Sam slid off his white coat and threw it over the back of the receptionist’s chair in the front office. He loosened his tie and stretched his arms above his head.
“Heading to lunch?” Sharon asked. Her voice was muffled behind a surgical mask, which she pulled down with pastel pink rubber gloves.
“Waiting for Steve. He almost done?” Sam asked.
Sharon tossed a few folders onto the desk and said, “He’s just finishing up.”
“You’re welcome to come,” Sam offered.
“And leave this place in Darcy’s hands so close to Christmas? You know how hard it was just to convince her this was plenty when it came to decorations?” She motioned toward the waiting room.
Sam gazed out and took in the sight of what Steve called a “Martha Stewart nightmare”. He had a point. Sam was convinced Darcy had an entire closet somewhere in the building just filled with decorations she hadn’t put up yet. The room currently housed a massive fake tree with lights, garland, ornaments, little fake candles, a satin tree skirt, and fake, cardboard presents underneath. The windows of the office were covered in intricate paper snowflakes. Plastic ornaments hung from the ceiling, threatening to break off from their fishing line and cause a lawsuit. Tinsel decorated the walls anywhere there was empty space and mistletoe hung above each door.
The mistletoe Sam couldn’t argue against because there was nothing funnier than watching Steve go bright red when Darcy, from her seat behind reception, pointed out to every patient that they were standing under mistletoe with the hottest dentist in the state – possibly the world. Usually the patient would laugh good-naturedly before following Steve into one of the back rooms, but at least three others had taken it very seriously. Mrs. Humphrey, a spry 82-year-old woman, even threatened to get a different dentist if Steve didn’t adhere to the rules. She was appeased by a quick kiss on the cheek.
Sam didn’t blame her. He was straight as a rail, but even he could see Dr. Steve Rogers, DDS, “please, call me Steve”, his friend and business partner, was a shit brickhouse. The guy was ripped, plus he had a really endearing smile and these amazing, blue eyes and an earnest personality. To top it all off, he was a doctor, so it was no wonder a lot of their clientele were middle-aged women with drawn-on eyebrows and wandering hands.
Steve finally appeared from one of the open cleaning rooms, pulling off his gloves and tossing them in the trash. There was a dopey smile playing on his face, which was weird in its own right, but when he didn’t respond to Sam’s question: “You ready to go?” it quickly became clear that Steve wasn’t quite with them.
Sam snapped his fingers in front of Steve’s face and he blinked a few times, his smile dropping. “Huh? Oh, hey. Sorry. Was… thinking.”
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Sam said with a frown. “Trying to figure out the answers to the universe or something?”
Steve’s reply was cut off by Darcy coming around the corner and pushing Sam aside to sit in her chair behind the front desk. The patient Steve had been seeing entered from the back room and walked up to Darcy. Darcy flipped through the appointment book on the desk.
Sam went to ask Steve if he was ready for lunch, but stopped when he saw that the dopey smile was back on Steve’s face, except this time it was aimed at the patient.
And it all became very, very clear.
“Okay, we have an opening in two weeks. December 15th at 12 p.m. okay with you?” Darcy asked.
“Yeah, that works,” the patient replied. He was a young guy, couldn’t be too much older than Sam or Steve, with long hair that was tied back at his nape. He had a carefree sort of look about him and he smiled kindly at Darcy.
Sam tried to remember a name, but the guy had never been to see Sam, so he was coming up empty.
Darcy pulled a business card out and wrote the appointment date on the back. “And I’m sure Steve told you everything you need to know about your next appointment?” Darcy asked.
The patient’s eyes flicked up toward where Steve was valiantly attempting to look nonchalant and failing spectacularly at it.
“Yeah,” the patient said with a grin.
“Just make sure you have a ride home. You won’t be able to drive for awhile after you wake up,” Steve said. Then, he turned to Sam. “This is Dr. Wilson, by the way. He’s our oral surgeon, so you’ll be with him.”
Some expression flickered across the patient’s face before being replaced with a polite smile. “Hey, nice to meet you. I’m James. Bucky.”
“James Bucky?” Sam repeated.
“Sorry, no,” the patient said and he blushed a little. “Just Bucky. James is my first name but I go by Bucky.”
“Well, nice to meet you, Just Bucky,” Sam said and offered his hand.
