The restaurant had been crowded before the Avengers descended upon it en masse like a horde of locusts – or hungry super-humans, which was almost certainly worse. Pepper felt a little bad for the wait staff, but between Tony’s excessively generous tipping habits and the number of beaming selfies the staff were taking with the team, she supposed it would all work out in the end.
They didn’t get to go out like this often. The Avengers had been busy with one crisis after another, with barely time to pause for breath in between, for months now. Pepper had barely seen Tony outside of conference calls from the sight of one disaster or another. Half the time she hadn’t even known what country he was in, or even if he was still on the planet. But the latest crisis was resolved, everyone was home safe and unharmed, and when Thor had declared that they were going to take advantage of their downtime, Pepper and Happy had been swept up in the group, largely by virtue of being in the room at the time.
She didn’t mind, though. The Avengers were all friends of hers, and any excuse to spend the evening sitting across from her new husband was a good one.
And it was nice to see them all relaxed and happy, something that hadn’t happened in a while. Peter Parker was goofing around, pretending to be on the job, snapping pictures of the team while they ate and declaring them all to be the most unphotogenic superheroes to ever exist. Jan, Clint, Natasha and Tigra had their heads together over four bright purple drinks with chunks of pineapple speared on the edge of the glass – Pepper made a mental note to have their server bring her one of whatever those were – and Carol and Thor were apparently trying to see who could eat the spiciest hot wings without flinching. Hank and Bruce were drawing something on a paper napkin and getting quite worked up over it. And at the far end of the table, Steve and Tony were sitting across from each other, talking quietly and giving each other silly, happy glances in between fending off Thor’s attempts to recruit them against Carol and shooing away Peter.
They looked good together. Pepper slid a sideways glance at her husband and gave him a wide smile Almost as good as she and Happy did.
“What are you grinning at?” Happy asked. He had an easy smile on his face and a chicken finger dripping barbeque sauce held between two fingers.
“Nothing,” Pepper said. She slipped off her shoe and stretched under the table to rub her foot against his calf. “Just the best guy in the room.” She smiled at him over the rim of her glass as she slowly ran her foot further up his leg.
His face turned nearly the exact shade of the barbeque sauce slowly dripping back onto his plate. “Pep,” he said in that tone of voice she loved so much.
“How about you let the boss catch a ride home with the team and give me a private ride in your limo?” She arched one eyebrow at him.
He caught her ankle with one hand just before she got to anything interesting. “I can give you a private ride all right,” he said. “But the limo won’t have anything to do with it.”
“It’s like hearing your older sister flirt,” Peter said as he snapped a picture of Happy and his chicken finger.
“Older?” Pepper repeated pointedly.
Peter grinned. “Twin sister? Gorgeous twin sister who looks much younger than me.”
“Better,” Pepper said. “Just remember that for next-”
“Are you proposing?!”
Steve’s blurted exclamation rang out over the noise of their teammates – over the noise of most of the restaurant actually. The rest of the room ground to a halt as everyone from Pepper to the waitstaff and bartenders, to the tableful of drunk college kids in the far corner, all turned to stare at Steve.
Steve was sitting with his glass held in the air, his eyes wide and a faint hint of a blush starting to stain his cheeks as he realized how much attention he’d just attracted. But he didn’t pull his gaze off of Tony.
Tony – god bless the man, Pepper honestly loved him, but for heaven’s sake – was smirking across the table, aware of the stunned silence around them and loving it. He was holding an onion ring in one hand and looked exactly like a man who hadn’t slept in his own bed in nearly a month should look – disheveled, wrinkled and tired. But his smile when he aimed it at Steve was happy and gentle. “I guess I am, yeah.”
“Tony Stark!” Pepper slapped the table. “Not one more word!”
Steve jerked like she’d slapped him and not the table, and Tony turned to look at her with eyes so wide she could see the blue in them from the other side of the table. Now the entire restaurant was staring at her, but that was what happened when you tried to put a leash on Tony. “Honey,” she said. “I need a favor.”
Her husband blinked at her. “Yeah. Okay. Of course. What is it?”
“Give me your wedding band. Quick.” She held her hand out and waggled her fingers in a ‘gimme’ gesture.
He pulled the ring off – it was nothing elaborate, just a plain gold band with both of their names engraved on the inside. Tony had offered to pay for whatever they wanted, but Happy had been set on something simple and traditional. Pepper wouldn’t have objected to letting the boss pay for a few diamonds, but marriage was all about compromise after all – and dropped it into her palm.
“Thank you.” She leaned across the table and kissed his cheek. “Be right back.”
