The serious lack of Billy and Mac fanfiction here has compelled me to post some of my previous stories. Some will feature the current characters as portrayed by Billy Miller and Clementine Ford while others will be based on the teen versions played by David Tom and Ashley Bashiom. This one is based on the present incarnation of Billy and Mac. As always, I own nothing but truly enjoy the love story that is Billy Abbott's and Mackenzie Browning's. Thanks to CBS and Sony for creating such dynamic characters. Enjoy!

Soul mates

Chapter 1 . . .

Billy made his way through the ER at Genoa City Memorial in a daze. He could not believe the messages that he was receiving on his phone. He'd been in the midst of a business meeting when his phone began going off at regular intervals. He finally stepped out to see what was so urgent only to be greeted by unthinkable news.

His mother, grandmother, Jack and even Chloe had called and left numerous messages telling him Mac had been shot and was in very critical condition. He couldn't wrap his mind around the notion that it was critical enough that she might not pull through. When he finally made it to the waiting room, a whole assembly was gathered there waiting for word from the doctor.

His mother and Kay were the first to greet him. Each engulfed him in a lingering hug before he jumped in with questions. "What happened?" he finally managed. It was Jack who took up the question when Kay began to cry again while Jill consoled her. "The details are sketchy but apparently Mac was unwittingly trying to help Mary Jane Benson when the cops closed in on her. Mary Jane panicked and tried to use Mac as leverage but when the cops didn't bite and threatened action she freaked out and shot Mac."

"She lost a lot of blood," came a familiar voice from within the brood. Billy's eyes came to rest on his onetime rival, JT Hellstrom but not on his face or even the words he was saying. His eyes couldn't leave his blood soaked shirt and tie. "I tried to stop the bleeding but I just couldn't." That nearly broke Billy. JT was covered in Mackenzie's blood. "You were there?" "I was the one who put the police on Mary Jane's tail but if I had known Mac was with her . . ." Billy started to shake his head fiercely, "This doesn't make any sense. Why would Mac be with this woman? Why if she was only trying to help would she turn on her?"

Jack again weighed in, "Billy, we all know Mary Jane has been disturbed for a long while. God only knows what was going through her mind." Billy's head was swimming with all he was being told and he eventually had to take a seat. He wound up on the couch where both Chloe and Chance were residing. Chloe immediately tried to be consoling.

She rubbed her hand over his back and rested her head against his as she softly spoke, "Billy, you just have to have faith everything will work out how it's suppose to." Billy, though, was in no mood for platitudes especially coming from Chloe about Mac. "What the hell is that suppose to mean? If she doesn't make it then that's how it's meant to be?" Chloe was startled by his abruptness and meekly replied, "No, of course not. I only meant . . ." Billy though cut her off, "Like you even give a damn about Mac? You're probably hoping she doesn't make it."

"Billy, I get that you're upset but that was really unnecessary," Chance broke in as he glanced over at a deeply wounded Chloe. His words stung and shocked everyone in the room, as he and Chloe had been trying to give things another go. Billy, though, only scoffed at his nephew's bravado, knowing Chloe rarely did anything without an agenda. Chloe left the room without another word and with a livid Chance following after.

He felt hurt and helpless and determined to make everyone else share in his anguish. He next turned his sights on his mother, who was still attempting to comfort Kay off to the side. "And here is the president of Mac's fan club pretending to be so concerned. You have done nothing but look down your nose at her from day one. Spare us your phony concern, mother! Shouldn't you be home popping champagne? This is what you always wanted, right? Mac out of the way permanently?"

Jill retorted with indignation, "Billy, that's not fair. I have never wished physical harm on that girl." "Please, all the threats you've made over the years." Kay, though, had seen and heard enough and cut off her distraught grandson's tirade, "That's enough, Billy! We are all here because we care about Mac. Nothing else matters but her well being." Billy was about to scoff again but Kay continued, "No. Now, no one is begrudging you your anger and fear but this isn't helping. I know you care for her but you're not the only one."

Billy began to calm and looked the grand dame straight in her warm blue eyes as he replied, "I don't just care about her. I love her and now . . . now she's here and hurt and there is nothing I can do." Kay pulled him into another warm embrace and quietly spoke to the now sobbing young man, "There is something that you can do . . . be strong for her. She knows she is loved by all of us and that might just make the difference."

Billy eventually withdrew from her hold and asked, "Where is she?" Before anyone in the room could answer the doctor walked in, "Ms. Browning has just been transferred to a room in ICU." Everyone turned to the physician as he began to explain the surgery to the group. "She lost a lot of blood. The bullet nicked a major artery when it entered her neck. We did manage to suture the tear and get more blood into her system but if and until she regains consciousness we won't know the full extent of the damage." "You said if. So there's a chance she won't come out of this?" asked a shaky Kay. "I'm sorry but there is a real chance she won't even make it through the night." The whole room was deathly silent until Billy spoke firmly, "I want to see her."

Chapter 2 . . .

No one argued with the distraught young man before he left the gathering and made his way to the last room in the hall after a short elevator jump to the next floor. Billy paused at the door and inhaled deeply, trying to prepare himself for what he was about to walk into. However, when he finally opened and walked through the door, he was hit by the reality that there was a real possibility that he was about to lose Mac again and this time there would be no reprieve. No second chance.

As he gazed at her motionless frame, an ironic thought crossed his mind. He had her back. She'd walked back into his life, opened her heart to him again and what did he do? He decided he was confused about his feelings for Chloe and needed to try to figure things out. And what did Mac do? What she always did . . . she put him first. She walked away . . . walked without making him feel guilty, without trying to convince him that they belonged together or pleading with him to stay. All she said was that she loved him enough to let him go and do what he needed to do.

Now here Mac lay hooked up to, what looked like, every machine the hospital carried- oxygen, IV's, and monitors for her vitals. And all he could think about how this beautiful, compassionate woman who always put everyone else first might not make it through the night.

As he moved closer to her bed, his fully took her in and he was overcome by seeing her lying so still. If he hadn't known what had happened, he would have believe she was just resting but the bandage on her neck and the paleness of her skin reminded him this was no sleeping beauty but a woman that he loved for as long as he'd known her in a fight for her life. Billy eventually willed himself to her bedside and gave up holding back his emotions as he softly spoke, "Hey, Beautiful . . . it's going to be ok. I'm here now. I'm here."

Billy took a seat next to her bed and clasped one of her hands in his. He first caressed and then kissed it before whispering compellingly, "Please don't leave me . . ." He paused, trying to keep his voice steady, "Mackenzie, fight and stay. How else I'm I ever going to make things up to you . . . to give you the life that I promised you? I know I've messed up so much with you but how could I ever survive without you? I'm sorry. Please don't go . . . not like this. "

He brushed away a stray tear as he moved closer to her and rested his head on her pillow. "Please fight . . . come back to me." Billy caressed her face with his finger tips and closed his eyes. Instantly a memory of the most powerful moment in his young life came to mind. The day he awoke in this very hospital, hearing her sweet voice calling him back and feeling the warmth of her body on his. Their connection was undeniable after that.

"Do you have any idea how much I love you . . . how much I need you?" he softly pleaded in her ear. He paused again and nuzzled his nose against her cheek, "Give me the chance to show you . . . Please."

Billy eventually relinquished his spot to allow Kay some time with her granddaughter. As he headed towards what he knew would be another packed waiting room, the dread of sitting and waiting and trying to explain his previous behavior was just too much and so he made a detour. He hopped an elevator down to the main floor and out the door into the night air.

He inhaled deeply and then crumbled on to a nearby bench and let the enormity of the reality that Mackenzie might leave this world without knowing that she is and always will be the one for him.

Chapter 3 . . .

Brock arrived to a more thinned out waiting area a few hours later. After apologizing to her for his earlier outburst, Billy sent Chloe home to check on Delia. Chance took Jill and Murphy back to the Estate and the others trickled out as the night wore on until only a tucked out Jack and Billy remained. He stood when he saw Brock, who had come directly from the airport, walk by. He caught him as he headed towards Mac's room.

"Brock . . . Hey." The brawny man stopped and turned, "Billy. How is she?" "She's hanging in. Kay's in with her now." He nodded, "How did this happen? The Duchess was pretty vague about the details." Billy shook his head, "I don't know much either. Apparently, she was helping someone she thought was homeless and they turned on her . . . Brock, look . . ." Brock, though, was already on the move again. Billy walked him to the door and stopped him just before he could go in. The two men locked in a knowing stare.

Billy knew that Mac spoke with her father faithfully which meant he was probably privy to some of what had been going on between them. "Brock . . . I . . ." He, though, just shook his head, "I need to go be with my daughter." Brock then pushed his way into the door, leaving Billy alone to watch as Brock embraced his mother and then went to his daughter's side. Billy rested his head against the glass on the door and observed the reunion until he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, little brother. You need to get some rest," Jack sleepily said. Billy shook his head, "That ain't gonna happen, Jack." "Billy, I know you're worried about Mac but her family's here now and I'm sure Chloe is wondering when you'll be back." Billy sighed heavily, "I'm not going anywhere until I know she's going to be OK." Jack paused.

He knew there was more to this than Billy just being concerned. Since Mac had come home his kid brother's attention had been squarely on her. He knew what they had meant to each other but felt that Billy's attention had began to shift towards Chloe and Delia recently. As much as he appreciated what Mac and Billy had once shared, Jack now believed that his kid brother needed to live in the present and focus on what was best for his daughter.

So he again tried to prod Billy. "Bill, you were the one who initiated this reunion with Chloe. You two are still trying to find your way. Do you really think this is the way to reassure her that you're serious about this?" Billy turned and incredulously looked him straight in the eye, "Forgive me, Jack, for not thinking about Chloe's feelings right now. But someone I care deeply about might not make it through the night. I think my priorities are right where they belong." "Billy, I'm not suggesting Mac shouldn't be a priority but there is nothing you can do for her right now. What's the harm in . . ." He, though, cut him off, "No, Jack. I mean it. I'm not leaving until I know . . . I know that she is going to be alright." Jack put his hands up in surrender just as the door to the room opened and Kay stepped out.

"Hey, I was hoping one of you might give me a ride back to the Estate. Brock said he's going to stay the night and I'll be back first thing in the morning." Billy and Jack exchanged a long look before Jack finally volunteered, "Of course, Katherine. I was just about to head out so whenever you're ready." She smiled at both men and gave Billy a small peck on the cheek, "Can I assume you'll be staying." Billy nodded. "Well, then I guess I'll see you in the morning." Jack thought about saying something else to Billy but Billy was already heading in the door. So like a good escort he hooked Kay's arm through his and lead her on towards the elevators.

Brock barely looked up when Billy walked in. His hands were clasped over Mac's and he was gazing at her intently. Billy wanted to say something comforting. To let him know he understood his pain and fear but he and Brock had been anything but close for a long time. Not since his and Mac's wedding day. He had finally given them his blessing and given Mac's hand to him. It was a significant moment, Billy believed, for both of them. They both wanted Mac happy and had finally agreed on what would do that. Now here they were again at odds over Mac. Billy knew he'd messed up with her again and that this time he might not have a chance to make it right. But he also knew that he and Brock still wanted the same thing . . . what was best for Mac.

So with that in mind, Billy took the seat Kay had vacated on the opposite side of the bed. He then reached out and caressed Mac's cheek which brought Brock's attention fully to him. And with as much steadiness as he could muster, Billy spoke, "She's going to make it through this. She's too strong and stubborn not to." Surprisingly, her father cracked a faint smile, "I hope you're right." Deep inside, so did Billy.

Chapter 4 . . .

The next few days were a repeat of the first. Mac had made it through the first night but her condition had not changed much. She had yet to come to and it was wearing on everyone that loved her. Brock and Kay switched shifts each day with family and friends coming through daily to check on her progress. Then there was Billy, who also maintained a ritual at the hospital.

After the first night, he split his time between spending time with Delia and Chloe and visiting the hospital. It had been a week since Mac had been brought in to the ER in critical condition and though she had been up graded to stable, everyone was still concerned that she had yet to regain consciousness. It was this frustration that caused Billy, one day, to go to the hospital with Delia in tow. He had hoped to have his morning free to go visit but when Chloe got called into work unexpectedly he was on daddy patrol.

So while Chloe was at work, Billy and Delia arrived at the ICU where they were stopped cold by the desk nurse. "Sir, I'm sorry but children are not allowed in ICU," began the young, pretty blonde behind the desk. Billy sighed heavily, "I'm sure you can make an exception. You see this little girl misses Mackenzie very much." The nurse studied him for a long moment, "Is she Ms. Browning's child?" Billy knew Chloe would freak if she heard that but at this point he wanted to get in there with Delia so he went along with her assumption. "I'm sure you can understand how important it is for her to see her especially with Mac's tenuous condition."

The nurse seemed to waver. She glanced over her shoulder and then down the hall before quietly whispering, "We aren't suppose to do this but I think this precious little one might be just what the doctor ordered for her mom . . . Our floor nurse is on break for another fifteen minutes so that gives you ten minutes for a little visit." Billy gave her that winning Abbott glow and a wink, "Thanks." She returned his smile, "Go on and hurry before we both get into trouble." So Billy turned and headed for Mac's room with his daughter curiously looking about the whole way.

