Joe was in good spirits, talking animatedly about Lucy's terrible streak at Texas Hold'em and how he was now fifteen dollars up in their ongoing nickel game. He used the walker instead of the wheelchair, and settled in on the edge of the bed in the downstairs office, looking at Lauren and Steve with a twinkle in his eye. Lauren was leaning uncomfortably against the dresser and Steve stood straight, his eyes on her the entire time.

Joe looked from one to the other. "Okay, out with it; I can tell when you've got something to say, Steve. What's on your mind?"

"I . . ." Steve began quietly, feeling nervous. "I'd like your ah, permission to marry Lauren. If she'll have me, that is."

Joe glanced at Lauren and then back to Steve, his expression serious but behind his glasses his eyes were bright. "Is that right?"

"Yes sir," Steve murmured quietly. Lauren shifted away from the dresser and came over to him, slipping her hand in his in a wordless show of solidarity. It felt wonderful in his, and he lightly squeezed it.

Joe was trying to look serious and not succeeding very well. "You really are the old-fashioned type, Steve, aren't you? Truth is you don't need my permission for this. Lauren's a modern woman and she can make the important decisions in her life all on her own. What I CAN give you both is . . . my blessing, which I do. I think the two of you are a good fit for each other and you're both willing to work with each other to make a good life."

Steve felt Lauren let go of his fingers as she moved over to Joe and slipped her arms around his frail frame, hugging him tightly. Steve hesitated, and stepped over as well just as Joe rose up.

They hugged. Steve tried to be gentle but Joe was surprisingly strong, and when they parted, he looked up at Steve, blinking wetly. "I always wanted my Lauren to find a good man, Steve. I'm blessed that she found the best one in the whole country."

Steve found himself too choked up to reply.


Within the week Steve had quietly moved out of the Tower. A single U-Haul brought his worldly goods up to Time Was, parking in the back alley. Steve and Binh unloaded it while Lauren supervised and Joe minded the store.

A few long-time customers came and out and helped as well, something that touched Lauren very much. Steve was patient about re-arranging the furniture upstairs, and cheerfully shifted anything she pointed to, waiting until she was satisfied with things and took pity on him. When he dropped himself into one of the recliners, Lauren brought him a can of soda and Steve grinned at her.

"So for now we'll leave it like this, right? Joe prefers to be downstairs for the moment, and if my bid on the place next door goes through we can consider taking out the wall and expanding things into a full loft up here."

"And the Laundromat downstairs will pay for it?" Lauren giggled. It was Steve's suggestion and made a lot of sense, given the businesses all around them. She knew Sally would be grateful to have one close by, and chances were good a lot of the little eateries would as well. "What should we call it—Time Wash?"

"That's not bad, actually. You hungry?" Steve asked, fishing out a box of Cracker Jack from the one of the grocery bags he'd brought back with him from the Tower. Lauren settled on the arm of the recliner, nibbling at the proffered treat as Steve waved the soda can and spoke again. "I'll have to take the truck back before five, but once I've done that we could go out tonight to celebrate."

"Sounds wonderful. You and me, or Grandpa too?" she asked, hoping for the former, but not too worried if it was the latter. Grandpa's recovery was going very well.

"Depends. Hey, you want the prize?" Steve held up the box and Lauren could see the little envelope among the popcorn.

She dug it out and grinned. "Mine! Man, I haven't gotten one of these in . . ." her words trailed off as she tore open the little packet and a delicate diamond solitaire tumbled out into her palm.

Dumbly Lauren stared at it, and then glanced at Steve, who was looking at her, his blue eyes bright. He slipped out of the recliner and got on one knee, and for a moment Lauren had the strange timeless feeling of unreality.

"So . . . Will you marry me, Lauren?" he murmured in a husky voice.

She looked down at him. Steve was in his usual khakis and a plain tee-shirt, he was slightly dusty and slightly sweaty and absolutely adorable. Lauren felt her pulse thrumming in her ears. Without thinking about it, she bent down and kissed him, tasting Cracker Jack, soda and sweet salty Steve.

The flavors of home, of love, and life.

"Yep," she whispered when she pulled back for breath. "Sure will."

For a second they simply looked at each other, and then Steve plucked the ring from her palm and slipped it on her finger. The fit was a little loose, but Lauren didn't care as the bright diamond sent twinkly flashes through the apartment. He rose, picking her up and twirling her around, his joyous laugh mingling with hers as she gave a happy whoop.

