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Pranksters Get It All

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Nobody expected Rhodey to start it to be fair. Well, nobody except Tony because Tony had survived the Prankathon of ‘01 and if the press knew the real reason he adopted the goatee, he would become the meme of the millennium.

So, no thank you, Tony knows what Rhodey is capable of when he’s pissed and he really had tried to warn Barnes when Rhodey’s nostrils had done the double flare.

Still, none of the other Avengers expected it and that’s probably why Bucky was targeting him, thinking that Tony had placed a collection of false teeth in Bucky’s backpack.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Tony muttered under his breath when every coffee tin, even his hidden supplies, were swapped with cocoa. “You know, you’re really looking the wrong way,” he glared tiredly at a smug-faced Barnes sitting on top of the dining table, gleefully slurping his tea. 

Tony should hate the man on principle for that alone. But he also had Bruce living with them and Bruce was practically the ambassador of all tea nations, so Tony couldn’t really hate another person for drinking the dreadful concoction. The genius casually mused the way both men had BB as their initials and wondered if that was some kind of indication.

“You started it,” Bucky whistled annoyingly and okay, Tony was not a snitch about Rhodey usually but this was coffee and really Rhodes, you’ll understand, right?

“It wasn’t me, it was my ridiculous choice of a best friend,” Tony said calmly because he might be pissed and drowsy with no caffeine but he had enough self-preservation to not provoke Barnes while he was wearing Pikachu pajamas. 

Bucky simply stared at Tony before taking a scoffing slurp of his tea pointedly. When Tony raised an eyebrow, Bucky took two swift sips in retaliation.

Tony opened his mouth and then shut it with a tired sigh. There was no way he was going to be logical with a tea-drinking Pikachu at 8 in the morning without his own cup of coffee.

“Friday, get a restock to the workshop, will you?” he barked instead and slumped off to his dungeon. He really wished all the James in the world would stop dissing on his coffee life.

Of course, he should have known that one wish would lead to another curse.

“Crabs” he repeated vacantly, staring at the crabs dancing around in his bathroom, “I have crabs”

“Well, that’s too bad,” Clint commented with a solemn expression and Tony felt new appreciation for pincers when one of the little creatures sneaked up on the archer and clipped him in the foot, “OW! Holy crap on a cracker, that hurts!”

“There’s nothing holy about crap, Barton” Sam mused from behind, observing two crabs tango in Tony’s jacuzzi.

“Even if it’s Thor’s crap?” Bucky asks from beside him and Sam actually thinks for a whole minute before shrugging in agreement.

“What-what the hell is this?!” Tony may or not have bulging eyes making him look more dramatic than his flailing hands as he gestured to the scene in his spacious, beautiful bathroom.

“Crabs” Sam and Bucky answered in chorus and Tony choked on a snarl, whipping his glare onto Clint.

Clint had by now managed to get the crab off his foot and scowled at Tony like it was his fault.

“What?” the archer asked defensively when Tony growled, “You’re the one who started it! ‘Crabby’ Clint? I’ve got 500 hugs and frickin flowers this weeks from people who saw your memo about treating me gently because I’m crabby and I need looooove.”

Tony let out a strangled groan and was close to stomping his foot.

“I’ve told you a MILLION times,” he repeated through gritted teeth, “that wasn’t me. I didn’t send that. I don’t even use words like ‘crotchety’ and ‘endearment’!”

“Then who sent it?” Clint challenged defiantly, “Don’t tell me that somebody hacked into your mail and sent a memo to the entire SHIELD staff without you noticing it!”

“That’s exactly what happened and it wasn’t somebody, it’s Rhodes!” Tony whined, cursing the day he ever told his best friend the code to access his server.

“Right” Clint snorted disbelievingly and even Sam and Bucky rolled their eyes, “Come on, Stark. A prank war is a prank war. Don’t dish if you can’t take. Man up and admit that I won this round.”

“That’s not-it isn’t even a-you know what, I’m not doing this,” Tony shook his head to himself and pushing past the three men to stalk out from his room. He really didn’t want to preach Rhodey about pranking because that would be the height of hypocrisy but this whole shift of blame was starting to get on his nerves.