Bucky laughed as they shook hands.
Steve groaned. “Ignore him,” he said. “He thinks he’s real funny.”
“No, I don’t,” Sam said stoically. “I think I’m hilarious.”
“We’ll see you in a couple weeks,” Steve said as Sam laughed at his own joke.
“Sure thing, Doc,” Bucky replied. He took the card from Darcy with a quick smile and left.
“Well shit,” Sam said, staring at Steve once Bucky was out of the building.
“What?” Steve asked, turning to him. He shrugged off his own white coat and went over to the coat rack to grab his winter jacket.
Sam followed suit, shaking his head. “Nothing,” he said. “Let’s go to lunch.”
“Why the hell do you keep looking at me like that?” Steve asked, glancing at Sam from across the table of their favorite diner.
Sam grinned. “Nothin’. You just look real happy, man. I’m glad.”
“I’m always happy,” he replied.
Sam stopped himself from rolling his eyes. “You’re always content. It’s a very different look.”
“I don’t have a look,” Steve said obstinately, picking up a French fry and eating it.
“Oh yeah? So, totally different topic, but Bucky seems nice.”
Steve immediately turned red and ducked his head.
Sam burst out laughing. “I knew it!” he exclaimed.
“Shut up,” Steve said, but he couldn’t hold back a grin. “It’s nothing. It’s stupid. I mean, first of all, he’s my patient. So, no. Second of all, it’s not… whatever. I just like talking to him. He’s a good listener.”
Sam snorted. “All of our patients are good listeners, Steve. They can’t speak with our hands in their mouths.” Sam wiggled his fingers.
“You know what I mean,” Steve said.
“I do,” Sam said sincerely and dropped the subject for the rest of their lunch.
There was something wrong with Bucky. No one in their right mind came back from a dentist appointment every six months with a grin that big. Usually, they returned with a gross taste in their mouth, muttering about flossing and bleeding gums.
Natasha narrowed her eyes at him. “They let you take a hit of that laughing gas?” she guessed.
Bucky, to his credit, didn’t even flinch. “Yeah, you should really try it sometime.” He was curled up on his side on the couch in their apartment, scrolling through his phone with a weird smile on his face. The weird smile hadn’t gone away in the twenty minutes he’d been home from his appointment.
“I’m happy all the time!” Natasha argued, sitting down next to him, hitting his feet until he gave her more room.
“I don’t think it counts if you only smile at other people’s misery,” Bucky pointed out.
Natasha shrugged. She didn’t see it that way, but to each their own.
“I gotta get my wisdom teeth out in two weeks,” Bucky said, “and I need a designated driver.”
Natasha snorted. “I don’t think it’s called a designated driver in this case.”
“I’m designating you. Therefore, designated driver.”
“And what if I’m working?”
“You’re my only friend, Nat,” Bucky said and for a fraction of a very brief second she might have felt something, but then she saw the glint in the asshole’s eye.
“You owe me,” she said.
“I’ll be high out of my mind,” Bucky pointed out. “Isn’t that payment enough?”
Natasha lit up at the thought. “I’m gonna delete everything off my phone,” she said, “so I have enough room to take the most embarrassing video.”
Natasha was tapping out a furious e-mail to a client when a tall man wearing a doctor’s white coat said, “Are you with Mr. Barnes?”
She smiled at the doctor. He was a good-looking man with a goatee and a gap between his teeth that was revealed when he spoke. “That’s me,” she said.
“He’s just coming out of it. I can take you back. I’ve got an emergency surgery coming in a few minutes, so Steve will be there to talk you through everything about the post-surgery recoop.”
Natasha followed the man (the embroidered name on the coat read “Dr. Samuel Wilson, DDS”) into a back room where Bucky was sitting in an operating chair, mouth jammed with gauze.
He briefly glanced over at Natasha and it took five long seconds for recognition to dawn on him. When it did, he lit up and attempted to roll off the chair toward Natasha. Before she could stop him, a very strong arm shot out and caught him.
“Slow down, there,” the man said and Natasha realized this must be Steve. Suddenly, Bucky’s exuberance about his dentist visits made complete sense.
Bucky groaned and fell back against the chair with a pout, exaggerated by his already-puffy cheeks.
