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In many ways, Tony's maybe-kinda-almost-there thing with Steve is all about boundaries.

No waking Tony up before nine in the AM unless the world is ending. No making jokes about the Founding Fathers. No accidentally breaking the coffee machine - actually, no touching Tony's coffee machine at all in any way, thank you. No inappropriate posing in the Iron Man suit on historical memorials or in public... or anywhere... the list went on, ad infinitum, and it suited Tony, most days.

You couldn't really be any shade of engineer without liking structure and order, after a fashion, and the almost-yeah-sort-of thing with Steve was pretty much all structure, for all that it still defied basic definition.

And so it shows, really, that Tony isn't always to blame for everything, because the first absolutely spectacular boundary breach comes from Steve.

"Um." Steve clears his throat from where he's sitting at the couch, and Tony realizes belatedly that he's been frozen at the lift door entry into the Avengers floors for possibly close to ten minutes.

"What is that?"

'That' twists around in the couch where it - or he - is curled next to Steve, presumably watching a baseball game on TV, and glowers at Tony over the rim of a half leather face mask. Unruly long dark hair runs past the possibly S&M-related mask to broad shoulders covered liberally in kevlar, or mostly - whatever it is, his left arm is metal. That's not the worst of it, though - the worst is the thing's eyes: they're feral, not nearly human.

"An old friend," Steve says calmly, as though he always invites semi-feral strange S&M-esque half-cyborgs into the living room, which definitely shows how the world rolls, in Tony's opinion. It's always the seemingly boy-scout ones.

"Ok-ay," Tony says slowly, as Steve's 'friend' narrows his eyes slightly and shoots Tony another calculating look, as though measuring how quickly he could toss Tony off the nearest balcony. "One question. Techno-virus?" he points at his own left arm for emphasis.





"Nope. Umm. Hydra modified ex-assassin. Ex-assassin. Bucky, this is, um, Tony, he owns this place. Tony, meet Bucky."

Bucky. Bucky. Where had he heard that before? Ah. "Zombie?" Tony hazards a hopeful last guess.

"No!" Steve sighs. "Tony, I'm really sorry, but Bucky doesn't have anywhere to go, and SHIELD is compromised and Fury has gone into hiding and my apartment is trashed, so I thought maybe he could bunk here for a bit."

"Wait, wait, wait," Tony blinks. "I go for a month-long set of investor meet and greets in Asia and when I come home everything has gone to hell?"

Steve cracks a faint smile. "Essentially."

"Right." Tony rubs a hand over his face. "How about I get settled in, and you can break it all to me over some whisky."

"Tony, it's in the middle of the afternoon," Steve reminds him reproachfully, because they have a Boundary about Imbibing Alcohol During Irresponsible Hours.

"I'm going to need alcohol for this, trust me," Tony tells him. One shower, a quarter of a bottle of Yamazaki and a mild headache after, Tony's sprawled in one of the armchairs, head tilted back on the backrest, trying to process.

"Um," Steve starts. "I've also cleared off compromised SHIELD agents in Stark Industries while you were away. Pepper knows about all this."

"Pepper knows?" Tony repeats, incredulous. "Am I the last to know?"

"Well," Steve starts defensively, "By the time we processed everything you were on a fli-"

He's interrupted by the sound of a low growl from Thing, threatening and soft, and Tony snaps his gaze back down sharply. "Bucky," Steve says, surprised, and the Hydra Wonderboy actually shuts up, with a long look at Steve that makes Tony's stomach curl a little in his gut. "Sorry," Steve apologizes earnestly. "He's been through a lot."

"So this 'ex-assassin' schtick, just to confirm, it's definitely water under the bridge?" Tony prods, because he can never stop poking around at things that are most definitely about to blow up in the near future.

"Yup," Steve says confidently, "Bucky's totally reformed. He'll be no trouble at all."

That was definitely the start of the problem, Tony would later decide. Karma is a bitch, and sometimes it hates Steve Rogers with an abiding passion.

