"He's the best," Katie agreed. "When you find someone who loves you, puts up with your faults, and that you want to spend the majority of your time with, you go for it."
Go for it.
She liked Green Way. She could list the things about him that she liked, but it all came down to the fact that she did like him. Did she like him enough to stay? To. . . work out whatever problems they had?
She snorted. You mean whatever problems you have, she told herself. Other than the fact that he has a jerk for a cousin.
"It," Black Chalice said carefully, "has been a long night."
"Oh, yeah. You met Green Way's family, met his mother, which is huge. Then your mother shows up. Then the oh-so-cuddly Black Rise makes an appearance. Plus the two questions of the jerk cousin." Katie shrugged. "Is there any way to get a do-over? Time travel?"
"Can't be done."
"Someone tried? Really?"
Black Chalice nodded. "They ended up doing the same thing over again, experiencing deja vu until they finally left themselves a note that said to quit it."
"Wow. . . How'd they get the note to stay?"
"No idea." Black Chalice glanced over her shoulder. "Could you-"
"Make sure that my husband hasn't killed someone? Nah, he wouldn't do that." She rubbed her stomach. "Not until after I ate, at least."
". . .I was going to ask if you could see if Green Way wanted to talk."
Katie nodded. "I can do that. Anything you want me to add to that? Just so that he doesn't start thinking that you want to break up?"
Black Chalice stared at Katie, then at the wall. What else could she say? "That I still like him?" she ventured.
Katie walked back inside and was immediately the focus of Black Night's world. "We're good," she said. "Green Way?" The other male looked up. Wow, he looks terrible, Katie thought. "Black Chalice says that she still likes you and she wants to talk."
Katie shrugged. "I guess so. She didn't say she was leaving."
Green Way stood up and went to the door. He sighed and opened it, stepping out into the alley. Black Chalice was there, waiting for him.
Green Way closed the door and took a step toward her. "Are you-" Okay? Want to kill my cousin?
"Do you want to break up?"
Green Way froze. "Uh. . ."
"I don't. But I don't want to pressure you into staying."
Green Way gave her a quizzical look. "Um. . . I was the one who asked to court you. So. . . I was already thinking about being mates."
And she hadn't given him an answer. Was she capable of giving him one now? Hadn't her prediction already said it for her?
No. No, it hadn't.
She held out a hand and he walked over to take it. "I like you," she said carefully. "I want to give you an answer, but not like this."
He eyed the alley. "Not quite the atmosphere I was hoping for." She laughed softly and the grip around his heart eased off. "So my cousin hasn't ruined everything?" She shook her head. "That's good."
"I never thought about having a mate."
Oh. "Okay," he said cautiously.
"I-" She glanced down the alley. "What do you expect?"
"If we were mates?" he asked. She nodded. "Do you mean that I'd want you to love me and know that I love you or specific things like which side of the bed do I sleep on?"
"Those are the kinds of things we'd find out while courting," he told her, squeezing her hand. "Like what kinds of cookies you like and that I can't stand crumbs in bed."
She blinked once at him at that declaration. "I don't eat cookies in bed."
He smiled at her and resisted the urge to hug her when she looked that cute. "We're still together?" Black Chalice nodded. "And you like me?" Another nod. "I like you, too." Green Way looked back at the door. "Do you want to go back in and eat or get take-out and go somewhere else? Or you can say you've had enough for the night and go home. No one's going to say anything."
Black Chalice looked at the building long enough that Green Way thought she was going to go home. "Back inside," she decided.
"Okay." He moved to let her hand go, but she held on.
"Together?" she asked. He smiled and nodded.
Green Shell smiled as the two of them walked toward the table. Holding hands and looking a little more comfortable with each other. Black Chalice sat and Green Shell said, "Your meals are still warm."
Green Way took his seat and asked, "Mother isn't back yet?"