"God I love you—how did you DO that?" she demanded, giggling and trying to talk at the same time.

"Classified secret, Kitten; all that matters is that you said yes!" Steve laughed. "Now, about that dinner out . . . ."

"Us," she told him. "I'm pretty sure Grandpa would agree. Oh! We have to tell him! I need to show him the ring!"

Steve set her down and she raced to the stairs, stopped halfway, raced back to grab his hand and towed him along, the two of them making a racket on the way down. Most of the patrons looked up as they reached the first floor and Lauren darted over to the register to shove her hand under Grandpas' nose. "Look!"

"Sweetpea! Oh that's a beauty all right!" he crowed, catching her hand in his arthritic fingers and studying the ring. A few female patrons looked on as well, and Lauren heard a murmur of approval rippling through the store. Someone patted Steve on the back, and when he came closer, a quick burst of spontaneous applause made her blush.

"That's right, my little gal's engaged!" Lauren heard Grandpa announce loudly and proudly. "To celebrate, I'm letting you folks have one free dessert starting right now! Pie, brownie, or cake—come on up and take your pick!"

This was met with a cheer of store-wide approval, and Lauren laughed, moving behind the counter. Steve was still blushing, but he followed her and gave her a quick kiss before heading back into the kitchen to pull out the extra pies. For the next twenty minutes or so they were busy handing out treats and accepting congratulations and Lauren was amazed by how many people offered good wishes. When the last bit of lemon meringue had been served, she felt Steve slip an arm around her and leaned against him, looking up into his face. "Fun?"

"More than a barrel of monkeys," he replied, grinning.


They had dinner at the little Italian place down the block, the evening was cool and they walked there, hand in hand. The meal was wonderful, and Lauren thought Steve looked boyishly handsome as they laughed over pasta and wine.

She wore her ring of course; a little thread wrapped on the bottom of the band helped the fit, and Steve promised to take her to the jewelers to have it properly sized. When they'd finished dinner they walked home together, Steve's arm around her as Lauren carried the doggy bag of leftovers in one hand.

Grandpa was already asleep; they passed by his room downstairs quietly and moved up in semi-darkness and at the top, Lauren felt Steve slip his arms around her and sigh contentedly. "Happy," he murmured.

"Happy," Lauren agreed, feeling not only a wonderful sense of well-being, but also a slow tingle of desire that had been building all through dinner. Steve seemed to feel it too; she could tell by the slightly restless slide of his hands down her spine to her butt. "I think I'd like dessert, though."

"Oh?" Something in Steve's tone let her know her implication was perfectly clear. His voice always got deeper and slower when he was aroused, the way he was now, Lauren knew. She pressed against him with her hips and made a little murmuring sound, pleased when Steve gave a breathless groan.

"You go get comfortable in the bedroom," Lauren suggested softly, "And I'll go get you something nice to eat."

"Yes ma'am," came his soft rumble. As she squeezed his ass he added, "You give the best orders!"

That made her laugh, and Lauren waited until he'd moved off before heading to the fridge. She opened it, and there, hidden in the back was her little prize; carefully she lifted out the pie and smiled.

Early on Lauren had figured out exactly which pie Steve Rodgers loved most. Given the patriot he was, most people would have guessed apple, but the truth was just as American and sweet. Lauren set the cherry pie on the counter and stripped.

Under the sink was the frilly apron, tucked away and still in its lingerie store bag. Lauren pulled it out and slipped it on, feeling foolish and tickled as the dark gauze of it wrapped around her. Black sheer with shiny little appliqué cherries on it—silly of course, but when she'd seen it Lauren knew Steve would probably like it. She tied off the bow over her bare ass, then picked up the pie, plates and forks.

Time for dessert, she thought to herself with a shiver of sensual anticipation.

At the bedroom door, Lauren looked in; Steve had thoughtfully lit one of the fat candles there and was lounging in his boxers against the headboard, looking a lot like dessert himself. When he saw her, his blue eyes widened, and he worked his jaw for a few seconds unable to speak.

"Want some pie?" Lauren murmured, and then began giggling because Steve was still so stunned. She sauntered over on her high heels and cocked a hip at him flirtatiously, offering up the plate on her fingertips.

"Lauren, oh God, you look . . ." Steve began, his voice shaky. "Damn, I didn't think I could like cherry pie more than I already do!"

