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They say it's hard to say you're sorry (and mean it)

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The dreams always slipped away right before he could get a handle on them. Steve was no stranger to bad dreams, but these were different. His nightmares had always been vivid, the bright blue cold of ice and Bucky falling and his mother’s rattling last breath, Avengers’ blood smeared over the ruined mansion and civilians dead in the streets, crimson skulls and laughter, not this whispered ghost of a thought, after-images that faded out of his mind as soon as he woke. Tony’s voice, T’Challa’s shadow … .

It was strange. Why would he be dreaming of them? Steve rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, tilted his head to one side, working his muscles loose, and then scrubbed his hand over his eyes. It was like he had the tail end of a headache, but with no pain, something he wasn’t used to feeling with the serum anyway. His head felt muzzy, as if from lack of sleep, but he hadn’t needed even the few hours of sleep that he’d had.

He got up, wondering if he should go back to sleep anyway. A strange urgency thrummed in the back of his mind. He washed his hands, splashed water on his face, looked at himself in the mirror. His skin was pale, his eyes oddly bloodshot. His face looked strained and tired. Why would he be tired? The adrenaline wouldn’t ebb in his veins. He felt as if he should be up and doing something. Maybe he should go down to the gym and work out. He glanced at the clock that hung above his bed. 1 am.

It was late, but Tony often worked at his projects long after the time, in Steve’s opinion, that a normal person would be in bed. He wondered if he was still awake, what he was doing. If he headed down to the workshop, would he find him there?

Steve smiled to himself, a little. He had spent a lot of time with Tony lately. It was … it was good. It felt right. Like they were really Avengers again, the way they’d been so many years ago, in the original mansion, when they were young and eager and full of ideals that had yet to be truly challenged. Now they were different, and older, and so many things had changed, but they were still Winghead and Shellhead, still Avengers. It felt good.

And there was more to it than that, Steve admitted. Fighting against Tony had been one of the most painful things he’d ever done, to think that this brilliant man, a man he’d always admired for his intelligence, and creativity, and determination, his ability to see into the future and make it reality, would have decided to throw his whole weight behind something that ran counter to everything Steve had ever believed. It had hurt, terribly, and with that hurt had come anger. There had been so many times when Steve looked back at himself, at the things that had happened and that he had done, and wondered how he had let himself do that, how it had come to that between them. Now they had another chance, a second chance to make things right. And he had Tony back, unapologetic but still regretful, still a good friend, still brilliant and stubborn and infuriating and one hell of a wise guy, with his blue eyes and dark sooty lashes and mobile, smirking mouth, his lean build and compact strength, and maybe Steve had been thinking about him more like that lately, but Tony was handsome, it wasn’t a surprise. He’d always been handsome, and Steve had always thought so—had always had a bit of a fascination with the angles of his cheekbones and the softness of his mouth contrasted with his facial hair, the long lines of his back and shoulders and rear end, to tell the truth—but that had been an awareness in the back of Steve’s mind ever since they’d first met, and it had never impacted their friendship in any way. He was proud of that, that he had always been able to treat Tony as a friend despite his physical attraction, hadn’t let it dictate his actions or his feelings, that he had never pined over him hopelessly.

But somehow seeing Tony the way he’d been after the end of the Civil War and all the fighting, drawn tight in on himself, thin and battered and worn to little more than wire and bone, and then to watch as he put on weight and real muscle again, watch the color come back to his skin, his eyes brighten and his smiles begin to shift from flat and practiced to living and vivid, had made Steve more aware of that deep, long-standing attraction than ever. There had been moments when he’d looked over at Tony and found him looking back, and something in his eyes had made Steve wonder … but he supposed they would see, and if anything was building there, Steve was willing to wait for it. They had time, after all. He’d waited this long. If something did happen between him and Tony, it would be good, so good, he just knew it. He was willing to wait for something like that.

As if his thoughts had summoned it, there was a knock on his door. Steve dried his hands on a towel and called, “Come on in,” crossing the room to open the door.

It opened before he got there, and there was Tony, his hair standing on end the way it did when he’d run his hands through it. Steve expected to see grease stains and smell motor oil, but when he looked Tony over, he saw that his hair was wet, and he smelled like expensive sandalwood soap. He must have just taken a shower. “Tony,” he said, and smiled at him. “I was just about to go looking for you.”

Tony swallowed; Steve could see it as his throat worked, his Adam’s apple bobbing. His eyes were dark, serious. “Yeah?” he said. “Is something wrong?”

Steve shrugged. “Just couldn’t sleep,” he said. “Not exactly a world crisis.”

