Steve was in the gym, talking to Sam, when Natasha climbed up his back and wrapped her arms and legs around him. Steve froze and waited– just because he wasn’t currently in a match didn’t mean he wouldn’t suddenly find himself being pulled into one– but nothing happened, no matter how many seconds ticked by. Natasha just sort of…hung there.
“Nat?” Steve asked. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” she said, like this was all very normal. (It wasn’t.) “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Um, no reason,” Steve said.
Natasha leaned her head around his to give Steve a quick peck on the cheek, then hopped off and walked away. Steve smiled, but looked at Sam inquisitively. Sam shook his head, and Steve assumed that was that.
Strong arms wrapped around him from behind, but they were larger, and there were no legs to accompany them. Steve froze again, until Bucky rested his head on Steve’s shoulder and exhaled like someone sat on his lungs.
“Hey Buck,” Steve said and reached back to touch his head.
“Hey,” Bucky grunted, kissed him, and left. Steve glanced back to see him go over to Natasha, and the two of them started arguing, and then sparring. Steve shook his head, but found himself recalling both hugs at random points throughout the day, and smiling every time.
Steve was making breakfast the next day when Sam came up behind him, wrapped his arms around Steve’s stomach, and nestled his face in between Steve’s shoulder blades. Steve grinned at the feeling of his sleepy partner snuggling into him. Unfortunately for Steve, happiness was a powerful emotion.
“Oops,” he said and looked up at the half-cooked pancake stuck to the ceiling. It dropped back onto the stove, splattering on the counter, wall, and chef. Almost immediately, Sam started shaking with the strain of holding back his laughter.
“Shut up,” Steve said, but he couldn’t help but smile as Sam pulled back and laughed loudly. Steve had enough time to dump the pancake in the trash, clean up the mess, and make an entirely new pancake by the time Sam calmed down.
“Ohhh; oh.” Sam wiped away a tear. “My master chef,” he said and kissed Steve.
“Yeah, yeah,” Steve grumbled, still smiling, and he turned his head to return the kiss. “How many do you want?”
“Hmm…three.” Sam went to the other counter to start the coffeemaker. “Oh, and skip the plaster additive. I’m watching my figure.”
Steve responded by flipping the next pancake so that it almost touched the ceiling. Sam was not nearly as impressed as Steve felt he should have been.
It was storming outside and Steve still couldn’t settle. It was an appropriate atmosphere for the mood he found himself sinking into over the past several days. Not that the thought gave him any real sense of peace– but he figured that was a lost issue anyway.
He was so focused on the book he wasn’t reading that when something slid into his lap he jumped. Or, at least, jerked up and dropped his book. ‘Something’ was Natasha, and she gave him an unamused look and settled in, her back resting against one of the overstuffed arms of the chair while her knees bent over the other side, and she opened her book, shifting like Steve was a mild inconvenience.
“Comfortable?” he asked.
“Could be more so.”
Steve took the hint and wrapped his arm around her back and lightly held her shoulder. After a moment of reflexive tensing she settled in, and despite everything, Steve felt himself start to relax more and more as well. As she started reading aloud in smooth, quiet tones, his heart settled and he dozed to the sound of dying rain and a steady Russian lullaby.
Steve was supposed to be swimming but he hung on the edge and, safely alone, let himself sink deep into his head again. He knew he technically shouldn’t but he had a good reason this time. The last mission had– well, no one died, thankfully, but too many had gotten hurt when someone– when Steve had miscalculated a coordinated attack and an explosion went off. Half of the terrorist cell had escaped and half of the military hostages were still recovering in medical wards. He didn’t understand what had gone wrong, he just knew that–
The water sloshed and a warm body pressed up against him. “You guys really like doing that,” Steve murmured as Bucky put his arms up on either side of Steve’s head to rest on the concrete. He pressed Steve against the wall and the light disappeared, covered by his body.
“You complaining?” Bucky breathed into his ear. Steve shuddered as Bucky pressed a kiss to the back of his neck that felt like a lingering drop of water.
“Just a little,” he said and flipped around. He pressed his lips to Bucky’s, wrapped his arms around him, and trusted that Bucky wouldn’t let him drown.
It happened more sporadically, and sometimes he didn’t notice until well after the fact.
Bucky slinging an arm around him at the grocery store. Natasha doing the ‘yawn and stretch’ at the movies (because she thought she was funny). Bucky and Natasha ending a match with a dog pile on him that was really more of a cuddle pile. Sam, too, was more prone to touch, even though he had never really shied away from it before.
It was nice. Steve didn’t know why it was happening, and was loathe to bring it up in case he made it stop for whatever reason. He found himself leaning into every touch, every hug, and he wanted to keep it.
“So…who has hugged you the most over the past few weeks?”
Steve blinked and set down his book. Natasha watched him patiently. Actually, so did Sam and Bucky. He had no idea what was going on, but he knew Natasha hated getting a question for a question. “You and Bucky.”
She made a noise in her throat that sounded like mild (thankfully) irritation. Sam laughed and Bucky and Natasha both looked at him with annoyance. “I told you.”
“But if you had to pick one,” Bucky asked Steve.
Steve thought about that and counted up every single touch. “Honestly…both of you. What’s this about?”
Bucky huffed and Natasha sighed. They looked at each other in silent communication for a moment. “We wanted to get more used to…touch,” Bucky said. “So we asked Sam for help. He said the only way to get used to it better was to practice.”
“So we made a bet,” Natasha said.
“Oh.” Steve couldn’t help but feel his mood dip a little. “So it’s going to stop?”
Natasha and Bucky shared a look again and then they both looked at him. “Not until one of us wins,” Bucky said.
“But you better keep track now,” Natasha said in warning.
“Okay,” Steve said, smiling a little. “For how long?”
How two people communicated with their eyes so much, Steve would never know. Well, he did the same on the battlefield, but it was still weird to see at home. “Two months,” Natasha said. “Log it.”
“Okay,” Steve said and looked at Sam who was quietly laughing through the entire exchange.
Sam put his hands up. “This was all them.”
Steve shook his head. But as they all settled in for the night, Steve and Sam in the middle and Natasha and Bucky at their respective backs, he had to know. “I thought you two didn’t like hugs.”
Natasha shrugged. “I find I’m coming around to the ones on my terms.”
“Same,” Bucky said and snuggled in, pulling Sam with him.
Sam rolled his eyes. “They make you happy, Steve, and we like you happy.”
Steve had to catch his breath. “Guys–”
“Yeah, we know Steve; we’re the best things to ever happen to you,” Bucky said.
“Honestly, there’s no need to get sappy on us,” Natasha added.
Steve rolled his eyes. “Actually, I was going to say you’re all assholes and I love you anyways.”
“Same,” Sam said and Bucky and Natasha expressed the same in quick succession.
Steve shook his head, but smiled and drifted off to sleep in the middle of the worst people he knew, and loved the most.