Dr. Wilson disappeared and Steve turned to Natasha. “I’m Dr. Rogers, but you can call me Steve,” he said and held out his hand. Natasha took it with a smile.
“Natasha,” she replied. “I’m his friend.” She made sure to enunciate friend for both their sakes. And something definitely happened with Steve’s face before it returned to the distant, pleasant expression of professionalism.
Steve went through a detailed explanation of the aftercare involved in Bucky’s surgery in the coming weeks and handed off a prescription note to Natasha. He was in the middle of explaining the dissolving stitches when Bucky said Natasha’s name. Except it came out more like “Nasha”.
“Nasha, Nasha,” he said and waved his hand drunkenly at her.
She shot Steve a look who shrugged and said, “Gonna give him about 10 more minutes, then I’ll check his vitals. After that, you can take him whenever he feels up to standing.”
Natasha went over to the chair by Bucky and took his hand. “Hey, asshole,” she said.
“Nasha,” he said and she tried not to grimace at the bloody gauze poking out of his cheeks. If he bled in her car, she’d kill him.
“Yeah, idiot. It’s me.”
“Nasha, is him.”
It took her a minute and then she broke into a huge smile. She glanced over at Steve, but he had his back to them, filling out some medical record on the computer in the room, so she pulled out her phone and turned on the camera.
“Yeah, Buck? Tell me your deepest secrets.”
Bucky’s brow furrowed and he waved his hand at the camera. “Noooooo,” he whined.
She frowned and said, “Fine.” She put the camera away. That seemed to appease Bucky’s worries; he didn’t have to know she was still recording sound.
“C’mere,” he said in what he probably thought was a whisper but was more of a drunken rasp.
“Yeah, I’m right here,” she said.
“Is. Him,” he said again, eyes wide. He pointed directly at Steve’s back.
“Yeah, that’s the doctor,” Natasha said and she could see Steve straighten up slightly.
Bucky let out a long, dramatic breath and looked at Natasha pleadingly. “‘e’s so ‘ot.”
Natasha barely held back a laugh and from her seat she could see the back of Steve’s neck get exceedingly red. Fortunately for him, a pretty blonde nurse walked in at that moment.
“Sam sent me to make sure everything’s okay in here,” she said cheerily. She turned to Bucky and Natasha. “How’s the patient?”
“He’s –,” Steve started.
“You ‘is girlfriend?” Bucky cut in.
The nurse, to her credit, merely looked entertained. “Nope. Now, how do your teeth feel?”
The question distracted Bucky and his attention briefly lingered on his mouth. “I can’t feel ‘em.”
Steve had turned to face the conversation and was looking somewhere between abashed and amused. “Everything’s fine, Sharon, thank you,” he said evenly.
“Oh my ‘od ‘e’s so ‘ot,” Bucky mumbled.
“So you’ve said,” Natasha said.
Bucky very suddenly stuck out a hand, which Natasha grabbed. Bucky gave her the most imploring look she’d ever seen and said, “‘e’s so nice, Nasha, and I can ‘alk to ‘im and ‘e lishens!”
“I’m trying not to be insulted here,” Natasha replied.
Bucky closed his eyes and shook his head. “Noooo,” he whined. “Nasha, I yuv you. But ‘e’s…” Bucky went a little starry-eyed when his gaze landed on Steve’s bright red face. “‘erfect,” Bucky finished reverently.
“You wouldn’t believe how many patients hit on him,” Sharon said, sticking her thumb out at Steve. “And some of them aren’t even drugged up,” Sharon said.
“Sharon!” Steve admonished, face practically glowing.
She grinned. “I’ll let Sam know everything’s fine here.”
“Yeah, please do,” Steve said.
“It ‘eels weird,” Bucky said, touching the side of his face.
“I’ll just take his vitals so you guys can go,” Steve said.
“Take your time,” Natasha replied, smiling wide.
Steve wilted a little, but went over to Bucky. “Tilt your head back,” he said and placed his fingers under his throat, pressing lightly.
Bucky was staring, wide-eyed and a little glassy at Steve as if he were seeing the face of God himself. Steve took his blood pressure and checked his eyes before finally giving them the okay to leave. It took some convincing to get Bucky standing and even more to start walking. Much to Steve’s relief, he was at least quiet now.
