Steve and Bucky had never been huge cuddlers, in a relationship kind of way. Steve associated most cuddling with being sick, needing Bucky to prop him up so he could breathe or stealing Bucky’s body heat on those ruthless winter nights. Once Steve was Captain America, they were at war, and cuddling was a luxury they often couldn’t afford--unless they wanted a blue card.
After they made it to the future, it simply hadn’t occurred to them to cuddle with one another. After all, for a while Bucky wasn’t completely Bucky, and they were both still a little broken--for months their nightmares were so bad, they couldn’t even share a bed. By the time they had found their footing in this strange new world, they had fallen into a normal routine that didn’t include time for touching, apart from the obvious.
That isn’t to say they didn’t love each other. Anyone with eyes could see they were desperately gone on one another. It was in every glance, every word. Though they rarely so much as brushed fingertips in public, no one could mistake what they had for anything but the real thing.
Tony was glad the resident super-soldiers weren’t very demonstrative, at first. It made it easier to forget he was pining over them both when they didn’t rub their happiness in everyone’s face. Later, when they got together, he blames the shock for not minding how hands-off they were everywhere but the bedroom. They had included him, and after freaking out over it a few times, just knowing that he was a part of their relationship was beyond amazing.
After a few months, though, Tony started to notice the difference between private Steve-and-Bucky and public Steve-and-Bucky. He knew that they weren’t embarrassed to be around him, because they went out all the time together. He knew Steve especially wanted to hold his hand, and Bucky was a big fan of cheek kisses, but the instant they were in public, or even the Avengers-only rooms of the tower, all the physical affection shut off.
He tried to adjust. He knew his lovers didn’t mean anything by not touching him, and maybe this just meant he was too needy, but he was struggling not to think the worst of himself. Every time he would get into a snark war with Bucky, or tease Steve, there would be a moment where it would be natural for them to give him a hug, or even place a hand on his shoulder. Without fail, every time Steve would get that little smile, eyes sparkling, and turn away. Or Bucky would laugh and lean into Tony’s space for just a moment, before backing off.
Tony wondered if he smelled bad. He wondered if they were getting bored of him and letting him down easy. He wondered if they were disgusted with him. And, time and time again, he fended off these intrusive thoughts with proof from their time alone that Steve loved him, that Bucky loved him. He knew their hands sought his when they were in bed, and he knew Steve liked to bury his nose in Tony’s hair, and he knew Bucky would press sweet angel kisses to his brow and nose for hours.
Finally, when all three of them were in the penthouse, Tony brought it up.
“So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am a very tactile person,” he started. “I am, shall we say...hands on. I like to touch and be touched.”
“We appreciate that about you,” Bucky said snarkily from his perch on the couch where he was paging through a novel. “Very much.”
Tony stuck his tongue out at him. “This isn’t a sex thing, not really. I just...look. You guys are private, I get that. But I...I like to be touched. Hugged, cuddled, kissed. It’s all important to my emotional well-being.”
Steve glanced up. “We love hugging and kissing you.”
Tony squirmed uncomfortably under Steve’s gaze. He knew they wouldn’t judge him, but he still felt awkward asking. “I know. That’s the only reason I’m not a mess right now.”
At this admission, both Steve and Bucky set down their activities and crowded around him. “Tony, baby,” Bucky asked, sliding his hand through Tony’s hair. “What’s wrong?”
Tony leaned into the touch almost without his permission. “This,” Tony murmured. “I want more of this. You only ever touch me when we’re in bed, or when we’re in here alone. And I...I guess I just need to be reminded more often. I want you to touch me all the time.”
Steve’s face paled. “Tony, love, have we been neglecting you?”
Tony shook his head, but he sighed as Steve’s hands came up to cover one of his. “Maybe just a little bit.”
“Aw, Tony, I’m really sorry,” Bucky apologised. “We never wanted you to think we only want to touch you during sex.”