The catalyst of the problem, though, is probably Tony's fault, given that he's fairly sure that Thing somehow overheard: later, when they're finally alone, out in the top floor balcony near the launch pad, Tony asks idly, "Did you tell him about us?"

"Um," Steve's ears pink a little. "Kind of. Not really. Um. No."

"So," Tony notes dryly, "No."

"Well," The blush starts to creep downwards. "We're, um, definitely dating, at the very least, er, maybe more, but you said the modern thing to do is to defy definitions, and stuff, so it's kind of hard to explain. He's still quite, er, 1940s in his opinions and things. I want to ease him into life outside Hydra."

That made sense. An ex-Hydra-assassin freak out was probably not going to be a pretty sight, and insurance premiums were pretty high this year. "He's your best friend, or he used to be," Tony points out, because now that he remembers it, Howard has talked about Bucky Barnes and the Howling Commandos before: all background characters in Tony's favourite childhood stories. "Don't you have a gauge on whether he's going to mind?"

"If he hadn't been done over by Hydra? Sure. I know he wouldn't mind. But the way he is now?" Steve shrugs helplessly. "I don't know. Some days he's better than others. On bad days, he masks up. It's like a crutch. I'm trying to wean him off the habit, but it's been slow going and he won't see a therapist like Pepper suggested."

"Maybe you should gently encourage him on that point," Tony suggests dubiously, then he grimaces. "If we're going to do the We're-Actually-Platonic-Friends song and dance until Bucky's all 'eased in', hah, 'eased-in'-"

"Tony," Steve interrupts, with a cute little frown - adorable.

"-does that mean no sex in the Tower?"

"I guess." Steve looks uncomfortable. "I mean, he's got enhanced senses, I think, or maybe not, but even so, remember that day before you had to catch your flight, and Clint? Yeah."

Tony remembers. The look on Clint's face just outside the gym had been priceless: a nice warm memory to hoard jealously into the long and lonely flight out across to Shanghai. "The things I do for you, Steve. Fine. Your friend can stay here however long he likes. But just be sure that you're watching him. Especially if any of the staff - or Pepper - is around, okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Tony." Steve looks around furtively for a moment, then leans over to peck Tony on the side of the mouth, and steps away before Tony can grab him for a proper kiss. "I'll, uh, catch you later."

Alone, Tony groans, burying his face briefly in his hands. He had been so good and hands-off for a month in Asia, too.


Three days into the New Living Arrangement with Feral Thing, Tony realizes his next mistake: Steve takes promises real seriously. He watches Thing like a hawk, especially if Pepper or anyone else is around - even if that someone else can take care of themselves, like Clint or Bruce - and this means that Steve has absolutely no time whatsoever to 'do something quick on the side'.

Still, Tony could have lived with that, if he had to. He was busy with the company, especially after the spectacular meltdown of their biggest client - thanks, Hydra - and even though Pepper was CEO, Tony was still the face of Stark Industries. He was also busy with a few upgrades to his latest suit. But what really unnerved him was Feral Thing's tendency to stare pointedly at Tony whenever Tony was even remotely in the near vicinity.

"What's his problem?" Tony hisses at Steve, in a rare moment when they're alone: Thing has presumably gone to assassinate the closest bathroom facility.

Steve looks briefly blank. "I already told you-"

"I mean," Tony hastily recalibrates his speech pattern back seventy years or so, "Does he really hate me for some reason in particular?"

"No, of course not," Steve sounds shocked.

"He stares at me all the time when I'm in the room, Steve."

"Well," Steve coughs, then hems and haws until Tony crosses his arms, then he sighs. "Okay. Well. Bucky knew your dad. You knew that too, right?"

Ah, of course. The resemblance was probably there. Tony relaxes. "Did the old man do something to him or what?"

"No, they were friends, I'm pretty sure. I guess... his memory's not quite there, but maybe he remembers something about Howard Stark, or he's nearly there. I'm really sorry if you find it disconcerting." Steve sounds so earnest about it all that Tony accepts the explanation as gold, and tries not to let Thing's constant eyeballing creep him out.

