Clint cuts off something that sounds very much like a choked giggle, and he reaches towards the back of the counter and then he holds up the tie he’d bought two nights before. “You sure?”

Phil yips and nods his head at the same time. He holds still as Clint puts the little tie over his head. It’s on an elastic band under the fake shirt collar that’s slightly loose on Phil’s neck. He cocks his head as Clint gives him a quick once-over.

“Okay,” Clint says. “I’m going to drop you off with Sitwell when I get there, and you are to stay with him, okay?”

Phil barks in agreement, and then he huffs when Clint reaches down, tucks his hand and forearm under Phil’s belly, and lifts him so Phil is resting against his chest.

“I know you can run, but it’s gonna be easier and faster to just carry you,” Clint says. “If anyone asks, you fought me the whole way.”

Phil leans against Clint’s chest as Clint jogs to the car and settles himself into the passenger side footwell as Clint clambers into the driver’s seat.

“Hold on,” Clint says as he turns the key and clicks on the comm unit in the dashboard.

Sitwell’s voice comes through the speakers. “Hawkeye, ETA.”

“Seven minutes, Sir,” Clint replies as he executes a dead-perfect one-eighty turn from the parking space. “I’ve got Coulson with me, Sir. I’ll be dropping him at your location before taking my perch.”

There is a brief pause. “Hawkeye,” Sitwell says, “Repeat.”

“Seven minutes, Sir,” Clint repeats. “I’ve got Coulson with me, Sir. I’ll be dropping him—”

“Last I heard, Coulson was still a corgi, Hawk.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Sitwell sighs, and Phil can picture him rubbing the bridge of his nose just under the nosepieces for his glasses. “He wouldn’t let you leave without him, would he?” Sitwell asks.

“No, Sir.”

“Phil,” Sitwell says, “You’re a fucking idiot.”

Phil growls.

“Oh, cram it,” Sitwell replies. “Like I can actually take you seriously right now. Your legs are shorter than your dick usually is.”

Phil watches Clint choke on a laugh. He gives a warning bark.

Sitwell sighs. “I’m in the main vehicle convoy,” he says. “Make sure you leave the fleabag with me personally. Some of the junior agents may try to scratch his belly.”

“Yes, Sir,” Clint replies. He gives Phil a quick grin, and Phil replies with a pleased sound in the back of his throat right before he rolls ass over teakettle as Clint takes a turn.

God. Damnit.

*
Clint drops him off with Sitwell, gives a salute, and heads off to find his perch. Coulson looks up at Sitwell who is grinning like a maniac and snapping a picture with his cellphone. Coulson nips at his ankles in retaliation.

“Love the tie,” Sitwell says. “Really brings out your eyes.” He reaches down and scoops up Phil without asking. Phil gets Sitwell’s tie in his teeth and yanks as hard as he can in retaliation. “I really don’t care if I drop you,” Sitwell tells him. “It’s the least I can do since I got stuck debriefing this collection of assholes while you were at home with your tiny feet up.”

Coulson can’t argue with that, so he rests against Sitwell’s chest until Sitwell sets him down on the hood of one of the SUVs. There’s a textured mat on the hood that Coulson realizes after a moment of looking at it is a no-skid shower mat. He glances at Sitwell as Sitwell sets a tablet on the hood next to Coulon’s paws so he can see the layout of the attack.

“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Sitwell says when he catches a look at Coulson’s doggie grin. “I figured you wouldn’t want to be at ground-level, so we improvised.”

Coulson gives a yip of appreciation as he looks down at the tablet. The Doombots are coming in hard from the east and west, not as badly from the north and south, but they’re definitely coming in formation, trying to circle Midtown.

“In place,” Clint says into Sitwell’s comm, and Coulson’s head jerks up at the sound of his voice.

“You hear him okay?” Sitwell asks. Coulson nods. “What do you see, Hawkeye?” Sitwell asks as he moves the tablet so he has a better view of it.

“Looks like they’re coming in ranks, Sir. Five wide, at least twenty long.”

“That jives with what Stark’s telling us from the sky,” Sitwell responds. “We’re still evacuating where we can, but feel free to start picking them off.”

“Gladly, Sir.”

“Stark, report,” Sitwell says.

“Can I blow them up yet?” Stark asks.

“With your usual aim? No.” Sitwell grins when Coulson gives a huff of approval at his answer. “Keep up high and out of range. We’ll still deciding on an attack strategy.”

“Legolas gets to shoot things.”

