“Where’d you want these boxes, Tones?” Rhodey huffed, carrying a set of stacked boxes through the door of Tony’s new apartment. “Do they say kitchen or bedroom? I can’t see from this angle –“
“Kitchen,” Tony told him, helpfully snatching up the top couple of boxes before they could fall. “Thanks, buddy.”
He led Rhodey away from the door and then ducked through a large arch that separated his kitchen from his living area.
Tony was pretty proud of his place. He hadn’t purchased it in the best of circumstances, but it felt good. His last place had technically belonged to his father, as it had been bought with family money, and when they’d argued Tony had been kicked out. It had been inconvenient, as Tony had a job at a local garage that he had to get to every day, but Rhodey had kindly put him up at his Mom’s house until Tony had saved enough to rent his own place.
Finally, after what had felt like an age, he was moving in.
“This is a pretty nice place,” Rhodey admitted as he put the boxes down on the kitchen counter. “Are you sure you’re okay living completely by yourself?”
Tony had friends back in his old apartment complex. He had to admit that starting completely over on his own was a little daunting, but he was pretty sure he’d be fine. Everyone was a stranger until you said hello, after all.
“I’ll be fine, honey bear,” he replied with a grin. “Appreciate your concern, though.”
“Dork,” Rhodey rolled his eyes, though he pulled Tony in for a quick, one armed hug. “Okay, more boxes?”
“Sure,” Tony nodded.
There weren’t a lot of boxes left in the hall when they made it back out there. Tony actually didn’t own a lot of stuff; at least 50% of the boxes were filled up with scraps of metal and a couple of tool boxes, because he liked to tinker in his spare time. Other than that, he had his laptop, TV, a box of pots, pans and cutlery for the kitchen, and some clothes, and that was pretty much it.
“If you grab the last of the bedroom stuff, I’ll take your TV in, yeah?” Rhodey was deciding as the door opposite Tony’s opened and a nearly naked man stepped out.
“Hi,” the nearly naked stranger grinned easily, seemingly completely okay with meeting a new neighbour for the first time in only his underpants. “Just moving in?”
“Uh, yeah,” Tony managed intelligently.
Had he mentioned the guy was gorgeous? Because he was Adonis levels of hot. Golden blond hair ruffled and obviously just slept on, warm, bright blue eyes that seemed kind, a jawline that could cut glass and sculpted abs that must have taken years of work, Tony was actually pretty sure he had never seen a more beautiful person in all his life.
“I’m Steve Rogers,” the stranger introduced himself, and then ducked down to pick up his morning paper. Tony immediately averted his eyes, because if he got an eyeful of that ass he knew he’d never be able to look away.
“Tony Stark,” he introduced himself instead, and stuck his arm out for Steve to shake once he had straightened back up again. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Steve nodded, grasping Tony’s hand. Strong grip. “You need any help with those boxes?”
It took Tony a moment to realise he was talking about the boxes still stacked in the middle of the hall. “Oh! Oh, um, thanks, but there’s only a couple left. I think we’ll manage.”
And then, as if on cue, Rhodey called from inside the apartment, “Tony? We’re gonna need to buy you an entertainment system or something to put this TV on, because it’s currently on the floor.”
“Okay,” Tony called back, and then grinned sheepishly at Steve. “I better get back to my buddy.”
“Sure,” Steve nodded sagely, and then smiled. “If you ever need anything, I’m just across the hall. My door’s always open; come right on in, okay?”
“Oh,” Tony nodded. “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Do,” Steve told him, a hint of a smirk touching the corners of his lips. “I’ll look forward to it.”
And with that, Steve flashed a cheeky grin and then turned back into his own apartment. Once the door was closed, Tony breathed out for what felt like the first time since he had laid eyes on him.
“Not even moved in five minutes and you’re already being propositioned,” Rhodey tutted from behind him, and he was leaning against the door frame when Tony turned to look at him. “Unbelievable.”