It doesn't really work: he ends up semi moving back to the Malibu house, because a constant niggling impression that he should be watching his back makes him antsy, and an antsy Tony is one who accidentally causes things to blow up in R&R. Pepper banishes him from Stark Tower for a week, which Tony plans to spend tooling his spare suits and/or watching Game of Thrones, maybe at the same time, but after a couple of days or so Steve shows up at his doorstep.

"Something blew up?" Tony asks, when he gets JARVIS to let Steve in. "Bruce Hulked out? Worse?"

"Nope. Everyone's fine. How's things?" Steve looks at the disaster zone that is the living room with a little frown of disapproval.

"JARVIS, pause the ep." Tony stretches, with a yawn: he's disassembled and reassembled the jetboots with upgrades, and now he's working on his gloves. Bits and bobs and tools are everywhere, spread in careful sections across the floor, and usually Tony wouldn't do work in the living room, but hell, Game of Thrones. "Things are great, Steve. How's your friend?"

"Nat's watching him for now." Steve gingerly sits down on the couch next to Tony, careful to check that he isn't sitting on anything. "I just thought I would come by and check on you, that's all."

Tony laughs, because Steve is so obviously here for obvious reasons, adorable, and eventually, Steve starts to turn flushed and fidgety, because apparently openly hitting up a Friend-With-Benefits for said benefits is Not Proper. They navigate the minefield of MarkIV parts and get up the stairs to the bedroom, somehow shedding shoes and shirts as they go, Tony nipping down on Steve's lower lip and growling as Steve responds by rubbing a thigh between Tony's legs.

Steve ends up bodily carrying him the last set of steps, since Tony's busy wrapping his thighs around Steve's waist and licking a stripe up Steve's neck, and they end up tumbling into bed, limbs everywhere, jeans and belts shoved off the bed, and Steve buries his face in the pillows and yelps as Tony licks a second stripe up between his legs.

"Tony," Steve protests, because he always does, but then he spreads his legs wider and starts to make those lovely, pitchy "God, aah, Tony, mm," noises that really should be illegal, the way they so quickly short-circuit Tony's functional brain cells. Tony smirks briefly as he presses his tongue firmly against Steve's opening and kisses him there, pressing his tongue in, as obnoxiously loud and wet as he can, laughing when Steve whimpers "Oh, oh, fuck," and grinds down into the bed as he comes all in a shocked rush.

"It's a good thing that your timer resets in minutes," Tony says, as he kisses slowly up the sweaty arch of Steve's spine and feels Steve shake under him as he muffles a laugh.

"Just keep going, I'm going to catch up soon," Steve suggests, his eyes dreamy and unfocused, the way he always gets just after coming, and Tony grins and presses another kiss higher up, between Steve's shoulder blades.

"Well, if you insist," Tony notes archly, as he rubs his erection briefly and firmly up against the wet cleft of Steve's ass, and grins again when Steve growls and jerks up against him.

Naturally, given Tony's luck with life in general, he's just worked two fingers into Steve when Steve's phone goes off, somewhere in the vicinity of the floor, and Steve whimpers, squirms a bit, then sighs and clenches his hand briefly over the bed.

"World's blowing up?" Tony asks, because it better be a damn fucking big emergency, in his opinion, or he's going to have JARVIS remotely zap the culprit somehow.

"Maybe, uhh... Tony just, maybe just wait a bit," Steve says breathlessly, as Tony reluctantly pulls his fingers away. Steve twists over to the side of the bed, fumbling for his phone, and when he answers, there's a note of irritation in his voice that the good Captain just can't hide. "Steve Rogers... Natasha? What? Oh... What? You've... oh. All right. Yeah, all right. Keep looking."

He flops back onto the bed as he hangs up, and Tony makes a leap of logic. "Your friend up and disappeared?"

"Yep." Steve rubs a hand over his face. "Um."