When he got to the door, he peeked in thinking Kay would be inside as she usually took day watch. Much to his surprise, though, Mac was alone. He stepped through the door and paused at the foot of her bed. He was hit anew with the reality that she was here and didn't seem to be getting any better. He finally turned his attention to his tranquil little one and spoke quietly to her. "You remember Mac don't ya, Dee. She used to spend time with us when you visited me." He walked her over to the bed and took a seat before now talking to Mac, "Look who came to see you. She's been wondering where you are." He paused and looked at the two most important women in his life before continuing, "There are so many people who miss and need you, Mac. So come on back to us."

He then turned back to Delia, "Isn't that right, sweetie? We're not ready for her to go are we?" He then leaned in close and allowed the baby to reach out to Mac. Billy could only laugh as Delia grabbed for Mac's hair first. It was like her little ritual every time Mac held her. She would hold a hand full and begin to coo with a big smile on her face and tug on it until she got tired. He remembered trying to stop her the first time only to have Mac reprimand him, reminding him that babies learn by touching and experiencing things.

Now as she went to put Mac's hair in her mouth as per usual, Billy pulled her back and reached for one of Mac's hands as he emotionally spoke once more, "Come on, Mac. Please snap out of this. We need you." He then watched as Delia mimicked him and grabbed for Mac's hand as well. He offered her a finger and the little girl grabbed hold and seemed to study it for a long moment before leaning down to put it into her mouth as well. Billy was about to pull her back again when he felt something that made his heart jump. He looked at the hand both he and Delia were holding and saw one of Mac's fingers move.

At first he thought he was just seeing things but when he next felt a light squeeze, he knew he wasn't. He instantly looked up to her face and saw her closed eyes begin to flutter. "Mac . . . Mackenzie." She seemed to be struggling but she was definitely trying to open her eyes. Billy collected Delia into his arms once more and then moved in for a closer look. Gazing down into her face, he continued to talk to her, "Mac, come on. Open those beautiful eyes."

After another minute of trying to honor his request, her eyes finally, slightly open. She squinted and seemed disoriented at first. Billy, though, was just so happy to see her awake he leaned over and placed a lingering kiss on the bridge of her nose. Mac began to gain herself and attempted to speak, "Bi . . ." Her voice though caught, as she hadn't drank or swallowed in over a week. He smiled as he pulled back some, "Welcome back, Beautiful." Mac again tried to speak, "Bil . . ." "It's OK. Don't try to talk. I'm going to find a doctor and be right back." Mac barely nodded before closing her eyes again.

Billy rushed out of the room and right into Brock and Kay. Brock was carrying a cup of coffee that Billy almost spilled. "What are you doing here, Billy? And with the baby?" Kay asked as she reached out to the little girl. "Mac . . . she's awake!" he excitedly replied. Both looked at him in disbelief with Brock leading the charge, "What? We were just in there and there was no change." "Well, she's awake now. She just tried to say my name and everything." Kay looked just as stunned as Brock, "How?" Billy replied, "Delia and I were just keeping her company, talking to her and she began to come to. Look, I'm going to go find a nurse or doctor. You two should go in." Neither hesitated as they quickly stepped in to the room and Billy turned and hurried to find someone to check Mac out.

Chapter 5 . . .

The waiting room again became the place to be as the doctors now took the time to examine a conscious Mackenzie. Kay, Murphy, Brock, Billy, and Delia anxiously awaited word about this turn of events. Brock and Billy paced while Kay and Murphy busied themselves with baby Delia. Billy had called Chloe, shortly after alerting doctors to Mac's awakening, to come and pick up the baby.

She arrived a short time later and was quickly brought up to date by the group. "That's great. Then that means she's going to be OK?" she hopefully deduced. Kay chimed in, "We'll know more once the doctors have fully checked her out. But that is our hope." Chloe, though, pressed, "Yeah but this good, yeah? She's rejoined the land of the living." "That's true but she's been out of it for a while and I think we all are a bit cautious until we know more," Murphy responded.

Billy sighed, starting to regret calling her at all. Chloe, though, seemed oblivious to his annoyance at her rose colored view. Everyone that truly cared about Mac knew this was only the first step to her fully recovering. Chloe, though, continued to jabber on thoughtlessly while glowing up at him, "Well, I'm going to look at the positive. She's awake and I bet before you know it she'll be up and at em and then we can all put this behind us."

Billy rolled his eyes this time and was about to call Chloe on her over eagerness to pronounce Mac well when Kay, sensing his exasperation, stepped in with a little proclamation of her own. "I think this little one might need a change." Chloe happily went and collected her child and her diaper bag, "Come on, Dee, let's get you cleaned up." "Actually wait up, I think I could use a visit to the little girl's room as well," Kay added as she rose from her perch and knowingly tapped Billy on the chin. He gave her a small smile of thanks before watching the trio make their way down the hall and out of sight. Murphy rose next and announced, "I think I need another cup of coffee. Anyone else?" Billy and Brock shook their heads and he headed off in the opposite direction towards the cafeteria.

Once he was out of sight, Brock, who had been pretty quiet since the doctor's ushered them out of the Mac's room, finally spoke, "I'm glad we have a minute alone before the doctor comes back." "Yeah?" asked a curious Billy. Brock turned to face him fully and tension was clearly written on his face. "I need you to do something." Billy nodded, "Of course, if I can." Brock sighed, "After the doctors give us the OK, I want you to go see Mac, because I know that's what she will want, but then I'm going to ask you to keep your distance, at least for a while."

Billy was completely stunned by the request. "What?" "Billy, it's very simple, if you really care about Mac and her well being then you'll do this," Brock concluded matter of factly. With his head spinning from Mac coming to and now her father asking him to walk away from her, he questioned, "So you think me disappearing is what's best?" "Respecting boundaries is what I'm suggesting."

Brock paused briefly and then continued, "Look, I appreciate that you were there when she came out of this, you and Delia, but can't you see how this might lead to misunderstandings? By you hanging around and bringing your daughter with another woman around, you continue to give her false hope of a life that isn't going to happen. What she needs is time to focus on getting well and I don't think that will happen if you don't back off." Billy shook his head, "Do you really think I would do anything to impede her recovery?" "I'm giving you the opportunity to prove it. Just give her some space. Go visit her and then walk out of here with your family and let her heal . . . on all levels," Brock concluded.

Billy knew this was about what happened between him and Mac before all of this. Brock was trying to prevent him from hurting Mac again and he could appreciate that. Billy, though also knew the connection he and Mac shared would not be severed just because he stopped visiting but before he could respond, the doctor entered the room. Both men immediately turned to him as he looked up from his chart, "Mr. Reynolds, your daughter appears to be quite a fighter. She is having relatively few side effects from all her body's been through."

Both Brock and Billy exhaled with his words and even allowed small smiles which the doctor answered with a strong warning, "That being said, the trauma she experienced was serious. The blood loss she suffered did cause some temporary, we hope, loss of memory. She wasn't very clear on why she was here or remembered much of what happened leading up to the incident but again that may only be temporary. And also I need to make this very clear, the suture to her artery is very delicate. Any spike in her blood pressure could undo it so it is imperative that until she completely heals that she not get overexcited or stressed."

Brock nodded and replied, "I will make sure nothing gets her upset, doctor. Now can we see her?" "Yes but only a couple at a time and just for a bit. I want her to rest," the doctor replied while marking something on his chart. Then before leaving, he turned and concluded, "She's asking for you right now, Mr. Abbott, but just remember what I said about overexertion." Billy nodded and then started for the doorway. He was more than little happy that she wanted to see him first. There was so much he wanted to say to her especially with what Brock had just requested of him. He gave one last glance back towards her father, who was watching him intently, before he inhaled deeply and continued down the hall and to her room.

Chapter 6 . . .

So many things I've got to tell you
But I'm afraid I don't know how
Cause there's a possibility
You'll look at me differently
Ever since the first moment I spoke your name
From then on I knew that by you being in my life
Things were destined to change cause . . .'

Mac had her eyes closed but knew he was watching her. She could almost see his soft smile and expressive eyes studying her wondering if he should rouse her or let her rest. "Come in," she finally said as she slowly opened her eyes, "I was just resting my eyes." She was greeted by his familiar beam as he softly replied, "Are you sure? I can come back later. After you rest." Mac gave him a weak smile, "I'm OK . . . now."

So many people use your name in vain
Those have faith in you sometimes go astray
Through all the ups and downs the joy and hurt
For better or worse I still will choose you first . . .'
His smile brightened as he moved further into the room. "That goes double for me. You scared us all there for a while." She closed her eyes again briefly, "I'm sorry . . . I don't remember much." She reopened them and touched the bandage on her neck, "Can you tell me what happened?" Billy moved over to her side again and took a seat, "I don't know much either. Do you remember trying to help a homeless woman?" Mac seemed to concentrate for a long moment before nodding lightly, "Yeah. She was a bit ditzy but I thought harmless."

Billy nodded, "Well, it turns out she was Mary Jane Benson . . .the woman who almost killed Summer Newman and had been stalking Jack for months." Mac raised a hand to her forehead and muttered, "Oh my God."

'Many days I've longed for you
Wanting you
Hoping for the chance to get to know you
Longing for your kiss
For your touch, your feel, your essence
Many nights I've cried from the things you do
Felt like I could die from the thought of losing you
I know that you're real
With no doubts and no fears
And no questions . . .'

"I was so stupid . . . how could I not know?" Billy could see Mac becoming agitated and chided himself for going down this moved to calm her, remembering the doctor's words. He took one of her hands in his and quietly said, "Don't. Don't do that. She had a lot of people fooled. You're weren't stupid, Mac . . ." "Naïve then." "You were exactly what you always have been, trusting and compassionate," he firmly returned. His words seemed to still her. She gave him a more brilliant smile this time, "Thank you."

'At first you didn't mean that much to me
But now I know that you're all I need
The world looks so brand new to me
Now that I found love
Everyday I live for you
And everything that I do
I do it for you
What I say is how I feel so believe it's true
You got to know I'm true . . .'

"For what? Telling the truth?" Billy paused and pushed some hair back out of her face, "Mac, those are just a few of the things that make you so remarkable. Your heart . . . your willingness to put everyone else first . . ." Mac watched as Billy became emotional and reached her free hand out to touch his face. She traced his features briefly with her fingertips as they held each other's gaze before she softly spoke again. "Thank you for saying that and for being you and mostly for being here when I woke up."

Billy's smile grew and he gave her a small wink, "I was just returning the favor." He then placed a kiss in her palm which elicited another warm smile from Mac.

So many people use your name in vain
Those have faith in you sometimes go astray
Through all the ups and downs the joy and hurt
For better or worse I still will choose you first . . .'

Love by Musiq

Chapter 7 . . .

It took another week before the doctors would allow Mackenzie to go home with strict rules that she take it as easy as possible until she was completely healed. Brock, for his part, was surprised and impressed that Billy had heeded his concerns. After his visit with her the day she came to, he had limited his inquiries to phone updates from the Duchess. And for Mac's part, she didn't seem to be overly concerned. With most of the town constantly checking in her, her time was occupied.

Now as he stood in the foyer watching is only child holed up on the sitting room sofa wrapped in a blanket and reading a book, he smiled. The very idea that he could have lost her still shook him and the choices that she had made prior to the incident had left him a bit distressed as well. He knew his daughter and could tell from their talks that she was never as OK with things between her and Billy recently as she might have let on.

It wasn't in her nature to compromise herself for anyone. But with Billy it had always been different. She seemed to be willing to put unlimited faith in him and his motives and that never sat well with him. She deserved to have someone that was worthy of such faith and, in Brock's opinion, Billy just wasn't that man.

"Dad, is everything OK?" Mac asked, bringing him out of his thoughts. He smile deeper, "Oh, my Sweetheart, how can it not be? You're on the mend and you're home." She returned his smile, "And I'm so glad for that." "So am I," he returned as he stepped further into the room. After taking a seat in a chair right near her, he decided to get into some of his concerns. "Honey, there was something else on my mind. Are you up to chatting?" Mac put her book on the table and gave him her full attention, "Of course. What's going on?"

He sighed lightly, "I'm worried about you." "I'm fine, really. The doctor said as long as take it easy I should make a full recovery." "I'm not just talking about physically. Before this all happened, you were going through some things . . . things having to do with Billy." Mac sighed this time. She knew this was coming but had enjoyed the reprieve. "And?" she prodded patiently. "And I know that with everything that has happened, it would be easy to fall back into old patterns. To reach out for something that is familiar and comfortable . . ."

Mac cut in, "Like what Billy and I had?" "Exactly. I know you two have a history and after something this traumatizing it would be so easy to look to that for comfort but I think if you take that route it will only end in more grief."

Mac looked less than surprised, "I see. So that's why he hasn't been around since that day I woke up." Brock nodded, "I asked Billy to step back and give you space. I just couldn't stand by again and watch more damage be done. I hope you're not too upset with me." She remained quiet for a long moment. "I know that after everything that has happened recently with Billy and me that you were just trying to look out for me. And the truth is I did need the time to think about what it is I really want and need." He nodded, "And have you come to any conclusions?"

Just before she could answer the doorbell rang. Brock began to rise to go answer it when Mac held him for a moment with her words, "Just promise me, you'll just trust in me to do what is best." Brock moved leaned in closer to her and placed a kiss on her forehead, "I will do my best, my Baby." The two then shared a lingering gaze before another ring of the bell finally drew Brock back to the foyer. He was feeling quite encouraged after their talk but that confidence was immediately quelled by the visitor on the other side of the door.

Chapter 8 . . .