Tony’s shoulders tightened at that. If Steve didn’t know better, he’d have called it a wince, but when Tony spoke again, his voice was even. “Why not?” Tony said, and then his voice deepened, softened with concern. “Bad dreams?”

The way he was looking at Steve … there was something desperate and intense in it, something that made Steve feel uncomfortable. Tony was good with a smile and a quip when he needed to be, but he’d never completely mastered his features, and there was something about that look in his eyes … it reminded him of how Tony had looked at him right before the SHRA.

“You could say that,” Steve said. He didn’t want to talk about it—he knew Tony had his own bad dreams, too, and these weren’t anything too terrible. Just unsettling. He couldn’t even remember them, after all—they were nothing deserving of the intense, focused concern that was practically vibrating out of Tony’s body. He was fine. “We all have our share of ‘em, after all.”

Tony let his breath out in a dry little huff of a breath at that and looked down. A wry smirk curved one side of his mouth, but it didn’t look amused. “Yeah,” he said. “Sure do.”

Steve just looked at him for a moment, a bit alarmed by the way he was acting. This wasn’t normal for Tony, as moody and mercurial as he could sometimes be. Was something wrong? He reached out, let his fingers rest on Tony’s shoulder. “Look,” he said. “Are you all right?”

A shiver worked its way through Tony’s body, and his chin snapped up. “Yeah,” he said, but then he swallowed again. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You seem a little off,” Steve said. He took a step forward, smiled at Tony to take any sting out of the words, curving his hand around his shoulder, trying to provide Tony with some steadiness just through his body. “Did something happen?”

Tony sucked in his breath, and his shoulders stiffened. “No,” he said, his voice abrupt and final. “No. I was just …” He smiled at Steve, the grin that always hit Steve with the pure, startling force of his charisma more than the slick, flashy one he saved for cameras, because this one was more Tony, crooked and intimate, sarcastic and oddly self-deprecating with it. “I was just thinking,” he said. There was something strange in his eyes, something fluttering just behind the shield of his eyelashes, a thick dark lattice over deep, drowning blue. Steve frowned, looked closer. The skin around Tony’s eyes was tight, sunken, and the skin beneath them smudged with violet shadows, just a little, and there was that emotion deep behind Tony’s eyes—his eyelashes flicked down, shuttering them from Steve’s view, and for a moment Steve was strangely, vividly reminded of the armor’s faceplate coming down, and nearly faltered, startled by the strength of the image.

“It happens to the best of us,” he said, teasing, and that smile on Tony’s lips turned darker, wrier, more ironic.

“Some of us more than others,” he said, and then he stepped forward, much to Steve’s surprise, into his space. His body felt very warm against Steve’s, and now he could catch a little whiff of motor oil, and of cologne, beneath the soap.

“Did you have a bad dream?” Steve asked, still trying to make sense of this. He shifted his hand to curl at the back of Tony’s neck, braced his thumb against the back of his skull. Tony shuddered all over, and his breath hitched in his throat. His hand settled at Steve’s side and stroked, slow, just above his hip, then down. Heat unexpectedly shot through Steve, because that touch was so warm, so intimate, slow and dragging and tender and not at all the touch of a friend. “Tony …” he said, more gasped than anything.

“I guess you could say that,” Tony said. He looked up, and there was something dark and wild in his eyes, and they were huge in his face, dilated and dizzying and somehow like looking into deep, horribly chillingly deep water. Blue ice, Steve thought, ice over the deep darkness of the ocean, and a shiver worked through him, deep inside. There was something strange and hurting in that look, and he was helpless against it for a moment, helpless when Tony said, his voice hitching on the words, “Let me do this, Steve. Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to change anything.”

Steve didn’t know what he was talking about, but he did know that he would have had to steel himself to refuse the desperation of that look in Tony’s eyes, that tone of his voice. But then Tony gave him that little quirk of a smile again and patted his neck with one hand and was sinking to his knees in front of him and reaching for his boxers. He pulled them down and for a moment Steve didn’t believe that this was really happening, his mind stuttering, simply refusing to process that Tony Stark, still fully dressed in a black tank top and jeans, was kneeling in front of him, repulsor glowing in his chest, and pulling down Steve’s pants. Dark hair tumbled into Tony’s eyes, his thick lashes flicked down over his cheeks, and then he was leaning forward, and his breath was damp and hot on the tip of Steve’s cock just for a second before he opened his mouth and licked a long, slow, searing stripe down the side of it. “Tony?” Steve had started, but then he choked, hands closing on nothing. “Tony, what are you—”

“Shh,” Tony said, his hands sliding over Steve’s hips, warm and rough and quick, almost as if to soothe him into it, gentle him into accepting the touch of Tony’s mouth. He didn’t look up. “Just go with it. It’ll be good, I promise. I give great head. Never had any complaints.”