“And I don’t think, that,” Tony said adamantly. “I know that’s not true. I just...I’m needy, and I get touch-starved easily, I guess. And it gets harder to remember, you know. That you…”
“That we love you?” Steve finished.
Tony smiled sheepishly. “Yeah.”
“Oh, Tony, I’m so sorry we were doing that,” Steve murmured. His hand was still holding onto Tony’s, and Bucky’s hand was petting through his hair. Tony relaxed into them.
“We’ll be better,” Bucky promised. “You’ll see.”
It wasn’t hard to see the difference in Tony’s mood as Steve and Bucky ramped up their physical affection. It was astounding to Bucky that he’d missed it in the first place. Tony had never really seemed low before, but in contrast to his sunshine mood now, it may as well have been a deep depression.
Bucky made a point to kiss Tony good morning every day. Usually he was up at the crack of dawn to run with Steve, so depending on how late they got back, sometimes Tony was already in the communal kitchen when they first saw each other awake. Before, it wouldn’t have occurred to him that he could kiss Tony good morning in a public space, but now he did it with gusto.
“Good morning, doll,” Bucky growled in Tony’s ear, coming up behind him as he fixed a cup of coffee. He took the opportunity to press a few kisses to the back of Tony’s neck, wrapping his arms around his stomach. “I’m glad you’re awake, because we’ve got a lot to do today.”
Tony leaned back against him and sighed like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “Morning, cyborg,” he hummed affectionately.
Clint choked on his eggs, needing to be thwapped on the back by Natasha before he could speak. “I didn’t know you two were together,” he finally managed.
Tony stared at him quizzically. “There was a PR disaster three months ago when it got out. How did you miss that?”
“I was in Peru!”
“Oh, and they don’t have internet in Peru?”
“Not on the side of a twenty thousand foot tall mountain!”
Tony was willing to concede that was probably true.
“Besides...I thought...Steve and Bucky were a thing.” Clint finished lamely.
“We are,” Bucky agreed casually, still draped over Tony. “And Steve and Tony are a thing, too. It’s a three-person thing.”
This had Clint’s eyebrows climbing. “Well, good for you then,” he said. “I’m glad you resolved whatever you were fighting about. Happy is a good look on you both.”
“Fighting?” Bucky questioned, but Clint was already finished with his eggs and out the door. “We weren’t fighting.”
“Could have fooled me,” Natasha butted in, rinsing her own plate. “You guys never touch each other. I had figured that you had some...issues.”
That was a very different reaction than what Bucky had been expecting. After so long hiding with Steve, it hadn’t really occurred to him that PDA was not only allowed, but expected.
“We really have failed you, huh,” he commented into Tony’s hair.
Tony only smiled sweetly, and Bucky had to agree. Happy looked good on him.
“You’re not failing now,” he said, “And you changed the instant I mentioned it. I’d say you’re doing pretty well.”
Bucky hugged him a little tighter and vowed to be the most touchy-feely boyfriend Tony had ever had.
Steve fell into cuddling and touching way easier than he thought he would. The first week after Tony talked to them, he would catch himself ready to withdraw like he usually did, then consciously reach out for Tony instead. Every time he did it, real joy poured out of Tony’s expression, so soon it became second nature to do everything he could to bring a smile to his lover’s face.
He started touching Bucky more, too, and as a result Bucky touched him more. By the end of the following month, he was rarely in the same room as Tony or Bucky without touching them.
Steve didn’t realize what he’d been missing until he had it. Being able to see Tony and Bucky touching all the time was amazing--like having free candy whenever he wanted. He loved watching Tony curl up on Bucky’s lap, or seeing Bucky lay his head on Tony’s thigh. Even better were the times he cuddled with both of them, just soaking in their presence and warmth. Now that he knew what an amazing feeling it was to touch them, he wasn’t going to give it up.