"I'm not going to be offended if you have to go," Tony says magnanimously, even as his libido makes an instant and vociferous protest.

"I'm sure he can take care of himself for an hour," Steve says dubiously, if uncertainly. "Um."

"But he might get picked up again by rogue Hydra elements? You can go, Steve. Really."

"Well," Steve flushes a little, "At least let me," he sits up, tugging Tony closer and up against the headboard, then he grins as Tony gets with the program and opens his thighs, letting Steve settle between them to nuzzle his cock.

"Yeah," Tony purrs, as Steve kisses up to the tip, then licks back down, "Just like that, baby," which is of course when JARVIS interrupts.

"Sir, there's been an unauthorized breach of the outer perimeter."

Tony lets out a frustrated growl. "Just zap whoever it is with the repulsor turrets, JARVIS. I'm - ahh - in the middle of something here-"

"Records indicate that the intruder is known as James 'Bucky' Barnes, alias the Winter Soldier, Mister Stark."

"What?" Steve jerks up, looking around reflexively.

"Okay. Hold on the turrets." Tony groans. "Well, fuck. Puppy nosed you out after all."

"Sorry, Tony, I, I'm really sorry," Steve manages, as he dresses more hurriedly than Tony's ever seen him, and leaves in a clatter down the steps, occasionally stopping for stray additional items of clothes.

"Let Bucky into the house, JARVIS," Tony says tiredly, and pinches at his nose for a moment before pushing himself off the bed.

By the time he trudges downstairs, JARVIS reports that Steve and Bucky have left, possibly heading back to Stark Tower, and Tony sighs as he pours himself back onto the couch and puts up his feet, tugging his tools towards him.


The 'convenient' interruptions are funny at first, and then suspicious, and then finally just downright irritating.

It starts to wear on Steve too, as far as Tony can tell: his temper grows markedly shorter. After one snapped retort at Clint, Clint sidles up to Tony later up near the launchpad with arched eyebrows. "Something up with you and Steve?"


"Never seen him that jumpy ever," Clint points out. "Let me guess. Shiny arm, red star?"


"This isn't working, Tony," Clint says, because he loves the obvious, "Steve's going to have to sit Crazy Arm down, have a long talk, possibly without weapons, and then you guys probably need to have a talk on your own about boundaries."

What even? Tony scowls. "We have boundaries. We have lots of boundaries. Our boundaries have fucking boundaries."

"Yeah, well," Clint says blithely, "Whatever it is, if Steve doesn't get his pipes cleaned soon, I think he's going to explode, and then America's going to be less one National Treasure and it'll be your fault. Maybe that's what Hydra wanted all along. Ever thought of that?"

Tony shoots Clint an incredulous look, but Clint merely smirks at him, and eventually, Tony lets out a deep sigh. "Fine. I'll... tell Steve that something has to be done, all right?"

He emails Steve, because Tony's busy, not because he's hiding, and after a long day spent in R&R putting out small tech-related problems, Tony drags himself home to the Malibu house to find Steve and Thing companionably watching the pilot of Game of Thrones on his couch, because apparently this is his life.

"You know," Tony says, after a long moment, "Firstly, I don't feel really good about Captain America watching a show that's full of... well, full of trigger everythings, and secondly, I have the same bad feeling about ex-assassins watching the show, but for different reasons."

"It seems like a good show, and besides, you like it." Steve ventures. "I like Ned."

"... All right," Tony has to take several deep breaths not to blurt anything out, and he manages a weak grin. "Let's have that conversation some other time. You guys can help yourselves to the 'fridge. I'll be in my lab."

"Actually," Steve says firmly, "We're here to talk to you. About boundaries."

"Oh Gods," Tony mutters, because yes, this is clearly his life right now. "What did I do now?"

"No, not you," Steve corrects, and looks pointedly at Bucky. Without the mask, Thing actually looks... somewhat more human, in an ex-assassin way, and he seems to only have one expression: Hydra Assassins probably take classes in Brooding 101.