"Mmm, well eat up, Big Boy," she giggled again when Steve slipped an arm around her thighs. He caught the plate, set it gently on the nightstand and turned back to her, his expression not at all his usual Boy Scout sweetness. In fact, if Lauren had to describe it, 'lustful' would be the first adjective.

"Come here," he rumbled, tugging her to him. Lauren tumbled onto Steve, slipping her arms around him and kissing him soundly.

The kissing was good; Lauren loved how soft and slow Steve teased her tongue with his, and how he knew exactly how to nibble and nip until she was squirming. Not that it took much at the moment; Lauren had been feeling tingly all during the walk back, and tasting Steve's mouth left her hungry for more.

He knew though, and seemed to make it a point to tease her, slowly sliding his hands along her body and stroking all the ticklish places with unerring accuracy. Lauren suspected there was a bit of ruthlessness in Steve, and that at times he was going to set the pace to suit himself whether she liked it or not. At the moment she simply squirmed and moaned and found herself propped up, a knee on each side of his head.

"Steve!" Lauren murmured, slightly scandalized and aroused at the same time. He gave a low growl of delight.

"Hey, you offered pie; I'm just taking you up on it, Kitten. Looks mighty tasty too . . ." Steven sighed, and slid his warm hands up along the insides of her thighs. Lauren shuddered, her fingers clutching the headboard of the bed as she waited for his first soft kiss.

She writhed and wriggled but Steve was sweetly persistent. He teased her for long sensual minutes, flicking his tongue and lapping gently, slipping in a tiny nip here and there between open-mouthed kisses, and gradually Lauren gasped as her orgasm flared through her with aching sweetness. She arched up, gripping the headboard tightly through her soft cries.

Finally she shifted, looking down at his bright eyes and impish expression.

"Sweetest pie ever," he whispered smugly.

"Just for that," Lauren told him when she could speak again, "Turnabout is fair play!"

She slithered down his body, laughing softly as Steve playfully tried to slow her, and when Lauren was settled between his knees, she took his shaft in her hands and began to toy with it. It was a pleasure to take her time in teasing him, and Lauren loved the way she could make Steve breathless and heavy-lidded in a matter of minutes.

It was fun to whisper naughty things between licks, and certainly a thrill to apply her lips and tongue in tantalizing ways. He was so big that reducing all of Steve to a highly tensed state tended to make the entire bed vibrate. He reached down to cup her chin after a while and caught her gaze with his own, his voice hoarse. "So good, but I want . . . I want you, Sweetheart!"

And Lauren nodded, satisfied and eager herself now. She helped sheathe him in a condom and shifted until she was crouching over him, then every so slowly impaled herself on his shaft, her hands on his damp shoulders. Steve grunted, the sound deep and almost desperate; when she was on his lap, his big hands cupped her ass and they rocked together in slow, tender strokes.

So deep. Lauren shuddered, feeling full and achy at the same time. She leaned forward to kiss Steve and the shift of the angle made both of them gasp. They rocked together, the rhythm quicker and rougher, a grind of skin and muscle. Lauren gasped into his mouth. "Harder, please, harder!"

Steve obliged, hips thrusting up, bouncing the mattress and stroking deep, the tension accelerating. Lauren slipped her hands around the back of his neck and spoke again, "Yes, oh yesss, more Steve, I love you, oh please more!"

His hands gripped her ass and Steve drove himself into her, his eyes a blazing blue now as he dragged his lips across her cheek to her mouth, his husky words ragged and deep. "Love you Lauren, oh God, yeah I'm, I'm . . . .cominggggg!"

The sweet raw sensuality of his surrender was enough to nudge her own, softer orgasm, and Lauren felt her body squeeze his, felt the heat of his climax through the thin latex. It was so primitive and yes so very intimate, and she kissed his face as they both rode out the waves of pleasure.

They collapsed back against the headboard, sweaty and grinning at each other, sticky and incredibly happy. Lauren kissed his nose and mouth, giggling at how disheveled he looked as he disposed of the condom. "Oh wow! You are . . . incredible!"

"Not me," he licked his lips, eyes twinkling as he lay back and took her in his arms. "You. My Kitten, my Cherry Pie, my sweet, sweet Lauren. Love you."

"Love you too, my Hero, Steve Rogers," Lauren sighed happily. "I . . . I never thought I'd be this happy."

"That," he told her earnestly, kissing her nose, "makes two of us. I don't know about the rest of the world, but right here, right now, I'm home."

"Yes," she told him, hugging him close. The pie could wait; they had the whole night.