However, he didn’t get into a snit after some time when he got distracted by an Avengers call. 

He really thought that it was over, which was why he didn’t chew Rhodey out.

He just hadn’t anticipated the stakes to get higher.

“Friday, call Rhodes!” Tony snapped as soon as he entered the workshop, ripping off the wet suit and marching towards his spare wardrobe.

He could ignore Clint and Bucky, probably even be proud of Rhodey for getting them. But this was another level altogether. Tony had extents of risk-taking, dammit!

“What’s up, Tones?” Rhodey’s voice filtered through the speaker, light and casual like he was during rare moments he wasn’t on a mission.

“You’ve got to stop” Tony said without preamble, glaring at the spare War Machine suit in the workshop, “Birdbrain and Barnes? That was okay, that was fun even. Frickin Wanda Maximoff?! What were you thinking?!”

“It was just a joke,” Rhodey replied defensively before pausing, “She almost screwed you over in the last mission. I just wanted her focus to be better.”

Tony snapped his mouth shut on the retort burning at the tip of his tongue and remembered the incident Rhodey was talking about. It really hadn’t been intentional, even if their history suggested otherwise, but the momentary loss of focus from the Scarlet Witch had almost cost Tony getting fried alive by Vision’s laser. He understood that she had merely been talking to the android but by God, she could have done it at a time when Tony wasn’t in Vision’s line of fire while chasing an alien bot. 

Tony knew that Steve had given her and Vision a firm talk after it, and he himself had joked it off, but he had been secretly terrified too. Near death experiences were not on his favorites list. He didn’t broadcast that loud but he had never needed to do so to Rhodey.

Rhodes wasn’t really the forgiving type when it came to friends’ lives. 

Tony sighed and rubbed his temples tiredly, feeling the fight drain out of him.

“Rhodey…”

“Tony, it was just a simple Rick-Roll,” Rhodey maintained, “If she could spare precious minutes, of a frickin battle where she should have been having your back, to chat with her lover-boy, she could very well have a few hours of her day getting rick-rolled on her phone.”

“You’ve got the strangest sense of justice and I’m terrified for your kids,” Tony observed with a shake of his head, “Fine, just stop being my vigilante, alright? It’s embarrassing for Iron Man.”

“War Machine always protects his side-kick, Stark,” Rhodey sniffed and Tony rolled his eyes at his idiotic friend’s humor, “Anyway, how did she react?”

Tony stayed silent for a minute, wondering how exactly he could evade the question without lying. He didn’t know how he could go around the sentence ‘Oh nothing, she just rick-rolled me back. In my head. With her magic mind-control.’. Rhodey and Pepper were the only ones who knew how much the Ultron fiasco had shaken Tony and how much he hated getting violated in his mind by the Scarlet Witch. The other Avengers had seemingly moved on and logically, Tony knew that he should too.

Somehow he couldn’t get his nightmares to agree with him.

If Rhodey ever found out about the repercussions Tony was facing because of his pranks, he would wreck havoc in the Tower. Or maybe feel guilty in the weird way he did sometimes. Or worse, stop mingling with the Avengers altogether. 

Tony had held his mouth shut for this long. He figured he could do so for this one too.

“She threw her phone out the window,” Tony managed in the end, skipping all the parts that came after it, before Natasha had walked into the gym and had put an end to the thing. The ex-spy hadn’t said a word to Tony but she had detained Wanda as Tony stumbled out, her firm stare promising a tough talk for the young girl.

Tony was just glad that Natasha would never let the matter leak to Steve or the others. He really didn’t want to become an issue for ‘team unity’ as Cap reverently referred to.

Rhodey simply chuckled at the other end of the phone and went on a spiel about Carol Danvers, the new girl in his life, and how Tony should come over to the Rhodes household for Thanksgiving this year.

Tony had never been more thankful for his rambling capacity when he managed to get his snark back on and sassed back at every tease Rhodey threw his way.

He was fine. He wouldn’t make Rhodey feel guilty for harmless pranks.