“He was not propositioning me,” Tony huffed in reply, leaning down to grab the remaining boxes. “Shut up.”
Tony settled in fairly quickly. His neighbours, as a whole, were pretty nice; there was an elderly British lady that lived at the end of the hall who Tony was practically in love with. Her name was Peggy, and she could kick ass, and Tony wanted nothing more than to sit for hours and listen to her retail her years in the war.
A guy called Bruce lived directly on his right. He was a little shy, but seemed really cool; he was a science guy, like Tony, only Bruce specialised in gamma radiation and particle physics. Incidentally, he also made the best pot brownies Tony had ever had.
There was a couple on his left. Tony hadn’t officially met either of them, because they seemed to hold even weirder hours than he did, but he knew their names were James and Tasha simply because he could hear them calling each other’s name when they were having sex. The sex thing didn’t particularly bother him – it was better than the couple who used to yell at each other twenty-four seven in his old building.
And then there was Steve. The guy really hadn’t been kidding when he had said his door was always open; Tony had walked out of his apartment to go to work the day after he had moved in only to find Steve’s door wide open. He hadn’t meant to look – didn’t want to pry – but his line of sight had accidentally landed right on Steve as he wandered past the door.
He had just so happened to be completely naked.
“Morning, neighbour,” he’d called unashamedly, even throwing a little wave Tony’s way as he padded over to his fridge. “Have a good day!”
Tony, not really sure what else to do, had just waved back stupidly, stuttered out a “Bye,” and had quickly darted away towards the elevator, chalking it up to a case of bad luck and timing.
But it kept happening.
A few days after the naked incident, as Tony had started dubbing it (not that he thought about it at all, of course), he once again stepped out of his apartment to head off to work, only to have a towel clad body dart past him from James and Tasha’s apartment next door.
“Hey, neighbour!” Steve called over his shoulder as he pushed his door open. “Water’s not working in my apartment, had to use Buck’s shower.”
So that was why he was only wearing a towel.
And dripping wet.
“Hey, you want some coffee?” Steve called from in his apartment, and Tony realised he was still frozen to the spot by his front door.
“Umm,” he replied, and quickly had to clear his throat because it came out around five octaves higher than he wanted it to. “Uh, I have to get to work.”
“Ah, okay,” Steve called back. “Never mind then!”
Tony made himself move a few steps, and once again (accidentally) peered into Steve’s apartment. Steve wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but it was probably for the best, because Tony eyed his towel on the floor in the middle of the room, and his mind – again, accidentally – drifted back to the naked incident from a few days before.
“Okay,” Tony called, forcing himself to tear his eyes away from Steve’s apartment before he started snooping further than he already had. “Um… have a good day, Steve!”
“Thanks, Tony!” Steve called back cheerfully, still out of sight. “Same to you.”
Despite the weirdness of the whole situation, Tony felt light and happy for the whole rest of the day thanks to Steve.
“He came out in a towel?” Rhodey asked incredulously, taking a sip of his beer.
Around them, the other people in the bar laughed raucously and sang as they drank; Tony was under the impression that a team had won a sports thing, or something. Probably. Honestly, Tony had no fucking clue.
“Yep,” he replied instead, taking a drink from his own bottle. “All wet and glistening and everything.”
“And this isn’t the first time this has happened?” Pepper asked him seriously, and Tony laughed.
“Saw full frontal a few days before,” he told her, and then raised both eyebrows when she looked at him expectantly.
“Looks like I have to move into your building,” she huffed, and then took a sip of her wine while Rhodey laughed.
“Hands off,” Tony told her. “He’s my wet dream inducing, stud muffin neighbour, not yours.”
“He wouldn’t be yours either if you hadn’t moved and left me back on the old block,” Pepper sniffed in reply, and then grinned at him.
“Back on the Old Block would be a killer band name,” Rhodey announced, and then turned to Tony. “Also, he’s yours all of a sudden?”
Tony almost choked on a sip of his beer, realising his slip. “Shut up, you know what I mean.”