Billy stood anxiously outside the door of the Chancellor Mansion. He was pleased by Mac's call but nervous about how he would be received by her father. After he left her at the hospital, he had decided to honor Brock's request if only to prove that he did have Mac's best interest at heart. Staying away, though, had proved one of the hardest things in his life but it also gave him some perspective. Nearly losing her forever showed him how stupid he had been to let her go again. She was constantly on his mind even before the shooting but it became more intense afterwards. He didn't want to lose another minute. He knew there was still the Chloe situation to deal with but he hoped that once he did, Mac could find it in her one more time to let him.

He was just about to press the doorbell again when the door opened and Brock stood before him. The two men stood in a tenuous gaze until Billy finally spoke up, "Brock. Mackenzie asked me to stop by." Brock eyed him a moment longer before stepping aside and allowing him inside. Mac stared at the doorway expectantly as Billy and then her father came into the room.

Billy's misgivings seemed to evaporate when he saw her welcoming face. "Billy, thank you for coming." Billy smiled, "Of course." Mac then turned her gaze back to her obviously displeased father and gave him smile, "Dad, could you give us a few." Brock reluctantly relented, "I'll be in the study if you need me." She nodded and he turned to leave but then paused and spoke to Billy, "Remember what the doctor said, no undue stress." "You have my word." The young pair then watched the older man take his leave.

Once he was out of range, Billy's focus returned back to her and playfully he said, "Feels like high school all over again." Mac gave a light smile in return, "Yeah . . ." She then proceed to sit up with a soft groan that startled Billy. He moved to try to still her, "Mac, what are you doing? You're not supposed to be over doing it." Mac scoffed as she attempted to rebuff his help, "Since when is sitting up overdoing it?" "Since you're just recovering from a gunshot. Now come on and relax," he replied as he helped her get situated. She then motioned for him to join her. Billy took a seat on the table right in front of her.

The pair than sat in silence for a long instant, each taking in each other and the moment. Billy finally broke the trance, "So did you call me over for a specific reason or did you just miss me?" Mac smiled and playfully rolled her eyes, "You and that ego. . . I did miss not seeing you around but that is not why I asked you here. I need to talk to you about something important." Billy could sense the seriousness in her tone and urged her on, "What is it?" Mac paused and sighed, "I'm not sure how to get into this with you." "Mac, you know you can say anything to me. Just tell me." She held his gaze for another moment before inhaling sharply and beginning.

Chapter 9 . . .

"When we first got back together and tried to make a go of it, I was always thinking so far ahead of where we were that I couldn't fully enjoy what we had. I had everything planned out up to and beyond "happily ever after" but after what has happened I just realized life is too short to live that way." She paused and gazed at Billy for a long moment before honestly putting out what had been on her mind since she had come to with him at her side.

"I love you, Billy Abbott. Every bit of you even the parts that do stupid or hurtful things or things that make no sense to me. When I walked away that day you said you were confused about things, I meant what I said but inside a part of me had really hoped that, sooner rather than later, you would figure out that we belonged together. So in reality, I was insincere. I was telling you I was OK with it but hoping that you wouldn't go. And so you're probably wondering why I'm telling you all of this now, after you have already committed to making things work with Chloe? It's because I didn't want another day to go by where I wasn't completely honest with you because what happened to me taught me that tomorrow just might not come."

Billy was blown away by her candor. He didn't know what he was expecting her to say but this definitely wasn't it. He knew Mac's nature was to put everyone else before herself but to admit that she sometimes struggles with that nature was huge. He always thought of her, right or wrong, as this selfless person who just did these things without thought but seeing this side of her made him realize she was just as human as anyone . . . and it made him love her all the more. He was about to say as much when she raised a hand to stop him.

"There's more. I didn't say these things because I'm expecting anything. I will abide by your choice. I respect that you want to give your daughter a home with a mother and a father." She paused again and smiled, "The fact that you are willing to put Delia first just shows what I always knew . . . that you'd make an awesome dad." She diverted her eyes after a moment. He knew exactly where her mind had gone, the same place his head went more times than he could recall, to all the things they never got to share because of circumstance beyond their control.

"Mac, I don't . . ." Billy began only to have Mac cut him off. "I'm almost finished. I think that since I came back to town, we have been trying to recapture something that was best left where it was, in the past. What we had was so amazing but we aren't those same two people anymore. We should have related to each as we are now and not what we were then. I wish more than anything that we had and maybe . . ."

She pause again and sighed, "Anyway, now we both have a chance to better understand ourselves and who we are without having to worry about us. I plan to spend some time trying to figure out who I am and what I want out of the rest of my life and I hope that you do that too. Delia is depending on you to be the man I know you can be. More than anything, I want both of us to be ok after all of this. I asked you here because no matter what happens from here on out, I want us to be in each other's lives. I miss our friendship, Billy, above all else. So my question to you is can you handle that? Being just friends?"

It was Billy's turn to study her for a long moment before finally speaking sincerely, "Mac, I miss that too, you know. Just having you in my life, being able to hang out and just talk, really talk about things." He paused and smiled warmly, "Yeah . . . I think I can handle having that again." Mac returned his beam, "Good. I was hoping you'd say that." He then knelt down near to her and pulled her into a warm, gentle hug which she reciprocated.

This is the scene that Kay walked in on. The smile on her granddaughter's face was a welcome sight and she had no doubt that Billy was the reason for it. She, though, couldn't help but wonder what was going on between the pair now. It wasn't until the duo started to separate that Mac noticed her grandmother observing them. "Hey, Grandma. Look who finally paid me a visit." Billy slowly rose and turned towards their grandmother, "Hey. Mac and I were . . ." Kay held up a hand as she moved further into the room, "It's obvious you two had some catching up to do . . ." Both nodded before Billy looked at his watch, "Look, I better get going. Chloe is having more pictures of Delia taken and I promised to be there." Kay nodded and Mac replied, "I'm sure she'll take some great ones. Have fun." He smiled again, "I will." He headed towards the door stopping to place a small kiss on Kay's cheek before heading out. Once he was outside, Kay turned back to her grandchild and frankly asked, "So what was that, really?"

Billy, meanwhile, stood on the porch trying to absorb all that Mac had just revealed to him. He's always knew she still cared but to know how deep it ran and her having the courage to share that made it clear to him what he needed to do. He'd have to find some way to end things with Chloe without causing undue drama first. So for now, he would do as Mac asked and work on their friendship but he knew once he was free again, he would not accept anything less than all of her.

Chapter 10 . . .

Mac fixed her blanket some before giving her grandma her full attention and truthfully replying, "That was Billy and I clearing the air." "I see," was all Kay said in reply. Mac though could see her mind going a mile a minute and decided the housecleaning needed to continue. So she patted the sofa near her feet, "Grandma, can we talk for a minute?" Kay smiled, "Of course." She took the seat and the two women shared another warm smile before Mac started again, "You know how much I love you, right?" Kay looked genuinely shock by the timing of admission but she quickly recovered, "Of course I do. I love you too, Mac. What brought that on?" "I just wanted to make sure you know how important you are to me. I also wanted what I said next to be considered sincerely . . . I feel like I owe you an apology." "Whatever for?" Kay questioned.

Mac sighed, "I put you in a tough position when I came back to town. You had all of these new people in your life, Amber, Chloe, Murphy etc and I come back home and throw a monkey wrench into the works with everything that happened between Billy and me. Chloe is your best friend's daughter, your namesake and your god daughter. I should have had more respect for that . . . for you."

Mac sighed again, "I feel like I let you down. That night we talked at the bar and you told me not to lose myself for anyone, it got to me immensely. I realized then I had changed into something I never wanted to be. However, I still wasn't ready to admit it completely. It wasn't until Billy started to hesitate that I understood, I couldn't continue down the path I was on. I walked away because I knew it was right but I also knew the damage had already been done."

She reached out a hand to her grandmother who sat in intent silence. Kay took her hand and squeezed. She, though, sensed Mac wasn't done and remained silent. "Grandma, I could never live with myself if I knew I let you down and disappointed you. I miss the closeness we had and a part of me, I think, was jealous of all the other people who had become so important in your life. But I understand why they would be so drawn to you. It was the same reason I was because of your generous heart and compassion. That's why I want to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry for not being here more, for letting you down when I did come back and for begrudging you the people around you who love you. You rescued me even before you knew who I was and since then you have been my rock. I wish I would have been more grateful but that will definitely change from now on."

Kay placed a soft kiss on her hand and smiled confidently, "Mackenzie, you saved me too. When we found each other I was going through things as well but you gave me new hope and that hasn't changed. There was never any apology needed because you could never disappoint me, my Baby. You are an intelligent, beautiful, compassionate young woman what more could a parent or grandparent ask for. We all make mistakes and miscues, its part of life."

She paused and said the last part with such conviction that Mac's eyes filled before she realized. "You, my Sweetheart, never have to be jealous of anyone when it comes to me. I care about Amber, Ester, and even Chloe but if push came to shove, no matter what choices you make, I will always have your back first and always. Never doubt that." Mac wiped away a stray tear as replied, "Thank you, Grandma, I needed to hear that." "Anytime, my Baby," Kay returned with her own tears starting to form. She then leaned in and placed a kiss on her forehead.

Brock walked into the sitting room in time to see his two favorite ladies in tears. "Hey, what's this?" They both looked at him while wiping at their faces and smiled. "We were just clearing the air," Kay finally replied. Mac nodded in concurrence. "Well if that is all . . ." he paused and looked from one woman to the other before offering a smile of his own, "It feels so good to have my family all together again."

"Speaking of that," Mac began, "I need to talk with you both about some decisions I have made." Brock joined the pair, sitting in a chair next to the sofa, "Go on." "I love you both so much and everything you have given to me and done for me but I think it's time I stand on my own two feet." Neither Kay nor Brock seemed to be following so her grandma questioned, "Mac, what are you saying? Please tell me you're not thinking of leaving town again? Not after everything that's happened?" "I agree with the Duchess, Sweetheart, leaving your family again isn't a good idea, at least not so soon. Is this because of Billy?"

Mac put up her hand to quiet the pair. "Let me explain. I have no plans to leave town again. I'm done running. This is my home. It's where all the people I love are. What I meant was I think it's time for me to get my own place. I need my own space." Both older adults were still unsure. "Mac, this is out of the blue. Is it really necessary for you to leave your home?" Kay protested. Mac smiled, "Yes. It's time to get out there and live my life and this is a step that I need to take." Neither her father looked overly impressed with the idea so she added, "Don't worry, you'll still see me all the time."

"Mac, I can't help but think that this has something to do with getting away from this mess with Billy," Brock fired back. Mac shook her head, "It doesn't. This about me living my life the way I want. Which is why I'm also planning to take a class or two at GCU. I need to really figure out what comes next for me."

This time both Brock and Kay were quiet, contemplating Mac's words. It was finally Kay who answered for the pair, "If you really feel this is something you need to do . . . of course I will support you. I only ask one thing for my cooperation." "What's that?" "That you wait until the doctor pronounces you healed and that you let me help you find a place." Mac smiled contentedly, "Sounds like a plan." Kay gave her another light kiss before rising, "I'll go check and see how dinner is doing."

Mac waited until Kay was out of ear shot and turned to her father, "And how about you? Are you OK with all of this?" "Do I really have a choice? I get that you want to spread your wings but it doesn't mean I have to like it," he returned with a trite smile. "Dad, I want you to know that Billy and I talked and decided to focus on our own lives but work on being friends. I need to know that you can respect that even if you don't agree," Mac seriously inquired.

Brock sighed, "I can try but I just worry. I don't want you to be hurt again, especially because of this thing with Billy." Mac nodded, "I understand that you're concerned but you have to trust that I am going to handle things better this time. Can you do that?" Brock rose and moved over to her on the sofa. He placed an arm around her and gave his first smile in a while, "I will try. I will try." Mac leaned in and placed a kiss on his cheek, "Thank you."

Chapter 11 . . .

True to her word, as soon as she was given the green light, Mac set out to reclaim her life. It took her less time than she thought, and Kay had hoped, for her to find a new place. They had looked at a number of condos but in the end Mac decided on a house. It was a cute two story, three bedroom cottage complete with a white picket fence. The second she saw it she fell in love and after convincing her grandma she could handle the upkeep of a house, she put an offer in that was accepted.

Now she stood in her new home looking over the nearly bare living room. There were a couple of camping chairs set up but her furniture wouldn't be delivered until the following day. So she decided to use the time to imagine how she wanted it all to come together. She smiled as she thought back on the past few weeks. Things had gone so well that her old guarded nature momentarily crept in on a few occasions. She recalled closing on the house with relative ease, her grandma and father appearing to come around about her choice to move out and finding classes in creative writing and 20th century romantic literature that were still open at GCU. It felt a little too good to be true at first but she soon pushed those thoughts to the side, remembering her promise to herself to live in the moment instead of always wondering what might happen.

She was lost in all these different thoughts when there came a knock at her door. She wasn't expecting anyone but quickly went to answer it and was surprised and a bit tentative initially. Standing before her was that familiar blue gaze and electric smile. Over the past few weeks, Billy had been true to his word as well. They had friendly chats every now and then when he popped into the bar or they crossed paths at the estate but otherwise, they both were busy trying to find their way separately.

Billy held her gaze expectantly and Mac finally regained herself and greeted him, "Billy . . . what are you doing here?" "Well hello to you too. I was in the neighborhood . . ." he playfully replied. Mac fought to keep a straight face, "I'm sure. So what can I do for you?" Billy smiled, "Actually I come bearing gifts. Consider it a housewarming present." She had noticed his hands behind his back, "You didn't have to do that."