When Scott dropped all of Tony’s underwear near an ant-colony, he wasn’t even annoyed anymore. He was actually pretty impressed with the ‘Anthony’ irony and had simply shook Lang’s hand on an interesting prank before proceeding to buy himself an entire wardrobe of underwear.

Of course, he had never been prepared for the biggie.

Tony knew that Rhodey distrusted Steve for some reason he didn’t want to disclose. He had known it ever since the almost civil war, where Steve and Tony had nearly gotten into a battle over the Accords. If not for Pepper and Nick’s timely intervention, there would have been an all out war. 

Tony felt ashamed about that, knowing that he could have been much calmer about the whole thing. Rhodey seemed to disagree and had told Tony to stop collecting blame like antiques. Tony had tried to explain to Rhodey that Steve felt guilty too, because Tony had seen it himself in the ways Steve had tried to apologize. They had become distant, still were kind of formal, but Tonyunderstood  why the whole issue had become personal for the Captain.

He had been ready to bury the hatchet. Rhodey apparently hadn’t. Which is why he had not been apologetic about pranking Steve with placing ridiculous compasses all over Steve’s room. 

Talk about bad puns, Tony thought to himself as he remembered the whole ‘moral compass pointing south’ yell he got at the last fight with Steve. He should have remembered that Rhodey had been just outside the room and that he was a dirty eavesdropper. 

“Okay, what is it going to be?” he asked tiredly even as he saw Steve staring at him with an unreadable expression, a bunch of compasses in hand, as every other Avenger looked between them curiously.

Rhodey, who had been hiding a smug grin on the sofa frowned and sat straighter when Steve’s stare turned disappointed.

“Wait,” he piped up, frowning at Tony when the genius shot him a look to shut him up, “no, wait, why are you asking him that? What do you mean ‘what’s it going to be?’”

Clint snorted and Rhodey turned to look at him.

“The first rule of a prank war, Rhodes,” the archer rolled his eyes, “you gotta be ready for the shit hitting the fan. This was a good one by the way, the whole pun thing. Nice try, Stark.”

Rhodey’s frown deepened as he looked between Tony and Clint, trying to understand what was happening, before his expression cleared and he looked pissed. Well, pissed and guilty.

“You idiot,” he told Tony firmly but fondly and Tony made a frantic abort gesture at him but Rhodey simply shot him a look and stood up, coming to stand between Tony and Steve, “Rogers, it wasn’t Tony who pranked you. It was me. I put the compasses in your room.”

Steve’s expression didn’t change much but everybody else looked attentive now. Everybody except Natasha, who was silently observing Steve, like she knew something.

“Wait, it was REALLY you?” Bucky asked with wide eyes.

“You mean, you did all of that? The whole memo thing -” Clint started with an awed voice but Rhodey simply nodded and cut him short.

“And the fake teeth thing, the rick-roll, the ant-repellent plants,” Rhodey counted off coolly with a smirk that Tony thought he had learnt from him, “Yeah, that was all me. You guys actually thought it was Tony?”

“Uh, yeah!” Clint replied with a wild gesture of his hands, “Why would you do all of this?”

Tony desperately wanted Rhodey to shut up any time now. He took a step forward involuntarily, trying to get his best friend to stop but Rhodey simply cut him a fiercely protective look and raised his chin in defiance.

He shouldn’t have bothered trying with Rhodey though. Because somebody else seemed to know the secret too.

“He did all this because of Tony” Steve spoke up finally and Tony’s eyes shot to him with a terrified look that made Steve’s eyes widen and he backtracked hastily, “No! No, I didn’t mean it that way.”

Steve looked at the others sitting on the couch and chairs in the living room as he continued.

“Do you all remember why you were pranked? Why we were pranked?” he amended before continuing himself, “Buck, you got a bag of fake teeth because you snapped at Tony during a meeting that he was all bark and no bite, which you thought led to the Accords situation in the first place. Clint, you got the ‘crabby’ memo because you made light of Tony’s PTSD. I know, I know you didn’t mean it seriously but you did imply it, and may I add at a reasonably close distance from a group of wannabe reporters. Wanda…you know what happened. Scott, the fiddling with Tony’s suit would have caused serious security breaches. As for me, I was being unreasonable in my anger. The statement was a low-blow, even if it was not meant seriously.”