"No, she's having a talk with Auntie." She nodded to Black Night. "We've been talking about Katie's bookstore. I'd like to visit."
The conversation was interspersed with the books available on Earth and commenting on the food. Until Yellow Tune returned.
She arrived and stood by her chair for a moment as all conversation ended. "Yellow Bolt's parents have decided to restrict his power until such time as he proves himself mature enough to have it back. And," she said, turning to face Black Chalice, "they would like me to offer a formal apology on their behalf."
"Unnecessary," Black Chalice said.
Yellow Tune met Black Chalice's eyes for several seconds, then nodded. She sat down and asked, "What did I miss?"
Later that evening, Black Chalice and Green Way took a few minutes to be alone. Black Night and Katie had gone back home to Earth, but not before inviting Green Shell to visit. Yellow Tune had hugged Green Way and Green Shell before offering the same to Black Chalice. The Black rank had accepted. Yellow Smoke laughed and said that perhaps their third meal at the restaurant would be the dull one.
"So. . . my family's not all like my cousin," Green Way said, looking sideways at Black Chalice.
"But I think I like Green Shell," Black Chalice said innocently.
Green Way chuckled. "Not what I meant, but I think she likes you, too." He looked up at their stars from just outside the restaurant. Should he ask about tomorrow? Would that be too pushy?
He raised an eyebrow as he turned his head toward her. "Did I say that out loud?"
"No. I said yes to your courtship offer."
Green Way stared. "Wha-? Really?!" Black Chalice nodded. "Don't you want to take more time? See how the Families rule about your family?"
"No," Black Chalice said calmly. "I like you and there's some. . . proof that we're going to like each other very much," she said with a small, knowing smile. "I want what I think I'm going to have with you. And the way to prove that is courtship."
"Okay. Yes. I mean. . . Can I see you tomorrow?" Green Way couldn't believe she'd said yes! Black Chalice nodded. "Okay. I-"
Black Chalice tilted her head. He seemed a little. . . off-kilter. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. Just thinking about tomorrow."
Maybe he'd feel better after some rest. "It's getting late. See you tomorrow?"
Green Way nodded. "Yes. I'll send you a note." Black Chalice smiled and disappeared. Green Way stepped backward until he could lean against the building. She- She said yes, he thought. What was he going to do for courtship? She said yes!
"Green Way?" Yellow Smoke called from just outside the door. "You all right?"
"She said yes."
Yellow Smoke walked down to him. "Yes to what?"
"Good. Nice girl. See that you treat her right or I'll oversalt all your food from now on." He laughed at Green Way's disgusted face. "Go home and go to sleep."
"I need to think up something for courtship."
Yellow Smoke sighed. "Flowers, pretty things, something good to eat. And buy a tablecloth!"
Green Way nodded. "Thanks."
"Go home, you're scaring my customers."
Green Way laughed and disappeared home.
Black Chalice woke up to a note fluttering down on her nightstand. She smiled and reached for it, knowing that it was from Green Way.
It wasn't. It was the Council, deciding in her favor. Unfortunately, at this late date, nothing could be done. She wasn't a child to be taken away from her family. But the Council had decreed that her mother and father wouldn't have any more children, would be forbidden from being around children, and wouldn't be allowed to have contact with her unless she initiated it.
Black Chalice closed her eyes. They didn't want more children or to have anything to do with them. That was more a protection to everyone else. She'd made it clear to both of them years ago that she wasn't available to them.
Nothing was going to change.
She took a deep breath, opened her eyes, and kept reading. 'In the event that you would wish to join another family, this Council approves.'
Family? What family would want her?
No, she told herself. One, you don't have to have a family. Two, maybe Black Peony would.
. . .not that I'm going to ask.
The letter ended with the typical formalities. Black Chalice folded it back up in time for another note to fall in front of her. She picked it up and smiled. This was the one she'd been waiting for.
She read it, noted him back, and got up to start her day. Being summoned in your pajamas was something you only did once.
