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Your Head Nestled Beneath My Chin

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The dogs were supposed to be for the goats.

That had been the idea, when Bucky brought home four more goats to be company for the one Bruce had accidentally acquired--they had a herd, at that point, and they needed dogs to guard them. And once they had dogs to guard them, it only made sense to add more goats to the herd, because two mostly-grown Ovcharkas for five goats was obviously overkill.

The dogs were working dogs, though. Not pets. Bucky trained them, all the while fighting down memories of teaching little girls, working with the assets who had been meant to supercede him and turned out to be too aggressive to be controlled.

Ovcharkas, by comparison, were easy to manage. Bucky was strong enough to master them by force if he had to, and once the dogs met Bruce in his Other Guy shape, they knew exactly where they fit in the pecking order.

That lesson came on one of those days when it was hard to tell low clouds from the fog, and the whole valley was full of mist. They exchanged pings with the search drones in the morning, just like they did every morning unless they were actually out in the sub checking out a possibility. After that there was nothing much to do--no new building or repair projects to undertake, and the dogs were doing a fine job of managing the goats.

Bruce looked thoughtfully from the gray outside the windows to Bucky, and Bucky gave him a hopeful look.

"Yeah, okay," Bruce said, not even making him ask. "We've got to see what the goats do when he shows up, anyway, right?"

"Yeah," Bucky agreed solemnly. "Just practical, really."

Bruce snorted and shook his head and went to change into the enormous shorts that the Other Guy wouldn't tear to shreds. Bucky went outside to see where the animals were, and found that the dogs were keeping all of the goats--there were nine now--on the stretch of grass where Bruce wanted to build a greenhouse, just north of the house and overlooking the ocean.

So they'd get a pretty immediate reaction, anyway.

Bruce stepped outside a second later, squinting without his glasses and shivering a little in the clammy air, holding the huge purple shorts up with one hand. Bucky watched him tally up the animals the same way Bucky had, and then Bruce turned a crooked smile in his direction. "If I spook all of them into the hills, you're gonna have to chase them all down."

"It'll be something to do," Bucky said, returning a slightly wider smile and a shrug. "Come on, get the experiment started."

Bruce rolled his eyes, and the motion flowed smoothly into him turning slightly away as he went green, growing in a second into the giant.

Bucky jumped the next second at a chorus of human-sounding screams, and ran toward the sound automatically. He realized a couple of strides in that the sound was the goats. He hadn't known they could make that noise.

The dogs were barking too, which took Bucky a half-second longer to recognize--it was a deep bass crack of sound like very small booms of thunder. They were circling around the goats, keeping them together, and just as Bucky reached them, one of the dogs bolted in his direction. Bucky planted his feet and threw up his metal arm, but the dog--he really had to name them, just to be able to say easily, the-slightly-bigger-one-with-darker-ears--ran past him to go after Bruce, barking his fool head off.

Clearly he accepted that Bucky had taken his place on guard duty, so he could go press the attack.

Bucky turned to watch what happened next. He was pretty sure Bruce, even big and green, wouldn't hurt one of their dogs, and obviously the dog couldn't hurt Bruce, but...

Bruce raised one enormous green hand in the palm-out gesture Bucky had taught the dogs, and said, in a bass rumble bigger than the dogs' barking, "Halt."

The dog's feet slid under him as he tried to stop his charge, his barking cutting off sharply in confusion.

The dog who had stayed with the goats kept barking for a few seconds, and Bucky turned toward him. He didn't think when he opened his mouth, just did his own impression of a thundercloud to get in on the theme. "Boof! Boof!"

The barking dog stopped, staring at Bucky in confusion. That wasn't one of the commands he'd taught them.

He heard Bruce say in his giant's voice, "Good dog," and looked to see the other dog being picked up in enormous green hands like a puppy, flipped onto its back in Bruce's arms.

Bucky looked back to the nearer dog--his dog, for the moment, as the other dog was the Other Guy's. The goats had quieted down in the absence of an actual threat from the Other Guy, and the dog was still staring at Bucky like he was waiting for Bucky to teach him what Boof meant.

"Doesn't mean anything, pal," Bucky said, walking over to the dog. "Just a noise. Got your attention, though, huh? Boof?"

The dog stepped closer, nosing at Bucky's hands.

"Guess that's as good a name as I'm gonna come up with for you," Bucky said, rubbing one hand behind the dog's ears.

It only occurred to him as he said it that he had been waiting.

He had meant to let Steve make up names for the dogs, the same way Steve had named him, when he was a kid complaining that there were too many Jameses on his street and Buchanan wasn't hardly a name at all.

Steve wouldn't have named a dog Boof. But Steve wasn't here--not yet. Maybe not ever, like Bruce had reminded him so many times. And even if they were working dogs, they deserved to have names.

"Boof," Bucky repeated, crouching down.

Boof licked his face, which seemed like agreement, and Bucky slung an arm around his neck.

"Boof, halt," he said after a moment, holding up his hand.

Boof laid off the licking and looked at him attentively.

"Good dog," he muttered, and Boof pushed closer again, pressing his huge head against Bucky's chest.

Bucky ducked his head and held on to the huge dog, reminding himself that what he and Bruce had here, it was enough. Even if they never found Steve, even if they were wrong... it was enough. This was enough. This was good, here. This could be a life, free enough and safe enough in this valley by the sea.

He turned his head after a while to see what the other dog--Other Dog? It wasn't much worse, as a name, than Boof--was up to with the Other Guy.

Bruce had sat down, and Other Dog looked puppy-sized in his enormous lap, wriggling around happily as Bruce rubbed his belly.

Bruce looked up and saw Bucky looking at him, and said, "Okay?"

Bucky nodded, giving Boof a few more skritches. "Okay."

Bruce raised one big green hand, pointing with a thick finger. "Okay?"

Bucky looked, and realized that all the damn goats had run off into the fog. "Fuck."

He hid his face against Boof's fur, realizing that Boof had decided it was more important to stay with him than to actually watch the goats. Which maybe wasn't a bad thing; he probably needed at least as much herding as they did.

"Guess now we're gonna have to get more dogs for the goats," he muttered, giving Boof one last scratch before he stood up said, "Boof! Find!"

Boof's tail wagged once, and he turned and started running. Bucky ran with him into the fog, knowing that between them they could find the goats and get them home.

For today, that would have to be enough.