Steve turned his attention to Rhodey who didn’t look apologetic in the least but was now regarding Steve with something akin to grudging acceptance.

“I would have gone to war for my best friend,” Steve said quietly, meeting Rhodey’s stare calmly, “You’re kind of better in that aspect.”

Rhodey didn’t thank Steve or apologize because he definitely didn’t believe that he was wrong in trying to cover for his Tony. But he did acknowledge that Steve understood, that he seemed to get why Rhodey had done what he had done. In Rhodey’s book, that was a good start.

He turned around and met Tony’s eyes, softening when he saw the fight-or-flight look on his face.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly and shook his head when Tony scowled in protest, “No, you are an idiot for not telling me about the misunderstanding and taking the blame. I’m just saying that I’m sorry I didn’t gloat and claim responsibility sooner. I was having fun I guess.”

“I did try telling them that it was you,” Tony grumbled with a shrug, “Your spotless reputation is just no match for my honest accusations. The world is unfair!”

Rhodey rolled his eyes at Tony’s dramatics and looked over at the other Avengers, leveling them with a cool, challenging look.

“I’ll wait for your replies,” he told them haughtily and smirked at Clint, “War on, suckers.”

“Oh, you’re gonna lose so bad,” Bucky promised with a smirk of his own, once he had gotten over his shock and had sent Steve a silent look of acknowledgement. 

Rhodey looked Bucky over slowly, letting silence speak for a minute, before his smirk turned wider and he raised an eyebrow.

“Bite me, Barnes” he replied as a comeback and Natasha grumbled under her breath about idiotic men and their weird passive-aggressive flirting.

Tony simply shrugged when Sam met his eyes questioningly and continued to watch his best friend sass the Avengers.

That night, when Steve turned up at the workshop with his own WWII compass, Tony stilled for a moment. 

When Steve apologized hesitatingly, he deviated the emotions, rambling about pet snakes and different types of tasers he could fit into his suit.

When Steve shut him up with a hand on his shoulder and amused eyes shining with mirth, he felt the formality of months begin to melt.

When a week later, he caught Rhodey getting his face sucked by Barnes in a SHIELD closet, his first call went to Steve. Steve simply told him to get pictures and both of them wallpapered Rhodey and Bucky’s rooms with the pictures as retaliation.

Two weeks after that, when Wanda saved his ass during a mission, he caught her throwing him a small nod when he sent her a casual salute. He raved about it excitedly to Rhodey for two hours before he heard Barnes’ voice come over the phone and quickly felt the line disconnecting. Thankfully, he still had access to Steve’s bedroom and the Captain blearily but patiently heard through four hours of Tony’s ranting before pulling him down onto the bed and falling asleep over him. Tony lay frozen for half an hour but also slept for the next five hours.

Two months after that, Pepper called the Tower to tell that the Accords had finally been modified according to all their specifications. Tony had been the one to pull Steve into an excited hug. Steve had been the one to pull Tony into the equally exciting kiss.

Three weeks after that Tony expected Steve to break up with him when he had been forced to take Barnes down after the man had gotten triggered by a stray Hydra mole in SHIELD. Rhodey had tried to convince Tony that he had done the right thing, even though Rhodey’s face had been grim and his hands had been a tad too clenched. Steve had not spoken to Tony that entire day. The next morning, Tony woke up to find Steve snuggled against him, mumbling a sad sorry, going on a crazy rant about how he had panicked and it had nothing to do with Tony. That had been the first time Tony had voluntarily cuddled with Steve as the big spoon.