They’d made it to the lobby and were signing out when Bucky leaned on the reception desk and pointed at Steve behind the desk. Steve looked like a deer in the headlights, caught between running and freezing.
“I’m ‘onna suck your ‘ick,” Bucky said defiantly.
The receptionist – a young, dark-haired woman – burst into peals of laughter that didn’t stop even after Natasha ushered Bucky out of the office.
“He pointed at him!” Sam repeated with a new round of laughter. Sharon and Darcy were both in tears at this point. In fact, the only person not loving the retelling of the most wonderful story Sam had ever heard was the man of the hour, Steve. He was sitting grumpily in the back office, arms crossed over his chest.
“That’s the best one by far,” Darcy said, wiping away a tear.
“And remember when that soccer mom told him she was gonna ride him harder than her minivan?” Sharon said.
A new hale of laughter broke out. Steve was close to burning a hole in the atmosphere with the heat he was giving off from his face. “It’s really not that funny,” he said.
“Aww, it’s a little funny,” Sam said. “And maybe Bucky’ll make good on his promise.” Sam pointed at Steve dramatically, causing the girls to burst into laughter again.
Steve rolled his eyes, but Sam noted the small smile that broke through Steve’s angry façade.
Bucky stared at the front door to the office with wide eyes and went through his options one more time. He could change dentists, but the new dentist would request his medical records and so Steve would know he’d left and would see that it was still local and know that Bucky left because he’d embarrassed himself beyond belief. Or he could leave the state. Or he could leave the country. Or he could never go see a dentist ever again and his teeth would rot out of his face and he’d die of gingivitis at the age of 40.
Or he could face this thing head on like an adult.
He wondered what the cost of living was like in Finland.
The waiting room was empty when he walked in. At least he wouldn’t have to do this in front of an audience. Currently, the only thing keeping him from imploding from sheer humiliation was the fact that in Natasha’s recording (that had since been destroyed in every capacity), the nurse had said that people flirting with Steve while under the influence was a common occurrence. It was a small help.
Darcy appeared from the back room with an armful of files. She paused when she saw Bucky and her face quickly broke into a wide smile. Bucky felt himself growing hot.
“Hey there,” she said with raised eyebrows.
“Hi,” he replied miserably.
She immediately started laughing and he wanted nothing more than to phase through the floor and into the center of the earth to burn up and die.
“Let me guess,” she said, “You wanna see the good doctor?”
Bucky tried to look as contrite as he felt. “If you don’t mind?”
“Not at all,” she replied and hurried off into the back room.
She came back a few moments later and said, “He’ll be out in a second. He’s just finished up with a patient.”
Bucky’s heart was beating rapidly in his chest and let it never be said he wasn’t one cowardly motherfucker. He said, “Oh, I don’t want to bother him. Can you just tell him–?”
However, Bucky’s copout was interrupted by the appearance of the man himself. Bucky had thought maybe a combination of rose-colored glasses and anesthetic had skewed his recent memories of Steve’s attractiveness, but on the contrary, he seemed to be even hotter than the last time Bucky’d seen him just a few days ago.
“Hi,” Steve greeted him cheerily. “Everything okay?”
Last chance to make an embarrassing run for it.
“Yeah, I mean–,” Bucky started.
“Any pain or bleeding?” Steve cut in. His face was oddly and innocently interested and Bucky felt a moment of doubt. Maybe he hadn’t told Steve he was going to suck his dick. Maybe Natasha had doctored the audio. It certainly wasn’t beyond her abilities.
But then Bucky glanced over at the receptionist who wasn’t even pretending to do work, instead staring wide-eyed and gleeful at the interaction.
“I was hoping to talk to you,” Bucky told Steve.
Steve followed Bucky’s line of sight and frowned deeply at the receptionist. “Let’s go to my office,” Steve said and stepped past Bucky toward a door in the back of the waiting room that, up until that point, Bucky had assumed was a bathroom.
The office was small and largely empty. It had a small, wood desk and two chairs – a rolling one behind and a plastic one with a cushion in front – and a single file cabinet that looked unused.
“Sorry it’s so small,” Steve said, closing the door and sitting behind the desk. “Sam and I don’t really need an office, so we just use this place to make phone calls.
In fact, the only things on the desk were a calendar that hadn’t been changed since March, a landline, and a computer.
“It’s fine,” Bucky said, taking a seat.
