See Tony, See Tony Run
One paw in front of the other. Four paws altogether. His back paw keeps stepping on his front one every other step, keeps over reaching. Tony is exhausted. Four legs to tremble beneath him as he struggles to stay upright and Lord, do his hips hurt. Tuck one back leg up against his belly and that's only three to trip over. That's easier.
Tony has long since gotten over the shock of the fact that he has paws and four legs and that suddenly he comes up to just about crotch level with all the people around him. Embarrassing. He's going to have to look up at Barton from crotch level. But Tony doesn't really know where else to go, doesn't know if the others are animal lovers or not and Tony doesn't make a very attractive animal right now anyway. He'd seen his reflection in a window. He's matted and dirty and he thinks he's got some kind of weird eye infection and he's not entirely sure that's all mud that's stuck in his fur. None of them would ever believe it's Tony Stark in here.
So Tony limps down the side of the road and tries to figure out where he is from a dog's eye view. Where he is is hopelessly lost.
Nose to the ground, aren't dogs supposed to have a good sense of smell? He can't pick out Barton from the mud, snorts hard to try and clear it from his nostrils. Jesus, as if he even knows what Barton smells like, as if he wants to. Except right now he does because he lost, he's disgusting, in pain, and it's starting to rain again. Of course it is.
A growl rumbles through Tony's chest when he looks up at the opening sky. But it opens anyway and the rain soaks him to the skin. Tony quickly limps his way into a doorway and hunches himself tightly into the space. Maybe it will pass soon.
How did he even get here? Fuck if he knows.
Aimless wandering and hoping for the best is the only resort Tony has.
His stomach hurts. His back legs shake. Surely the Avengers are going to come looking for him. Dog or human, they'll be able to track him, no problem. So where are they? What do they tell kids? If you're lost then just stay still and let someone find you? That sounds reasonable to Tony right now, a good excuse to lie down in the middle of the sidewalk and wait. The Avengers will come. Someone...
“Hey there, buddy.”
Tony blinks. He's staring at someone's shoes and he can't stop shivering. All the fur on him is doing nothing to keep him warm, soaked from the rain as it is, chilling him to the bone. Something warm ruffles his ear and it feels almost good. Someone breathing on him and then a warm pressure.
“Lucky, back off. You can't just go sticking your nose into a stranger's ear. We don't know where he's been.”
Barton talks too loud. Tony pins his ears back for a moment before his eyes finally snap wide and he jerks his head back to stare up – way the hell up – at Barton's face. Clint!
Tony explodes to his feet and Barton stumbles back a pace, shock and wariness on his face. “Clint!” A flurry of exciting barking escapes him before Tony remembers. Big clumsy paws and there he is, crotch level with Clint Barton. Right, dog. Clint probably doesn't speak dog. Tony's traitorous tail is wagging heavy and Clint relaxes his defensive stance, smiling a little.
“Hey, dog. You're not looking too good.”
Now Tony recognizes who pressed on his ear and he comes nose to nose with Lucky. Barton rescued one dog. He's got to do it again. There's a strange softness to Lucky's eyes as he touches his nose with Tony's and then looks up to Barton and whines.
“Aw, jeez, really?” Clint eyes Tony skeptically before sighing. “Alright. You can follow if you want.” But when Clint turns away and Tony tries to do exactly that, there's a spike of pain from his hind end and while he manages not to yelp, his haunches still go out from under him. Clint looks back and sighs before stepping up and stooping down. He scoops Tony up in his arms like he weighs nothing and Tony thrashes for a moment, shocked to have all four feet off the ground, but Clint holds him firmly until he settles. “You're lucky I can afford the vet bills, dog.”
But that's not where Clint takes Tony, not yet. He's carried to a run down apartment building and into an equally run down apartment. Tony doesn't understand why Clint chooses to stay here when there are nicer places. Almost every place is actually nicer than this but Clint has always refused every offer Tony made and he always refused to explain the reasoning. Clint was a secretive man, Tony couldn't begrudge him that, even while it piqued Tony's curiosity.
“Another one? You looking to start your own shelter here?”
The voice greets them when Clint manages to juggle Tony and the keys and get his apartment door open. Tony starts squirming until he's set down, gathering his off hind leg up under him and forcing his other to lock in place so he doesn't fall again. This is all going to be really embarrassing when they realize who he is.