“Tony,” Steve said again, “don’t you want to—” and gasped as Tony mouthed at the head of his cock, all slick, wet heat, sucked it into his mouth and laved his tongue around the head. His hands circled down to rest at the backs of Steve’s thighs, and he let his open mouth slide along the side, sucking wet, hot kisses all along Steve’s cock and letting it slip along his face. Steve could feel the soft rub of his facial hair against his sensitive skin, and suddenly felt dizzy, because that was Tony there on his knees in front of him, Tony Stark, that was Shellhead, his Shellhead, his old friend, his fellow Avenger, and what was he—his hand fell to the top of Tony’s head, fingers stroking through the damp strands before he even knew what he was doing. Tony’s hair was thick, wet, and it curled around his fingers. Tony choked a little, and opened his mouth wider, ducking down to suck lightly on Steve’s balls before he trailed his tongue along the underside of Steve’s cock, rested his hands more firmly on Steve’s hips and curled them into a steady grip before he took Steve’s cock into his mouth again.

It should have been incredibly erotic, and in a sense, it was. Steve felt lost in fragments of sensation, like he’d missed something, Tony’s heavy lashes dark against his cheeks, the contrast of the olive skin of his hands and cheek and jaw against Steve’s own, the sight of his own hand in Tony’s hair, stroking through it and gathering the soft, wiry strands in his fingers, the clever quick warmth of Tony’s tongue and the way it sent unexpected pleasure shivering through him, the tightness and wet heat of Tony’s mouth as he closed his lips and sucked, the rough calluses on his worn palms and long fingers against Steve’s hips, the little grunting sound he made as he leaned in further, letting Steve’s cock slide further back into his mouth, and his fingers dug in against Steve’s rear, curling tightly but not quite into a fist. It was something that Steve had wanted for years, and it was all part of him could do not to rock forward into that wet, perfect heat. Another part of him was torn between taking what Tony was so willingly offering and falling to his knees and pulling Tony off his cock and kissing him soft and warm and breathless and telling him that they would do this together, their first act together should be something they could both enjoy at once. His hand stroked over Tony’s head, heavy, brushing thick black hair off his forehead, and the other came down to cup his cheek, curve against his jaw to support him, draw him in toward Steve, desperate, somehow, for the closeness, the feeling of Tony’s skin and beard under his palm. Tony sighed out through his nose and made a little sound in his throat that wasn’t exactly a groan, and Steve could practically feel the give in his muscles as he relaxed his jaw and opened his mouth wider, easing forward and back on Steve’s dick, swiping his tongue just under the head, flicking it along the tip. He hadn’t been exaggerating; he was good at this.

But there were things that kept it from being some kind of sensual fantasy, kept it from being at all like Steve would have wanted. Tony’s jaw was tight, set, determined, and his forehead was creased, his brows drawn together in a way that made Steve think of the way he frowned at an equation that meant something that worried him. He’d seen him look that way often enough recently—when?—and it was something he didn’t associate with sex, or want to. He still felt like he’d missed something, something that would make this make sense, and Tony’s face was blank, focused, his eyes tightly shut. He looked like he was on a mission, and only the strange little flickers and quivers of his eyes, his jaw, gave him more expression than the faceplate of his own armor, but those didn’t make Steve feel any better, because they weren’t at all what he might have hoped for, flashes of softness or of passion, rather moments when Tony’s fingers would clench against the back of Steve’s thighs, or one hand fist in the fabric of his boxers, and the corners of his eyes would scrunch up in a way that looked unhappy, or his shoulders would tense, his brows and jaw tighten even more despite the slack openness of his mouth. He was sucking Steve’s cock slow and wet and wonderful and his mouth was welcoming and tight and perfect, but there was something dutiful about it, the way he sucked and played with his tongue over the head and sides, the way he took Steve far into the back of his throat, something almost desperate in how close he clutched Steve, one hand sliding up over his behind to clench at the small of his back, curled into a fist, as Tony fucked his mouth onto Steve’s cock.

“Easy,” Steve found himself muttering, gasping, as he stroked his fingers over Tony’s jaw, trying to get him to slow down, “hey, Tony, take it—take it easy.” He clasped his hand tight there, against his jaw and cheek, and steadied him, pulling him back off his dick a little, back far enough that he’d have some room to breathe.