He peeked over her shoulder and noticed the sparseness of the room and joked again, "Maybe I should have bought a table or something instead." This time Mac did laugh, "It will look homier when my furniture gets here tomorrow." She then turned her attention back to his still hidden hands and inquired, "So what did you bring?" "Oh, now you want to know, huh? Maybe I changed my mind considering the welcome I got," he returned as he pretended to back away from the door. Mac rolled her eyes playfully, "Billy . . ." He though still wouldn't show her so she sighed, "Alright . . . Hello, Billy, it's so good to see you. Now can I see what you brought?"

This time Billy had to laugh, "That's more like it." He moved his left hand around and produced a six pack of Heineken. She joined him in the laugh, "You really shouldn't have but thanks." "Actually, this is for both of us. I thought we could chat a little, you know, as friends." Mac studied him trying to gauge his sincerity. Billy sensed her uneasiness and answered it, "Really, I just want to talk."

Mac nodded and then motioned to his right hand still hidden behind his back, "Something else you want to share?" His smile returned, "Here's your real house warming present." He presented her with a framed picture of himself and Delia both with big smiles on their face. Mac glowed at the sweet picture of father and daughter before looking him in the eyes again, "Billy, this is so sweet. You two look so cute together. Thank you." "You're welcome."

She held on to the picture as she moved aside and finally allowed him entry. He stood in the entry way for a long moment taking in the room before him while Mac finally tore her gaze from the picture and moved further into her home. She walked over to the fireplace that was the centerpiece of the room and placed the picture on the mantle. Billy smiled as he joined her there, "So is there any chance of me getting a tour of this place?" Mac gave him another smile and began walking, "Follow me."

Chapter 11B . . .

"Mac, I had another reason for stopping by," Billy finally admitted as the pair now sat in the camp chairs sharing on a couple of brews. Mac paused mid sip and gave him her attention. The afternoon had gone quite nicely. She'd shown him all around her home with him making suggestions in jest about where he thought things should go. It felt good, Mac thought, to be able to laugh again with him. Everything had been so heavy up to and just following the shooting but she now felt lighter and freer.

They eventually come back to the living room and cracked open the beer and began getting each other up to date on their lives. Mac shared about her staring back to school and he talked mostly about Delia and how much she was changing. It was when this trivia began to become stagnant that Billy decided to reveal some more important things with her.

Mac sat her drink down, "OK?" Billy fiddled with his beer as he slowly began, "I really listened to what you said that day at the mansion. How we both needed to figure out our lives and, like you, I came up with some interesting insights." "I'm listening."

He paused and put his beer down as well, before placing his gaze squarely on her. "I began by thinking about how I wanted my daughter to grow up. I thought that if I could give her the kind if life I didn't have she would never have to know what it felt like to feel like you were never good enough. I thought a home with a mother and father would give her that security. But after reflecting on things, I realized that what I really want for Delia is to have strong example of what love is. I want her to see that it can be carefree and respectful. That she never has to settle."

Mac only nodded which prompted Billy to continue, "That's why I ended things with Chloe." This time Mac's surprise was blatant, "You what?" "I ended things. I couldn't go on pretending that she and I were going to be the stable, happy family Delia deserved. Yeah we had things in common but those things were never going to sustain us. I don't want my daughter thinking that what Chloe and I share is normal," Billy returned.

Mac broke in, "And how did she take that, if you don't mind me asking?" "Not well. She pretty much told me if I walked away this time there would be no turning back. I, though, would rather Delia know that her father and mother love her and are there for her than to think a loveless marriage of obligation is natural. She deserves to see both her parents truly happy and I think that once Chloe really stops and thinks about that she will realize it's what is right."

Mac sat back in her seat and exhaled. "Wow . . . you really have been thinking about this," she replied. "Yeah, I have . . . and not just about that." Billy sat forward in his seat and once again placed his gaze steadily on her. "I also finally understand what's really important . . . and who. . ." Mac knew that look and tone all too well and knew how quickly things could get out of hand if she let it. "Billy . . . no," she started as she rose from her seat. She looked down at him, "I'm happy that you figured out how you want your life to be but I can't be a part of it. I'm just starting to find my own way . . ." she paused and turned towards the mantle and the picture she'd just received. "I can't go backwards."

Billy studied her for another moment before leaving his seat as well, "I understand that you're not ready yet. I do." He moved behind her, "But there is something I need for you to understand too." Mac didn't budge or reply which caused Billy to gently touch her shoulder and implore her, "Mac, please look at me." She sighed again and then turned to face a very serious Billy. "Whether it's tomorrow or a year from now, there is only one way this is going to turn out . . . you and me together. Of that I have no doubt."

Mac raised a brow at his declaration but before she could respond he moved closer to her and appeared to be contemplating his next move. Mac held her breath unsure of how she would respond if he stepped over the threshold but much to her surprise, relief and slight disappointment, he only smiled and concluded softly, "I'm going to go now. Have a good night."

He then turned and headed for the door. Once he exited her home, Mac regained herself a quietly said, "You too."

Chapter 12 . . .

The next few weeks mirrored the previous ones. Mac became more involved in her studies while Billy continued to move in the periphery of her life. He had made his intentions clear and seemed content to let nature take its course . . . or so it seemed to her. Billy, though, was busily at work clearing the path for what he believed was the inevitable reunion between him and Mac. He spent the time hammering out an agreement with Chloe for their divorce. She would receive a generous settlement and he would share custody of his daughter. Once his attorney drew up the papers Billy promptly signed them while Chloe, too, readily if not eagerly signed. Now free, he placed his focus squarely on reclaiming his heart.

The day after he signed those papers, he intended to "run into her" and share this news, hopefully demonstrating just how serious he was about a future with her. Unfortunately, things didn't turn out exactly as he had hoped. He had sought her out at the bar but was told she had class that day so he headed over to Crimson Lights for coffee and to see if she might stop by there in between classes.

Billy was sitting out on the patio looking through his PDA when Mac entered from the front. He heard her laugh first and looked up to see that glow that made his heart soar. In the next moment his breath caught when he saw what had caused it. She turned slightly as a tall, well- built redhead followed closely behind her also smiling. He leaned in and said something else that made her laugh and Billy cringed. He then watched as the unknown male placed a guiding hand at the small of her back as he lead her over to a table.

Billy tried not to let his imagination get the best of him. There was no way Mac was involved with this guy. Not so soon after everything but, as he observed them covertly, he couldn't help but notice the look the slightly more mature man had on his face. He knew it well. Raul sported it more than once, JT, and God knows how many other guys. He was taken with Mac and her reaction seemed to imply that she didn't mind. Billy became fearful that this new lease on life might have her seriously thinking of starting over without him.

He rose from his seat, planning to "bump into the pair" to try and get a feel for what was really going on between the two when two more young girls and a guy came in and joined them. After a round of hellos everyone ordered and then pulled out similar books. Billy exhaled and sat back down. It appeared to be a study group of some kind.

He wanted to laugh at himself for being so stalkerish, as he often called Chloe, but as he watched the guy who came in with Mac operate, it was clear Billy's initial feeling was accurate. Carrot top spent more time gazing at Mac than looking at his book. Billy rose again but decided that interjecting himself right now might not turn out well. He instead headed back out the way he had come, thinking about how much more complicated things may have gotten.

Billy arrived back at his office in a testy mood which was immediately apparent to his older brother as he walked in with a proposal in hand. "I was wondering if you were actually going to make an appearance today," Jack quipped. Billy didn't reply which urged Jack on. He studied his kid brother for a long moment, "I thought you'd be flying high seeing as you finally got out of your marriage to Chloe. It's what you've wanted pretty much from the beginning, right?" "You know what, Jack, I don't need to hear how I never gave Chloe a real chance. Our "relationship" was a farce from the beginning and it ended the only way it could," he snappily returned. Jack was startled by his bluntness but quickly recovered, "Hey, I'm not judging you. I am curious about this mood. What's up?"

Billy sighed, "Just when I finally figure out what I want someone comes along and tries to throw a monkey wrench in the works." "Should I assume we are talking about the other woman in your life, Mackenzie?" Jack asked as he took a seat. "Yeah. I know she's gun shy when it comes to me and I can't blame her but I really believe we can have a future together." "But I thought you were both going to work on being friends and leave the romantic out of it?" Jack replied.

Billy nodded, "That is what she wanted and I agreed but only until I could clear the way for us. Now we have the chance but . . ." "But what? What happened?" "I just saw her at the coffee shop with another guy," Billy offered. Jack raised a brow, "Ouch." Billy sat back in his chair and shook his head, "It's not like that, at least not from what I could tell. He was a member of her study group or something but, Jack, the way he was looking at her . . . I know that look. I've had it since the day I met her. It just really dawned on me that she could move on without me and it scared the hell out of me."

Jack nodded thoughtfully, "Even after all this time, it's amazing the affect that woman has on you. I saw it when you were kids and even more so right now. I know I championed Chloe but seeing how determined you are about Mac . . . I'm through fighting nature. What can I do to help?" He looked his brother seriously in the eyes and said, "Help me figure out how to convince her that we belong together." "Let's do it," Jack retorted with the Abbott glow in full effect. Billy cracked a smile of his own as the two brothers began brainstorming ways to sweep Mac off her feet.

Chapter 13 . . .

It took the duo a bit of trial and error but eventually Billy and Jack came up with a course of action both thought would lead to the desired result. So it was that Billy asked Mac to meet him at Crimson Lights later that week. Mac was pleasantly surprised by his call and invitation. She hadn't seen much of him in weeks and missed seeing him around more than she thought she would.

Billy, for his part, was ready to put an end to the sparseness of their contact. He intently studied her now as she walked in looking as lovely and unpretentious as ever. He silently marveled at her simplicity as she made her way over to him in blue jeans, a white tee shirt and her hair pulled back in a pony tail. Billy rose when she arrived at the table and smiled sweetly, "Thanks for coming." She returned his smile, "Sure."

They sat down together and gazed at each other for a long moment. Mac finally broke the stare with her inquiry, "So was there a specific reason you wanted to meet?" "Yeah . . . I wanted to touch base. We've both been so busy that we have barely seen each other." He paused and smiled charmingly before continuing, "How's school going?" Mac returned his smile, "It's going well. Thanks for asking. And how's work?" "Good . . . Good . . . You know I saw you here the other day with a group? Some of your school mates maybe?" Billy casually started. "Oh, it must of have been a study group. Sometimes a few of us get together and share ideas," Mac replied easily.

The waitress interrupted them briefly, taking their drink orders and then vanishing again. Billy then continued, "Yeah, I noticed that you all seemed chummy, especially that red head?" "I'm assuming you mean Nathan. He's a cut up, kinda reminds me of you," she replied. Billy didn't respond to that but instead pressed on with his point, "Nathan, huh? You two seemed comfortable."

Mac began to pick up on where this was heading and smiled despite herself. "Are you jealous?" she asked playfully. Billy though remained quite serious as he held her gaze, "What if I said I was?" The waitress appeared once again with their order at just that moment. When she left again, Mac quickly recovered from her surprise at his candor, "I would say don't be. Nathan's sweet but, trust me, he's not thinking of me that way."

Billy shook his head, "I can't believe you still don't get it." Mac furrowed her brow, "Get what?" "How you affect people, Mac. Just by being who you are people are drawn to you. I watched him watching you . . . trust me, he is." Mac looked away from his penetrating gaze. She really wasn't prepared to have this sort of conversation. So with a loud sigh, she attempted to end it, "Billy, we agreed. We are going to work on being friends without all the excess. Can we please just stick to that?"

"Can you honestly look me in the eyes and tell me all you want from me is friendship," he bluntly replied. Mac stalled, "It's all I can handle." Billy shook his head, "I know you, Mackenzie. Without saying a word, I know you and you are no more ready to walk away from me than I am from you." Mac leaned back in her chair, "If you know me so well then you know exactly why I can't go back there. I turned myself inside out for you, Billy Abbott. I went against everything I believed in to be with you and what did I get for that, huh? Nothing. I got nothing. You went back to your wife and I got branded the other woman. So forgive me if I'm in no hurry to jump back in with you."

Billy leaned forward and emotionally replied, "Mac, you were never the other woman . . . not to me." Mac rolled her eyes, "Please, I have never been first with you, Billy. First it was Brittany and then Chloe. I was always the secret . . . second in line . . . I won't go back there." Billy tried to break in, shocked by this turn, "Mac . . ." She, though, talked over him, "No. I sacrificed who I was for you more than once but I can't do that again. I won't."

She then picked up her purse and began to rise but Billy stopped her by placing his hand on top of hers. She looked at their clasp hands for a long moment before returning her gaze to his. "Mac, please wait." She sighed but didn't move. Billy really hadn't realized how much damage he had done with her. He knew she was still hurting from everything and he hadn't meant to exacerbate that pain, but he also knew they were too close to everything they had always dreamed of to let her just walk away.

So he tried to refocus on his goal as he continued to hold her hand. "I get why you're hesitant. I handled things so badly with you more times than not. But I never meant to make you feel like anything but the most important woman in the world to me. I'm so sorry." The tension in her face began to slacken with his last words. Billy could see that his apology had disarmed her somewhat. He took the moment of truce to place a soft lingering kiss on the hand he had been holding.

Mac finally sank back into her chair and with more receptivity, gazed at him. "I know I don't have the right to ask you for anything but I need for you to be willing to give me one more chance . . . just one more chance to prove to you that you're all that I want . . . have ever wanted," Billy emotionally pleaded.

