“You said you’re taking the weekend, right, Barnes?” Delaney yelled across the garage.
Bucky glanced up, face scrunched from concentrating on how to get his boots to lace up properly. “Yeah,” he said, choosing to just wrap the laces on one boot all the way around his ankle. He’d already snapped the laces on his other boot and tucked them in, so what was aesthetic at this point?
“All right,” Delaney said, scratching something on the wall calendar he used to track employees’ time, like the technologically defunct dinosaur he was. Wade kept trying to push tap and pay options and online charging and an actual mobile tracking system for the garage, but Delaney was firm on not having to adjust his habits.
Bucky stood up, grabbed his bag of work clothes, dropped off his toolbox in bay #5 and saluted Delaney on the way out.
“Don’t have too much fun doin’ whatever not-illegal shit you’re doing!” Delaney yelled.
Bucky flipped the bird over his shoulder as he walked away, the late summer sun making him squint.
“You didn’t think to dress up?” Natasha said, looking him over before he sat down beside her in the creaky metal chair. He was lucky she had such bright red hair, else he’d never have found her in the loud mass of people that were milling about the town hall.
“What?” Bucky frowned, looking down at his (clean) blue jeans, black boots and white t-shirt (also clean). “I did.”
Natasha rolled her eyes so slowly, it was like she was waking from a narcotic-fuelled daydream. “Honestly, I don’t know what force on earth would move you to get a tie.”
“I don’t like ties, plus,” Bucky leaned in close to whisper, “nobody gives a shit what I do, or look like. I’m a Barnes, remember? No-good trash? The fewer expectations people got of me, the better.”
Natasha paused, considered, then nodded in agreement. “This is true.”
“What’s true?” Clint leaned round from her other side. “Oh, hey, Barnes.”
Clint was wearing a crisp grey button-down shirt and actual slacks. He’d recently had a trim, so his blonde hair wasn’t its usual bird's nest atop his head. Natasha, however, was a real fox in a sleek moss-green pencil skirt and black silk top that had her looking like a helluva classy dame. Bucky noticed the heels too. He always did like pretty legs in high heels and Natasha could always pull it off without a hitch.
“Nothing,” Bucky answered Clint and turned to face the front of the hall. The stage was set up with a lectern and drapery in the good ol’ colors of the U.S. of A. The flags of America, New York, and the NYPD were standing at the back and a couple of rows of black chairs lined the stage. The official police seal sat imposingly massive on the lectern front, reminding them all that this was a public event run by the boys and girls in blue. Bucky’s skin crawled a little.
“Feels weird bein’ at one of these, huh?” Clint yell-whispered over Natasha’s lap. “And not, y’know, because you’re at your own hearing.”
“Yeah,” Bucky answered, looking out over the crowd. It was a lot of familiar faces and voices so far, which was reassuring. Looked like everyone had made it out today.
“Oop, here we go,” Natasha hissed and nudged Clint back into his seat.
Police Chief Danvers appeared from the wings with Captain Hill in tow, both women in their full formal uniforms, hats and gloves. A few other higher-ups followed and chose to sit in the back row of seats. Bucky smirked. What a buncha old white farts they looked to be, with their folded arms and grim faces. A smattering of applause broke out from the officers seated up front, before the stage. Bucky wondered if Steve was in there with the navy uniforms. Wilson was too, probably. And the rest: blondie-curls guy and Karen The Knockout TM.
Captain Hill stood beside Chief Danvers, hands behind her back, beaming. Her dress uniform looked pretty bomb with the double-breasted jacket and the white hat, as opposed to Danvers’ black one.
“Good day, everyone,” Danvers said, her voice squawking sharply over the microphone. Everyone reeled back and she winced. Bucky flinched. Some kid wrapped in wires ran up onto stage like a skittish ferret and wiggled and tapped at something on the mic before scurrying off again.
“Right,” Danvers said, tapping the mic gently, “Sorry.”
Hill pursed her lips like she was amused but playing Boss, and looked out at the gathered crowd.
“We’re very pleased to have you all here today, as it is indeed a momentous occasion that we have been working toward for some time.” Chief Danvers said.
Danvers nodded, eyes slowly going around the room. She was an impressive lady, back straight, voice clear, eyes sharp. “I’d like to give some background, to remind everyone here of the incidents leading up to this day. I’ll admit it’s a good refresher for me too, as I was not stationed here at the beginning of this case.”
She started at the beginning, right back at the corruption’s origin. She talked about Chief Ross and how he’d been roped in, got paid off by the mob; about how members of the police force were responsible for encouraging crime within the community, for allowing corruption to flourish. She talked about Fisk and his trial, about the tireless work every member of the police and fire departments had put in to ensure his jail time. She talked about the City Council and reparations, about the fires, the collusion, the scandals. She mentioned the displaced people and their uphill battles to get back home. She brought in all these pieces from far and wide and tied them together in a pretty impressive and expansive bow. Bucky's brows rose. If he had had all that info sitting in front of him, he seriously doubted the possibility of figuring it out himself. It had been over a year since Fisk’s arrest. Just recently he had been found guilty and sentenced to life, which, frankly, Bucky thought was too nice for a shitstain like him. He deserved a lot worse. Not that Bucky condoned murder, but, well, anyway.
Fisk’s wife, Vanessa, hadn’t copped to being an accomplice in anything, declaring her devotion and undying love to the madman, which was a whole other level of whack-adoo Bucky didn’t have time for. She held a special place in Bucky’s heart after it was confirmed in court that she’d been the one to get the ball rolling, get the goons sent round to find Steve and have his head bashed in. Luckily, law enforcement counted her as an accessory to more than just attempted murder and she had her own charges to deal with.
Danvers detailed all the trial work, the hours and the effort made by everyone in the community.
“We are exceptionally proud to work alongside you all, to call this precinct not only your home but ours too.”
Bucky would never have thought he’d ever hear such a thing from a cop. He had also stood in the courtroom with Fisk, recounting everything he knew, everything he’d been involved in. This wasn’t his first go at being a witness, but it was definitely his toughest. He’d been dissected and had his own record pulled up and rehashed for the world to see. God, he’d despised it all. The way the opposition had tried to skewer him, and make him out to be an unreliable witness had really stuck in his craw. If it weren’t for Steve, he’d have never contributed anything without a damn subpoena. Thankfully people stepped up and spoke about their experiences with Steve, Bucky, and the scabs running the real estate scam.