Tony gave a stuttering little grunt, and shuddered, his eyes squeezing shut tightly. He curled his tongue around Steve’s cock, sucked wetly at the very tip of him, just for a moment, like in a kiss, and gasped against him for a few more moments, while Steve held him there, his lips slipping back and forth against the very tip of Steve’s cock as he panted for breath, bussing over the slit and smearing precome over them, but Steve didn’t think it was entirely on purpose, so he took deep breaths and held as still as he could, as much as instinct wanted him to push forward, press his cock back between Tony’s slick, shining lips. Tony took a deep breath and swallowed, heavily, clearing his throat, and then opened his eyes. He looked up at Steve evenly. His eyes were clear, but there was still that strange, far-away look in them, something strange, unsteady, fractured. “Please,” he said, and his voice was wrecked. “Can I?”

Steve prided himself on his self-control, but that look in Tony’s eyes was cutting its way into his heart, and after everything that had happened between them in the past, everything their friendship had always meant to them and the closeness between them after what had happened meant to him now—he couldn’t shove Tony away, not when his breath was warm and heavy and wanting on his cock and Tony was looking up at him with that desperate desire in his eyes, both arms still wrapped tight and strong around Steve and fists clenched. “If you want to,” Steve managed, and his voice was wavering and a little laughing, just with disbelief, because hell, was this really happening?

Tony nodded again, shortly, a jerky bob of his head, and then put his mouth back on Steve again, opening easily, giving way without hesitation, mouth wet and warm as he moved down on Steve. He hollowed his cheeks and sucked, and Steve found himself holding him tight, hands clenching in his hair and neck, panting for breath himself, as Tony moved his mouth slowly, deeply over him, muttering Tony’s name between gasps for air and little moans of pleasure that he tried to keep back until Tony moaned at one of them himself, his head slumping forward as if in defeat. “Tony,” Steve gasped, why are you doing this, what is this—and he found himself murmuring words of praise, telling Tony how good he was at this, how beautiful, how good this felt. Tony’s shoulders jerked, trembled, the tension in them winding even tighter, and Steve didn’t know what he was saying wrong, but he fell silent, just rubbing his thumb along Tony’s jaw, over his beard and up along his cheek.

It didn’t take much longer, Tony wouldn’t let Steve hold off, chasing his pleasure, forcing him into a hot, fast rhythm, just slow enough to let the intensity ebb for moments in between, let Steve settle into it and catch his breath, but so fast and hard and intense and fiery that he struggled to find either rhythm or air to breathe. Like things always were with Tony. And then he gasped out a warning, and Tony just pressed closer and sucked, hard, flicking his tongue lightly against Steve just under the head, and Steve was crying out, his fingers clenching in Tony’s hair, at the side of his jaw. Tony swallowed, and swallowed, his throat working. He clutched Steve close for another moment, both hands at his back now, licking up the last of it, his tongue slow and soft against Steve’s cock as it softened, and then he finally dropped his hands, stroking them down along Steve’s thighs, and pulled away. He pressed a kiss to the inside of Steve’s thigh, quick and almost embarrassed, as if that of all things was something he shouldn’t have done, and pulled back. Steve let his hands loosen in his hair, let him move away.

“Tony,” he said, overcome, “Tony, that was incredible.”

Tony smiled a little as he got to his feet, pulling Steve’s boxers back up and readjusting them carefully as he did. His mouth and lips were puffy and swollen and damp with come, and he looked sweaty, used, his hair an even more tangled mess now. His eyes looked bruised, and Steve felt oddly like he was seeing Tony after punching him in the gut, not after Tony had given him an explosive and entirely unasked for blowjob. “Was it?” Tony said, and ran hand a back through his hair, and smiled, wider and more easily. For some reason Steve thought it looked painful. “I’m glad. That’s good. D’you think you’ll be able to sleep now?”

Steve let out a little huff of laughter, he couldn’t help himself. “Is that what this is about?” he asked.

“It helps, doesn’t it?” Tony asked with a shrug.

“Really, Tony,” Steve said, and took a step forward. He laid a hand on his shoulder, pulling him close again. “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” Tony said, without looking at him. “Just fine. Never better.”

That had been the wrong question, Steve thought, frustrated with himself. “C’mon, Shellhead,” he asked, the old nickname slipping out before he could help himself, and maybe it would help, remind Tony that he could trust Steve, that he didn’t have to pull away, “what’s wrong?”

Tony froze. His eyelashes fluttered over his eyes, and they squeezed shut, just for a moment, before he opened them again. Steve could hear it as he swallowed. “Nothing,” he said.