Kate is standing there staring at Clint, arms crossed and eyebrows lifted. She thinks Barton has lost his mind. Tony thinks they all have. Does Kate ever even go home anymore? The folded pile of blankets and the pillow at the end of the couch say that she probably doesn't. They also say that Barton probably isn't fucking her.
“Aw, come on, Katie. How could you resist that face?” Tony picks his ears up and does his best to look inviting but doesn't know how that works. “Besides, Lucky likes him.”
In point of fact, Lucky is stepping up to him again, tail wagging slowly as he steps by Tony and there's his nose again and hey! Oh hey, Tony doesn't think so. He yelps, scoots his hind end around as quickly as he can and snaps his teeth against that nose. Tony nearly falls over in the process and Clint quickly steps between the two dogs.
“Oh yeah... They really like each other,” Kate comments but there's resignation in her tone.
“Don't get so fresh, Lucky,” Clint chastises the dog and Lucky just stands there looking stupid. Trust Clint to adopt the stupid dog. “Come on, dog. Lets get some of that mud off you and see what you look like. Wanna give me a hand, Katie-Kate?”
Kate rolls her eyes but she does go and soon enough, Tony finds himself drenched once again though this time the water is warm and clean. He never thought he'd be quite so intimate with Barton's hands but they work over every inch of him and they go through probably a whole bottle of dog shampoo before Tony's coat is finally clean. Then Clint and Kate towel him off and when Tony doesn't show any inclination to freak out over it, Barton uses a blow dryer until Tony is feeling pleasantly warm and relaxed. He's exhausted as well and when Clint carries him again, Tony lets his legs dangle limply.
He's placed on a nest of blankets in a corner and then a bowl of water and one of food is set in front of him. Tony is pretty sure he's died and gone to doggy heaven. A thought that he doesn't let go any deeper because what if that's exactly what happened?
“Okay, just keep your nose outta private places.” The words come as a warning growl and Lucky licks at Tony's muzzle and his tail thumps against Tony's haunches. He supposes that's okay and when Lucky puts his head down to sleep, Tony rests his across the back of Lucky's neck. No one is here to see.
With a hard breath, he gets to his feet, pleased to find that he's not quite so shaky on all his legs and paces around the apartment. Where is he supposed to go? He noses his way into the bathroom and stares at the toilet. That might be a little difficult. The shower? God, if Barton finds out that he's Tony and that Tony pissed in his shower he'd never live it down.
A high pitched barking from the living room brings Tony out of the bathroom, staring across in surprise at Lucky. He's just standing there, staring at the bedroom door and he lets out another bark. A few seconds pass and he lets out another. And keeps doing it until a half asleep Kate rolls off the couch and bitches the whole way into Barton's bedroom.
“Get up and take care of your damn dog!”
A crash – Tony can picture Kate hauling Clint forcefully from the bed – and Barton emerges, scrubbing at his face in nothing but boxers. Jesus, Tony didn't want to be crotch level with Barton in boxers.
“The hell, dogs? It's the middle of the night.”
Lucky goes to the door and does a circle. Barton groans but he grabs a leash and fastens it to Lucky's collar. Then he glances over to Tony who's only been able to stand and watch. Lucky has Barton wrapped entirely around his paw.
“You wanna come?”
Tony has no idea how to say yes before finally giving in and copying the single circle that Lucky had performed.
“Don't have a collar for you, dog, but this'll do.” Clint fastens a rope around Tony's neck and Tony wishes he could bite Barton for the indignity.
“You keep talking to them like they can understand you and people might start thinking you're crazy,” Kate says from where she's watching amused from the couch.
“Of course they understand.” Barton snorts and ruffles his fingers over Tony's floppy ears. Tony immediately ducks his head away and walks to the end of his rope.
Nothing has ever felt better in Tony's entire life – human or dog – than lifting his leg against a lamp post and letting go. Lucky does it immediately after him which is only a little annoying. Seriously, Tony is human not dog.
“Not very good, really.” Tony's answer comes across as a menacing growl which Clint laughs off. How is Tony supposed to make Clint understand? It might help if Tony could remember why he was in this situation in the first place but it's still a puzzle in Tony's mind, one he can't seem to focus on for long enough to work out. He can't seem to focus on anything for very long at a time. He'd worry about it...but there is no time for that either.
Tony doesn't get a choice about going to the vet. Lucky gets to come as well, according to Clint as 'morale support'. Tony is starting to think that Kate is right and Barton has lost his mind after all.