A tablecloth spread out on the ground in her field under the stars. Black Chalice tried to keep the smile off her face. This was. . . an interesting first meal.
Especially with what was on the tablecloth.
"I'll admit that my family helped," Green Way said, opening the boxes. "I just couldn't get to all the bakeries in time."
Cookies. Cookies from all over Earth. Butter cookies, chocolate crinkles, montecados, waffle cookies, struffoli, springerles, and many more.
"You like cookies. Now I'll find out your favorites." Green Way looked very pleased with himself.
They had lots of fun breaking cookies in half and trying a bite of each. Some went in an empty 'not a good idea' box, while others were put aside for later. In between cookies, they talked about their day. Green Way's work and Black Chalice's summons.
When the cookies were all sorted, Black Chalice sighed. "The Council sent me a note."
Green Way swallowed his cookie. "Oh? Good news?" She told him what they'd said and he nodded. "Family, hm?"
"I'm not sure about that part. What do I know about families?"
"What not to do?" Green Way said.
"I'm not sure I could be a mother."
Green Way shrugged. "I wouldn't mind being a dad, but why don't we try being around kids that aren't ours? Somewhere in the future."
"Katie said something about me being an auntie."
"There you go. Aunties don't have to be around that much. I think it's just toys, sweets, and the occasional visit."
Black Chalice considered that. "I might be able to do that."
"Well, you know Black Night's my next-favorite Black rank."
Black Chalice smiled as she looked away.
"Family, hm?" Yellow Tune sipped at her morning tea.
Green Way's mother put her tea down and sighed. "As much as you might like to, you can't rush this. Or package us up and give us to her." She shook her head. "It would take a very large box."
"I know." Green Way shrugged. He wanted her to have the support he had.
"Do the other Black rank know about the ruling?"
"I don't know. Black Peony might."
"Then I don't think your problem is finding her a family, sweetheart."
Black Chalice came back to her house from a summoning and found a note on her table. She unfolded it and read, 'Thyme and I would love to have a sister or a cousin. Bit young for you to be my aunt. Let us know. Black Sword.'
. . .huh?
A knock came from the front door and Black Chalice moved to answer it. She pulled the door open and looked at the man on her steps.
"Good morning," he said with a dip of his head. "Black Chalice?"
"I'm Blue Nib. Peony sent me with a letter if you'd like to read it?"
Black Chalice took the letter he was offering. She unfolded the paper wondering why he'd left off Black Peony's rank. . .
'Black Chalice, dear, this is my husband. We were talking about the Council's decision and he said he'd like to meet you. We've already got four children and two that married in, so why not? Even if you decline our offer of being family, Blue Nib has still wanted to meet you for years.'
Black Chalice looked up and Blue Nib smiled. "I'm told that you like cookies and books?" Black Chalice nodded. "Wonderful. So do I. Do you have time to go to a little bakery that I love?"
After ordering boxes full of cookies, cakes, and other assorted pastries, Blue Nib showed Black Chalice one of his other favorite places.
"This is nice," Black Chalice said.
"Isn't it, though? I love the view." Mt. Everest was always nice when you had a way to not be cold or pass out from the altitude. "How is your courtship going?"
Blue Nib opened a box and debated his choices. "Would you mind letting your. . . Pardon me, but who is your young. . . fellow?"
"Ah, then let Green Way know that he can ask for ideas or advice. It can be difficult trying to figure out how to give a Black rank what they want, rather than what you think they want."
. . .what did that mean? A note fell in front of her and she sighed.
"Too many people wanting to know your business?" Blue Nib asked in a commiserating way.
"I've never been this interesting in my life," Black Chalice said dryly. Unfolding the note, she read, 'We're already adding to our family and asked you to be an auntie, so we're just making it official! Katie and Black Night.'
"From no family to three offers in one day."
"And it isn't even noon," Blue Nib said. "Are you seeing Green Way today?"