That obviously wasn’t true. Steve tried to let his frustration at that go. Was something wrong? Was it to do with him? Was Tony afraid Steve was angry with him for something? Had this been some kind of misguided apology? But for what? For accidentally provoking the centaur lord in the microverse where they’d found Jan over Steve’s shield? For forgetting about one of the Avengers meetings to fiddle with tech in his lab? Nothing Steve could think of seemed to warrant coming to Steve’s room and giving him a hot, breathless blowjob in the middle of the night and then acting like it was nothing more than a cup of coffee. Was Tony planning on doing something Steve would disagree with? Would think was stupid?

That seemed disturbingly likely for Tony, to try to sweeten the deal with a blowjob, Steve thought with a wince. “Is there anything you want to tell me?” he tried.

Tony was looking at him, and he looked so … so sad, tired and hollow. “Nothing in particular,” he said, and reached up, stroking his thumb over Steve’s jaw. Steve turned his head and kissed his wrist, and Tony stilled with a low, unsteady breath.

“What about you?” Steve asked, gesturing toward Tony’s denim-covered groin. He wasn’t even hard. “It only seems fair.”

“I’m good,” Tony said dismissively. “I’m just fine. This was for you, Steve, all right?”

“So you don’t want anything from me?” Steve asked with mounting frustration. He felt oddly helpless, and selfish, and he didn’t like it.

“Just for you to feel good,” Tony said, turning his eyes on Steve. He smiled again, and it still looked oddly empty, uneven. “Like I said, Steve. This doesn’t have to change anything. I don’t want it to. I did this for you, that’s all.”

“I—” Steve didn’t know what to make of that, of any of this, didn’t know what to say. “I’m worried about you, Tony,” he said finally.

The sadness only deepened on Tony’s face, his face falling until he didn’t look handsome at all, just tired, his features falling out of place with each other until they looked strange and disjointed on his face. “Don’t worry about me,” he said, and stepped in again, curled his fingers around Steve’s jaw, against his neck, back into his hair, and kissed him. Steve leaned eagerly into the kiss, wrapped his arm around Tony’s back, and Tony opened his mouth in return, kissed him slowly, molding their lips together, his fingers curling against the short hairs at Steve’s neck. The kiss went on for long moments, slow and breathless and Tony coaxing Steve’s tongue into his mouth, hot and sweet.

Steve was gasping when he pulled away, and smiled at Tony, letting their foreheads rest together and his hand settle at the back of Tony’s neck again. “Okay,” he said. “I’m not going to force reciprocation on you if you don’t want it. But come to bed?” He tried a hopeful smile. “Maybe that will help me sleep.”

Tony gulped, swallowed heavily, and his eyes were wide and dilated again. Before Steve could speak, though, he was nodding. “All right,” he said. “I’ll stay for a bit.”

Steve smiled at him, and Tony gave another halting smile back. There was something warm in his eyes though, wasn’t there? Steve didn’t know what this was about, but that was all right. That was Tony. He’d work out whatever this was about, and things would be fine. Steve would just let this be what it was, a moment between them, two friends, that didn’t have to change anything, a moment of Tony reaching out to him—but it was good to know that Tony might not mind physical intimacy between them like that, even if he went about it in strange ways. Steve could leave this for what it was and still hope for more, later, couldn’t he?

He eventually climbed back into bed, at Tony’s urging, and he was right, it was easier to sleep. His body felt relaxed, the adrenaline easing off in the face of physical satisfaction. Tony moved to the edge of the bed and sat down, and Steve pushed himself up one arm. “Hey,” he said sleepily. “Jeans can’t be comfortable.”

Tony just looked at him for a moment, a strangely long moment. When he spoke his voice was husky and thick and cracked a little, and he cleared his throat and started over again. “It’s fine,” he said.

“You’ll be more comfortable if you take them off,” Steve said. It was just a suggestion—it was up to Tony to do whatever he wanted, obviously—but after a moment Tony’s hands moved up to his belt, and he unclasped it, unbuttoning his jeans and stepping out of them a second later before lying down next to Steve in his boxers without a word. Steve rolled over and rested his arm across Tony’s chest. When Tony didn’t push him away, he moved closer, let his head rest on Tony’s sternum where it naturally wanted to fall. Tony still felt tense beneath him, his muscles wired tight, so tight he was shivering, but maybe this would help, the simple closeness of it. Steve knew he found it comforting. Eventually Tony rested both arms across Steve’s shoulders, and Steve sighed and closed his eyes.

He dreamed again, the same dream. He didn’t remember it this time, either.