Throughout the hour long appointment, Tony is poked and prodded and stuck with needles until he can't stop himself from growling and snapping and doing his best to hide against Clint's legs. It's horrible and humiliating. They put a muzzle on him. Clint keeps talking to him in a soothing voice and when Tony is lifted from the exam table to the floor, Lucky pads up and licks his muzzle again.
Tony couldn't care less what's wrong with this body. He won't be in it for long. But he catches the vet saying 'malnutrition' and 'possible hip dysplasia' which apparently Golden Retrievers are prone to. Suddenly Tony knows a little more about himself. Golden Retriever. He'd overheard Barton telling Steve that Lucky was the same or maybe a cross. Tony hadn't been listening much then, either, Clint talked about the dog a lot.
By the time they leave the veterinary clinic, Tony has forgotten what he was so worried about.
Clint feeds Tony and Lucky when they get home and he strokes Tony's head. Tony ducks away again. It feels good, it's just...he's a human. Isn't he? This whole situation is wrong. But Clint is persistent and he strokes his hand along Tony's back and scratches his sides. Then he leaves Tony to eat and Tony watches with his mouth full of dog kibble while Clint grabs something for himself out of the fridge.
“No collar on you, no microchip. Guess I should find you a name.” Clint is talking to him.
“I have a name, you jackass. Tony, it's Tony.” He's barking and Clint reaches out and taps him hard on the nose.
“Lucky is going to need to teach you some manners.” Clint bites into the sandwich he's made himself. It looks and smells better than what Lucky and Tony are eating. “Like not begging, for one.” Tony hadn't even realized he was staring and he quickly shoves his muzzle back into his own food.
Clint gives Tony and Lucky both some of his sandwich. Tony is fairly sure there was something in his but he doesn't complain because shortly after, the pain in his hips dull to manageable. Then the rope is fastened around his neck again and Tony finds himself walking the streets with Barton and Lucky.
So this is what Barton does on his off days. Hangs out and walks his dogs and looks more relaxed than Tony is used to seeing him. There's a park nearby, with wooded pathways that Clint takes them on. It is relaxing, Tony finds.
Lucky is let off leash and Clint spends a while throwing a stick for him. Tony sits and watches. He doesn't duck away when Clint strokes his head and scratches in behind his ears.
“I guess they do like each other.”
“It's romantic doggy love,” Clint answers with a grin and a mouthful of pizza.
“Has there been any word on Tony?” Kate asks and Clint's expression immediately turns somber. Tony's head jerks up at the mention of his name. Tony. That's him. And he watches them intently.
“No. Which means there's no change. And there's not going to be. It's been nearly a week and there hasn't been a single spike of brainwave activity.”
Tony quickly puts the pieces together. Coma. He's in a coma. No brainwave activity. Because it's all in this dog. He explodes to his feet in a flurry of barking.
“I'm here, right here! You stupid son of a bitch, Barton! Right here!”
Clint and Kate both jump so hard that Tony would think it were funny any other time. But now the panic is fresh back in his mind. He remembers why he was worried. He's not this dog. He has a human body out there and if he doesn't get back into it, he's going to die. He has to make them understand.
“Hey hey hey,” Clint is saying, getting to his feet and stepping over to where Tony is working himself up, barking and twirling in circles. “Easy, buddy. You wanna go out?” Clint's hands find the scruffy long fur around Tony's neck and stroke through it. It's inexplicably relaxing and the next thing Tony knows, Clint has his arms wrapped around his shoulders and neck and Clint's face pressed into his fur.
Tony rests his head over Clint's shoulder and feels the distress coming off the man. Distress for him, for Tony, and Tony can't even say that he's right here.
Tony lifts his head from where he's sleeping with Lucky in the nest of blankets Clint had made in the corner of the living room for them. Kate is sleeping soundly on the couch. There's no noise coming from Clint's room. Outside the apartment everything is quiet and Tony can't detect any smell that he doesn't recognize. But there's something...off in the air.
He whines and gets to his feet, pacing around the living room, circling the couch. He noses at Kate but she just bats him away and then turns over. Tony's unease has brought Lucky to his feet but the other dog clearly doesn't understand what's wrong, lowering his head and wagging his tail slowly as he approaches Tony. Tony doesn't have time for it. Something is wrong.