“You have a crush on your creepy nudist neighbour,” Rhodey snorted, and Tony tutted.
“I do not,” he replied, clearing his throat. “And he’s not creepy.”
Rhodey just huffed a laugh into his beer and sent Tony a knowing look. “Sure, Tones.”
“I’m being serious!” Tony insisted. “He’s nice to me, okay, but there’s a difference between being friendly and flirting with someone! He’s just a nice guy –“
“A nice guy who seems intent on getting you to see him naked?” Pepper hummed. “In my experience, those aren’t the kind of guys you want to be dating.”
“What, I – who said anything about dating?” Tony scoffed, heart hammering a little in his chest. “You guys are crazy. Steve’s obviously just got no qualms about his body – and he’s got every right to be proud, because sometimes the light catches him just right and it looks like he’s made out of marble, and –“
Tony came to a stop mid sentence, realising that both Pepper and Rhodey were looking at him with raised eyebrows and matching smirks. He cleared his throat, trying not to think too much about the fact that those words seemed to have just come out of him without his conscious decision, and took a gulp of his beer to distract them both from the fact that his face was heating up a little.
So maybe he had a little bit of a problem.
Tony could and had been a little bit stupid when it came to people he had crushes on. Pepper told him he had a tendency to give all of himself to people, usually a bit too hastily, and was always left heartbroken when it became a little too much for them.
That’s why he usually stuck to one night stands, these days.
Pepper had been his last attempt at a proper relationship. They’d been together for three years – the longest relationship Tony had ever managed – before they had finally decided that it wasn’t going to work for them full time, and that they were better off taking a step backwards and remaining friends instead.
Tony hadn’t had a romantic crush on anyone since then, had thought he’d managed to successfully repress any feelings of that particular nature, but then Steve had come along and completely ruined it all.
But, despite that, Tony had learned his lesson from his previous relationships; once he figured out that he had a crush on Steve, he did his very best to avoid him. Rhodey told him that wasn’t a particularly mature thing to do, but it seemed to be working so far, so Tony wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
The morning after he’d met with Pepper and Rhodey for drinks, he simply left an hour later for work. Part of it was to see if he could miss Steve (who he was fairly certain headed out to work pretty soon after Tony himself normally did), and partly because he was a little hung-over and needed the extra half-hour in bed. He’d be late, of course, but his work spoke for itself, so he wouldn’t be in too much trouble.
As he had expected, Steve’s door was firmly closed and he was nowhere to be seen when Tony quietly slipped out of his apartment. He tried to ignore the way his chest ached as he passed by Steve’s apartment, and instead made himself focus on the day he had ahead.
It wasn’t like he had time to be flirting, anyway.
He couldn’t keep the late mornings up, though. Being late every now and again was all well and good, but Fury, his boss, was starting to lose his patience. Tony was a talented mechanic, sure, but Fury had no time for unreliable people; Tony was going to have to come up with another way to try and avoid Steve.
“You just moved in,” Rhodey rolled his eyes, accepting a carton of take-out that Tony handed over to him. “You’re not moving out again just because you have a weird crush on your creepy neighbour.”
“He’s not –“ Tony started snippily, and then took a deep breath and sighed. “I just… what else am I supposed to do? Climb out of the fire escape every morning?”
“Go back to leaving at the regular time, and just tell him you’re not particularly comfortable being bombarded with his dick so early in the morning?” Rhodey suggested simply instead, and Tony huffed out a laugh as he dropped down onto the couch beside him with his own food.
“The problem is,” he mumbled, cramming some noodles into his mouth, “is that being bombarded with his dick is actually the perfect way to start my morning.”
“You’re nasty,” Rhodey groaned, grimacing. “I just… what’s the problem, then? Are you doing that thing where you overthink everything when you could just be getting your mack on –?“
“He’s my neighbour, Rhodey!” Tony exclaimed, dropping his carton of food down onto the coffee table. “And yeah, he’s hot in a weird, flasher-y kinda way, but what happens if I agree to date him and then it doesn’t work out? Can you imagine how awkward that’d be? You know how I get; you know how I – “ Fall in love with people so easily.