Steve looked at him expectantly. The room suddenly seemed way too small and Bucky tried to shrink into himself to no avail.
“I just wanted to, um, apologize,” Bucky said.
He’d practiced this speech in front of his bedroom mirror, but realized now that it was much more difficult not to blush with the victim of his drugged-up tirade sitting right in front of him.
“Apologize,” Steve repeated, quirking an eyebrow.
“What I said to you when– My friend, she showed me and– My God, I’m so sorry. That was beyond inappropriate and I completely understand if you need me to find another practice. Just say the word.” Bucky let out a long breath and let his head fall into his hands. “Fuck, I’m so embarrassed,” he said.
There was a moment of silence before he heard Steve chuckling softly. Bucky risked a look to find Steve smiling. Well, that was one reaction Bucky hadn’t expected.
“It’s completely fine,” Steve said and as far as Bucky could tell, he sounded sincere.
Bucky opened his mouth to protest, but Steve held up a placating hand.
“There’s just one thing I need to ask,” Steve continued. He suddenly looked very serious. Bucky was relieved. Here, finally, came the expected reaction. They’d make a commitment to each other never to talk about this again, to never overstep their boundaries, and most importantly to never let Bucky anywhere near anesthesia and Steve at the same time again.
Steve folded his hands in front of him on the desk and asked, “Did you mean the things you said?”
Bucky was gobsmacked. His mouth fell open on its own accord and he was certain he’d misheard the question or, at the very least, the meaning behind the question. “Sorry?” he said.
“You said your friend recorded the interaction, so you know what happened. It’s a simple question. Did you mean what you said?”
Bucky opened and closed his mouth a couple times, at a complete and total loss for words. He was so distracted by the absurdity of the situation, he almost missed the slightest twitch of a smile of Steve’s lips. Almost.
Bucky narrowed his eyes. “Yes,” he said finally. Because if he were going down, he’d do it hard and without a way back up.
Steve nodded solemnly, as if Bucky had just given him a piece of his medical history, not ostensibly admitted that yes, he would absolutely like to suck his dick. Steve turned his attention to the computer and tapped something. Bucky couldn’t see the screen, but whatever Steve did only took a few clicks and half a minute of typing. “Aaand done,” he said with a last click of the mouse. He turned to Bucky with a wide smile.
“Done,” Bucky repeated blankly.
“Yep,” Steve said. “You are no longer my patient.”
Bucky’s stomach plummeted to the floor.
“Which means there’s nothing stopping me from asking if you have any plans for lunch today,” Steve continued.
Bucky stared for a long moment. Then, he huffed. “You’re an asshole,” he said.
Steve laughed at that, loud and deep, which was not helping Bucky stay angry. “So,” Steve said, “lunch?”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure, Doc.”
“Steve,” Bucky repeated. He took great pleasure when Steve blushed at that.
Steve stood first and Bucky followed him out of the office and into the waiting room.
“Let me just grab my coat,” Steve said, disappearing behind reception.
The receptionist was on the phone, but she was still staring open-mouthed at Bucky once Steve left. Fortunately, she was still on the phone by the time Steve reappeared wearing a devastatingly attractive leather jacket.
“Ready?” Steve asked.
Bucky swallowed and nodded. “Yeah,” he said, a little bit breathless. He’d walked into the office thinking he’d have to legally change his name and walked back out with the hottest date he’s ever had, no competition. How was this his life?
They had just walked out the front door when Bucky heard the receptionist’s high-pitched voice scream: “SAM! YOU’RE NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS!”
“So do you ask out all your patients or am I special?” Bucky asked. He glanced up from the diner menu to gauge Steve’s reaction.
Steve was, as always, looking innocently amused. “You’re special,” Steve said. Then, he blushed and looked down. “I know it’s weird, even if I’m not technically your doctor anymore,” he said.
“Yeah, about that. I’m not sure if this date is really worth me having to find a new dentist,” Bucky said with a smile.
Steve’s eyebrows shot up. “Date, huh?”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “Now you’re acting coy?”
Steve laughed. “I’m coy as hell.” He smiled wide when Bucky started laughing, too. “And you don’t have to find a new dentist. I just gave you over to Sam, uh, Dr. Wilson.”
