Before lunch, Black Peony sent Katie a note with possible times to go shopping. With some communication between Black Peony, Katie, and Thyme, they decided on tomorrow afternoon.

Katie, frankly, was looking forward to it. After being around Black Night at home, at work, and everywhere in between... Not that the man didn't leave for an hour or three while she was at work.

It was just exhausting. She couldn't lay in bed and think at night, because she knew he was there. She didn't feel smothered or threatened, just aware.

Some time off with the girls was just what she needed.

MMM

Black Peony stopped her careful examination of the silver scarf and laughed. "Katie, just tell him to go away."

She grimaced. "But-"

Black Peony smiled at her, knowingly. "Sometimes a woman needs to take a long bubble bath without any males around. Black Night has other interests that he can pursue for a few hours."

"Doesn't he feel like he has to protect me?"

Black Peony nodded and went back to the scarf. She did like the way it moved. "Yes. That is what the protections on the house are for. And the fact that you have the approval of four out of five Black ranked demons? There aren't any sane demons that will attack you." She smirked as she put the scarf around her shoulders. "And any insane ones would be dealt with."

"What about humans?" Thyme asked, a little timidly. "Black Sword promised me that I'd be safe."

"In Katie's case, she has protections on her that a human can't see. Black Sword has yet to put them on you." Yes, the scarf was coming home with her. "It's not anything physical, just a... Hm. Katie, you could walk into the worst part of town and everyone there would be convinced that you weren't someone to mess with. Let no one say that Black Night doesn't know how to be subtle."

"On that note," Black Peony continued, "how has Black Sword been doing? Behaving himself?"

Thyme nodded. "I thought he'd be upset at having a chaperone, but he's not." She shrugged. "Of course, Sage is really good at looking the other way and wandering off."

Thyme frowned. "Why do you and the others refer to each other by rank?"

Black Peony blinked. "Well, that's a subject change. You mean, why do I call Black Sword by his rank and name, rather than just Sword?" Thyme nodded. "It's akin to putting a Mr., Mrs., or Ms. in front of someone's last name. It's polite. Plus it says their rank out loud. There's a Red Sword and a Blue Sword as well."

"So it's a way of keeping everyone straight? But we have lots of people with the same name."

"It's also familiarity. No one but closest family calls a demon by their name without their rank. A mate might choose to. A child when they're younger. Only by invitation." Black Peony smiled at Thyme. "Does that answer your question completely?" Thyme nodded. "Okay. Katie, how is Black Night?"

Katie sighed. How to describe Black Night?

"Oh, that's a bad sign. Let's go find somewhere to sit." Black Peony paid for the scarf and led them outside.

MMM

"I don't get him," Katie said.

Black Peony nodded and took a sip from her straw. "All right. Start talking about him."

"About what?"

"Anything," Black Peony said, waving a hand dismissively. "The way he can't match socks, what you like, what irritates you."

"He gives me presents," Katie said with a scowl. "I know I agreed to it, but... It feels like he's giving me everything." She shook her head. "He cooks, he cleans, he gives me those looks that say I'm the most precious thing in his world."

Black Peony raised an eyebrow. "And these are bad things?"

"No. It's what I want. It just feels lopsided."

"He's courting you to have a chance to prove to you that he's the one you want."

Katie sighed. "I know." She paused for a moment. "He loves me. He does everything right."

Black Peony smiled to herself. "And you are so sure that you're not in love with him?"

Katie frowned. "I'm not."

"Really?" Black Peony sipped from her drink again. "You lived together for six months before he started his courtship?"

"Yes."

"And the difference between then and now are a few kisses, some gifts, and a love confession every once in a while?"

"Yes."

Black Peony gave her a knowing look. "Do you look forward to seeing him in the morning or the breakfast on the table?"

"I can't have both?"

Black Peony chuckled. "And you enjoy those kisses?" Katie nodded. "Have you thought maybe you might have loved him for months now and not noticed?"

"No." That wasn't possible. She would have noticed.

...wouldn't she?

Black Peony smirked as thoughts and doubts flitted through Katie's mind and were reflected in her expressions. "Seeing things a bit clearer now?"

Knowing that he would be there every day. Courtship gifts and laughter and watching movies at opposite ends of the couch... added up to love?

Katie nodded at Black Peony's words. "I'm in love," she said softly. "How did that happen?" She trusted him with her life and her heart and didn't know how.

"Mm, the usual way. Most people don't know that they're in love until something happens to them or someone else brings it up." Black Peony smiled at her. "So, why don't we do a bit more shopping while you think up a way to tell him?"

"Okay." Shopping. She could do that.

MMM

Katie struggled inside the house holding more bags than she'd ever thought possible.