“Since taking the role of Chief,” Danvers went on, “I’ve come to see how much work is needed constantly to not only perform well for the neighborhood, but what reparations must be made on your behalf,” Danvers went on. “As community officers, my station has a responsibility to not allow such corruption, and for what has already happened, I extend my deepest apologies. Times are changing, and so must we. This case, these trials, they have opened our eyes, and along with Captain Hill, I promise we will strive for more, for better, for everyone.”
Hill nodded, and a few folks clapped. The rest of the gathered crowd was probably as cynical as Bucky felt.
He twisted his lips. He wasn’t ever gonna be sold on walking the police party line but this was, at least, more effort being put forward than he’d ever seen by the cops before.
“But enough of that trip down memory lane,” Danvers cleared her throat. “We’re here today to congratulate and award members of the community for wonderful work done.”
Bucky sat up, noting that Clint and Natasha had too.
“None of this would have been possible without the efforts of people like you,” Danvers said.
“My police force would be at a massive deficit, were it not for such kind and resourceful folks.”
She looked down at the officers in the front rows.
“Lieutenant Rogers, would you mind coming up here?”
Bucky craned his neck.
Steve stood up amongst the claps and whooping of his fellow officers. He made his way to the side of the stage and up the stairs. The crowd clapped louder. Some folks catcalled and a few others cheered.
He came to a stop beside the lectern, facing the crowd, eyes down, arms behind his back.
“Wow…” Natasha whispered. “Nice.”
“Rogers cleans up good,” Clint chuckled. "Also, did you guys know he was a lieutenant?"
Bucky ignored them, fully aware that the sight of Steve in his dress uniform and hat was enough to make the average idiot swoon. He hadn’t even been around this morning to witness it getting put together, seeing as he’d gone into work early to finish up his crap sooner. What a bummer.
“Officer Rogers,” Danvers waved a hand in his direction, “as you all well know, was caught up in this case and suffered great pain at the hands of Wilson Fisk. He is one of my brightest, most valuable police officers and did not deserve the treatment he received.
“However, his ability to stand tall, even today, to lead, to be a positive influence not only on his fellow officers, but on the community itself, has shown me how lucky we are to have him.
“Lieutenant Rogers worked tirelessly before and after his kidnapping to bring the culprits down, not for revenge, not as a form of cruelty, but because he has always believed in justice and doing the right thing.” Danvers’ voice was firm, her eyes sharp.
“Is he on fire?” Bucky heard Clint whisper.
Natasha must have elbowed him because he hissed.
“I mean,” Clint huffed, “he's going red in the face!”
“You really think fire was the right–” Natasha hissed back.
“Will you shut up?” Bucky snapped through his teeth.
A few people twisted to look at them.
Fuck, now Bucky was staring at Steve’s red cheeks. Poor guy.
He grinned anyway.
“Now, we have already dealt with the paperwork, but I thought it pertinent to formalize this,” Danvers went on, looking at Steve.
“Officer Steven Grant Rogers has already been told this, but as of this week he has been officially promoted to Captain. He will now head up his own detective unit, a position he has so rightly earned.”
She smiled as Steve looked up, all flush and embarrassed. She held out her hand and he approached.
“Congratulations, Captain Rogers,” she said warmly as he shook her hand. “I am ecstatic to have you onboard to look out for us all.”
“Thank you, Chief,” Steve was barely heard, nodding.
Everyone clapped and whooped. The sound was echoing around the room and Bucky clapped hardest of all.
“Goddamn, am I crying? ” Clint whispered. “Are these feelings?”
Danvers smiled as Steve took a seat beside Hill, who’d waved him over so they could both relax. Steve was still pink and wasn’t looking at the crowd.
“And now,” Danvers said, while people rustled about. “We have a special presentation, one I think everyone will like and one Lieutenant–excuse me– Captain Rogers approves of greatly.”
Bucky sucked in some air through his nose and folded his arms, back straight.
“Captain Rogers has said this many times, so many times, in fact, I think we’ve all had dreams about it,” Danvers smiled and a few police officers snickered up front.
“He insists, repeatedly, that he wouldn’t be here today were it not for the ingenuity and kindness of two very important people.”
Bucky swallowed, feeling his chest tighten.
“Were it not for their dedication to a good cause,” she held out her arms, “ this community, we wouldn’t have a new captain and we’d all be at a great loss.”
“Jesus,” Clint murmured. “Fuckin’ brutal, lady.”
“Will you just–” Natasha kicked him.
“These two young ladies have exemplified what it means to be an outstanding member of society, to uphold what is right, and to be brave almost beyond all reason.”
Bucky chewed his lip. People were whispering excitedly, buzzing.
“I would like to welcome onto the stage, Miss America Chavez and Miss Kate Bishop.”
The crowd around them went wild. Bucky clapped so hard, he swore he would bruise. He stood up, pride practically bursting from him.
Natasha and Clint followed, as did almost everyone else.
And there they were. America was holding Kate’s hand and pulling her up on stage. Kate wore a simple purple dress and flats, while America, well, Bucky guessed they were lucky she wasn’t in her torn jean shorts. Her summer dress was patterned in a myriad of world flags and her converse were mismatched red, white and blue. She looked beyond amazing, grinning from ear-to-ear.
Kate was almost as red as Steve.
“Ladies,” Danvers waved them closer. She handed each of them a velvet box and a rolled up piece of card. “These medals are for your bravery, your tenacity. You both put yourselves into danger, not something I recommend," she eyed the audience, who laughed. “Without your quick thinking and even quicker legs, we wouldn’t be standing here today celebrating the betterment of this community. Thank you for doing what was right, thank you for stepping up and thank you most of all, for saving Captain Rogers' life with your quick actions. You are both immense heroes and we all, myself included, aspire to be like you.”
The crowd wailed and clapped and stomped furiously. America pulled Kate close and they both bowed to the chief and then the audience.
Steve stood up and came closer before grabbing Kate up in a big hug. Lord, was he crying?
“Oh God,” Bucky groused and thought his pride might actually be glowing through his eyes and ears.
America jumped on top of Kate, making Steve stumble back awkwardly, arms holding up both girls. Hill was grinning and clapping and Danvers watched the crowd.
Bucky barely knew the woman, but she seemed to have her head screwed on right if she thought the kids had earned this.
Bucky clapped along with almost every member of their neighborhood. They’d all come to celebrate America and Kate and boy, this did not disappoint.
