“Be honest with me.” Pepper was wearing a pair of felt reindeer antlers with little blinking red and green LED lights. Tony found them vaguely mesmerizing. She leaned against Tony's arm and rested her head on his shoulder, whacking him more or less gently in the face with the antlers as she did. She smelled like peppermint and more than a little bit of rum. “Okay, did you ever think we'd end up like this?”
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask what she meant by 'like this' but the truth is it almost doesn't matter. “Not even a little,” he said honestly, and she nuzzled into his shoulder a little.
“Me either,” she said. She held a mostly-empty tumbler of what had probably been heavily-spiked eggnog in her left hand and she kept tapping her engagement ring against the rim in an uneven staccato. “You know, a couple of years ago I'd have thought we'd end up together.”
That was news to Tony. He'd had a bit of a crush on Pepper years ago, but even then he'd known it was more about her being the only really stable person in his life than about anything romantic or even sexual between them. He'd never thought she reciprocated at all – and then Happy had come into their lives and she'd never looked back.
“Yeah, like, one day we'd both be forty and alone and have too much to drink at a company dinner and just kind of-” She gestured with her glass, though what the gesture was supposed to signify, Tony could only guess. “You know. And then we'd get married and be a power couple and crush the industry beneath our exquisitely shod feet, but we'd always know we were missing out on something and just settling for each other.”
“No man in his right mind would consider you 'settling',” Tony said firmly. “But let's be glad it didn't work out that way.”
Pepper hummed in agreement and tapped her ring against her glass again.
Honestly, there was a time when Tony might have thought that sort of agreement was the best he could hope for. Not with Pepper, of course, because Tony was fairly certain he wasn't stupid enough to completely ruin what he had with her, but with someone in the industry. A marriage of convenience, maybe, uniting two family businesses through marriage. It still happened from time to time. After Rumiko had left he hadn't thought he deserved anything more than that, hadn't honestly believed anyone would want him for anything else.
And then Steve.
Tony hadn't expected Steve, hadn't even hoped that someone as good and kind as Steve would ever find anything worth loving in someone like him. He'd been lucky to be Steve's teammate, honored to be Steve's friend, and quietly resigned to the fact that if Steve knew Tony felt anything other than pure platonic friendship for him he'd smile kindly with pity and just a little bit of disgust in his eyes and Tony would lose him completely.
He looked for Steve and found him standing on the far side of the room with Sam and Bucky. He was laughing at something one of them had said and he looked – he looked fucking radiant.
Tony still wasn't used to the way Steve's smile made the tension drain from his muscles, or the way the warmth of Steve's arm around his waist could calm even the worst of his stress. He'd never been with someone who could soothe him with a touch, ease his worries just by being there. In his past relationships it had been rather the contrary, with Tony running himself ragged and drowning in the stress of keeping his partner happy. Only Rumiko had ever come close to this and she and Tony had had too many lies and too many dashed expectations between them to really reach this level of... of comfort. Of peace.
Steve looked up and spotted him from across the room. The smile on his face was easy and fond and so familiar after all these years.
Steve made him feel at peace. And it wasn't anything Steve said or did it was just the knowledge that Steve was there, was always going to be there.
Tony's breath caught in his throat, just a little. “Pep,” he said. “Would you excuse me for a minute?”
He left her side without waiting for her response. Something tight and hot was building up in his chest until he thought he might explode from it. It took everything he had not to run across the room to Steve's side.
Sam and Bucky were engaged in a heated debate over something that was probably baseball and Steve was leaning against the wall with a can of soda and an amused smile. Tony slid into the empty place at Steve's side and curled his hand over Steve's wrist. “Hey.”
Steve smiled at him and it lit his eyes with warmth. “Hey.”
“Marry me,” Tony said and the tightness in his chest throbbed.
Steve stared at him, eyes unblinking, smile slowly fading to a look of surprise. “What?”
“Marry me,” Tony said again. In the background he could hear the television, the sounds of the countdown getting ready to begin. He could feel the warmth of Steve's arm pressed against his side and the weight of Bucky and Sam's stares. “Say yes. Right now. I want to be your husband for every second of the new year.”
“Technically you're not going to be his husband, you're going to be his fiance,” Bucky pointed out like the true killjoy that he was. He started to say something else but Steve slapped his hand onto Bucky's face, managing to cover part of his mouth, all of his nose and his left eye, forcing Bucky to take a hasty step backwards.
“Grown-ups are talking now, Buck.” Steve licked his lips. “You want-?”
“Yes,” Tony said. He felt like he was so full of nervous energy he could outrun Quicksilver. In the background he could hear the party-goers start the countdown. “Steve, I swear if you're stalling just to make us miss the New Year I will be so pissed and also force you to fly somewhere it is not yet January first and do this all over again-”
Steve kissed him. It was quick and graceless, a breathless press of their mouths together for a fleeting second. “Do you want this?” he asked. “Do you want this because you want it or because you think I need it? Because I'm not going anywhere, Tony, this is forever for me, I'm never leaving you.”
Tony put his hands on Steve's shoulders, felt the way they trembled beneath his touch. He leaned in until he could press his forehead to Steve's and feel his lover, his partner, his soon-to-be husband's breath on his lips. “Marry me.”
“Yes,” Steve said just as the crowd started to yell. He caught Tony's face in his hands and kissed him again, warm and slow and when he pulled away he was laughing. “Tony, yes. Of course.”
“That was either the most romantic proposal ever, or the laziest one. Did you even get him a ring, Stark?”
Tony looked at Bucky over Steve's shoulder. “Why are you soaking wet?”
“Someone threw his drink at me,” Bucky said.
Steve grinned, completely unapologetic. “I was getting proposed to on a deadline, I didn't have time to find a coaster.”
Sam pounded Steve on the back, hooked an arm around Tony's neck. “Congratulations, you two. The sincerity of my well-wishes is in no way lessened by the fact that I'd have won the damn betting pool if you'd have just waited till Valentine's Day.”
Tony laughed, more than a little breathless. “I couldn't wait another second.”
Bucky's hand clasped his arm. His gaze, when Tony met his eyes, was firm but warm. “Make him happy, Stark.”
Steve gathered Tony up against his chest, and Tony closed his eyes as he felt the heat of Steve's body seep into his skin. “I'll make him as happy as he makes me or die trying, Barnes.”
“Fair enough.” Bucky gripped the back of Steve's neck. “I'm happy for you, Stevie.”
Pepper appeared at his side and threw her arms around his neck, smacking him in the face with her antlers again. “Now we don't have to get married,” she said and burst into tears.
Tony slid one arm around her waist. “You're just sad you won't get to crush people beneath your exquisitely shod feet.”
She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “We'd have ruled the industry like gorgeous tyrants. But this is even better.”
Tony looked up at Steve, who was smiling down at them, blue eyes soft and bright. “Yeah. Yeah, this is perfect.”