Black Night was there in a moment to help her. He took them away from her, setting them on the floor. He was there again to help her to the couch. "Did you have fun?" he asked, casting an eye over the bags.

"I think Black Peony had more fun than I did," Katie said dryly. "She could just pop home, leave her bags there, and come back for more." She held out a hand and Black Night moved to pull her up. "Hand me a bag?"

He redirected himself and started moving the bags to the couch. "What did you buy?"

"I'm not sure." She really didn't remember many individual things. Clothes, pretty things.

"Would you share them with me?"

Katie smirked. "You want to see what I bought on my whirlwind tour of shopping with Black Peony and Thyme?"

"Yes." Black Night hesitated, then sat down beside her on the couch. "I want to see your eyes light up when you show me your treasure."

...how did he say stuff like that without blushing?

She nodded, holding his gaze. She tore her eyes away from his, her hands diving into a bag. "Well, Black Peony bought one of these, too. She said it was perfect for cooking." She held up an apron with two pockets in the front.

Black Night nodded, admiring the purple flowers on the front. "It will be perfect for making cookies."

"Cookies?"

"Yes. Cookies for next Christmas. Or perhaps for the meetings."

He was planning on staying around. For his whole life. Katie smiled and ducked her head. She wanted to sleep on it. Knowing that she was in love was something she wanted to hold close for a little while before letting Black Night know.

MMM

Katie rose and went down to the kitchen expecting Black Night to be there cooking breakfast.

Instead, she found Blue Key, Grey Spiral, and Tracie at her kitchen table.

She blinked several times in confusion. Where was Black Night?

"He left you a note," Grey Spiral said, holding up an envelope.

Katie took it from her and started reading.

Dearest Katie. I wish I could be there this morning, but some problems have come up concerning Yellow Teyla and Green Barra. I have asked Grey Spiral to visit you today. I'll be home as soon as I can. Black Night

Katie raised an eyebrow and glanced at Grey Spiral. "Green Barra?"

"Yellow Teyla's father."

Katie nodded. "Yes, but the problem?"

Grey Spiral shrugged. "All Black Night told me was that he had a problem and could I come here for a few hours." She winked at her. "Black rank don't have problems for very long, Katie. He'll be home before you know it."

MMM

Black Night fought to keep from grimacing. Or snapping Green Barra's head off and seeing if that solved the problem.

Probably wouldn't. That's why there wasn't a mess on the floor. Yet.

Green Barra continued to talk to the collected members of the oldest families of their society. More about how Black Night was wrong and he was right.

Black Peony glanced at him and grinned. Black Night chuckled. This was just a formality. Even Black Sword was here. Black Rise and Black Chalice were absent, but he hadn't expected them to show up.

Black Sword walked over to Black Night's side and leaned close enough to whisper. "Likes his own voice, doesn't he?"

One of the older women glanced at Black Sword and raised an eyebrow. Black Sword boldly winked at her.

In response, the woman turned to Green Barra. "We have heard enough," she announced. "Black Night, what do you wish to say?"

Black Night cleared his throat. "Purple Rayse, I only have what I saw to tell you. Yellow Teyla saw me one day and asked me to test her son. She said that she had fallen in love with her summoner and was in hiding from her father, since he had engaged her to another. When Green Barra found her, I was there and put her under my protection."

"It wasn't necessary," Green Barra said.

A warning glance from Purple Rayse and Green Barra stopped talking.

Black Night continued. "Green Barra would have taken his daughter away from her husband and married her to another demon. I disagreed."

Black Sword held up a hand. "I add my approval to Black Night's actions."

"And mine," Black Peony agreed.

"This isn't about approval," Green Barra argued, addressing the group of families. "This is about my daughter marrying a human and being put under another demon's protection."

Black Night raised an eyebrow. "There's nothing wrong with that."

Green Barra nodded. "There isn't."

Uh-oh. This didn't look good.

Green Barra's chin tilted up. "I want Yellow Teyla to marry Black Night."

Black Peony's laughter rang out. "No."

"There is precedence." Green Barra stabbed a finger at the papers in front of him. "Blue Yane married Yellow Nemau. Black Hare married Blue Ice."

Black Peony's eyes narrowed. "Yes, there is precedence. But in both of those cases, the parties weren't attached."

Green Barra waved a hand dismissively. "Yellow Teyla is married to a human."

"Which is binding," Purple Rayse said.

"Not if she's under the protection of another demon." Green Barra's eyes held the gleam of triumph. "It is that demon's right to dissolve any agreements."

Black Peony sighed. "But Black Night is courting Katie. Green Barra, I really don't see where this is going." Besides making you look like an idiot.