A snap to Lucky gets Lucky to step back a pace and Tony presses by him, heading for Clint's bedroom. The air feels thicker when he gets closer to Clint, something dangerous and frightening. Tony realizes it's the scent. Clint doesn't smell like he usually does. Because Tony does know Clint's scent now and maybe that should bother him but he can't remember why and right now it doesn't matter.
Tony jumps up onto the bed, the move making his hip protest and the mattress doesn't feel steady beneath his paws. But he gets up to Clint's head anyway and Tony laps his tongue once over Clint's cheek. Gross maybe but something is wrong. Something is wrong with Clint and Tony is just relieved that Clint opens bleary eyes and stares at him.
“Buddy? What's up? Please tell me you don't need to go out again.”
Clint has taken to calling him Buddy. A stupid lame name but Tony doesn't protest. He whines and drags his tongue across Clint's face again, until Clint raises both his hands and presses Tony away.
“Gross, stop it.”
“What's wrong with you?” Tony asks. Whines it out.
From the floor, Lucky's tail thumps against the side of the bed, big eyes full of worry.
The danger in the air suddenly spikes and Tony snaps his eyes to Clint, only to find Clint staring at him. Huge eyes. His throat keeps making this ticking swallowing motion. And then just like that, Clint launches into a seizure and Tony leaps backwards in shock and all but falls off the edge of the bed. Seizure. That's what Tony had felt coming and he scrambles out of the room, does the only thing he can think to do when he's just a dog and useless.
He goes to Kate and starts barking in her face. When she wakes up and tries to swat at him, he dances backwards and keeps barking. Won't stop until she gets the hint and follows him into the bedroom. She knows what she'll see before she steps in and Tony feels anger well up in him. Barton and Kate both knew about this? Shouldn't this have been something to share with the others?
“It's okay, Buddy. It'll pass.”
There's nothing for Kate to do but make sure Clint doesn't hit his head and she handles it as if she has a hundred times before, comfortable with the routine. Lucky knows this too. He sits at the side of the bed and doesn't move to Clint until Clint goes still and a few minutes later, he comes out of it as if he were just waking up.
Lucky is licking Clint's face now and Clint smiles and raises a clumsy weak arm to ruffle his fingers into Lucky's fur. Tony stays on the floor, ears back and angry.
Clint still looks tired, like he's been run over or just run into the ground. Tony is still angry and upset, refusing to touch his breakfast until Clint gave up trying to coax him. A Clint that felt okay would not give up trying to get his dog to eat. Tony just wants to yell at him. If he were what he used to be, he could do that.
“He was pacing around pretty agitated. Then he went into your room and then came and woke me up,” Kate goes on when Clint doesn't give much response.
“Here, Buddy,” Clint calls and Tony just growls at him. “Does he seem angry at me to you? I have a seizure and my dog gets angry at me? Lucky.” Lucky goes when he's called, resting his head on Clint's lap. Clint leans down until his head is resting on the table.
“You're going to need to tell the others soon.”
“I'm serious, Clint.”
“They'll pull me off the team. It'll be fine. The medication is working, they're starting to level out or what the fuck ever. Once I can tell them I have it under control, then I'll tell them.”
“You don't have anything under control, Hawkeye.”
“Oh shut up, Hawkeye,” Clint growls back but there's no heat. “I have you to look after me. I don't need all of them as well.”
“People are starting to get suspicious of why I'm here all the time.”
“Because you love me,” Clint mumbles into the table. When he lifts his head a second later, though, he grins at her. “What would I do without you, Katie?”
“Choke on your own spit probably.”
Then suddenly the air shifts around them. Heavy, oppressive. That sudden sensation of wrongness. That sudden spike of fear that jump starts Tony's heart. He remembers this. Being terrified, more scared than he's ever been, and watching helpless as Clint convulses on a bed.
He immediately jumps up and snags his teeth on the sleeve of Clint's jacket.
“Buddy! Take it easy. When I can trust you not to run off, you can play too, okay? Teeth off the jacket, it wasn't cheap.”
Tony barks instead and when that fails, he starts turning in circles, unconsciously mimicking Lucky again.
Lucky has brought the stick back and he drops it at Clint's feet, sitting and whining up at the man. It's too much to hope that Lucky knows what's going on. He only senses Tony's distress and he turns to Clint for answers. There's no Kate here this time. Tony latches onto Clint's jacket sleeve again and yanks forcefully downwards.
Realization sinks slowly into Clint's eyes and he glances around them. “What, right now?”