“You fuckin’ superstar,” Bucky said, wrapping America up in a hug. They were outside in the morning sun, while everyone filtered out of the town hall.
“Ah, so cool, huh?” America said, glee in her voice. He dropped her back to the ground.
“You know this’ll look good on your applications,” Kate said, tapping at her phone.
“Girl,” America sighed, turning, “I ain’t anywhere near applying to Law School yet. Let me breathe .”
“I’m just saying,” Kate eyed her girlfriend over her phone.
The two of them were back for the summer, which was great because Bucky could spoil the shit out of them for being ace students and generally good human beings.
“There they are,” Natasha and Clint came up to them. She hugged both girls tight. “So amazing. Your mamas would be so proud.”
“Excellent work, girls,” Clint added. “Makin’ us all look good.”
“Damn, Nat,” America said, looking Romanov up and down. “Nice shoes.”
Natasha turned her foot, showing them off. “Right?”
Bucky was pretty sure they were those crazy expensive shoes he saw in the big windows up on 5th Ave., but didn’t want to know how they had come into Natasha's possession.
“Hey,” a warm voice piped up behind him and Bucky turned.
Steve grinned at him from under his cap, the brim casting a pink shadow over his face.
“Oh, you must be boiling,” Kate said.
Steve made a pained expression, “A bit.” He tugged at the collar of his shirt.
Bucky just looked him over slowly. The navy jacket and pants coupled with the shiny buttons, belt and leather strap/holster did all kinds of weird things for Bucky.
When he made eye contact, Steve cocked a brow.
“Oh God, not in public,” Natasha horned in.
Bucky scowled at her for interrupting his weird uniform fetish that he was never, ever going to dig into and dissect.
“Hi,” Bucky said, tugging at Steve’s elbow as a means to distract him.
“You look nice,” Steve said.
Bucky paused, then glared at Natasha like see, I did dress up, but she just rolled her eyes as if Steve’s opinion didn’t count.
“He’d think you look nice if you were covered in bird seed, standing hip-deep in crawfish, Barnes. Don’t look so smug.”
“Hey,” Bucky said, back at Steve. “You said you finish up early today, right? Long weekend?”
Steve rubbed at his mouth, “Ah, I was hoping to, but I think Chief’s got me booked in for meetings all afternoon. Why?”
Bucky frowned, then shrugged, “Just asking.”
Steve smiled softly and stood closer. “You want to hang out?”
Bucky shrugged again. “I got stuff to do, but if you want, I can come pick you up? After?”
Steve looked at him. They were surrounded by tons of people milling about just before lunchtime on a Friday and yet it felt like they were alone, staring into one another’s souls.
Bucky wanted to gouge his own eyes out at such a sappy thought.
“I can text you when I get home? We can get dinner?” Steve said.
“Ooohhhh, a date! ” America cooed.
Bucky glared at her and she cackled. “Mind your business.”
“Excuse you, I am a medal-winning person of some vague societal value,” she said, waving her prize in his face. “And anyway, how come you ain’t already a captain?” she redirected that comment at Steve. “Wilson and the rest of them all call you Cap. What’s the deal there?”
Steve sighed loudly and rolled his eyes skyward. “Please don’t ask.”
“Oh, hey, yeah,” Clint said from nearby. “She’s right. Hell, I only just realized. You mean you weren’t already a captain? Are you a double-captain now?”
“Sometimes,” Natasha said gently, “I question my choice to keep you.”
“Did you think I was a captain?” Steve asked Bucky.
Bucky shrugged, “Didn’t care enough to ask.”
“Well that’s nice,” Steve snorted. He turned and America and Kate were still watching.
“Okay, fine, ” Steve huffed and pushed the brim of his fancy hat back. He squinted at them. “Sam started calling me Cap early on.”
“Oh, hey, Wilson!” America waved. “We just started talkin’ about you behind your back!”
“Oh God,” Bucky huffed when Sam Wilson sauntered over, dressed in his own navy uniform.
“Captain Steve was telling us you’ve been calling him Cap since forever.” America grinned.
“Oh yeah?” Sam said, coming to a stop with both hands closed together in front of him. “You told ‘em it’s cos we figured you were gunning for the position since day one?”
“It’s not like that,” Steve retorted. “Stop trying to make gossip.”
“Oh it was like that,” Sam laughed. “Your boy over here’s probably one of the most eager, most rule-abiding law enforcement officers I’ve ever met. He’s an ace shot at the gun range and knows his paperwork inside and out, code for damn code. Plus, he was a helluva monkey on Ross’ back, pointing out inefficiencies and issues from day one. Hilarious. ”
“So you all just kept calling him Cap? Did you do it in front of the crooked guy?” America made a quizzical face like grown-ups just made no logical sense.
“Uh, sometimes,” Sam shrugged. “But we played it off, you know. A joke, haha.” Then Sam leaned over to America and whispered really loudly, “But it wasn’t a joke! Steve was gonna tear Ross apart one day!”
“Sam!” Steve cried, all red and embarrassed and angry at once.
“Sorry, Cap,” Sam stood tall and smirked.
“Stop–just, stop,” Steve said. “You make me sound like a ladder-climbing spider-monkey.”
“Well, you’re definitely part monkey,” Bucky said.
Steve turned to him and scowled. “Don’t feed the beasts,” he growled.
Bucky shrugged, “You done here?”
“Uh,” Steve looked at Sam, who just tilted his head.
“We do got meetings,” Sam said. “Fifteen minutes left?”
“You cannot have a quickie,” America said.
“I swear to God,” Steve sighed loudly. “Come on, Buck.” and he took Bucky’s elbow and walked them away from the nosy-parker group.
“You were asking me about dinner,” he said, finally just looking at Bucky and no one else. “You wanna get Chinese? We don’t have to go somewhere.”
“Nah, I’ll come get you,” Bucky said, squinching his face in the bright sun.
Steve watched him. “Something up?” he asked. “Do I need to be concerned?”
“What? No,” Bucky said sharply “Jesus, no.” He scowled and turned back to Steve. “I gotta go do some errands and shit, so. Yeah, text me or whatever and I’ll be at your place.”
Steve smiled, “all right.”
The truck’s AC needed time to work its way up to full ice-storm, so he just sat there, hands on the wheel, in his driveway.
He ticked off his internal checklist, then nodded. Breathing in deeply, he put the truck into reverse, pulled out the driveway and made his way down to Steve’s house.