Rhodey seemed to understand everything that Tony had managed to stop himself from saying, and sighed. “Look –“
“Trying to avoid him is bad enough now, okay? Imagine what it’d be like if we broke up,” Tony sighed, running a hand through his hair. “And that’s assuming he’s even interested in the first place. He might genuinely just enjoy being naked, and not mean anything by it.”
“But possible,” Tony insisted. “I just… I’m trying to do the adult thing for once, here.”
Rhodey assessed him for a moment, and then, shaking his head, he sighed and pulled Tony into a one-armed hug. “I know you are, buddy. But if that’s what you want, then you have to talk it out with the guy. He’s a grown man – he’ll understand if you ask him to respect your wishes. And if he doesn’t, send him my way, okay?”
“Okay,” Tony murmured, snuggling unashamedly into Rhodey’s arms. “Thanks, sugarplum.”
“You’re welcome, buddy,” Rhodey replied, and then patted Tony on the arm as he pulled away again. “So, how’s work going?”
They ended up talking for a lot longer than either of them had anticipated; in the end, Rhodey decided to crash at Tony’s place. It wasn’t the first time they’d spooned – at this point, it was practically normal to loan Rhodey a pair of his PJs and get some snuggle time in.
By morning, however, Tony’s resolve to speak to Steve was starting to wane. Part of him still liked the thought of seeing Steve everyday, of someone caring enough to say hello to him without fail. Logically, he was aware that craving the attention of the hot nudist across the hall probably wasn’t the healthiest of compulsions to have, but he had never really been the healthiest of people to begin with.
“Hey, why don’t I come out with you? Buffer you from the guy a little bit?” Rhodey suggested over breakfast, and Tony barely managed to hide a sigh of relief. Having Rhodey there with him would help give him the confidence to do this.
And so, after they’d finished their breakfasts and gotten dressed, Tony took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself down, and then he opened his door and prepared for the worst.
Except… Steve’s door was closed.
“Huh,” Rhodey hummed, peering over Tony’s shoulder. “Looks like he got the message after all?”
“Yeah…” Tony replied quietly, trying to ignore how his heart sank a little in his chest. “Yeah, I… I guess so.”
“All right, well, I gotta get to work,” Rhodey continued, slinging an easy arm around Tony’s shoulders. “You want a ride?”
“Uh, sure,” Tony nodded, forcing himself back into gear. He turned and locked his door, and then followed Rhodey down the corridor. “Shotgun.”
“There’ll only be two of us in the car, dork,” Rhodey rolled his eyes fondly.
Things settled relatively quickly after that. Tony’s life went back to normal; he got up, commuted to work, came home, had dinner, went to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. After a few days of it, Tony wasn’t ashamed to admit that he was starting to feel a little bored – stuck in a rut, even. Sure, getting flashed by his neighbour hadn’t exactly been normal, but it had made his life a little more interesting; without Steve, he was bored out of his mind.
And it was just as he was thinking this, sat alone in his apartment one evening, that someone started knocking urgently on his door.
For a split second, Tony seriously thought about ignoring whoever it was and hoping they went away, because he wasn’t expecting Pepper or Rhodey, and realised they were the only two people he would really open his door to anyway. After a moment, however, it became apparent that the knocker wasn’t going to go away until Tony had opened the door, and so, with a deep sigh, he pulled himself to his feet and headed for the door.
“Can I help –?“
“You the kid Stevie keeps talking about?” a complete stranger cut him off, before promptly slipping past Tony and wandering into his apartment.
“I –“ Tony wasn’t really sure what to say, and instead just closed his door and turned to the man, who was now perched quite happily on his couch. “What?”
The guy was actually pretty good looking, in a half-hipster, half-hobo kinda way. His hair was long and dark, pulled back and up into a bun on the top of his head. His eyes were piercing, his stubble patchy and seemingly unkempt. Muscles bulged from his Henley shirt, and Tony realised with a pang that the guy had a prosthetic arm.