"Sorry about the intrusions," Bucky says, in a gruff voice. "Didn't mean it," he adds - liar! - "Just wasn't too sure of you, that's all. You look a hell of a lot like someone I used to know."

"That's probably my dad," Tony notes, even as he arches his eyebrows, because it doesn't need genius to smell a lie this wide. "Anything else?"

"Nope," Bucky says, and on the side that the ex-assassin has that's hidden from Steve, Bucky pointedly pats the space at his hip where a gun holster might be. "I'll be glad to get to know you better once I settle in, Mister Stark."

"Sure," Tony says warily, with a quick glance at an oblivious Steve. "Er. Did Steve talk to you about me?"

"I did," Steve pipes up.

"Like, everything?"

Steve nods, and okay, this explains it. "Bucky took it pretty well," Steve adds, which shows how incredibly oblivious Captain America can be at the worst of times.

"Suuure he did," Tony ventures, trying to inject enough sarcasm into his tone to give Steve a warning signal, but it doesn't work, because, oblivious Steve.

"Make sure that you're good to him," Bucky says in the same flat tone, and turns back to the TV.

Tony ends up retreating into his lap with a niggling sensation that he should be watching his back. Or wearing one of his Armours.


As Tony thought, the harassment continues, and it takes about a month or so before Steve finally caves all the way and has a Talk with Thing, after which, rather to Tony's surprise, Bucky moves out of Stark Tower.

"What was that all about?" Tony asks Steve, genuinely bewildered, when Steve tells him this in the living room, Game of Thrones yet again paused in the background.

"Well," Steve looks sheepish, "I think he really needs his own space for a bit. It was a good talk, though. I told him that I was flattered but we could only be friends and that you probably come off a little strange at the start but you're really a good person deep down, and you're no longer a player and-"

"... Okay," Tony blinks, because all Steve had said before this was that he had a 'chat' with Bucky and then Bucky had 'moved on out'. "That was probably, I don't know, extremely relevant information that you should have opened with from the start?"

"Which bit?" Steve has the balls to grin.

"Both, but especially the bit that panders to my ego," Tony says automatically, then adds, "He was jealous? I thought you guys were Best Platonic Friends!"

"We are," Steve says firmly. "And we will be. I guess I never knew that he felt that way. It was a bit of a shock. I mean, he never said anything, you know?"

"Uh huh," Tony nods sagely, because previously, before their Maybe-A-Thing had started, Tony had made lots of suggestions, only to get laughed off, and in the end, as desperate last measures, had snuck into Steve's room and simply gotten naked. Poor Feral Thing never had a chance. "So he's gone? Really gone?"

"Really gone," Steve agrees, and climbs onto the couch. "But I told him to keep in touch. Without the home invasion."

"Hope you emphasized that point very thoroughly," Tony says, with a perhaps inappropriately suggestive wink, and he ends up riding Steve's gorgeous dick against the couch, quick and dirty and with almost too little prep, stretched open, his breaths punched out into raw sobs as Steve grabs at his hips and starts driving up into him, braced against the floor with his mouth tucked against Tony's neck.

He's near the brink, so close, toes digging into the couch and his back arching against Steve when JARVIS says, "Sir, there's been a-"

"You've got to be kidding me," Tony growls, and as Steve stiffens up, Tony glowers at him and grinds back down. "Don't stop."

"Perimeter breach imminent," JARVIS says helpfully. "East garden. Intruder identified as Director Fury."

Tony groans, closing his eyes briefly. "JARVIS, fire everything."

"No, wait, just," Steve starts to laugh then, and kisses Tony when Tony scowls at him, and they end up having to finish in the shower, water and soap everywhere and Steve sucking an impressive hickey into Tony's neck as he comes.

As they towel off, Tony says, very dryly, "I think we need a new Boundary about your friends."

"My friends?" Steve repeats, raising an eyebrow. "Fury's your friend too."

"Not in the least," Tony corrects, then adds, "But if he's also the jealous type, then I'm going to totally re-evaluate this thing you said about him 'crashing' at 'your place'."