“Legolas is a better shot than you.”

“Stark, I still have that EMP arrow,” Clint interrupts, and Coulson can hear the snap of the bowstring as Clint releases an arrow.

“Bring it,” Stark replies.

“Iron Man,” Steve cuts in, “Thor’s on the western-most edge and reporting the Doombots are moving faster. Get over there and report back.”

“Sir, yes, Sir,” Tony replies, and Coulson looks up to watch Tony streak across the sky towards Thor who is at the top of a skyscraper, watching the Doombots move in.

Coulson whines to get Sitwell’s attention and noses at the corner of the tablet where the rest of the team is listed.

“Widow’s on the ground assisting Captain America with evac and recon. Banner’s actually back at base trying to come up with a scientific way of taking out the hoard. He’s on notice to be ready to be dropped in if we need him to stomp them all down.”

It’s a good plan. Coulson shows his approval by laying down on the mat with his head on his paws. Sitwell outright giggles, and Coulson growls at him.

“Shut up,” Sitwell replies, and he turns to holler instructions at a group of agents.

Coulson looks back at the tablet, and it wavers in front of his eyes. He blinks, but the tablet still wavers. A few seconds later, the whole SUV ripples in his vision, and Coulson tries to take a step back and ends up skidding as his paws slip off the bath mat and onto the slick hood of the SUV. He loses his balance, rolls off the edge of the SUV, and when he opens his eyes again, he’s getting stared out by a half-dozen agents.

“I’m fine,” he says, and it takes him a moment to realize he’s spoken and not barked or whined or growled or yipped. It takes another few seconds to realize everyone is staring because he’s completely naked.

Sitwell steps to the front of the crowd and gives Coulson a once-over. “I apologize for the derogatory remarks about the size of your dick,” he says with a completely straight face. Phil considers kicking his feet out from under him. He takes the hand Sitwell holds out instead and lets himself get pulled to his feet.

“I need clothes,” he says as soon as he’s upright.

“Here.” Sitwell holds out the shower mat. He shrugs when Phil glares at him. “Emergency supplies are in the rear. It’s gonna take a few minutes to get you anything else.”

Phil eyes the shower mat, not wanting to be quite that humiliated as he continues to stand bare- ass naked in the middle of an op. “Where’s my comm?” he asks, an idea striking.

Sitwell passes him one. Phil slips it into his ear and glances around at the group of agents who are still staring. “There are robots attacking Manhattan,” he announces. “Human nudity does not outrank that in weirdness.”

The agents scatter, back to work. Phil opens the driver’s side door of the SUV and sits down to have at least a tiny sense of modesty. “Channel?”

“Six,” Sitwell says.

Phil clicks the comm over. “Barton, what have you got that can stand in for clothes?”

Before Clint can reply, Tony’s on the comm because of course he is. “Coulson! Are you naked? Is it weird? Do you want some tips on how to rock that look? There’s a pet store about a block from my location. I can drop down and get you a little jacket.”

“Keep talking, Stark. I can always press the button that completely depowers your suit.”

“You don’t have that button.”

“Are you sure?”

Stark goes quiet, and Sitwell flashes Phil a thumbs up as he walks by to go and talk with another set of agents.

“I’ve got a fine-mesh net,” Clint answers. “No good against these guys, but if you wrap it around yourself a few times, it should work.”

“Aim it at the main vehicle convoy.”

“Soon as I have a clear shot,” Clint promises, and his comm goes quiet again.

Sitwell passes by again and hands Phil a tablet as he passes. “Don’t even think about it, Stark,” Coulson says before Stark can do more than open his channel.

“How did you even know it was me?”

Because the tablets are wired into the comms, displaying who’s opening a line as they do it. Except Stark doesn’t know that because Phil is certain he’d find a workaround just to be a pain in the ass. “I’m back, Stark. Now shut up and help come up with a plan of attack.”

There’s a ping to Phil’s left, and when he turns to look, an arrow is flat on the ground.

“Everyone clear for deploy?” Barton asks.

“Yes,” Phil replies.

There’s a whoomp, and the net explodes from the end of the arrow. Two junior agents jog over, fold the net over and over until it’s a long triangle, and pass it to Coulson without a word.

“Thanks,” Coulson tells them, and he makes note of their names as they jog off again. “Appreciate it, Barton,” he says on the comm.

“No problem, Sir,” Clint replies, but Phil thinks maybe he can hear a smile in his voice.