"As the demon formerly protecting Yellow Teyla, I can request a dissolving of said courtship between Black Night and the human, Katie."

"Never," Black Night said. He would not kill Green Barra. Yellow Teyla would never meet his eyes again.

Black Peony folded her arms over her chest. "You're angry at Yellow Teyla for daring to have other plans than yours and at Black Night for protecting her from you. So angry that you've cooked up this whole thing just to get back at them." She shook her head, then gave the families a sad look. "Can I kill him now?"

"No," Purple Rayse said.

"Pity."

Purple Rayse sighed. "Green Barra, we have heard you. Black Night, we have heard you. The decision of this gathering is that Black Night will be required to take Yellow Teyla as family." Green Barra smiled. "He is not to take her as a wife. The form that family will take is at Black Night's discretion. As Yellow Teyla will be Black Night's family, you are no longer in any position to make further demands. That is all."

Which meant that Yellow Teyla was now completely out of Green Barra's realm of influence.

How was he going to explain this to Katie?

MMM

Katie listened as Black Night told her about the discussion. Green Barra had a grudge. Black Night and a demon named Purple Rayse had finished it.

"So now I'm to take Yellow Teyla as family," Black Night finished. He sighed and gave her a tired smile. "Suggestions?"

"I love you."

Black Night stared at her. What? His shoulders sagged and he sighed again. "Katie, you don't need to say that."

"Why not?"

"Just because Green Barra tried to get me to marry Yellow Teyla doesn't mean I'm going to do it. We don't need to move forward right now."

Katie frowned at Black Night. Men were so... "Black Night-"

"I just mean that you don't have to push yourself."

"I do."

Black Night shook his head. "You don't. It wasn't so long ago that you said you didn't love me."

Katie scowled at Black Night and slid over on the couch. She pointed a finger at him and waved it up and down as she spoke. "If I say I'm in love with you, then I am. I had this conversation with Black Peony yesterday and she says I am, too."

"Katie..."

She leaned close and he backed away. Her eyes narrowed. Fine.

A little smoother than she remembered, she found herself straddling his legs. "Now look," she said. "It was brought to my attention that I'm in love with you. That I've been heading that way for months. I just didn't notice it, because it was so gradual." She leaned forward, putting her hands on the back of the couch to pin him in. "Now tell me you love me, too, and kiss me."

Well, what was he to do? Both his arms went around her waist and tugged her closer. Bringing his lips a hairsbreadth away from hers, his eyes locked to her eyes, he said, "I love you."

When he finally let her lips go, he smirked at her. "Now we begin the next stage."

"Stage?" she said hoarsely. That had been some kiss!

"You've admitted I'm who you want. That I've proven I can provide for you and anticipate your needs." He nuzzled her throat and began pulling together a few wicked ideas. "Now, though... Now I get to do everything I've been thinking about."

"Should I be worried?"

"You may have to hire someone to run the store." He tipped his head up to whisper in her ear, "If I'm not careful, I'll leave you too tired to do more than sleep for days."

"I look forward to it."

Epilogue:

Thyme opened her eyes and grabbed the phone clumsily. She hit the receive call button and held the phone up to her ear. "Hello?"

"I woke you."

"Uh-huh."

"Can you open the store today?"

"Uh-uh."

"Okay. I'll ask Blue Key."

"'kay."

Katie chuckled. "Go back to sleep, Thyme."

"Uh-huh."

Thyme's phone went beep and Katie hung up. Black Night's arms wrapped around her from behind. "What's amused you, love?"

"I woke up Thyme."

"Ah. And?"

"It's eight o'clock. She's usually up earlier." Katie's head tipped to the side as Black Night's lips found her neck. "I think someone- Ah!" A tongue soothed the nipped spot. "...wore her out."

"Mm. Call Blue Key and Tracie. They can work today. Or we can hang a sign on the door." Black Night switched sides, breathing over her neck. Katie's breath hitched in anticipation and he smiled. He whispered in her ear, "Too tired to work."

"That's bad for the store," Katie objected.

"So bad," Black Night agreed. "But I just can't seem to keep my mind off you."

"That isn't your mind," Katie said dryly, pinning his hand in place.
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

Instead of leaving this story unfinished, I wrote an ending I'm not happy with. Katie was supposed to go with Black Night to his world. Blue Key was going to have someone else compete with him for Tracie and Black Night was going to have to step in. Black Chalice was going to make an appearance.

But I'm burnt out on this story. Maybe I'll come back to it months or years from now. I can always do another time skip and pick it up from there. I didn't want to leave everyone wondering 'is she ever going to update this?', so take this as the ending for now. Thank you for reading.