“You’re Stark, right?” the guy asked again.
“Uh… yeah?” Tony replied, unsure. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Buck,” the guy replied. “I live next door.”
“James,” Tony found himself blurting out before he could stop himself, and then felt his cheeks heating up a little.
“Yeah…” the guy replied, squinting over at Tony like he was just seeing him for the first time. “How’d you know?”
“I – um, I…” Tony flailed for a moment, before replying, “Steve told me?”
“That snarky son of a bitch,” James – Buck – shook his head. “I’m in two minds to walk back outta this door and leave you both to it –“
“To what?” Tony asked, more confused by the minute. “Why the hell are you in my apartment?”
“Because,” Buck replied, rolling his eyes. “You’ve upset Steve.”
Tony felt his heart lurch in his chest, confused and hurt on a fundamental level. “What? How? I haven’t –”
“Look, okay, I know he’s a weirdo,” Buck waved a hand to shut Tony up. “He gets panicky and makes bad life choices when he likes someone – it’s a thing, we’re working on it – but, honestly, that’s just the kind of dork he is, and it can come off a little creepy, but he’s a good guy and he deserves someone who’ll treat him with the love and respect he deserves.
“With that in mind,” Buck sighed, “you think maybe you could have told him you were seeing someone before he got his dick out in the hall?”
“Wait,” Tony shook his head. “Steve gets his dick out in public and I’m the one you’re chewing out? Also, seeing who?”
Buck frowned. “I – he said something about a guy coming out of your apartment a couple mornings ago?”
“I don’t –“ Tony paused, and then snorted. “Do you mean Rhodey? Listen, I love the guy, and we’re platonic life partners, but I am absolutely not sleeping with him.”
“You’re not?” Buck rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna kill Steve.”
“He was watching after all?” Tony huffed. “I gotta say, he’s hot, but you’re not instilling much confidence in me, here.”
“I swear to god he doesn’t just go around flashing his dick to people,” Buck sighed, running a hand over the top of his head. “It was… kinda my idea? The first time you met, he panicked ‘cos he was in his underwear and yet still, somehow, managed to come out sounding all smooth, but then he told me about it and was worried he wouldn’t be able to replicate the… smoothness, so I told him to try stripping off completely. Really, he shouldn’t listen to me –“
“You don’t say,” Tony agreed, folding his arms across his chest. “Is that why he’s not been in the corridor these past few days? He thought I was seeing someone else?”
“Pretty much,” Buck nodded. “He’s an idiot.”
“No, he’s –“ Tony paused mid-sentence as a blaring noise suddenly started outside. “What the –?“
When he glanced at Buck, the man smirked, and he suddenly had the craziest idea that this had to have something to do with Steve. Rolling his eyes, he paced the room and threw his door open; across the hall, Steve’s door was also open, and Tony could just about make out what appeared to be a classical three-piece string band inside.
“Hey, neighbour,” Steve murmured with a shy grin, stepping into view through his door. “Long time no see.”
He was wearing a stunningly tailored three-piece suit, and held a violin in his hand as he grinned at Tony.
“It’s been like a week,” Tony replied, feeling himself start to smile. “Not that long.”
“Too long for me to go without seeing you,” Steve replied, and then gestured to the violin in his hand. “Me and my band were just practising.”
Tony laughed. “Oh, really?”
“Well, I don’t actually play,” Steve shrugged, still grinning. “But those guys do, and they’d play better with an audience…”
“Are you still trying to get me into your apartment?” Tony asked.
“I guess so,” Steve nodded. “I know I must have seemed creepy as hell, and I’m so sorry, I –“
“Buck explained,” Tony waved his concerns away. Taking a deep breath, he continued, “I don’t like having to do this in the hall. How about we take this conversation into your apartment?”
Steve’s grin was brighter than the sun, and he stepped aside to let Tony in without question.