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phony smiles are the best i've got (for you)

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They’re back on US ground. Steve almost doesn’t believe it. It had seemed so obvious to him at first, that they would return one day soon. But the more time had passed in Wakanda with no sign of improvement, the more the political fronts had hardened and the legal battles had been drawn out, the more he had started to doubt. Doubt that he would be able to legally set foot onto his home country again. Or at least before another end of the world was imminent. It would have been worth it even then, of course. But that doesn't mean Steve would have been happy about it.

But now that it's really happening, he has trouble adjusting to the reality of things, to how quickly things are suddenly progressing, when a month ago, the same old argument was still being repeated in endless circles. And now he's here. Back home, back in New York, breathing the achingly familiar air, and he almost doesn't believe it because it's so unreal. He's forgotten how much he's missed his home.

He doesn’t believe Tony greeting them in a private room at the airport, locked away behind mirrored glass and a wall of security, either. Well. He's not greeting them exactly. Tony is typing away on his tablet, appears oblivious to their presence, except for the barely noticeable line of tension in his shoulders. But he’s here. Steve likes to think that means something.

It’s only when he is standing right in front of Tony though that he realises he has no clue what to say. Isn't sure there is anything left to say, to be completely honest. Steve settles for a soft “Hey,” in the end, because they’re still technically in public and this isn’t the sort of conservation he wants to have in front of an audience. Because it's the only thing he can think of saying.

“No.”

Tony stalks past him, body brimming with single-minded determination. He hasn’t even looked up from his tablet.

*

The walk to the car takes them twenty minutes. Not because they have a lot of distance to cover, but because there are reporters everywhere, a mass of people that yells and screams and questions, lights flashing, microphones waving, as the security guards part the crowd for them to walk through. For the first time Sam gets why part of their deal was that Barnes would be flown in separately. He's sort of wishing he could have gotten that special treatment too, if he's being honest.

There is nothing to be done about it though, and eventually they manage to pile into the back of a nondescript car with tinted windows, Wanda huffing in disgust when Stark slides into the passenger seat with the ease of someone expecting nothing less. She doesn’t say it, but Sam has spent the last months sharing his living space with her. He knows her well enough by now to hear the needling complaint about special treatment and being too good to join them in the back she's surely thinking right now.

“Sasha, good to see you,” Stark greets the driver with more enthusiasm than Sam has seen him he shown the entire last half a year combined. “I was getting stressed out by the lack of decent people around me,” he adds, the picture of casual friendliness.

He’s not looking at Wanda, but Sam’s getting a very distinct feeling he’s heard her too.

*

“Did you forget to tell the cleaning staff that we’re coming home?” Barton tries to joke at the sight of the abandoned looking compound, but it falls flat in the face of the dusty leftovers of what used to be their home.

“Full offence, but your home, your responsibility.” Tony sounds exactly as apologetic as his words imply, which is not at all.

“What…” Rogers presses the light switch but nothing happens.

Tony shrugs. “Gonna have to pay the electrical bill for that baby to light up. You can call the government of course, I’m sure they’ll cover the expenses eventually, but SI has decided to… up the qualifications for high-cost investments, and frankly, none of you made the cut.” He states it calmly, matter-of-fact.

“And when did they come to that conclusion?” Romanov asks after a moment, eyes gleaming with the knowledge of the answer she’s posed, as well as respect for a move well-executed.

“Ah,” Tony smiles a phony press-smile that has never before been directed at them. “The official decision must have been made around three weeks ago, but with the way the paperwork in large corporations works, it was probably only enacted approximately seven hours ago.”

Not enough time for anyone to notice, he doesn't say. Not enough time for this issue to be fixed already.

“But we can’t live here!” Wanda cries out disbelievingly.

It earns her nothing but a blank stare and a bland “I don’t care.” There’s nothing particularly harsh about the way Tony says it, but it’s the content, the meaning, the truth that cuts in a way his sarcastic remarks never have before.

“Oh please,” Wanda sneers, because she doesn't know any other way to respond than by hurling insults, not where Tony is concerned, “do you really think you throwing a pathetic temper tantrum and cutting us off is going to prove your point, make us beg you to come back? Do you really think you can blackmail us? That's a cheap move, even for you!”

Tony doesn’t even flinch in the face of her tirade, and if that isn’t a sign that things are different now, nothing is. “Wow, you haven’t changed at all. Still a spoiled, little bitch,” he drawls unimpressed. Pretends to think for a moment, then, “Nope, still don’t care. Get yourself a new sugar daddy, darling, because guess what? You assholes are finally someone else’s problem.”

“Tony!” Rogers sounds shocked and reprimanding at once, and damn it, Tony wants to laugh. So he does. It’s an ugly sound.

“Don’t ‘Tony’ me, Rogers!” he snaps once he has calmed down a little. “What did you expect? For me to just forgive and forget the past years? Oh, a little separation was what we needed but now we can pick up where we left off? Are you serious?” 

The questions, dusted in genuine incredulity, leave Rogers standing there speechlessly, hands curling and uncurling uselessly by his side as he searches for words that aren’t coming.

Tony snorts. “Fuck you,” he says, with feeling. “Fuck you all! I’d say go to hell but frankly, I don’t wanna see you there.” And with those words he turns on his heels and walks, swaggers, towards the entrance. As though it’s the easiest thing in the world.

Turns out it is.

“You got that one from the internet!” Clint yells after him, body brimming with a tension he’s struggling to keep contained.

Tony indulges in a short glance over his shoulder to drive home just how stupid he believes them to be. “You didn’t honestly think you’re worth my time and creativity, did you?” he asks sweetly, and the mocking pity in those words stings almost as badly as the satisfied smirk he wears as he walks out of the compound for the final time.

He doesn’t look back once. Steve would know, because he doesn’t take his eyes off him the entire time, clutching a cheap phone in his pocket that was never used.