She pushed her chair back and marched toward the far end of the table where Tony and Steve were both still watching her with expressions not unlike a pair of chipmunks in the headlights of an oncoming semi. The rest of the Avengers were no better, looking back and forth between her and her targets, except for Peter who was taking nearly constant photos with one hand while texting something with the other. Pepper thought about scolding him, but what the heck. He was a good kid. He deserved the scoop.
“Tony Stark,” she said, planting one hand on her hip and arching one eyebrow at him. “What on earth is wrong with you? You cannot propose with an onion ring, you idiot.” She snatched the food out of his hand and tossed it onto his plate, then grabbed his wrist. “Here.” She planted Happy’s ring in the center of his palm and folded his fingers closed over it. “Now do it right.”
The alarm in his face softened to a rueful smile. “Always looking out for me.”
“Lucky for you,” she said. She pointed at Steve, whose shock had faded into relief. “And you! Don’t let him get away with this stuff. He knows better.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Steve said. “But just between you and me, I’d have said yes even with the onion ring.”
“You two deserve each other,” Pepper said, and if her voice wavered a bit and her eyes teared up, no one would dare call her on it.
“Yeah, we kind of do.” Tony took Steve’s hand across the table and carefully slid Happy’s ring onto Steve’s finger. “Steve Rogers, wanna get hitched?”
Steve pulled Tony’s hand up so he could kiss the knuckles. “Absolutely. Can I have your onion rings?”
“That was terrible,” Pepper said. “And I want that ring back.”
Tony laughed and grabbed her in a hug, pulling her down onto his lap while the room around them burst into applause and cheers. Pepper saw more than a few phones out and knew she’d be fielding calls from the press all night.
“Thank you,” Tony said. He kissed her ear and squeezed her tight enough she made an undignified little squeak. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
“So are you.” She turned her head to press their foreheads together. “You make sure he takes good care of you. And if he doesn’t, you tell me.”
“No one’s ever taken better care of me except for you.” He closed his eyes for a second. “I don’t know who I got lucky enough to have both of you in my life, but I’m never letting you go.”
“Like you have any say in it at all,” Pepper said. “You’re stuck with us both.”
“Does that make it a three-way marriage?” Tony asked. “I don’t think Happy would be okay with that, but I don’t mind as long as I don’t have to wear the dress.”
“Steve should wear it,” Pepper said, pitching her voice just loud enough to be heard across the table.
“I’ve been dating Tony Stark for five years,” Steve said as he stole one of Tony’s onion rings off his plate. “Do we really think I should be wearing white? Because for sure no one else will.”
Pepper bit back a laugh as Tony squawked in indignation. She slid off his lap and reached across for Steve’s hand. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Steve covered her hand with both of his. “I thought for a minute that you were objecting and – it means a lot that you think I’m right for him. It means a lot to have your blessing.”
“As if I wouldn’t give it,” Pepper said. “You take care of him.”
“For the rest of my life,” Steve said.
“All right. Well. I,” she announced, “am going home. I am taking the limo. You shall have to get a ride from someone else.”
“Oh, I’ll get a ride all right,” Tony said and Steve sighed and kicked him under the table.
“We’ll call a cab,” Steve said. He pulled Happy’s ring off and handed it to her. “Thank you for that, it was very thoughtful.”
She slipped the ring onto her thumb until she could give it back to her husband. “I’ll call the Boutique Cartier and make sure someone’s ready for you two first thing tomorrow.”
“Stop worrying about us and go enjoy your limo ride.” Tony gave her a little push. “Hey. I’m in good hands. Go put yourself in some good hands. You’ll thank me in the morning.”
“Tony Stark giving relationship advice,” she teased. “It’s definitely time to call it a night.”
She slipped away and as if they’d been waiting for her to clear the stage, the other Avengers swept in, Thor pounding Steve on the back, Jan flinging her arms around Tony in a hug. Pepper reached out and her husband took her hand.
“Onion rings,” she said. “Can you believe it?”
“Yup,” Happy said cheerfully. “But you asked me to marry you with a glazed donut, so probably we shouldn’t be giving the boss a hard time.”
“It was chocolate glazed, what do you take me for?” She leaned against his side and sighed when he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
They almost made it to the limo before her phone started ringing. She glanced at it, then over her shoulder back at the restaurant. She could see Steve and Tony through the windows, sitting side by side now, leaning into each other and laughing at something one of the other Avengers had said. She turned the ringer off and tossed the phone in her purse as she climbed into the back seat. “Take me home, Mr. Hogan.”