He stands up from his seat, ties the net around his hips like a sarong, and walks back into the middle of the action in the vehicle barricade. Sitwell shrugs off his suit jacket and hands it over, and Phil takes it with a nod of thanks.

“Let’s get this done,” Phil says.

“Gotta tell you,” Sitwell replies, “that tiny tie is really you.”

Phil glances down and realizes the doggie neck tie and the collar are still around his neck. He rolls his eyes and removes both of them, tucking them into the inside pocket of his borrowed jacket as he switches fully over to mission mode. “Shut up,” he says, and Sitwell bursts out laughing.

*

The battle ends in a vacuum, literally. Banner and the SHIELD scientists show up in a quinjet with the equivalent of a giant-sized Hoover complete with a huge electro-magnet calibrated to the exact metal alloy the Doombots are made of. They flip the switch and suck up Doombots through Midtown like they’re doing housework.

“That is slightly embarrassing,” Sitwell says.

“It gets the job done,” Phil replies, deciding not to point out he’s just worked a two-hour mission in a net and a suit jacket.

“It’s an oversized Dyson. They could infomercial that shit.”

“For all your Doombot needs,” Phil replies, and he and Sitwell grin at each other.

“All clear,” Banner says over the comm. “But what do we do with them?”

“Take the whole thing back to base. We’ll figure out something,” Phil replies.

“I’m going to start organizing clean-up and rescue,” Sitwell says. “You need me to send a tac suit up here?”

“No,” Phil says without hesitation. Sitwell raises his eyebrows in question. “No underwear,” Phil adds.

“Better Stark make fun of your Finnick Odair impersonation than see the outline of your junk, got it.”

“Get lost,” Phil orders, and Sitwell takes off, muttering something about a trident.

Five minutes later, Stark lands just outside the convoy, spots Phil, and starts to howl with laughter even before he ratchets back his faceplate. “Oh my god, tell me you ran the mission like this. Please tell me this is a thing that happened.”

“It happened,” Phil confirms as he swaps tablets with a junior agent and reviews the information. “Looks like minimal structural damage this time. Not bad.”

Thor lands next. He looks Phil over and nods. “I see my brother’s magic has run its course.”

“Looks like,” Phil agrees. He holds out his hand for Thor to take it in a warrior’s grasp. “Well done up there.”

“We all fought well,” Thor replies.

Steve and Natasha walk up side-by-side. Natasha raises an eyebrow at Phil’s look and gives him a warm grin in greeting. Steve looks a bit flustered, but holds out his hand and says, “Good to have you back on comms, Sir.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Phil flicks his finger on the tablet and makes the image project onto the side of one of the SUVs. “Walk me through it.”

Steve points to the eastern-most point of contact with the Doombots and starts to explain as Clint sidles up from the back of the convoy. Phil greets him with a nod, and Clint returns it before they both put their full attention back on the debrief. Everyone takes a turn at breaking down the battle, and at the end, Phil looks around and asks, “Anything else?”

“How are you not embarrassed to be doing all of this in a poofy net and badly cut suit jacket?” Stark asks. He looks unimpressed when Steve taps him with his shield.

“It’s not badly cut,” Phil replies, “it’s Sitwell’s. And it’s not as though this is the first time I’ve lost my clothes on an op.”

Tony opens his mouth to say something else, but Steve dings him with his shield again. “There’s a great place about six blocks over that serves a mean hot dog,” he says instead.

“Hot dogs?” Coulson asks. “Really?”

“There aren’t a lot of foods with ‘dog’ in the name,” Tony replies, “and jokes about Chinese food are over.”

“And racist,” Natasha says.

“And that,” Tony agrees.

“Go get whatever post-battle food you want,” Coulson says before the conversation can get weirder. “Now.”

“You’re not coming?” Steve asks.

“I’ve got a can of Alpo on ice back at home,” Coulson says, “I’m fine.” He smiles when Steve and Natasha and Tony all grin, and it widens as Tony gets Bruce on comms to give him directions to the place and Natasha explains what Alpo is to Thor.

Phil realizes Clint hasn’t said a word since the debrief, and he turns towards him, asking his question with the way he raises his eyebrows.

“My go-bag’s at your place,” Clint says. “I can swing by after the post-battle snack and grab it.”

Phil takes a breath before he nods and says, “Yeah. Text me when you’re on your way.”