"Billy . . ." Mac weakly began. He knew she was about to refuse him again but he could also sense her resolve was fading. So he quickly offered up the proposal he and Jack had come up with. "Just give me six days. Six days to prove to you that we can have our happily ever after. And if after that you still want to stay just friends, I will accept that." Mac remained quiet this time, contemplating the request. She knew how charming and convincing Billy could be but was she willing to give him the chance pull her in again? "Six days? Why six?" she finally asked.

He smiled assuredly, "One day for each anniversary we should have shared." Mac was more than a little intrigued now. She looked from their joined hands back to his face. Besides, he'd also given her an out. "Alright, six days and then you'll respect my wishes?"she finally replied. Billy nodded and put up two fingers like a boy scout, "I promise, if you give me this chance I will abide by whatever you decided afterwards." Mac took her hand back and concluded firmly, "OK." Billy smiled brighter, convinced that once this week was done, the last thing on her mind would be just being friends.

Chapter 14 . . .

Friday night was to be the first of the six days Billy had requested. He told her their first activity would be dinner and a movie and to dress casually. Mac tried not to sound underwhelmed by his suggestion but if he was trying to convince her to give them another chance, she was less than impressed. Billy, though, as always had something special up his sleeve.

When he arrived at her place to "pick her up" Mac was surprised to find him standing at her door in jeans and a polo shirt toting two bags and a big smile. "What is this?" she asked. He lifted a bigger bag and then a smaller one as he replied, "Dinner and a movie. I'm cooking for you and then we are going to watch a video." Mac looked more than little surprised, "Really? You're going to cook?" He laughed at her skepticism. "Hey, I picked up a few things over the years. I'm about make you the best meal you've ever had." "The best, huh?" Mac challenged. He gave her a wink, "Just let me at the kitchen." She ushered him in, closed the door and followed after him, "This I gotta see."

Billy quickly made himself comfortable in her kitchen. He unpacked his bag and ordered Mac to the other side of the island. "You're only job tonight is to have fun," he said. Mac smiled as she took a seat on a stool, "Are you sure about this? We can still go out." "Just wait. You'll be eating those words along with a delicious meal." Mac laughed, "Alright but I'm right here if you need back up." He gave her a wink and began to prepare their meal.

Mac watched as Billy impressively chopped, diced, and stirred multiple items on the stove. She was mesmerized by his apparent comfort in the kitchen. He noticed her watching him intently and took the moment to make her laugh. "You remember the first time Raul and I tried to cook dinner at the loft?" Mac chuckled, "I do. What was that you two tried to pass off as food?" "It was mac and cheese and you know it. OK, so it got a little crispy," he sheepishly returned.

She, though, scoffed at his assessment, recalling the smoke cloud coming from the oven when she came home from work. "A little crispy? Try burned beyond recognition." "And you never let us forget it, remember?" She laughed, "Come on, could you blame me? The whole loft smelled like charcoal for days." Billy joined her in the laugh, "Yeah. Ok, but since then I have gotten good. Taste this."

He held up a spoon with a cream sauce on it and Mac playfully hesitated before taking a taste. She looked up at him with surprise evident, "It really is good." "I told you . . . I got skills," he retorted. Mac smiled and licked her lips. "God, I love when you do that."Billy commented. "Do what?" He stopped what he was doing and stared at her, "Smile . . . you blow me away when you do." Mac blushed despite herself and shook her head, "Back to work, Chef Boyardee." He chuckled one more time and went back to his meal.

An hour later, Billy had created a very appetizing repast that consisted of pasta alfredo with vegetables. Once the food was plated, Billy and Mac moved to the den where they were going to dine and watch the movie Billy had selected. He stepped over to her DVD player with the mystery disk in his hand and while Mac got comfortable on the sofa and quipped, "Let me guess . . . Rambo? No, Terminator?" "Ha, ha smarty pants, it's actually a little more your taste," he returned as he slipped it into the player and then tossed her the case. Mac was again pleasantly surprised as she looked over the case.

"Ever After." Billy smiled as he came back over and joined her, "Remember when you dragged me to see that when we were younger?" "Yeah. You complained about seeing some chick flick," she teased. "Well I had to keep up appearances but, to be honest, I enjoyed it too. Especially that part at the end where the girl kicks the bad guy's butt just before the prince comes to save her." Mac laughed quietly, "You remembered that?" Billy nodded, "Yeah, because she reminded me of you. You wouldn't have waited to be rescued either. I always thought of you as my warrior princess."

"Do you ever turn off that charm?" she asked while reaching for the remote to start the movie. He leaned in a little closer and softly spoke, "It's just part of being an Abbott." Mac nodded with a knowing smile, "Don't I know it." The pair then settled in with their food and the movie.

As the movie progressed, the duo finished their meal and got comfortable on the sofa together. Billy sat back with his feet on the table and his arm resting on the back of the sofa. Mac, over the course of the flick, gravitated towards him and eventually ended up with her legs stretched out on the sofa and leaning back against him. Billy made no moves, content to allow the moment to stand on its own.

When the scene Billy had described finally came up Mac smiled and glanced at him, "You know, the prince reminded me of you too . . . sweet, charismatic and always more real than he let on." Billy looked back at her and returned her smile, "Now whose being charming?" They chuckled softly before locking in an extended gaze.

Their faces hovered near each other's now and Mac's eyes kept involuntarily trailing between his eyes and lips. Billy moistened his lips and appeared to be about to honor her implied invitation. Mac instinctually anticipated the coming contact but much to her surprise, his lips landed not hers but on the tip of her nose. He then began to move causing her to sit up and look at him with confusion. Billy, though, only smiled as he rose and grabbed his dish, "Better clean up some." A stunned Mac then watched him head towards the kitchen.

Mac quickly recovered from her brief bout of disappointment about the moment on the couch. As she entered the kitchen carrying her own plate, she reminded herself that she was the one who needed convincing about his true intentions. So as she and Billy loaded the dishwasher together, she decided to follow his lead and disregard the near kiss. "Thank you for tonight. It was very sweet." Billy paused and smiled, "My pleasure."

Mac returned the smile. "So tomorrow we are actually going out and have some good, clean fun," Billy finally offered. "Come on. You have to give me more than that," she pouted. Billy, though, would not relent. He closed the machine and leaned against the counter, "Just trust me. Be ready at eight and I guarantee you'll have a blast." Mac shook her head, "You're just loving this aren't you?" His grin only grew, "Every second." The two shared another laugh before Billy looked at his watch, "I better go . . . until tomorrow." "Tomorrow."

Mac then walked him to the door and watched until his car disappeared from sight. She leaned against the door, sighed to herself and wondered, with her reaction tonight, if she would make it though these next five days unscathed.

Chapter 15 . . .

Mac could not believe what Billy planned for them next. Good, clean fun turned out to be déjà vu. He laughed when she realized that he had brought her to a bar. She couldn't help but joke, "A bar? Billy, I own a bar. We could have gotten our drinks for free." He hopped out of his car, came around and opened her door before playfully responding, "Haven't you learned by now . . . things are never as they seem when you're with me." He then helped her out of the car and spun her around by the waist so that she could see that this was no ordinary bar. Mac stood before the busy establishment in anxious awe.

As Billy tried to urge her forward, Mac remained planted in the parking lot reading the signage out front. "Billy . . ." He rested his cheek next to hers, "Come on, Mac, I thought we'd gotten past this. Remember what you said to me about not wanting to be so self conscious?" "I know but . . . a karaoke bar? You thought it would be fun for me to make an ass out of myself in front of half the town?" she returned.

Billy turned her to face him fully and confidently replied, "Mac, everyone in there will be doing the same thing and I'll be right up there with you." He paused and put on a pouty face, "Please." Mac rolled her eyes and sighed, "You really want to do this?" "Yes I do. So are you in or out?" Mac finally relented, "Alright, let's do it." Billy grinned in victory, "That's my girl! I promise you're going to love it."

After watching about a half dozen other brave souls step on stage flex their chops or lack thereof, Billy and Mac's turn finally came up. Mac was still a little anxious about the whole exercise as she looked out over the noisy crowd. She was never one for making a spectacle of herself but when Billy showed her the song he thought they should sing she perked up a bit. With a smile and a wink Billy turned to her and she smiled back. The owner introduced them and the pair was off and running.

'Mac: they say we're young and we don't know we won't find out until we grow
Billy: well I don't know if all that's true 'cause you got me, and baby I got you
Billy: babe
Both: I got you babe. I got you babe'

'Mac: they say our love won't pay the rent before it's earned, our money's all been spent
Billy: I guess that's so, we don't have a pot but at least I'm sure of all the things we got
Billy: babe
Both: I got you babe. I got you babe'

Billy watched as Mac become more comfortable with each verse. She began to move around some and smiled and laughed with him. As the pair satirized the 60's duo that wrote the song, it seemed to change the whole atmosphere of the evening. Mac was definitely relaxing and people in the crowd also began to join in. Some swayed with their sweethearts and others even sang along.

Billy held his spirited mate's hand now as they sang the lines back and further to each other. He loved seeing Mac so free and happy. He prayed that at the end of this he would be able to keep that feeling alive for her. Mac was studying her stage partner as well and thinking about how he was always able to make her do things she never thought she would.

He complimented her and vice versa. She kept him grounded while he made her feel. Even when she was afraid, he wouldn't allow her to hide from her feelings. And regardless of what eventually happened between them, she would always be grateful to him for that.

'Billy: I got flowers in the spring, I got you to wear my ring
Mac: and when I'm sad, you're a clown and if I get scared, you're always around
Mac: so let them say your hair's too long 'cause I don't care, with you I can't go wrong
Billy: then put your little hand in mine there ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb
Billy: babe
Both: I got you babe. I got you babe'

'Billy: I got you to hold my hand

Mac: I got you to understand
Billy: I got you to walk with me
Mac: I got you to talk with me
Billy: I got you to kiss goodnight
Mac: I got you to hold me tight
Billy: I got you, I won't let go
Mac: I got you to love me so

Both: I got you babe I got you babe I got you babe I got you babe I got you babe'

As the song wound down, they held each other's gaze and sang the last part as if they were the only ones in the room. Their smiles blazed as they were eventually brought out of their private reverie by applause from the crowd. They both took a bow and Billy kissed her hand before they headed off the stage, both absorbing the moment.

On the car ride home, both were still wired from the evening. Billy beamed as he glanced over at Mac and asked, "So was I right? Did you have a blast?" Mac turned her head and returned his smile, "You were right. It was awesome." She paused and looked ahead again before continuing, "It's scary sometimes how well you know me." "Scary?" Billy asked. Mac turned back towards him, "In a good way." His smile persisted, "I'm glad. I never want you to be afraid with me, Mac. I know I have made so many mistakes but if you give me another chance, I promise not to squander it again."

Mac's smile brightened but she didn't reply. She knew he meant what he was saying right then but she had also been here before with him. She still needed more before she even considered putting herself on the line for him again. Billy, for his part, was aware he had a ways to go before he regained her trust but he was in it for the long haul.

Song Credit: I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher

Chapter 16 . . .

"You know that I want you baby
You know that I need you
And you know that I love you
Just say it . . .

Am I giving enough
Is this all that should be ohhh...
when water gets rough
will you still swim with me

So afraid to come close
it may be too soon
it may be too much
for you to consume'

Billy happily looked over at a dosing Mackenzie. The beauty had been less than pleased with the quick turnaround from the night before but his next gesture had to been done early. So after convincing her to be waiting for him around five in the morning, he corralled his sweetheart into his car once more and the pair headed out of town. Mac was still half asleep and didn't even bother to ask where they were going.

Billy used the time to think about his and Mac's relationship. Every since the day they met he knew she was something special. They had never had an easy route but he believed that through it all the love never wavered even when both believed they could never be. He prayed that this next undertaking would really demonstrate to her just how serious he was about them and the love that they shared.

'And I wanna know if I can live inside your world
and I wanna know if I can give it to you girl
you know that I want you, say it
you know that I need you, say it
you know that I love you, say it
my love just goes on and on and on
you know that I want you, say it
you know that I need you, say it
you know that I love you, say it
my love just goes on and on and on'

The near hour ride finally brought them to the perfect destination for Billy's next surprise. Mac was still a bit grumpy and had to be prodded out into the chilly morning air. Clad in sweats, she stepped out of the car and looked around, "Where are we?" He came around to her side, carrying two throws and his usual smile, "This is my family's cabin." Mac looked over the lovely wooden home. "It's charming. Now why are we here?"

Billy took one of her hands and teased, "Are you always this pleasant in the morning?" She gave him a small smirk before he began to lead her, not to the cabin, but around it. She stopped and asked, "Where are we going?" "I'll show you." Mac looked a bit annoyed to not be going into the warmer cabin but Billy was undeterred. "Just trust me, it'll be worth it." Mac sighed, knowing arguing would get her nowhere at this point. "Fine." Billy ginned again before leading her on.

They eventually arrived at a clearing on slightly more elevated ground and Billy began to set up a place for them to experience the next moment he had in mind. Mac glanced around in the lightening morning sky while Billy laid one of the throws he carried out on the ground and then motioned her over. "So what are we doing here? It's dark and cold." He now had the other throw wrapped around his shoulders and held his arms open, "Will you please stop fussing and just come here. Have I broken a promise since we started this?" Mac again relented and went to him, allowing him to enfold her in the blanket and slowly they lowered themselves to the ground and waited.