The guy had gotten out later than expected, so they were coming up to 5pm which wasn’t optimal for traveling in traffic, but what could a guy do?
Bucky eyed the sky. Thankfully, it was clear.
Steve was on the phone, sitting on his front steps when Bucky pulled up to his place. He was wearing his dorky cargo shorts and sneakers and an NYPD t-shirt.
Bucky closed his car door and walked over slowly.
Steve was uh-huh- ing to someone while eying Bucky. “All right, I will,” Steve said, sitting up. “Gotcha. Yep. Yep. Okay then. Right. I will. Yes, indeed.” He rolled his eyes at Bucky. “All righty, well, I gotta go. Thanks. I will. Okay, okay. Bye. ”
When he finally ended the call, he sighed, deflating all over the steps like a melted rubber doll.
“I’m so fuckin’ tired, Buck,” he moaned.
Bucky stood in front of him.
Steve opened one eye, “No sympathy, huh?”
“That’s what you get for accepting a promotion, Rogers,” Bucky murmured.
“I guess,” Steve huffed and sat up. He looked Bucky over.
Bucky’s jeans were torn at the knee and his t-shirt was a faded grey thing with white and orange marks on it from that time he bleached his bedsheets.
“You look so good,” Steve hummed.
Bucky rolled his eyes. “Rogers, can it. Let’s go.”
Steve got to his feet and hopped down the last porch step. “Where we goin’? Steak? Fish? Popeye’s?”
Bucky watched Steve clamber into the passenger seat, slamming the door behind him.
“We are never eating Popeye’s again,” he murmured through the window before going around to the driver’s side.
“Yeah, the diarrhea was a bit much,” Steve laughed.
“I’m serious,” Bucky turned the engine over, “that place is run by the devil.”
Steve chuckled. “So no greasy chicken, huh? Where then?”
“Just shut up and let’s go,” Bucky grumbled. He looked out the back window, twisted in his seat, and reversed them down the driveway.
“Yeah, I need the time off,” Steve said. “Today was nuts, Buck.”
Steve regaled Bucky with the internal squabbling going down at the precinct. He went on and on about the interpersonal minefield he had to traverse now that he was higher up.
“It’s insane how delicate I have to be if this dude’s, like, got an iron grip on the budget,” Steve said, waving his hands about. The traffic kept flowing around them. Bucky glared at the traffic lights, hoping they could get there before the damn sun set.
“Uh huh,” Bucky said, checking the exits. He’d memorized the route but still couldn’t be too careful.
“He could absolutely dispense more to the squad for peripheral upgrades,” Steve said, “but this asshole refuses on the grounds that it’ll cause team-wide conflicts and then everyone will want upgrades. I mean, why not? ” he wailed.
Bucky signaled as they turned off onto the GWB, wishing this Godforsaken city wasn’t made of interconnecting levels of hell.
Traffic was moving well though.
“It’s stupid because–” Steve paused, then twisted around in his seat to stare out the side window. “Look at the river!” he breathed. “Wow.”
He was right. With the sun sitting where it was, the water rippled and sparkled beautifully around them.
Steve paused and looked at Bucky. “Where are you taking me?” he asked, finally realizing they were no longer in Brooklyn.
“I’m gonna murder you, chop up your body into beefy chunks, and throw the bits to the fishes,” Bucky said drolly.
“And my bones?” Steve rolled his eyes.
“That’s what the vat of acid is for,” Bucky smirked.
“No, seriously, where are we going, Buck?” Steve pressed.
“Now you ask?” Bucky murmured, amusement leaking into his voice.
“Well…” Steve watched the cars move around them. “This is further afield than we usually do for date night.”
“We don’t have a date night, ” Bucky sighed. “That’s just the middle-aged white woman inside you trying to get out.”
Bucky could feel Steve smirking. “We do not.” He turned to glare at Steve, “Have date night.”
“Uh huh,” Steve sat forward. “Sure we don’t.”
Bucky sighed with relief.
They’d paid the ranger at the gate and gotten into the park just in time.
“Bear Mountain, huh?” Steve murmured as the truck lumbered on into the woods and down the trail.
“Yup,” Bucky said, keeping an eye out for the very few signs available. God help him if he managed to get them lost and eaten by actual bears.
His dusty blue truck rumbled and tilted and creaked as they drove over rocks and hillocks and probably a few rabbits, who knows?
The sun was only just setting, giving Bucky’s stressed head a real workout.
After twenty more minutes of lumbering around a national park, he exhaled.
“That sign got a star on it?” he asked, pointing.
Steve squinted out the side window. “Yup.”
“Fuckin’ finally,” Bucky breathed and turned them that way. They pulled up to a clearing of dirt and low bushes overlooking a deeply forested part of the park.
They weren’t too far from the gates, but far enough in that no camping families or drugged up hippies would stumble upon them. Plus, no massive overhanging branches, just pines and whatever nature had to offer just down the way.
He shut off the engine and the truck rumbled to a halt. The two of them sat there for a bit before Steve perked up. It was so damn quiet.
“So this ain’t a date?”
“Aw, can it, Rogers,” Bucky griped and punched Steve’s arm.
Bucky threw open his door and clambered out, taking in the gorgeous view.
He heard the passenger door creak open and slam shut, then the crunching of footsteps over sand and dry brush.
Steve came up beside him. “This is beautiful,” he murmured.
The sun was just setting, arcing pinks and oranges across the sky. Not a cloud was to be seen, but the whole area was lit up in a way only mother nature could achieve.
Bucky cleared his throat awkwardly and tucked his hands into his jean pockets. “Yep.”
Steve looked at him and snorted. “How long you been planning this little escapade?”
He wasn’t about to detail the day he realized he never celebrated typical holidays with Steve. He made it clear that anything religious was off-limits, that it only made things worse, that he wasn’t a sappy shithead. He also lumped in stupid holidays like Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, just to be sure Steve got the picture. And Steve hadn’t minded at all, because Steve was that good, that forgiving of Bucky’s idiosyncrasies.
However, Bucky also realized that Steve was still recovering from his ordeal. Steve still had therapy for his leg and back, still had a therapist appointment once a week. Still had nightmares, still went out to work his ass off even though being a cop heightened his chances of being targeted again.
And Bucky never really got to shower him in affection because…well, Bucky was shit at that stuff.