"I hope so."
"It should make for an interesting story. Peony has so many interesting things to tell me about her day. I'm convinced that she agreed to let me court her just so I could write down her life story." Blue Nib sighed, a happy look on his face.
"Black Peony has a book?"
"More than one. But she made me swear not to publish until after her demise." He raised a chocolate cake out of the box. "I may just publish them as fiction and let her grouse about the errors. It would serve her right."
Blue Nib accompanied Black Chalice home after their short excursion. She found two boxes on her doorstep. "Gifts from Green Way?" Blue Nib asked.
Black Chalice picked up the smaller box, checked the note on top, and nodded. She lifted the lid of the flat box and stared.
"Well, if he gave you something inappropriate, I need to know so I can have a word with him," Blue Nib prompted. Black Chalice raised the necklace out of the box. "Ah, jewelry. Not too ostentatious. Do you like it?"
". . .I've never had someone give me jewelry before. Except for a hairclip."
"Was that also from Green Way?"
"Then he's keeping to a theme. A dragonfly green jade necklace. His colors and something you like. Maybe I won't have to give him any advice." Blue Nib sighed. "Has he been threatened yet?"
"Yes," Black Chalice said dryly. "Black Peony, Black Sword, and Black Rise."
"Black Rise? Really? You do have quite the number of protective people around you."
Black Chalice picked up the slightly bigger, square box and frowned at the name. "Black Rise sent this." She eyed the box warily, but lifted the lid. She lifted a small wooden box out and opened it. Peering inside, she shook her head slowly. "I don't know what this is."
Blue Nib moved so he could see and smiled slowly. "That, Black Chalice, is a very old, formal offer of family." He pointed at the black orb. "The color is the rank of the offering family member and if you touch it, it should light up with your name, rank, and a message if Black Rise has attached one."
Black Chalice picked up the orb and held it cradled in the palm of her hand. Light wrote her name on the orb, then the letters disappeared. "Black Chalice," Black Rise said, "consider this my offer of family."
The message ended abruptly and Blue Nib continued to smile. "For him, that was very polite."
Four offers in one day. Black Chalice raised her eyes to Blue Nib. "Thank you for the visit. I enjoyed the bakery."
"I look forward to more visits," Blue Nib said with a knowing smile. She'd had enough and she was letting him know. He nodded to her and disappeared.
Four offers of family. She really needed to think about this. But instead of getting to think, she felt the tug of a summoning and left with a sigh.
"-and I don't know what to do about. . . that!" Black Chalice said, pointing at the box with the black orb in it.
Green Way gave the box a long look. "What I'd like to know is. . . will I get another talk if you're the daughter/sister of four Black rank families?" Black Chalice gave him a look and he laughed. "I think it's nice of them to offer. You can write notes back if you want, but you don't have to accept." Black Chalice looked at the box again. Time for a change of topic, Green Way thought. "How was your visit with Blue Nib?"
Clearly distracted by the offers. "If they know you at all, they know that you'll take your time thinking about it." Green Way stood up. "Why don't we go to a movie?"
"Movie?" Black Chalice asked.
A few hours later, Green Way knew that Black Chalice liked movies, walks, interesting scenery, and cookies. She was confused about him and family, though, she was growing less watchful and more contented around him.
And she liked the necklace he had given her.
Black Chalice opened the door and raised an eyebrow as Green Way carried bags by her. "Kitchen!" he called merrily over his shoulder.
She followed him into the kitchen and watched as he unpacked the bags. "What's going on?" she asked.
"We are making cookies!"
Black Chalice raised an eyebrow. "We are?"
"Yes! That's why you have an oven!"
Black Chalice checked. Yes, she did have an oven. When had that arrived? And a sink!