'I give you all that you need
there's no better place you can be
and I know that in time
you will believe in me
so please hold out your hand
and let's exchange these golden bands
cause I want you in my life
I want you to be my wife . . .'

"OK, here it comes," Billy softly whispered near her ear. They were both gazing at the horizon just as the sun began to break the plane. Mac's eyes widened as she watched the beautiful colors of a new morning meld together. There was a light mist coming off the nearby lake and the sun reflecting off it made the sky line seem to sparkle. Like a spotlight slowly rising on a scene, it showcased the majesty of the forest around them. Mac was in awe of nature's show but also that Billy had gone through so much to share it with her.

'My girl is so special
I want to give it all to you
Loving you on and on
My girl is so special
I want to give it all to you
Loving you on and on'

She turned her head slightly and softly said, "Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?' He held her gaze as he earnestly replied, "Yeah . . ." Mac pursed her lips before breaking their gaze, knowing it was just too easy to get caught up in the moment. "I'm sorry for being such a pill. This was so worth it." He whispered near her ear, "You don't have to apologize to me, Mac. I told you before I love all of your moods, even ornery." She glanced back to see that familiar beam upon his face.

She finally returned it which prompted him to sober some as he continued, "Besides, I should be apologizing to you. For all the mornings like this we missed, for every time it should have been you and me." Mac maintained her smile as she touched a hand to his face. He smiled again as he turned his face into her palm and placed a small kiss there, "Mac, this is only the beginning. . . . I'm just glad you let me share this with you." Mac finally replied," Me too. Thank you." "My pleasure, Beautiful."

'you know that I want you, say it
you know that I need you, say it
you know that I love you, say it
my love just goes on and on and on
you know that I want you, say it
you know that I need you, say it
you know that I love you, say it
my love just goes on and on and on'

Song Credit: Say It by Voices of Theory

Chapter 17 . . .

Mac was still thinking about the previous day that she and Billy spent together. After they watched the sunrise, they'd gone back to the cabin and cooked breakfast together before chatting some more about their lives apart. Mac had finally shared some of the details of her time in Darfur with him.

Billy listened intently as she described some of her impressions when she first arrived and specifically the first time she saw young child die from complications from an easily treatable disease back in the states. She could barely hold back tears as explained how from that moment on she had just shut off her emotions. It was the only way, she conveyed, that she could handle the experience.

It was an instant that caught Mac off guard. The truth was she hadn't felt comfortable enough to share this with him until now. Even when they were attempting to reconnect before the shooting, she just never felt secure enough in them to share something that affected her so much. Now, though, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. It felt like they were back to where they had been when they had been so in tune with each other. Afterwards, she felt like a burden had been lifted and Billy seemed to know exactly what she needed. He pulled her into a long, lingering embrace that she returned and absorbed.

Mac smiled at the memory. They were returning to their roots. It wasn't about lost opportunities and unfulfilled dreams but about what had always made them so strong . . . being what the other needed without even thinking about it. Though, still hesitant about considering them as a couple again, Mac found herself being drawn once more to the man she had come to love like she never thought she could love someone else.

She was now anticipating more and more seeing him again and seeing what else he had planned. He'd asked her to meet him at the park around noon today. She could only imagine what he was up to but anxious to get there all the same.

Mac, though, decided to make a quick stop at her grandma's place beforehand. She hoped to bend the grand dame's ear about the recent happenings between her and Billy and get an objective perspective. Unfortunately, she found not the welcoming smile of her grandmother but the smirk of Billy's mother a waiting her.

"Mackenzie, you're looking well," she offered as she glanced up from her mail. Mac gave a strained smile, "Thank you. I'm feeling much better." Mac moved further into the house and continued, "Is grandma around?" "I haven't seen her today. I'm sure she and Murphy are out and about," she returned.

"Alright, maybe I'll catch up with her later." She then turned and began for the door only to be stopped by Jill's next question, "So you wouldn't be off in such a hurry to see my son would you?" Mac sighed and tried to maintain her poise as she turned back to her one time adversary and replied, "Why would you think that?" "Oh come on, you can't tell me you don't know about his divorcing Chloe. It's all Ester's been chirping about since it happened," she returned.

"Let me ask you this, Jill, why do you care? From what I hear you were never her biggest fan," Mac fired back. Jill smirked, "That's true but I just find it ironic that you came off as so self righteous when you first came back to town, something about not chasing after married men and yet here you are breaking up marriages."

Mac was so stunned at the accusation that it took her a moment to answer. But when she did, she held back nothing, "Don't you dare try to lay this at my feet. We both know that marriage was doomed from the beginning not because of anything I did but because your son never loved Chloe. Not the way a husband should love his wife. And as for what I said to you that day, I stand by it. I never pursued Billy. He did the chasing and yeah, I eventually gave in and I'm not proud of that. But I'll be damned if I let you place the demise of this farce on me. Billy did what he felt was best for him and his daughter. As his mother you should proud of him for that."

Jill rolled her eyes and scoffed, "Yeah, I'm real proud that my son has a failed marriage. That's great logic." Mac knew she should just walk away. Trying to talk reason to Jill hardly ever worked but something in her wouldn't let her pass up this opportunity. "That's not what I meant. You should be proud that he finally stood up and did, not the easy thing, but the right thing. But you can't do that can you? Or you won't. No matter what he does, it's never gonna be good enough for you is it, Jill?" "Where do you get off talking to me about my relationship with my son? You haven't been here in years and have no idea what's been going on here," she shot back.

Mac narrowed her eyes and dug in, "I know that since we were kids all he's ever wanted was for you to be for him. He needed his mother to put him first, not control him, not punish him for being who he was but to be on his side and love him despite his mistakes. You, though, were too busy trying to make him fit what you wanted that you never saw him, not really. When Billy and I got together in high school, we were both so happy, but you couldn't let him have that. You would rather see him miserable because you were miserable."

Jill threw down the mail she had been holding onto tightly since she and Mac began chatting. "How dare you? I don't have to listen to this." Mac cut back in, "You're right. You don't have to but you should. You need to realize how much damage you've caused. The reason he had been the way he was, was because the one woman he should have been able to depend on implicitly was never there. If you can't trust your own mother . . . Can you really blame him for not trusting in relationships?"

"I loved him the best way I knew how," Jill weakly responded. Mac shook her head, "Well that wasn't good enough. He needed more . . . he needed his mom's unconditional love." Mac paused briefly, "I understood that longing, to have the one person closer to you than anyone just believe in you. That was one of the ways that we bonded. We both needed to be first in someone's life but you tried to take that away too. Is it any wonder he doesn't trust you or your love? He shouldn't have to prove himself worthy of your love. As his mother he should just have it."

Surprisingly, Mac seemed to be getting through to her. Jill stance had become less defensive and more contemplative. Mac decided to just leave her with a few more thoughts. "Your problems with Billy are of your own making which means only you can fix them. You have a chance to change your relationship but you have to want that." The older woman held Mac's gaze but didn't reply this time. Mac sighed and shook her head again, "If not it will be your loss." She then turned and walked out leaving Jill alone with her thoughts.

Chapter 17B . . .

Mackenzie was again pleasantly surprised by Billy. He stood beaming in the parking lot toting his baby girl as she pulled up. Mac hopped out of her car and returned his glow.

"Hey, you two." Billy used Delia's hand to wave, "Hey, Mac. Dee and I thought we'd treat you to lunch. What do you think?" Mac pulled off the sunglasses she had been wearing and placed them on the top of her head before reaching for Delia's dainty hand and replying, "I think I would love that." She then gave the hand a kiss before looking back to Billy, "So why meet at the park?"

He smiled brighter as he passed the baby to her. Delia immediately reached for a hand full of Mac's hair as her father went to the backdoor of his car and opened it. He reached inside and pulled out a blanket and picnic basket. Mac could only shake her head and smile as he rejoined her and Delia. "What?" he playfully inquired. "What am I going to do with you?" He leaned in and stole a quick peck on the cheek of both the baby and Mac, "Just love me." He then took her free hand and led them into the park.

They found a nice shaded place near a tree and Billy laid out the blanket. Once all three were settled on it, he began to unload the basket while Mac entertained Delia. They shared a meal of sandwiches, fruit, and juice before relaxing and watching Delia move around the blanket between them. Mac was smiling thoughtfully which prompted Billy to ask, "What are you thinking about?" She held his gaze as she quietly answered, "Just what a great day this is." Billy's smile brightened, "Yeah, it is." Delia then scooted back up towards them and used her father to pull up to her feet as she happily cooed and bounced.

Both Mac and Billy laughed as the little girl created her own rhythm. "I don't know, Dad, you might have the next American Idol on your hands." Billy cradled his little girl in his arms, "Oh . . . I don't know. I think I would prefer she do something a little more worthwhile. Maybe a doctor or something." Mac studied him for a long moment. The way he was so protective of and concerned for her made her think back to her talk with Jill. Why couldn't she see this Billy? Billy noticed her far off look again and called her back once more, "Hey, where'd you go this time?"

Mac reached over and took one of Delia's hands again and smiled at the pair as she softly said, "You two just look so sweet together." Billy kissed the baby on the head as he replied, "Thank you. I love her so much, you know? It's so intense, just like . . ." Mac nodded as she watched Delia try to put her finger in her mouth. "Just like the way a parent should be with their child. I know." Mac's face sobered as she retrieved her finger and looked away from the pair. Billy reached over turned her face back to them, "Talk to me, Mac." She sighed, "I need to tell you something." "What is it?" he asked. "I had a bit of a run in with your mother earlier today about you."

Billy sighed this time as he turned Delia around and placed her in his lap, "What did she say?" "Actually, I did most of the talking and I think I better tell you about it before Jill puts her spin on it." She then proceeded to recap the encounter.

When she was done, Billy seemed to be contemplating things. Mac spoke gently, "I know I probably should have just walked away but her attitude . . ." Billy's stoic gaze soon gave way to another brilliant beam. Mac, unsure of what to make of it, asked, "What?" "You stood up to my mom for me." Mac smiled lightly, "I guess I did. I just see you with Delia and I can't understand how she can't see what a remarkable man you have become."

He didn't hide his surprise at her words of praise, "Remarkable, huh? I don't know about that. I have made my share of mistakes." "We all have, Billy, but it's what we learn from them that makes the difference." Mac paused reached for a restless Delia. Billy easily passed the baby over to her. Mac smiled and allowed the little girl to bounce some more before she continued, "Look at her. She's healthy and so happy and that's in part because she knows she is loved."

Billy didn't reply but instead just watched as Mac played with his daughter. It touched his soul not only to know that Mac thought he was a good father but to see the two most important women in his world together and bonding so easily. The scene just reminded him what he was doing all this for and why it was worth it.

Mac brought her attention from the baby and noticed Billy smiling and staring, "What are you thinking about or do I want to know?" He softly chuckled as he leaned in closer to the pair, "Just how thankful I am to have such a beautiful little girl and . . . you." Mac sighed, "Billy . . ." He, though, cut off her protest, "I know you haven't made up your mind yet. What I meant was that it was less than a year ago that there was no hope for you and me. We thought we were cousins but we've been given another chance."

He reached out and touched her cheek, "Mac, you talked about learning from our mistakes. Well what I've learned from mine is that life is too short to not have as much joy as you can manage." Mac gave a smile that grew when Delia mimicked her father and placed a tiny hand on Mac's face also. She looked from her innocent eyes to Billy's intent ones, "No fair, you two are tag teaming me." His own smile brightened, "Is it working?"

Mac stalled but they both knew everything he had been doing was getting to her. She had never really been able to resist his charms and being there with him and his daughter like the family they should have been was making it harder for her. She looked down at the baby, who was now fascinated with her nose, and then back to her expectant father before replying, "Maybe." He smiled again and tickled his little one, "You hear that, Dee? Keep up the good work." Delia smiled and chortled, causing Mac to laugh as well and shake her head. "Hey . . . we girls are supposed to stick together, Delia." Billy joined the two ladies in their laughter and envisioned it this way always.

**Chapter 18 . . .

Tonight was the night, Billy decided. He was going to put himself all the way on the line and pray that Mac would join him out on that ledge one more time. The afternoon he spent with her and Delia watching them interact and feeling Mac coming back to him was more than enough to convince him something more blatant was necessary to push her over the edge. So it was he had set up his most direct display.

He arrived at Mac's home early evening the following day. He told her to dress up but when she opened the door he was blown away by her attire. She donned a gorgeous strapless evening dress. It was midnight blue with a high waist that fell just to her knees. Her hair was pinned up with a few curls of hair framing her face. He just stood in the doorway way staring for a long moment. Mac eventually blushed and said, "You said dress up. Is it too much?"

Billy quickly shook his head, "No . . . I just didn't think you could be more beautiful." Mac smiled and shyly replied, "Cut it out." He smiled at her coyness and touched her chin, "You're even more beautiful when you're being bashful." "Billy." "OK. I promise. No more compliments," he joked. Mac softly chuckled, "Good . . . now where are we off to tonight?" Billy took her hand and began to guide her out the door, "You'll see."

The pair arrived at Indigo a short while later. This was actually Mac's first trip there so when they entered she took a moment to take in the atmosphere. There was a nice crowd and a buzz going around the place. She was brought out of her survey by a familiar voice, "Mac, I'm glad you came." She turned to find Lily smiling warmly at her. "Hey, Lily. It's good to see you out and about," Mac returned as the two friends shared a light hug. "Yeah, I figure it was time to get back out in the world. Besides, Billy can be very persuasive when he wants to be but I don't have to tell you that." Mac peeked over at her escort, "No you don't."