This whole relationship thing had thrown a wrench into his existence. He was always supposed to grow old and turn into Boo Radley; that was the endgame. He was supposed to become a hermit and while away his time doing DIY jobs and fixing cars. Now he was working with the fire department on top of being a mechanic, was getting all involved in community efforts, going to court hearings and talking to lawyers and shit. Steve had really messed up his life plan.
For the better, of course. Because now Bucky had a doofus to go watch dumb horror movies with. He had someone to help at parties and town barbecues. He had a partner to vent to, a pal to cook with, a person to care about.
It was frustrating because he didn’t know how to do this. He didn’t do relationships. He’d gotten along just fine with his own hand, the internet, and his debilitating sexual repression.
So he was trying because if this ever...broke, he’d only have himself to blame.
He’d investigated everything under the sun that could sit in as a substitute for Valentine's Day. After all, those online Buzzfeed articles kept talking about how ‘Everyday is Valentine's Day if You’re in Love’ but also ‘Don’t kill the Romance, Moron.’
But they weren’t wrong. So he’d looked into a getaway. Anything outside of North America was a no-go. Bucky still wasn’t good with planes. So no Mexico, no Europe. Plus: hella expensive, and he wasn’t exactly flush with cash.
Which meant whatever it was, it had to be closer to home, so: north of Manhattan.
“So what’s the plan, Buck?” Steve murmured, following Bucky down the side of the truck. “We camping?”
Bucky glared at Steve like he’d insulted his mother. “Hell no. I don’t camp .” Lying in the dirt wasn’t fun and games. It was for weirdoes and people determined to get tick-borne diseases and fuckin’ Malaria.
Steve raised a brow, “You know we’re in a national park, right? After hours?”
Bucky huffed, “No tents. No campfire shit. No ukuleles.”
“Who plays a ukulele–”
“Shut it, Rogers,” Bucky grumbled, unlatching his tailgate. “We’re here for the night, that’s all. Early morning and we’re outta here. Ranger says exiting is easier’n entering.”
Steve watched him unlock the tailgate and clamber up onto the truck-bed and drag a massive metal toolbox close. Bucky sat on his haunches and opened the toolbox up. He pulled out some flashlights, a couple of LED candles, bug spray and a wad of netting.
“Here,” Bucky thrust the netting at Steve. “Tie it to the top of the cab, right on the anchors or whatever. Here’s some cable ties.”
“Okay…” Steve took the netting and did as he was told. He made quick work of knotting the end of the netting to the truck cab, then let the rest hang down the window, while Bucky hoisted the toolbox onto the ground.
“What’s going on here, Buck?” Steve said, coming round to get a flashlight. They needed them now, as the sun had dipped beyond the horizon.
Bucky pulled at the cooler he’d kept hidden on the truck bed. He was pretty sure when he went to pick him up, Steve wouldn’t notice the extra shit in his truck and he’d been correct. For a cop, the man sure was terrible about his surroundings.
He shifted the cooler and pulled out blankets and pillows that were vacuum-sealed in plastic bags. Steve got a blanket to the face.
“We sleeping outside?” Steve asked, unrolling the plastic and wool mess. Bucky didn’t say anything.
“Oh…” Steve breathed.
Bucky was unfolding the nifty truck mattress he’d bought on sale at Costco a few months back. It was made of thick foam and covered in waterproof material definitely more suited for the outdoors. It unfolded neatly into four segments that slotted perfectly into the truck bed. Then he took the blankets from Steve, laid them out, and lined up a couple pillows by the cab end.
He hefted the cooler up and onto the wheel-well toolbox he always had attached to his truck.
He twisted, still crouched on his feet, and waved Steve in. “Come on.”
Steve wavered, then picked up the toolbox of supplies and slid them in beside the other wheel well. He hopped up onto the bed and knee-walked closer to Bucky.
“You planned all this?” he asked softly.
“You got the candles?” Bucky asked.
Steve twisted back to the supplies, rustled about, then held out his hand.
Bucky took the two plastic lights and switched them on, giving them a faint glow to work under.
He set them in the truck bed corners and reached for the cooler. Opening it up, he pulled out a hand-sized red cube, a six-pack of Sam Adams, a saran-wrapped plastic bowl and two immense bags of chips.
“Here,” Bucky handed over two beers to Steve.
“What? No champagne?” Steve teased, but took it, cracking both cans open while Bucky sat back and fiddled with the red cube thing.
“Champagne means glass and we ain’t bringin’ shit that shatters and we ain’t littering,” Bucky grumbled, glaring at the thing in his hand. “Not unless you want me to get fined and have a ranger on my ass.”
Steve sat back on the mattress, wiggling his butt comfortably.
Bucky pulled out his phone and flicked his thumb over it, the screen lighting up his frown.
“What’s that?” Steve asked.
“Hold on,” Bucky huffed. The red box in his other hand glowed for a second. Then it made a bloop! sound before music started up.
Bucky placed the thing, a speaker apparently, on the cooler lid and turned back to Steve.
Steve’s mouth was open in surprise. “Music too? My God, Barnes, you are getting smooth .”
Bucky smiled. He nudged the bowl over. “There’s cherries in there, ‘cos I know you love how messy they are. And chips and beer and, uh, more snacks inside the cooler if you want. Wasn’t sure what to bring.”
Which was true; The internet was no help at all, recommending sweaty meat and wet cheeses. Ugh.
He hated planning this kind of shit.
Steve smiled gently and sipped at his beer.
“What’s the occasion?” he asked.
Bucky shrugged, “Just, you know.”
Bucky knee-walked over to Steve and sat down.
“No, actually, I don’t,” Steve hummed.
Bucky scowled at him, wishing the guy didn’t insist on words and outlets.
“Congratulations on the promotion,” Bucky shrugged.
Steve smirked around his beer. “It was official a while back, Buck.”
“Hm,” Bucky nodded, “Yeah, but your pay increase only kicked in this week, right? So guess who’s dime this is on anyway.”
Steve laughed, his eyes crinkling. “Is that why you stuck around? For my new Captain’s paycheck?”
“Somebody’s gotta bankroll this escapade.” Bucky sipped his own beer, then glanced at Steve through his hair. “Plus, you needed a break,” Bucky grumbled, pulling at the tab on his beer, flexing it back and forth til it snapped off. “I wanted you to relax. Get away.”
He leaned back, one elbow on the mattress. Steve looked at him with those big doe eyes of his and even in the dim light, Bucky felt exposed.