Tony barks an affirmative.
“...Katie said you got pretty worked up before. Alright. Don't let anyone rob me, right, dog?” Clint watches for a moment and Tony stares up at him, before Clint shakes his head and finds a grassy area to lie down in. Tony and Lucky both follow and when Tony settles next to Clint, Lucky copies him. Clint's hand falls onto the back of his neck. “You know, sometimes I actually think you can understand me. Too many knocks to the head. Seizures are the least of my problems.”
It takes twenty minutes before it happens this time. Tony stands careful guard over Clint the entire time. Whether he's an Avenger or a dog, he's not letting this man get hurt. This is his man and Tony protects what's his.
Clint is down in the middle of the fight. Tony is howling, throwing himself against the tether of his rope. It's snagged on something and Tony doesn't even have the sense to see what it is. He just keeps throwing himself forward until his neck is raw and hurting.
Kate and Steve are both trying to protect him. Steve hasn't got his shield (they weren't looking for a fight this afternoon) but a metal trash can lid goes ricocheting off a car and into a lamppost and smacks into a guy from behind. Kate is engaged in hand to hand.
These guys are spouting off something about vengeance and how they'll burn the whole damn apartment building to the ground and see if anyone will be living there then. Tony doesn't care. He throws himself against the rope and struggles mindless and determined.
Clint is down and he smells all wrong.
Kate is occupied. Steve is retrieving his trash can lid. Clint is left uncovered for a heartbeat. Tony can sense the sudden spike in the air and he struggles wildly but no sooner does Clint wake, does he take in the two men approaching him, then he's rendered helpless again, eyes rolling back and convulsing on the pavement of the street.
A viscous growl tears from Tony and the rope finally gives. He barely understands that it has, just that he's suddenly able to launch forward and his jaws close over an arm, bite in deep. The blood rushes into his mouth. Something hard hits his chest and all the breath is knocked from him. Another hand clenches under his jaw, against his throat.
The weight is torn from him. Tony springs back and sees Lucky, teeth in the man's leg, pulling back.
Clint's sharp movements are scraping him up on the pavement.
“Clint!” Kate's voice.
There's the second man about to crush Clint's head into the ground with a crowbar. Tony leaps forward and yelps when the bar strikes heavy across his back but it's muffled because his mouth is suddenly full of the man's leg.
Then it's over. Tony still has his jaws clenched over the man's leg, there's blood and saliva dripping from his mouth. But the man is still. A solid hit from Steve's fist. Clint is still as well now. Tony knows because Tony has fallen over him. Someone – Kate? - is prying his jaws free from the man's leg. Next he feels Clint's fingers digging into his fur and that relaxes him a little. He knows the feel of Clint's fingers, clumsy and weak after a seizure.
Tony tries to give a wag of his tail but all he can do is lay there across Clint's chest until Clint shifts him down. Lucky comes and Tony can't even growl when the other dog starts licking his muzzle again, a frantic, submissive, please get up, licking.
“Fuck.” Clint's voice is a whisper close to his ear.
“It was a crowbar. It... His back, Clint.” Kate, Tony can see her crouching by Clint's back. Tony's eyes are fixed straight at her.
Clint is crying against his fur. Tony is so making fun of him for this later.
“You should lock your door,” Tony comments.
“I think I can handle anything that wants to break in.”
“Oh really? The way I hear it you're off active duty for awhile. Post-traumatic epilepsy, Clint? We need to start sending you out with a full helmet.”
Tony sighs and comes to sit down beside Clint. From Clint's feet, Lucky rises and when he wags his tail at Tony, Tony reaches out and strokes the dogs head.
“Steve told me what happened. I'm sorry about the other dog. And with active duty... You'll be back on in no time. You don't need to keep shit like that from us, you know? We'd have helped. You don't need to just rely on Kate-” The sharp glance says that Tony has said too much.
“For a guy that's been a coma for a few weeks, you seem to know an awful lot.”
More than Barton will ever realize. Tony pushes on. “My point is that I'm- We're all here for you, Barton. You can trust us. You know that.” When Clint doesn't respond, Tony gives up and turns his attentions to Lucky, calling the dog closer and ruffling up Lucky's ears until his tail is thumping hard against Clint's legs. Clint is watching them with a sidelong glance.
“I thought you didn't like dogs? Or any animal.”
Tony grins. “Oh, I dunno. I could be brought around on that.”