Cane soon joined the trio and much to Mac's surprise Billy and he were civil to each other. "Hey guys. Looks like it's going to be full house tonight," he greeted. "Yeah. It should be interesting," was Billy's reply. "Well, look, I think we better go grab a table before they all fill up." Mac raised a brow, "Really?" She looked to Billy who seemed unfazed by the idea.

He soon answered her surprise, "I thought we could all hang out together tonight. Is that alright with you?" Mac was unsure what to make of it, "It's just that . . . you and Cane . . ." Both men smiled with Cane responding this time, "I was shocked too when Billy and Lily suggested it. But somehow we were able to find some common ground and decided to focus on that instead of past animosity." "Common ground? Do tell," returned a curious Mac.

Cane pulled Lily close as he replied, "We both fell for amazing women who changed our lives." Mac glanced over at Billy who gave that familiar beam, "It's true. Love can make you do things you never thought you would." "You're just full of surprises aren't you?" Mac returned with a more brilliant beam. Billy drew her near as well and smoothly replied, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

The couples eventually settled at a front row table and ordered drinks and appetizers. They shared small talk about the recent happenings in their lives, including the conclusion of Lily's chemo and Billy and Mac's day with Delia. They were working on their second round of drinks when the live jazz tunes that had been the background of the evening stopped and Lily's father took to the stage.

"Welcome to Indigo. For those of you new here, I'm Neil Winter's, the owner. I started this place with the goal of having artists come to town and share their talents live. We have been fortunate enough to have more than a few well known visitors. Tonight, I have a special guest. While not famous, he has shared his talent on stage before. It's been nearly ten years since his last performance but he has decided to break his hiatus by singing a special song for a special lady tonight. Please welcome to the Indigo stage, Billy Abbott."

There was warm applause as Billy rose next to a stunned Mackenzie. She watched as he smiled and gave her wink before heading to the stage and accepting a handshake and mike from Neil. Billy glanced out onto the crowd before speaking briefly, "I want to thank Neil and his beautiful daughter Lily for helping me pull this together." Mac glanced over at Lily who smiled back at her. She then turned her attention back to Billy when he spoke once more, "Mackenzie, I know you've been hesitant about giving us another try but I'm hoping this song will help give you the courage to give our love another chance. So here it goes." The band then began the lead in and Billy fixed his gaze steadily on Mac as he began the first verse.

'Lady, I'm your knight in shining armor and I love you
You have made me what I am and I am yours
My love, there's so many ways I want to say I love you
Let me hold you in my arms forever more

You have gone and made me such a fool
I'm so lost in your love
And oh, we belong together
Won't you believe in my song?'

Mac was stunned. She was totally unprepared for something so public. As he sang so passionately, Mac was transported back to the last time he sang on stage. He and Raul had been drafted by Nick and Sharon to sing at Crimson Lights. She was impressed then but in awe now. Unlike back then, she knew every word he was singing was directed at her. His gaze was focused on her and it was as if they were the only two people in the room.

Billy, too, was thinking about the last time he'd done this. He was so in love with her already, though, unwilling to admit it to even himself. He hesitated when first approached about singing with Raul but in reality he was ready to do anything to put a smile on Mac's face that day. Now gazing out at her, he knew that desire to see her happy had not changed even after all this time.

'Lady, for so many years I thought I'd never find you
You have come into my life and made me whole
Forever let me wake to see you each and every morning
Let me hear you whisper softly in my ear

In my eyes I see no one else but you
There's no other love like our love
And yes, oh yes, I'll always want you near me
I've waited for you for so long'

Billy stepped down from the stage as he continued to sing. Never taking his gaze off his beloved, he came to their table and held out a hand to Mac. She froze looking at it but not moving. He smiled down at her with each word causing her heart to flutter. It took both Cane and Lily urging her on to finally place her hand in his. He gently began to pull her to her feet as she glanced back at her two friends. The pair, smiling almost as big as Billy, nodded their approval.

Once she was on her feet, he pulled her into him and continued to serenade her. Eye to eye with the only man she had ever truly loved, Mac gently began to sway in his arms. Her smile grew with each word he sang and her eyes began to mist as she realized nothing and no one was ever going to make her feel like this except him. No matter the risk or possible pain, Billy Abbott was the only one who would ever have her love.

'Lady, your love's the only love I need
And beside me is where I want you to be
'cause, my love, there's somethin' I want you to know
You're the love of my life, you're my lady.'

As his tribute began to wind down, Billy rested his forehead against hers and sang the last verse with such conviction that the whole room seemed to hold its collective breath waiting to see what Mac's response would be. She slid a hand from his chest up to his face and tenderly caressed it as he finished the last words.

And with applause and cheering coming from all around them, he dropped the mike to his side and received his hard earned reward. Mac pulled him closer and kissed him with every ounce of passion she could muster. He melted into her and relaxed knowing his goal had been accomplished and assuring him that his last surprise would simply be the icing on the cake.

Song Credit: Lady by Kenny Rogers

Chapter 19 . . .

"Billy, you know you don't have to do this." Billy smiled at his lovely, blindfolded companion as he drove. After his performance at the club, Mac had given up any further protest. The kiss she laid on him was her way of letting him know his plan had worked. She wanted him back in her life completely.

Billy though was insistent that the last day he had requested was necessary, which was why Mac now sat beside him with a scarf covering her eyes. His last gesture was the finale and he hoped when it was all said and done that Mac would never question his motives or love again.

"Yeah . . . I do." was his only reply. Mac shook her head and smiled, "OK".

When the car eventually stopped and Billy came around to help her out, Mac asked, "Can I take this off now?" Billy looped her arm through his and softly whispered in her ear, "Not yet." He then led her down a concrete trail that wound just before they came to a stop again. She heard a door creak open and was guided a few more steps forward before feeling Billy remove his arm from hers. "Now can I see?"she asked a bit more impatiently. Billy chuckled, "Just give me a minute."

So Mac stood and waited and listened to Billy's feet move about the floor. A few moments later, he was back at her side and undoing the blindfold. He slid the fabric down and away from her eyes, "Surprise." Mac's eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim lighting but once they did, she gasped. Billy grinned as she slowly looked around their one time hideaway.

Bathed in candlelight but similar in all the ways she remembered, Mac was astonished. She turned towards him and said, "I cannot believe you did this."

He wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his nose against her cheek, "I would do anything for you, Mac . . . anything." She turned her head and gave him a soft peck on the lips before gravitating further into the cozy cottage that was their youthful oasis. Billy stood back at first and watched as she reacquainted herself with the playhouse.

For the most part, things were unchanged. The same toys remained, the bench and table that were the centerpieces of the room were also the same. Billy, though, had dusted some and set up numerous candles around as well as a few other surprises, including a platter of chocolate covered strawberries and bottle of chilled champagne with two long stem glasses and a cd player set up on the table. Mac was instantly transported back to the time when this was the only place that they could be together without any drama. It was here that she never had to question what she and Billy felt for each other.

"God, how long has it been? I haven't been here since . . ." Billy broke in as he now moved in to join her, "Since all that drama with your step dad." Mac nodded as her attention finally fell on the elaborate setting Billy had created. "Billy . . ." His smile grew as he reached for her and regained her full attention. "Tonight is about us coming full circle. What better place to do that than in the place where it all began?"

Mac and Billy shared a smile followed by a tender lingering kiss. When they broke apart, Billy breathlessly said "There is so much I want to say to you. So much I need for you to understand." Mac framed his face in her hands and rubbed her nose against his as she replied, "Me too." He gave her another warm beam and soft peck, "But first . . ." He then, briefly stepped out of her hold and over to the cd player. Pressing play, he turned back to see recognition in her eyes. The duo shared another warm smile as Billy drifted back over to her. Then, with no other words spoken, they glided back into each other's arms just as the familiar tune began to play . . .

Chapter19B . . .

'I wanna know
Who ever told you I was letting go
Of the only joy that I have ever known
Girl, they're lying

Just look around
And all of the people that we used to know
Have just given up, they wanna let it go
But we're still trying

So you should know this love we share was never made to die
I'm glad we're on this one way street just you and I
Just you and I'

Billy tenderly brought her hand to his lips and placed a succession of small kisses upon it. Holding her gaze, he could only smile as he savored the feel of her in his arms. Nothing else felt like this. She was his heart and always had been. His mind trailed to the first day they met. That day in the foyer of the mansion, he knew his life had changed forever. She infuriated and challenged him often but under all of that he now knew love was at the center.

There was no other woman who had or could make him feel this way. Her love and faith in him had transformed him then and now. Even after everything they had gone through, it endured. And as he gazed into those loving, trusting eyes, Billy knew he would never take that for granted again.

'I'm never gonna say goodbye
Cos I never wanna see you cry
I swore to you my love would remain
And I swear it all over again and I
I'm never gonna treat you bad
Cos I never wanna see you sad
I swore to share your joy and your pain
And I swear it all over again

All over again '

Mac's thoughts were also lost in the past. When she first came to town, she had been so cold and distant but Billy had broken through all that. His love had opened her up and made her believe in happily ever after. She remembered the day she truly believed his love was only for her. In the Abbott pool house alone, Billy had presented her with a beautiful opal ring. The gesture in itself was amazing but it was his demeanor as he gave it to her that spoke volumes.

He seemed anxious about how she would react. She caught his eye just before opening the package and saw him watch her intently as she returned to her task. When she opened it she was surprised and momentarily speechless. Billy seemed to hold his breath waiting for her response and when she finally told him how much she loved it, relief and that familiar Abbott glow returned to his face.

It was the idea that what she thought mattered that much to him that showed her this was no mere crush or high school fling. They were building something real, something that would and had endured. As she now rested her head against his shoulder, Mackenzie knew they were finally realizing their destiny.

'Some people say
That everything has got its place in time
Even the day must give way to the night
But I'm not buying
Cos in your eyes
I see a love that burns eternally
And if you see how beautiful you are to me
You'll know I'm not lying

Sure there'll be times we wanna say goodbye
But even if we try
There are something's in this life won't be denied
Won't be denied'

Mac's hands framed his face once again while Billy's tenderly caressed her back. The couple held each other's gaze once more and shared a knowing smile. After so many obstacles and so much time they were exactly where they belonged. Billy placed a lingering kiss on the bridge of her nose and softly said, "We finally made it." Mac quietly chuckled, "Yeah . . . finally." He rested his forehead against hers now and replied, "And for good."

Billy watched as her smile waned and her grip loosened. "Billy, can we not make promises? I know you love me and I'm so glad that we are back together but I don't want to get caught up again in what may happen in the future. Let's just enjoy right now and worry about the rest when it comes." Billy released her from his hold but continued to hold one of her hands in his.

He then looked into her eyes with such resolve that Mac began to regret her own words and replied, "I do love you, Mackenzie, so much. I know you lost faith in that after everything that happened but it's always been you. That's why I did all of this. I wanted you to know that only you have my love . . . now and always." "I believe you. I do but I just don't want to get too far ahead again." This time Billy only smiled as he began to lead her by the hand back towards the bench, "Come here."

The more I know of you is the more I know I love you
And the more that I'm sure I want you forever and ever more
The more that you love me, the more that I know
Oh that I'm never gonna let you go
Gotta let you know that I

Once they were both seated, Billy placed his focus on the table arranged with the champagne and berries. He opened the bottle and poured both he and Mac a glass. He then passed her one and held up his glass. She did the same as he made simple toast, "To new beginnings . . . and forever." Billy then tinged his glass against hers before she could protest. Mac smiled and shook her head not wanting to ruin the beautiful evening he had arranged with any further negativity.

He then reached for her glass and placed both back on the table before now reaching for one of the chocolate covered berries. Bringing it right to her mouth, Billy quietly said, "Sweets for my Sweet." Mac smiled again and prepared to take a bite when Billy briefly held back, adding one request. "To get the full effect, you should close your eyes first." She looked him over suspiciously. Billy gave her another smile and a wink "Trust me."

So Mac gave in and closed her eyes. Seconds later she was taking a bite out of the sweetest, juiciest fruit she could ever remember tasting. Juice dribbled down her chin with the first bite and with a soft giggle she reached up to wipe it off and opened her eyes expecting to see Billy joining her in her glee. She instead found herself face to with something she never thought she'd see again. Billy held before her eyes, the gorgeous family heirloom ring her grandfather Gary had given to her grandma when they were married. Before she could utter a sound, Billy firmly stated, "Marry me again."

'I'm never gonna say goodbye
Cos I never wanna see you cry
I swore to you my love would remain
And I swear it all over again and I
I'm never gonna treat you bad
Cos I never wanna see you sad
I swore to share your joy and your pain
And I swear it all over again

All over again '

Song Credit: Swear It Again by Westlife

Chapter 20 . . .

Mac was still unable to find her voice. She was definitely not expecting the night to go like this. Billy continued to glow patiently, "The last time I did this, I was so unprepared but even then I knew it was right." Mac had her hand covering her mouth but slowly lowered it as she asked, "How . . . how did you get this? I gaveit back to grandma the day I left." "I know. She told me." "She knows about this?"Mac asked. "She knows that I want you back for keeps and she offered me the ring back . . . just in case."

She exhaled sharply and looked from the ring to his expectant face. "Billy . . . I wasn't expecting this. Marriage? We have barely been together a day. After everything that has happened . . ." Billy used his free hand to caress her face, "Mackenzie, we've been together for ten years. Even when we were apart, in our hearts, we were together. No one . . . no one has ever taken your place. I bounced from city to city, country to country trying to move on without you and nothing helped." Mac fought back tears, "I threw myself into charity work. I thought the more people I helped the less my own loss would matter but it was always there . . . you were always there."