“We both need to relax,” Steve said, mirroring his pose. He slid his long legs down the bed, lying on his side.
“Also,” Bucky said, taking a swig of beer, “In an hour or so, we’ll get to see some magic.”
Steve looked like he was trying to not laugh.
“Magic? You gonna pull a coin out of my ear?”
Bucky snorted, “More like the stick out of your ass.”
“Always talking about my ass,” Steve chuckled.
After kicking off their shoes and socks, they laid back and devoured the cherries and three beers each.
Bucky laid there, thinking this thing had worked out okay, maybe. Steve was definitely relaxing, talking less about work and more about life and questions on the universe. Bucky loved when he got like this. Steve was on his back, hands waving while he blabbed like a kid at his first science fair.
“I mean, what’s the reason for atoms, you know?” Steve said, staring up at the sky. “Why’d the universe decide circles, spheres, atoms would all kind of align the way they did? What’s going on in alternate universes? Are there triangle folks? ‘Cos our triangles will never be true triangles, you know? ‘Cos everything defaults to chaos, to roundness.”
He looked up at Bucky, his lips stained red from the cherries.
Bucky smiled, “What the fuckin’ hell are you talkin’ about?”
Steve grinned and Bucky actually felt his damn heart give a flip. This fucker was too handsome for his own good.
“Science, Buck. Life. Existence, all of it.”
Bucky laughed and threw his head back. “Okay, champ. Sounds about right, three beers in.”
“Buck,” Steve hummed.
“Yes?” Bucky sipped at his beer and crunched the can in his fist. It had been empty for a while, why in all hell was he still pretending to drink? He tossed it at the vague vicinity of the cooler.
“Bucky…” Steve murmured, softer.
“Yeah?” Bucky smirked and turned to look down at Steve.
“C’mere,” Steve rumbled, yanking at Bucky’s shirt.
Bucky obliged willingly and bent his head down to kiss Steve. He tasted sweet and warm.
“Mmmm,” Steve hummed and yanked him down properly.
“Oof!” Bucky grunted, almost crushing Steve. “You hornball.”
“Oh like you didn’t plan up until this part, Barnes,” Steve smiled against Bucky’s lips. “I know you got lube somewhere.”
“This is a romantic fuckin’ getaway, Rogers, not a Coachella fuck festival.”
Steve nipped at his lip, his hands roving all over Bucky, down, digging deep into his jean pockets, holding Bucky close.
The dulcet tones of Sam Smith wavered around them.
“Oh, really?” Steve said, hands coming up empty. “You didn’t bring condoms or lube at all?”
“What kind of man do you take me for?” Bucky said, propping himself on his elbow and staring at Steve. “You know we had sex, like, two nights ago. Remember?”
“Oh, I do,” Steve rumbled, hands already yanking at Bucky’s belt. “But I can barely remember, Buck. Remind me how it goes.”
“Hang on, Rogers,” Bucky said, gritting his teeth, feeling like he’d already lost the direction of this adventure.
Steve was quick at unbuckling Bucky and opening up his jeans. How. How was Bucky so inept at stopping him? Jesus Christ, the guy was already pushing Bucky’s jeans down and pawing at his dick before the topic had even really been broached.
“Hng,” Bucky grunted when one hand cupped him firmly.
“We gonna fuck in the wilderness, Buck?” Steve asked, voice deep and rumbly.
“Well, I mean. M-might as well,” Bucky breathed. He sat up, Steve’s hand still in his jeans, and leaned over to the cooler. He pushed it open and yanked out a small baggie.
“Ohhh…” Steve grinned wider. “You fuckin’ liar. ”
His eyes lit up when Bucky pulled out a fresh new bottle of lube and a string of condoms. “You were planning to rail me! Hah!”
Bucky scowled, “Shut up.”
“So romantical,” Steve cooed, lying back. He pulled at his own t-shirt and yanked it up, wriggling furiously to get it off. He let loose those damn tits and those thick arms that always had Bucky thinking dirty shit in public.
Bucky took the moment to straddle Steve, pulling off his own shirt in the process. “If the mosquitoes get us, I’ll blame you, Rogers.”
“Then what’s the damn net for, huh?” Steve’s head popped free, blond hair a-fuzz.
“I can’t have it all over me, you moron,” Bucky sighed. “It’s for when we’re lying down proper.”
“Well, someone didn’t think that through,” Steve grinned.
Bucky was going to say something about how it's not always about getting the two of them stripped and naked all the time, but figured that was a weak argument. “Wait,” he said, pushing at Steve’s already seeking hands. “Let me.”
Steve laid back and placed his hands beside his head, all innocence.
Bucky crawled down Steve’s body, ending up on his belly, thankful for the blankets and hefty mattress. His knees weren’t what they used to be and the truck’s bed did have a terminal end. He pulled Steve’s cargos down, then his underwear.
Steve shifted, naked as the day he was born. He cleared his throat.
Bucky looked up his body, meeting those familiar blue eyes. “I’m gonna suck you off,” Bucky murmured, licking his lips.
“Oh?” Steve answered.
“Then I’m gonna eat you out,” Bucky continued.
“Uh... huh?” Steve’s voice wavered.
Bucky opened Steve’s legs up so he could settle down there on his elbows.
“Then, I’m gonna fuck you, slow and good, just how you like it,” Bucky whispered, leaning in to press a kiss to the base of Steve’s already fattening cock.
“Oh God,” Steve exhaled, knees coming up. “Please do.”
Bucky smiled and kissed his way up Steve’s length. The air wasn’t too chilled so he wasn’t concerned about either of them freezing. In fact, it was a really humid, warm evening, perfect for some sexy activities.
He licked at Steve, slowly working his way up that gorgeous dick of his.
It was pink and flushed and hard as hell by the time Bucky sucked at the tip, tasting a bit of Steve.
Bucky really hadn’t been big on giving head before Steve came along. Not that the randos from before counted if he was honest with his past messed-up self. But somehow, the flavor and texture and feel of him in Bucky’s mouth just…yeah, it was good.
He sucked at Steve, wetting him liberally. He got up higher on his elbows and really sucked him in, feeding on the soft sounds emanating from higher up the truck bed. Steve was squirming, trying his best to not thrust up into Bucky’s warm, wet mouth.
“Bucky…” Steve breathed out as Bucky slowly sucked up his length, tongue pressing to the underside.