Bucky nodded and leaned back against the booth seat. The diner was fairly crowded, but it was a favorite of Steve’s and he had insisted. “So what’s good here?” Bucky asked.
“Just about everything,” Steve replied, “but I’m going to call your attention to this section of the menu.” Steve turned a page in Bucky’s menu and then pointed at a blocked off section titled “Soups”.
“Ah, shit,” Bucky said, feeling the stitches in the back of his mouth. “Almost forgot.”
“Benefits of knowing a dentist,” Steve said, returning his gaze to his own menu.
After they ordered, they talked. They had talked plenty before and after the few dentist appointments Bucky had, so some of it was old news, but Bucky had never had the opportunity to get to know Steve in any real capacity. Steve talked about how he’d become a dentist and how he’d met Sam in the process and started their practice. Bucky returned the favor, albeit with a little more of a closed-door policy. He was a veteran, he explained, and the transition had been rough but now, two years later, he was actually doing really well.
They talked until their food came and they talked until they finished and they talked until their dishes had been cleaned up and the waitress started giving them furtive glances because they’d been there too long.
“Oh damn,” Steve said, glancing down at his watch. “I’ve got a cleaning in fifteen minutes. I’m sorry, I have to–”
“It’s fine,” Bucky said, waving his hand. “I think we’ve overstayed our welcome anyway.”
Steve paid, in spite of Bucky’s outright protesting.
“You can pay next time,” Steve said, signing the bill with a wicked little grin on his face.
“You’re pretty confident there, Doc,” Bucky said.
“Yeah, I usually wouldn’t be except you totally embarrassed yourself in front of me and now I feel like we’re at least on equal footing.”
Bucky tutted. “Who says I embarrassed myself? You’ve got no evidence and a couple of witnesses who may have misheard what I was trying to say, what with all the gauze.”
Steve nodded seriously. “That’s true,” he said. “Except that your friend is an evil genius.” Steve pulled out his phone as Bucky blanched. “I guess she thought you might try and delete the file, so she somehow got my private number and sent it to me.” Steve tapped something on his phone and the horrifically embarrassing audio started playing.
Oh my ‘od ‘e’s so ‘ot!, Bucky’s voice came through the phone’s speaker, a little muffled but loud.
Bucky shot out of his seat across the table to try and snatch the phone away, but Steve was too quick in spite of the fact that he was cackling.
“Steve, I swear to God!” Bucky snapped.
“We haven’t even gotten to my favorite part!” Steve complained.
By now, they had attracted the wary looks of just about every patron in the diner and Bucky was as red as the booth they were sitting in.
“Steve!” Bucky shouted and this time went around to try and grapple the phone from Steve’s grasp.
Between hiccupping laughter, Steve said, “All right, all right!” and finally finally turned the audio off.
Bucky let out a breath. It suddenly became very obvious that he was practically on top of Steve and they locked eyes for a long moment before Bucky scrambled backwards until he was standing by the table, red in the face.
Steve ran a hand through his hair. “Gee, Buck, you sure are demure for a guy who, not three days ago, admitted he wanted to suck–”
“Okay, we’re leaving!” Bucky cut in loudly. He grabbed Steve’s arm and started wrenching him toward the door. Steve laughed the whole way.
Once outside, Bucky pushed Steve lightly on the arm. “Asshole,” he muttered. But he couldn’t help laughing along with Steve, the stupid, perfect idiot. “Don’t you have an appointment to get to?” Bucky asked.
“Yeah, I guess I should,” Steve said, finally sobering.
“I was going to thank you for lunch, but I paid for that in sheer embarrassment.”
Steve huffed and said, “I’ll delete the video, promise. Although I do get a kick out of it…”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “Keep it,” he said. “It’ll give us something to talk about next time.”
Bucky couldn’t help but smile at the way Steve lit up at those words. “Next time?” Steve repeated.
“Yes. In spite of my better judgment.”
“Bucky, you don’t… Um, you don’t have to, y’know. If this is too weird for you,” Steve said, eyes downcast.
“Get a grip, Doc,” Bucky said with a smile. Then, he grabbed Steve by the lapels and pulled him in for a quick, chaste kiss.
Steve made a soft sound of surprise and his cheeks were red when Bucky pulled back.
“I’ll call you?” Steve asked softly.
“Please do,” Bucky replied.