"Black Peony helped. You know, her husband is really a very nice man. I did get threatened. Again." Green Way stopped for a moment, then shrugged and kept unpacking the bags. "It just proves that you have a lot of people who like you. Doesn't mean that they don't like me, too, but they're just more willing to turn me into broccoli."
Black Chalice looked at him fondly. "I'd turn you back."
"Aw, you have no idea what that means to me." He took something out of a bag and whirled around. "Here, for that you can hold the flour."
"Flour." Black Chalice looked down at the sack.
"Yes, flour is necessary for a great many cookie recipes." He flourished a book. "Pick out something that looks good, my courtmate."
She put down the flour and thumbed through the book. Choosing a recipe, she handed the book back.
"Those look easy. And I think I've got chocolate chips."
"Mm," Katie said, closing her eyes. "I know it's been months since you started making cookies, but they just keep getting better!"
Green Shell agreed. "Did you have another flour fight?"
Black Chalice smiled. "Yes. Your cousin looks good with white hair." She reached into her bag, a gift from Black Peony, and handed Katie a box. "These are the latest test batch."
Katie opened the box eagerly and her eyes grew wide. "How did you. . .?" she asked, taking out a cookie and looking at the flower pattern.
"Green Way gave me a new rolling pin." Make cookie dough, roll it out with a smooth rolling pin, then roll it once with the patterned rolling pin, and cut out cookies. Her kitchen now had the best cookie-making supplies, including her new rolling pin and cookie cutters.
"I have got to show these to Black Night," Katie said. "I want one!"
Black Chalice watched the pregnant woman walk to Black Night, who was in the book stacks. "Isn't she almost due?" Green Shell asked.
"Should be soon," Black Chalice agreed. "It's one of the reasons Black Night wanted me around. Extra energy in case the little ones decide to make an appearance." Seeing that the couple was on their way back to the counter, she raised her voice, "Or they could just ask."
Katie's eyes widened. "But we already asked one question and you really don't like- I mean, I don't want to add to any trauma. . ."
Black Chalice raised an eyebrow. "Am I auntie or not?"
Black Night chuckled. "Black Chalice, when will the twins be born?"
She gave Katie's abdomen a look and smiled. "Two days from now, mid-morning. The labor will be easy and should start a few hours before birth."
Katie sighed with relief. "So I can start making plans now. Someone to watch the store, do the laundry. . ."
Katie's life is going to change once the twins are born, Black Chalice thought once she'd returned home.
Black Chalice's life had changed, too.
She was still thinking about the offers of family. Blue Nib had visited as well as his mate, Black Peony. She'd even met their children.
Green Shell had become a friend, visiting bookstores and talking. Black Sword had introduced her to his mate, Thyme, and they'd formed a friendship as well.
Green Way had been wonderful. They'd baked cookies, cuddled on the couch while reading to each other, talked about. . . oh, everything. Not to say that they hadn't had their disagreements, but he wasn't as skittish around her as he used to be. Easier, closer.
She wanted him. In her life and in her house. They'd tentatively picked their way around the subject of where to live, as well as the topics of children and family.
Well, there was one thing she could do to tell him what she wanted.
"Black Chalice?" Green Way called from the front door. He had an idea about going to get ice cream, but he wanted to know what she had for evening plans.
Green Way headed toward the living room. Black Chalice waited until he was several feet into the room before stepping away from the wall behind him. "I have a present for you."
Green Way turned around and Black Chalice held out her present. Green Way automatically reached for it. He stared at the flowers in his hands. "It's a black rose," Black Chalice said, unnecessarily naming the gift. "One of four."
He raised his eyes to Black Chalice. "Does this mean-?"
"I love you."
Green Way put the rose down on the table. He walked back to Black Chalice, put his hands on her hips, and kissed her gently. "I love you, too," he said.
"Do we get bonded now?" Black Chalice asked.
Green Way grinned. "Whenever you want."
It wasn't a small gathering that came to their bonding party. Green Way's family and friends had come, spreading out over the field that was part of Black Chalice's home.