“I’m busy, Rogers,” Bucky said, popping Steve’s dick free. He sucked some more on the head, massaging with his tongue and feeling up Steve’s balls with one hand.
“It’s…gonna be all over…if you don’t–” Steve huffed.
Bucky pulled back and wiped at his mouth. “Oh, no firing off yet, pal. I’m not that good.”
“I beg to differ,” Steve said breathlessly.
“Yeah, stroke my ego,” Bucky reached for the lube. He sat up on his knees, poured a dollop of lube onto his fingers, wrapped them around Steve and began jacking him off slow, but firm.
Steve’s hips shuddered and his beautiful thick thighs twitched.
“Like that, baby?” Bucky asked.
“Yes,” Steve breathed, hips shifting in a rhythm. If Bucky was steady and good, Steve’s hips would undulate perfectly. He’d had enough practice by now to know how to do it.
“Mmm,” Bucky licked his lip. “Grab your knees. Time for the second act.”
“What?” Steve sounded surprised, even as Bucky scooted down, shoving at Steve’s legs.
“C’mon, up and away. Let a guy breathe down here.”
He knew Steve had showered because he could smell his shampoo and body wash. The coconut flavor was very much a giveaway.
Steve slowly did as he was told, grabbing his knees and pulling them wide to bracket his chest.
“Mmmm,” Bucky rumbled. Steve’s cock was heavy, resting against his belly, with his hips turned up to show off what he could in the minimal light.
Bucky squirmed for a moment, trying to figure out the angle, but scowled.
He got up onto his knees again.
“Change your mind?” Steve asked, pink in the face.
“Nope,” Bucky shook his head, “Just wanna get in there proper, you know?” he grinned and Steve flushed.
Bucky paused. “You okay with this?” Shit, he should have checked.
“Uhm,” Steve faltered, “I think so?”
Bucky’s mouth twisted to the side, “I think that’s a no, pal. Which is fine.”
“No, wait, Bucky,” Steve unfolded and sat up, quick as a jackrabbit. “It just felt a little, uhm, rushed, is all.”
Bucky waited, chewing on his lip.
“I know you’re trying to be…romantic and whatever,” Steve murmured, “but you don’t gotta, like, go too overboard. I’m hard as fuck for you, not for any fancy new tricks you gotta learn.”
“But,” Bucky said, “you said once that you got eaten out so good, you came all over your own face.”
He wasn’t about to admit that the unsanctioned jealousy on that had driven him nuts, along with the raging pornographic dreams that had followed.
Steve laughed, “Yeah, okay, sure. That happened. Once. Years ago. But it wasn’t a challenge, Buck. It was just a thing.”
Bucky kissed Steve. “But I want to make you come on your face.” He sounded whiny which only made Steve chuckle.
“That’s nice, Buck,” he laughed. “Real romantic.”
“So then,” Bucky sat back, “What the fuck do you want?”
Steve waited, sitting with his naked legs over Bucky’s thighs, arms around Bucky’s neck.
“I want you inside me, fucking me. I want you so deep it feels like you left a mark. I want you to fill me with your come and stay there forever.”
Bucky’s mouth fell open and his dick pulsed heavily.
“I want your big strong arms around me and I want to run my hands all over your sexy back and ass,” Steve said.
Steve was never shy about declaring how much he enjoyed touching and straight up ogling Bucky.
“Also,” Steve added, “Can we make out?”
“Can we? ” Bucky gasped and leaned down to stick his tongue halfway down Steve’s throat. Or something like that.
“Oh Jeez,” Bucky grunted, a while later, hips shifting.
“You want in?” Steve lipped at him.
Bucky tasted Steve, licking at his lips. “Mmm, always.”
He was rubbing his crotch against Steve, the head of his dick making a bid for freedom.
They’d actually spent at least ten minutes just kissing and grinding against one another. It was bliss, really. They’d kiss and nuzzle and get distracted by beard burn and the way their noses would bump against one another, then come back to each others’ lips.
“No condoms,” Steve breathed.
“Really?” Bucky asked, feeling hands pushing at his jeans again.
“Really,” Steve hummed. His nails gently scratched at Bucky’s asscheeks after having slid inside his underwear.
Bucky took a deep breath and awkwardly clambered up to his feet. The truck rocked a bit.
Steve stared up at him. Bucky stood with a foot beside each of Steve’s hips and proceeded to pull his jeans and underwear down. Steve stared at him with an open mouth.
“Christ, your fucking body, Buck,” Steve grunted. “Dream come true.”
“Uh huh,” Bucky kicked his jeans aside, bearing his ass to mother nature and whatever else was in the trees.
He got down, covering Steve’s body with his.
“Having a sex in my truck is hella hot, Rogers,” he said, flipping his hair out of his face.
“I’ll bet you’ve been thinking about it for months,” Steve murmured.
“Years,” Bucky added.
“Oh fuck you,” Steve slapped Bucky’s side.
Bucky grinned and kissed him some more. Steve always was a sweet kisser.
He pulled back when he felt the lube bottle stabbing his hip. He yanked at it, flipped it open and added more goddamn messy stuff to his left hand.
“All right, leg up.”
Steve obliged and Bucky got to work.
He watched Steve’s face as he circled around before inserting a finger into his tight hole.
“Good?” Bucky asked.
Bucky had a real thing for fingering Steve. Maybe because it wasn’t unlike the action used with women, how amazing it was regardless of who he was with, but Bucky Barnes loved scissoring a guy or gal open and watching them fall apart.
He was pretty swift, just making sure he’d actually fit and not make Steve uncomfortable.
“Now. Now. Now, ” Steve slapped at Bucky’s shoulder repeatedly.
“Okay, your majesty,” Bucky said. “Just wanna make sure Barnes Junior won’t hurt you, is all.”
“No condom, right?” Steve huffed out.
A hand found its way to Bucky’s dick and did a systems check and evaluation.
“Satisfied?” Bucky said drily as Steve’s fingers trailed up his very hard, very well-lubed cock. He’d brought condoms as always, but Bucky had come around to Steve’s love of jizz all up inside his ass after both their employer-mandated blood tests came back clear.
“Not yet,” Steve grinned, shoving a pillow under his head properly.
Bucky wiggled around, trying to find the right spot. The head of his cock pressed at Steve’s opening, familiar territory. He slid the head of his dick around Steve's hole, squeezing between Steve's asscheeks. He never got tired of that first penetration. He slowed, and once situated, he pushed in, nice and smooth.
