For the Scout, as the youngest of eight boys and therefore seldom able to get in so much as a single syllable, touch almost became his second language. He became fluent in the nuance of every punch, every knuckle tap, every slap upside the head, every noogie, every high-five, and every secret handshake that he traded with his brothers. He also learned at least fifty ways to elbow someone and then get the other person in trouble for reacting to it, to drape himself across multiple laps without it feeling awkward or uncomfortable, and to use shoulders as pillows on cramped family car trips.

Being on a team of multi-international scumbags and murderers (no offense to his teammates, but they all got paid to do shit that would’ve otherwise landed any of their asses in jail several times over) turned out to be not that much different than life back home except for the whole new minefield of personalities that he had to negotiate. Gravitating towards the Soldier, despite his rather loose grip on reality, felt right because the Soldier didn’t just take the Scout’s good-natured—and sometimes not-so-good-natured—posturing with stoic aplomb, he met Scout both word for word and touch for touch. So even after the Scout had warmed up to everyone else on the team, he still used all of his brother-annoying tactics on them—he delighted in riling up the Engineer in particular, as the otherwise amicable Texan had the most hilarious reactions to getting his personal space invaded—the Scout’s interactions with the Soldier soon became nothing but the equivalent of you’re okay with me.

In time, that camaraderie became a deeper friendship. Watching television together went from the Scout leaning against the back of the couch using the top of the Soldier’s head to rest his chin on (because the rest of said couch was taken), to the Scout being wedged into the space the Soldier saved between himself and the armrest, to the Scout balancing on the Soldier’s knees and scooting further back as the night progressed until he all but fell asleep in the Soldier’s arms because he’d worn himself out during the day’s fighting. Post-battle powows went from the Scout sitting across the fire pretending to listen to the Soldier berate them, to the Scout sharing drinks and stories of battlefield exploits with the Soldier, to the Scout laying next to the Soldier to gaze at the stars after everyone else had gone to bed.

All of these increasing acts of affection did not go unnoticed by the rest of the team, but the Scout shrugged off all of their jokes and name-calling, having heard far worse from his brothers growing up. Besides, it wasn’t as if the others hadn’t done their share of fooling around. Someday, the Scout might give dudes a try; probably never, but even if he did he wasn’t sure if he wanted to start with the Soldier. Not that the Soldier wouldn’t be a good pick—far from it—but bringing sex into the equation might mess with the the mojo they had going now, and the Scout wasn’t going to risk ruining that just for a good time. Until he was ready to go there with the Soldier, the Scout was content to nestle next to the other man and nuzzle the five-o’clock shadow on the Soldier’s jaw.