The Black rank had come in response to Black Chalice's message. That she would like her family, her mother, father, brothers, and sisters, to come to celebrate her bonding.
Black Peony and Blue Nib spoke easily with everyone. Their children mingled with Green Way's family. Black Sword and Thyme sat with Green Shell with Black Sword getting up for snacks every now and again. Black Night and Katie sat with their twins in a large padded loveseat. The twins were still very young, but there was a soft blue plaid elephant tucked in with them.
It was a joyful gathering with plenty of food, company, and children playing games.
Then Black Rise arrived.
"Hello, sister!" he crowed as he arrived. "So how's the bonding going so far?"
"Fine." Black Chalice smiled at Black Rise.
"Do you mean it? We're sibs?" he asked. She nodded. "Then how about a test, hm?" He disappeared and arrived with his arm around a woman's waist.
"Oh, no," Black Sword said. "Don't tell me Katie got you, too."
Black Rise grinned at the other Black rank and shook his head. "So. . . Chalice. . ."
The woman he was with squirmed away, then swatted him lightly on the shoulder. "Rise. . ."
Black Rise sighed. "You're going to ruin my reputation," he told her. "Chalice, my sister, meet Purple Ring. My mate."
Everyone stared. Except Katie, who smirked. "Purple Ring?" she called sweetly. The slight female turned to look at her. "Congratulations."
Purple Ring brightened. "For?"
"I've always said that Black Rise needed cuddles."
Purple Ring laughed. "He does!" She turned back to Black Chalice. "Congratulations on your bonding and I hope you're as happy as Rise and I. Also," she said, tilting her head, "I welcome having a sister." She took Black Rise's hand and tugged him toward Katie. "I want to see the babies. . ."
A few seconds later, Black Night got an up close view of Black Rise willing to indulge Purple Ring in anything she wanted. "I want one."
"That means you have to put up with another Black rank close."
"You can choose one, you know. I'm sure Black Chalice or Black Peony would be happy to visit with me. You don't have to be there."
Katie raised an eyebrow. "Okay, what's going on?"
Purple Ring sighed. "He's not just antisocial, Black rank rub him the wrong way."
Black Rise shrugged. "They're. . . buzzy."
"Buzzy?" Katie repeated.
Black Night's eyes narrowed. "There's an actual reason why you're not around much? And your attitude to back it up?" Black Rise grinned at him. "Black Chalice? I know it's your celebration, but your brother has a problem."
Black Chalice walked over. "Black Rise can't be around Black rank, because it hurts," Black Night explained.
"Does so," Purple Ring countered.
"I am not causing my sister distress just so I-"
"Ask," Black Chalice said dryly.
"Black Chalice," Katie said, "how can Black Rise stop his buzzy feeling around Black rank?"
Black Chalice was quiet for a moment, then held out a hand for Black Rise. "Just a touch of power," she told him. Black Rise let her hand rest on hers. Black Chalice let her power rise for a brief second, then let go.
"Huh," Black Rise said. He took a step closer to Black Chalice. "Nothing." He glanced at Black Night. "You, though. . ."
Black Night held out a hand lazily. "I'm not disturbing the babies."
After an exchange with Black Night, Black Rise looked at the twins. "They aren't old enough to do anything. Never had a problem being around the little ones."
"Then let's go find the other Black rank!" Purple Ring tugged him away. "See you later!"
"Wait!" Katie called out. "How long have you been married?"
"Before Black Peony was!"
Katie stared and Purple Ring laughed, walking away with her husband. "Huh. That long. Did you know he was that old?" she asked Black Night.
"No." Black Night settled one of the twins closer and smiled at his wife.
Black Chalice walked back to Green Way and reached out for his hand. He smiled at her and squeezed her hand. "Having a good time?"
"Think you will for the rest of our lives?"
Black Chalice smiled. "I think so."
The End! Thanks for reading!