“Oh, fuck me,” Steve groaned, already flexing his hips, tugging Bucky in tighter.
“Jesus Christ,” Bucky grunted, his heavy, hard cock sliding in easy as pie into Steve.
Steve shifted, hands pawing at Bucky’s ass. “Move.”
Bucky pushed in all the way, paused to take a breath, then pulled out. Then in.
“Unh,” he breathed, feeling the ripple of sensation radiate from his hips. Steve was so hot, so perfect, sucking his cock in like that.
He slowly fucked Steve, kissing at him all the while.
Steve had his hands in Bucky’s hair, making goosebumps pop up all over Bucky’s skin.
Steve had to widen his legs, open up his hips more so Bucky could really get in there and start up a swift rhythm. The sound of Bucky’s skin slapping against Steve’s only got louder in the quiet of the park and the muffled speaker that had fallen off the cooler and into the mattress.
At some point, the music changed to some instrumental piece, but Bucky wasn’t even slightly interested. He shifted, trying to get closer. He slid his hands under Steve, down his back until he could dig his fingers into Steve’s rounded ass and hold him still as he fucked into him.
“Unh!” Steve made high-pitched noises as Bucky’s cock scraped against his prostate. “There! Bucky!”
It wasn’t enough. Goddamnit, Bucky wanted more, forever.
The truck rocked with their movements, creaking every so often.
“Wait, wait, let’s switch position,” Steve gasped, clawing at Bucky’s back.
“Wha—?” Bucky breathed. He was pushed up and away by big hands, dick sliding out of Steve with a wet squelch. Steve twisted, flipped himself over and…
“Fuck…” Bucky breathed when Steve wiggled his ass, wet asshole presented to him.
Bucky crawled up to him and grabbed his hips. Steve all but deflated with a sigh, chest and arms flattening against the mattress. He moaned in anticipation.
Bucky pressed back inside Steve, slick and easy, eyes rolling back as he watched himself disappear between those asscheeks.
Steve’s hips dropped and then they were flat against the mattress, Bucky jerking, fucking into Steve.
“Unh! Ugh!” Steve gasped at every push, his voice deep grunts of pleasure. His legs opened up incrementally, pressing his cock into the blankets while Bucky just drove into him over and over again.
“I’m, I’m too close!” Bucky gasped, licking at Steve’s nape. He rubbed his lips into the short hairs there. “Shit.”
“Do it,” Steve gasped, reaching back and clawing at Bucky’s hip, the other hand pushing against the truck bed wall so his head didn’t get a pounding too.
Bucky could feel the wet lube and Steve’s warmth and how tight it all was, sliding in and out, fucking this gorgeous man with all he had.
“You want me to fill you up?” He breathed into Steve’s neck. “Unload all my come up inside you?”
“Nnngh, Bucky…” Steve grunted, hand releasing Bucky’s hip and fisting in the pillow under his face. He shivered and shook apart, coming just when Bucky thought he couldn’t hold on any longer.
Bucky spared a moment of apology for the blanket under Steve, then forgot it all as he sunk himself deeper into Steve and let go. Bucky wrapped himself around Steve, thrust in hard and tight a couple more times and came, holding Steve tight to his chest as he let his brain melt into the feeling.
They both moaned and twitched, experiencing a hell of an orgasm between them. Steve's hips wriggled as Bucky's cock filled him up. Bucky figured he could see new colors now. Maybe he’d finally just broken his brain, burst a blood vessel.
“Mngeh,” he mumbled, kissing at Steve’s ear, his neck.
“That…” Steve huffed from under him. “Was…really…good.”
“Thanks,” Bucky answered, liking the taste of Steve’s skin. “Been practicing. On some beefy. Guy.”
“Really?” Steve slurred.
“Yeah,” Bucky shifted and they both groaned at the sensation of Bucky’s dick moving inside Steve. “Found myself…a hot piece of ass.”
“Oh, yay,” Steve giggled raspily.
Then Bucky laughed, overcome with the situation of being balls-deep in Steve Rogers at night in a damn national park outside the city limits. He made to get up but Steve whined.
Bucky frowned, his brain more sloppy oatmeal that actual grey matter at this point. “Alrigh’,” he mumbled and leaned over to pull at the blanket’s edge. He rolled it over them and made an effort to shift Steve onto his side. Bucky snuggled down beside him and kissed Steve's shoulder.
“Feels nice,” Steve murmured.
“Hmm?” Bucky hummed.
Steve shifted his hips and Bucky realized he meant the fact Bucky had as yet not pulled out.
“You like that?” he asked, all husky, heart tripping up.
“Yeah,” Steve sighed. “I love it when you’re this close.”
Bucky smiled into Steve’s neck and kissed his skin again.
Well, all right then.
It was a while before either of them was properly functional.
When Steve had eventually slid Bucky out, the wetness involved caused Steve to make a few faces.
“Interesting,” he murmured, tugging his underwear back on.
Bucky pulled on his own jeans and left the rest, choosing to bed down beside Steve with no shirt. He yanked at the netting and draped it along the length of the truck-bed and down the end.
When Steve was finally dressed and curled up under the blanket, Bucky relaxed.
“You don’t gotta impress me, Buck,” Steve said a few minutes into the darkness. The mosquito netting was far enough from their faces that they couldn’t even distinguish it in the darkness.
“Say what?” Bucky said. Steve rested his head on Bucky’s bicep, giving Bucky’s hand the chance to pet Steve’s hair.
“The rimming,” Steve said. “We’ll get to that.”
“I wanted to,” Bucky sighed. “But maybe in a less…conspicuous place?”
“Maybe,” Steve shifted, splaying an arm over Bucky’s chest. He lazily circled his finger around Bucky’s perky, dusky nipple.
“Look,” Bucky murmured gently, pointing up.
Steve twisted. “What?”
“Magic,” Bucky said, turning to look at Steve’s profile in the dark.
Steve stared at the night sky.
“Stars,” he whispered. Then he grinned, making Bucky’s own smile widen. “You planned all this for some star-gazing?”
Bucky pushed at Steve’s bangs. “Yeah.”
“Clear sky, warm night,” Steve said, falling onto his back. “Perfect plan, Barnes. I might even call this romantical.”
Bucky grinned. “Good enough for me,” he murmured, and made sure to have Steve’s hand resting in his as they stared up at the night sky and counted the stars.