He learned more about them, about their relationship and how they worked. For some time he’s thought of himself as the thing between Bucky and Tony, the conduit through which they communicated. And in some ways that was true—they both had witnessed parts of him that the other missed. But it became vastly clear to Steve as he watched them together that the love they had for him was also for each other. Every caress and smile and pet name held the loyalty and affection they bestowed upon him so freely, but for each other. They seemed to understand one another on a level Steve didn’t even know was there. His heart swelled to see them speak a whole conversation with only their eyes, or make jokes at one another faster than Steve could keep up. It was everything he had dreamed of when they had first gotten together.
Steve learned new pleasures, too. Tony would play with his hair whenever it was in reach. Though before Steve would have said that hands near his head and neck made him uncomfortable, being petted by Tony soon became something he looked forward to so much that he sought it out.
Bucky, meanwhile, loved stroking his back. He would come up behind Steve while he was cooking, or sitting on the barstools in the kitchen, and smooth a hand down his spine. Steve found it hard to concentrate when he did this—more than once his painting time got sidetracked into a full blown make out session.
There were a thousand other things he learned about his lovers. Tony was ticklish, but if you touched more firmly in his ticklish spots he would moan. Bucky could fall asleep having his feet rubbed. Tony’s goatee caused wicked beard burn when he nuzzled into Steve’s arm or chest. Bucky went boneless when held under someone. Tony loved to catch at Steve’s waist and kiss him chastely. Bucky liked to cap his hands around Steve’s jaw and press firm lips to his.
Through it all, Steve couldn’t help but feel so grateful for Tony. It was because of him that they were getting the chance to explore this new aspect of their relationship. Without Tony, same as with Bucky, he’d be lost at sea.
Bucky loved Steve, but he was blaming him for the fact that they had gone so long without getting their cuddle on. Tony was a genius to suggest it, and personally Bucky had never been happier. He loved the excuse to get his hands all over his two best guys.
If he used the new permission to touch as an excuse to be more of a tease than normal, who could really blame him?
Sometimes his plan worked brilliantly—he would run a hand down Steve’s back, then place a sweet kiss on the back of his neck. Then he would dart away before Steve could grab him, grinning like a cat that got the cream. Minutes or hours later, Steve would corner him and drag him to privacy, to finish what he’d started. He couldn’t be happier with this outcome.
Sometimes, though, his teasing backfired. For example, Tony had an oral fixation unlike anything Bucky had ever witnessed. He capitalized in that one afternoon by running the fingertips of his metal hand over Tony’s lips, teasing the sensitive skin there. Instead of moaning and turning into the touch, like Bucky had expected, Tony had lashed out like a viper and snagged the tip of Bucky’s middle finger between his teeth playfully. He wrapped his lips around it and raised an eyebrow, his cheeks hollowing suggestively.
Bucky’s sensation with that arm still wasn’t perfect, but the sight of Tony sucking on his fingers had him hard and straining in no time flat. Tony, however, didn’t want to play the game just then. “I have a meeting now. Come back in an hour,” he snarked, kissing the tip of Bucky’s nose.
An hour later, still hard and frustrated, Bucky grabbed a laughing Tony and dragged him into his office, locking the door behind them.
Really, at the end of the day, Bucky couldn’t complain about that outcome, either.
Tony was passed between Bucky and Steve, almost never without one of them unless he wanted to be. He was malleable to their wishes, moving to be cuddled or stroked more easily. He would curl to fit in Steve’s arms, or bare his throat to Bucky’s lips, or be spread out over them both on the couch like a human Afghan. They were so gentle with him, always tender as they moved him where they wanted him to go.
The best moments were still the ones they shared in the privacy of the penthouse, wrapped around one another with no boundaries. All three of them fit so well together that Tony couldn’t help feeling like he belonged when his bed was full of blonde all-American and beefy Cyborg. But, though the best moments were private, to be cherished by the three of them alone, their cuddling habit persisted. Tony felt so full of love he thought he would burst. And still, Steve and Bucky poured more affection onto him. He had no doubts that they were the greatest things in his life, and he in theirs.