“Will do,” Clint says. He reaches into a pocket of his uniform pants and pulls out Phil’s keys. “Here,” he says, and their hands touch as Phil takes them. Clint gives Phil a small smile, a wave, and then he turns to catch up with the rest of the team.

Sitwell comes up next to Phil and hands him a note:

Y.O.S.
$20

“Y.O.S.?” Phil asks.

“You owe Sitwell twenty bucks,” Sitwell replies. “Because I know a we-need-to-talk-about-our-feelings talk when I see one.”

“He’s coming to get his go-bag,” Phil argues. “That’s it.”

“And you’re gonna talk about your feelings.”

“I never made a bet on this.”

“Bullshit. You told me years ago you’d never date on the job, and I bet you twenty bucks you would.”

“You cannot be serious.”

“You could take it up with Maria. You owe her twenty, too.”

They stare each other down, and Phil gives in by folding the piece of paper and tucking it into a pocket of his borrowed jacket. “I’m putting your jacket through the shredder,” he says.

“Long as I get paid, I don’t care.”

“Class act, Jasper.”

“You look like the world’s worst stripper.”

Phil chuckles. “Unlike most strippers, I’m short on cash. Grab me a junior agent for a ride home, will you?”

“Sure.”

“Thanks.”

The junior agent who drives him home does it without saying a word or making eye contact. Phil watches the street signs pass by and is thankful his building is full of people who don’t like to socialize much. It means he makes it from the car to his apartment with only one very surprised look from a woman walking her dog. When he gets inside, he tosses Sitwell’s jacket on the kitchen table, untangles himself from the netting, and spends a minute stretching as far as he can, standing on his toes and reaching all the way up to the ceiling just to feel his body move properly.

It feels fucking fantastic.

*

The shower is just a shade too hot, but Phil doesn’t care. He can wash his hair and his body and doesn’t have the urge to lick himself anywhere. When he gets out, towel wrapped around his waist, there’s a text from Clint on his phone.

On my way.

C.

He towels off as quickly as possible and throws on jeans and a t-shirt. Clint will be full from the hot dog run, but Phil takes out chips and dip for himself and grabs two beers from the fridge. Five minutes later, there’s a knock on the front door, and he opens it, and there’s Clint. He’s got both hands wrapped around the handle of his bow case and is clearly holding himself still from sheer force of will. “Hi,” Clint says.

“Hey,” Phil replies. He steps back so Clint can come in, and he can close the door. He pauses after he closes it, taking a deep breath to center himself.

Clint’s arms come around him, one arm crossing his chest at a diagonal, the other curling around his waist. Clint tucks his nose against the back of Phil’s neck, and Phil feels a light kiss pressed just at the edge of his hairline. He relaxes into the hold and the kiss without thinking about it, the warmth and solidity of Clint’s chest as comforting when he’s human as when he was a dog. “We should probably sit down and hash out all the details,” Clint says against his neck. “But we’re gonna win the ‘weirdest get-together story’ contest at the Christmas party this year, so do we really have to get in-depth about things?”

Phil turns in Clint’s arms and cups his face in his hands. “I owe Jasper and Maria twenty bucks each because I swore I wasn’t going to fall in love on the job.”

Clint grins, soft and bashful. “Love, huh?”

“I don’t let just anybody rub my belly.”

Clint’s smile gets a little deeper. “You’d better not.”

“And you don’t share your stories with very many people.” Phil adds. He rubs his thumb on the back of Clint’s neck when Clint’s smile fades a little. “I’m glad you share them with me.” It’s a microcosm of what he wants to say to Clint, but it seems the most important one.

“I’m glad you trust me to take care of you,” Clint says.

Phil kisses him, soft and easy on the mouth. Clint returns it, just as soft. When they pull away from each other, Phil knows his smile is reflected on Clint’s face. “You want to make a couple of steaks, sit on the couch, and watch some shitty tv?”

“Absolutely,” Clint replies.

They change and move the chips and dip and beer to the living room. When they sit on the couch, Clint reels Phil in, close to his chest, and rubs his fingertips behind Phil’s ears. It’s not quite an ear-scratch, but it’s close, and it still feels ridiculous.

“I know all your weak spots now,” Clint teases as Phil queues up a run of Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Phil lets himself relax against Clint, most of his weight being held up by Clint’s willingness to play body pillow. Clint hums in approval. “I know a few of yours, too.”

“Guess we’ll have to stick together,” Clint says.

“Suppose so,” Phil agrees, and he makes a soft, happy, growl-like noise when Clint presses a kiss to his neck.