Four months after that, Rhodey had been injured in a mission and had become paralysed from the waist down. Tony had wrecked the workshop in a drunken rage after having held it together throughout the surgery and visiting hours. Steve had simply let him till he got tired. They had simply sat in silence that night, shoulder to shoulder, on the steps of the workshop. Bucky had left the Tower, telling nobody where he had gone. He hadn’t returned for a week. Steve and Tony didn’t talk much for that week. When he returned, Bucky didn’t bother explaining anything and barged straight into Rhodey’s room. When he had shown the get-well-soon card from the kids Rhodey had been trying to save during the mission and had failed, everybody had cleared out quietly. But not before Tony had caught the shining tears in Rhodey’s eyes. Bucky had completed the mission for Rhodey. Tony had gone straight to Steve, an overwhelming urge to apologize stuck in his throat. Steve had simply shut him up with a quiet ‘I love you too, idiot. We’ll be fine.’

Seven months after that, Pepper and Happy got married. Clint and Laura had their fourth pregnancy announcement on the same day. Tony had been Pepper’s Man of Honor and he hadn’t cried a bit, no matter what the pictures showed. Rhodey had given Pepper away and he had no qualms about crying. Steve had been Happy’s best man and had gotten the cliched BestMan-Bridesmaid trope dance, with Tony of course. Sam had screwed up the whole Minister business but surprisingly, Bucky had come through. Tony would have bothered about teasing Rhodey about the abhorrent sex noises he heard that night from the living room but he was too busy screaming Steve’s name himself.

Six months after that, Clint had welcomed his premature but healthy baby into the Avengers family after Tony had made a mad dash carrying Laura Barton from the Tower to the hospital, in the middle of a frickin alien attack. Tony had NOT cried when Clint named the boy Jarvis. He had definitely cried when Wanda had hesitatingly but voluntarily hugged him that day. Steve, the ugly sobber, had not stopped crying.

Nine months after that, Natasha announced that she had adopted a little girl. When Yelena walked into the Tower and spoke her first sentence in Russian, everybody had an inkling that she was a rescue from the Red Room. Nobody said a word. Bruce though, put away his go-bag and for once, didn’t seem like he was in a hurry to run away. Rhodey commented to Tony that his team was getting mature. Tony laughed when Rhodey looked constipated as he said it.

A year after that, Bucky and Rhodey sported matching dog-tags. If they also bought an apartment in DC, near Sam’s, neither Tony nor Steve were going to let them know that their subtlety was near zero. Friday had no qualms about addressing them as Mr. & Mr. Barnes-Rhodes. Scott had never won such a rich bet when he collected his dues about the timing. Tony had never seen Steve look so happy to lose something before. He guessed that he looked pretty silly himself.

Two years after that, Wanda lost control of her powers and left Scott in a coma. She disappeared from the Tower in guilt. Tony tried to search for her as did Vision, Clint and Steve. When Scott succumbed to his injuries and died though, they stopped searching. They knew she wouldn’t come back.

Three years later, Steve woke Tony in the middle of the night and slipped a vibranium coated ring onto his left hand’s ring finger. Tony blinked at it before nodding and promising to get Steve something in the morning. T’Challa had helped Tony only that once but when he got the news of Tony and Steve marrying wearing his rings,he had simply smiled and congratulated Rhodey, who had been the one to call.

Almost decades after that fateful day long ago, when Rhodey had pranked all the Avengers to defend Tony, the two friends sat in Tony’s new living room, sipping on beer after a particularly exhausting mission. Both their husbands had been called in for debrief.

“Hey, Rhodey?” Tony spoke after his fifth sip and saw Rhodey shoot him a side look.

“Yeah?”

“Thanks”

Rhodey frowned at that, cocking his head to one side and waiting for Tony to elaborate.

Tony simply took another sip of his beer and smiled around it.

“For pranking” he said simply and Rhodey stared at him strangely for a minute before snorting and offering his beer bottle to clink with Tony’s.

It was a strange thought, to remember how their lives had changed from one simple day. Rhodey didn’t have the same view about the Avengers anymore and neither did he think that Tony was in any real danger around the assholes he loved himself. But he knew what he would always say, what had started off a chain of events that shaped their lives. 

It was almost like life had played a prank on them that day. But in Rhodey’s opinion, it had been the best one ever. 

“Anytime, Tones, anytime.”