Billy leaned in closer, "And now there is nothing keeping us from being together forever." Mac covered his hand with her own and softly asked, "Are you sure this is what you want?" Billy was momentarily startled by the question but quickly recovered, "Of course I am. Why would you ask me that?" Mac sighed and moved out of his hold. "It's just that you just got out of a marriage. Are you really sure you're ready for another commitment like that?"

He took her left hand in his and quickly slid the ring on her finger before decisively replying, "With you, Mac. Just with you." She looked down at the ring on her finger and then back into his eyes and shook her head, almost in awe. Billy was finding it hard to read her demeanor and finally asked, "Mac, what are you thinking? Why are you so hesitant?" Mac rose from her perch and turned her back on him. She gazed down again at the ring on her finger and almost to herself, said, "It's always been so amazing to me."

Billy rose and stood right behind her as he quietly responded, "What?" "That someone like you wanted someone like me this much," she finally replied. Billy slightly flinched at her statement. He slowly turned her to face him and looked at her with concern, "Why would you say that? Why wouldn't I want you?" "Come on, Billy. When we first met you were "Mr. Popularity" and I was . . . I was not. There was no reason for us to ever be anything to each other but you fought for me . . . for us so hard. You went through so much with me. My mother and stepdad, my issues and hang ups . . . why would someone who could have had anyone put up with someone so messed up? Why didn't you run like hell?" she asked with a sarcastic chuckle.

Billy cupped her face in his hand and smiled genuinely, "Because from the moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you were something special. You changed my life in so many ways. Do you think I would have ever worked in a homeless shelter and enjoyed it or put off college to go down to Louisiana to help build houses if it hadn't been for you . . . who you are? This beautiful, compassionate, loving girl who showed me life was about so much more than partying and getting into trouble. No, it wasn't always easy but it was worth it."

Mac rested her hands against his chest now and sighed again, "I just want you to be sure that I am what you want. I'm not flashy or fashion forward. I'm who I've always been and if that's not enough . . ." "It is. Mac you're it for me. My soul mate. The love of my life. Just say yes and I promise to spend the rest of my life proving that to you." Mac finally gave him a more reassuring smile, "Soul mate, huh? I like the sound of that."

Billy drew her nearer and joined her in the smile, "So is that a yes?" She closed the distance remaining between them and engaged her beau in a fiery kiss. And when they came up for air, Mac finally answered, "Of course I will marry you." Billy pulled her into another kiss and smiled happily, "I love you so much." "Love you too."

Chapter 21 . . .

The next morning, over breakfast at the athletic club, an ecstatic Billy and Mac sat gazing at each other and holding hands across the table. Billy was touching the ring on her finger and smiling. Mac returned his glow, "I can't wait to tell the world about this." "So you still want to go ahead like we talked about?" he returned. Mac nodded, "I think the sooner we bring people into the loop the sooner we can just enjoy our engagement." Billy continued to smile as he glanced over her shoulder, "Well, it looks like our first recipient has arrived." Mac looked back just in time to see her grandmother glide in to the club and head over to them.

Kay arrived at the table and was warmly greeted by both her grandkids. Once Billy pulled out her chair and got her settled he took a seat next to Mac and she stared expectantly at the pair. "So I was surprised, pleasantly so, when you called and invited me out to breakfast. Is there some special reason?" Billy smoothly replied, "Do we need a reason to have a nice breakfast with the best grandmother in the world?"

Kay laughed, "Always with the charm." They all shared another smile before Kay placed her focus on her still silent granddaughter. "Mackenzie, you've been quiet." "I'm just thinking. Billy's right, we don't need a special reason to ask you out. We both love you very much and appreciate all the love and support you have given over the years." "Well, I love you both too and I told you before I will always support you."

Billy reached for one of her hands and squeezed, "And that means so much." Never one for beating around the bush, Kay pressed, "So besides the simple pleasure of my presence, to what do I owe this invite?" Mac and Billy exchanged glances before both turned back to her and smiled brightly as Mac raised her ringed hand up for inspection. Kay's eyes widened, "Is that . . . does this mean what I think it does?" Mac nodded, "Yep. Billy proposed and I accepted." "I . . . I mean I thought things might be headed this way when Billy came to talk to me but not so soon. Are you sure about this?" she asked both. The pair clasped their hands together and Billy replied, "Absolutely. We've waited six years for this chance."

Mac chimed in, "Trust me, Grandma, we've talked about this. It's what we both want." Kay only nodded this time and seemed to be contemplating the announcement. Both Mac and Billy became a bit concerned at her response. They figured she might be surprised but ultimately supportive, which was why they chose to share with her first. Each knew finding support wasn't going to be very easy among their family but had hoped Kay would be the exception. Mac was about to appeal to her grandmother on their behalf when Kay finally broke her silence.

"Six years. So much time lost. When I think about my part in that I feel so horrible. You two young people were ready to commit you're life to each other and it was stolen from you because of my mistakes. I'm so sorry for that." Mac reached out and covered her grandma's hand, "Neither of us blames you, Grandma. Sometimes circumstances just occur, like now. We have a second chance and we would love it if as many of the people we love as possible could be a part of it."

Kay squeezed Mac's hand and smiled, "I know you never blamed me, which is so amazing considering what you lost but seeing you two continually fight through so many obstacles to be together . . . how could I not support you. Of course I'll be there for you. Whatever you need."Both Billy and Mac sighed with relief and Kay rose from her seat and motioned for the couple to do the same. She engulfed both in warm hug, "I'm so happy for you and wish you both nothing but joy." "Thanks, Grandma," Billy replied.

She pulled back and looked back at the two happy young people. A few tears had escaped Mac's eyes during the exchange and Kay dutifully wiped them away as she smiled at her, "So what can I do to help?" "You've already done it," Mac softly returned before placing a light peck on her grandmother's cheek.

Chapter 22 . . .

Mac and Billy's next stop was Cane and Lily's apartment. Once they arrived and exchanged pleasantries, Mac clued them in on the latest goings on. "Oh my God! Congratulations you two," offered an elated Lily as she and Mac shared a hug. "You guys have definitely earned some happiness," Cane added. The quartet shared a little more small talk before Mac moved back towards the engagement. While Cane got drinks and Billy used the bathroom, Mac and Lily sat on the sofa. Mac reached out and took one of her friend's hands and squeezed lightly as she began to speak.

"Lily, you have been such a good friend to me since I've come back to town. You took the time to clue me in on what I've been missing and also listened to me vent more than a few times. You've been the closest girlfriend I've had since high school and that has meant so much to me." Lily smiled, "You've been a good friend too, Mac. Cane told me it was you who found him and kept him in town when I found out about the cancer and also being so flexible with his schedule while I was going through chemo. I can never thank you enough for that." Mac returned her smile, "Your friendship is enough and that's why I was hoping you might consider being my maid of honor."

Lily's face showed surprise and before she could reply both Billy and Cane rejoined them. "So what are you two ladies discussing?" Billy asked. "Mac just asked me to be her maid of honor." Billy glowed, "I think it's a great idea." "I agree," Cane chimed in. All eyes then turned back to Lily and Mac added, "I'll understand if you need time." Lily shook her head and grasped Mac's hand a bit tighter, "No, I would be honored to stand up for you." "Thanks, Lily," Mac returned with a smile.

Billy, though, couldn't help but break up the sincere moment with his usual wit as he quipped, "Now that that's settled, Lily you and I need to get together and discuss what is and isn't allowed at her bachelorette party. Any day works for me." The group shared a hearty laugh before Billy and Mac announced that had a few more people to clue in on the engagement. Mac promised to be in touch with Lily when she started to plan the wedding and then the pair was off to their next stop.

The twosome now paused on the porch of the Abbott estate. Mac turned to him and asked, "Are you ready for this?" Billy inhaled and exhaled, "As I'm going to be. How about you?" Mac gave him a bright smile and stole a quick kiss, "As long as were together, I'm ready for whatever." Billy engaged her in another smooch before the pair finally made their way into his family's home. They were immediately greeted by Jack. "Hey you two." "Hey, Jack, you got a few minutes?" Billy asked. "Of course. What 's up are do I already know?" he returned. He and Billy shared a knowing smile that Mac noticed instantly, "What's that look for?" Billy leaned in and talked near her ear, "Jack, here helped me plan our dates." Mac let her surprise show as she replied, "Really?" "I just gave him a few pointers. He made it happen," Jack returned. "Well, thanks. I was really impressed with everything." "Good. Good. So is that what this visit about. You two officially back together?"

Billy smiled brighter as he raised their clasped hands up to reveal the big shiny ring on Mac's finger." Jack's eyes widened, "Is that an engagement ring?" "It is. I proposed last night and Mac accepted," Billy responded. Jack remained in quiet shock until Billy placed a small kiss on Mac's hand and pressed, "Well are you going say something? Like congratulations . . . it's about time . . . finally?"

Mac studied the elder Abbott and her beau. It was clear that Jack's approval was important to Billy but he seemed hesitant to give it. Mac decided to intercede, "We know it's a bit sudden but after everything we've gone through . . ." Billy sighed at his brother's continued silence and was about to say to hell with it when, Jack finally found his voice again, "I guess I just thought you two would concentrate on being a couple for a while but yeah, of course I'm happy for you guys. If anyone has earned a chance at happiness it's you." Both Billy and Mac smiled with relief and Billy embraced his brother fiercely, "Thanks, Jack. We really appreciate that."

Once they separated, Jack asked the next obvious thing, "So when's the big day?" "We haven't gotten that far yet."Mac replied. Billy smiled brighter as he returned to her side, "Yeah, we're still trying to "break" it to people." "Speaking of which, does Chloe know yet?" Mac sobered some as Billy sighed, "She's actually next on my list. Is she around?" Jack nodded, "I think she's still out at the pool house." Billy turned towards Mac and softly spoke, "I think I should handle this one on my own." Mac nodded, "Sure. I understand. I'll hang out here until you're done." "Thanks," he returned. The pair shared a quick smooch before he headed towards the pool house. "Good luck," Jack called behind him. Billy only nodded before disappear further into the house.

When he was out of sight, Mac zoomed in on Jack. His hesitation had not gone unnoticed by her and she called him on it, "So are you really OK with this?" Jack held her gaze, "Why wouldn't I be?" Mac sighed, "I know you were hoping he and Chloe would work things out and now that isn't going to happen."Jack gave her a smile, "It's true, I thought they could give it a go for Delia's sake but over the past few months, I've seen my brother as focused I as I have in years and that's because of you. Since you left the hospital, he has been working overtime to become a better man and it's a great thing to see but not surprising. It was the same way he was when you two were together as kids."

Mac smiled this time, "Really?" "Really, Mackenzie. You just bring something out in him that no one else can and I am so grateful that it's back," he concluded with a tap on her chin. "So am I." There was a quiet pause between the pair before Jack asked, "So how about we get some coffee and you can fill me in on his romantic flourish." Mac's smile grew, "I'd love too." He ushered her towards the kitchen and followed right after.

Chapter 23 . . .

Billy paused at the pool house door and tried to gather himself. He prayed Chloe had really done some thinking since they had last spoke about them. This, he knew, would go so much easier if she accepted things as they now were. He, though, wasn't holding his breath.

Finally he knocked on the door. "Yeah . . . come in," she called from the other side. Billy walked into a clutter of boxes and clothes strewn all around.

Billy waited until she looked up from packing before speaking up, "What's all of this?"

"What does it look like?"

Billy moved further inside, "Chloe, I told you, you didn't have to move out. Jack said you could stay for as long as you need to. This is still your and Delia's home."

Chloe rolled her eyes as she continued in her task, "Yeah right. Like I'm going to hang out in your family home like some pathetic, what did you always call me, "stalker". No thanks. My mother has offered me my room back at the mansion until I find my own place."

Billy sighed, "Do you really think uprooting Delia again is such a good idea?"

"Well you should have thought of that before you pushed me aside again for Mother Teresa," she fired back.

"So this is what this is about? You punishing me?"

Again she rolled her eyes and flippantly replied, "No it's about me getting over you. Isn't that what you wanted?"

Billy moved closer to her, "Chloe."

With exasperation and anger evident, she threw down the blouse she had been folding, "What! What?"

Billy briefly flinched at her venom but quickly regained himself and with the gentlest tone he could muster he continued, "Can we please just sit down and talk about this?"

His posture seemed to disarm her somewhat and she sighed before taking a seat among the clutter. Billy joined her and she began before he could, "I just don't understand it. I gave you everything, Billy, including a beautiful baby girl but that wasn't good enough."

"I will always be grateful for Delia. She is the best thing I ever had a part in but it's like I told you before, us staying together wouldn't be good for her or us. Don't you think she deserves to have a model of a relationship that works on all levels?" he returned.

"We could have worked . . . if you would have given us a real try, I could have made you happy," she countered.

"I know you tried and I definitely could have handle things better than I did but deep inside I knew we could never be what you wanted us to be."

"Because of Mac. The moment she came back nothing else mattered."

Billy shook his head, "Because love was never in the equation for us, Chloe. I made that clear from the beginning. I care about you. You are the mother of my child but I can't pretend that was going to turn us into some loving couple. I knew what love was and I've only felt it once . . . with Mac. I've loved her since we were kids and if it hadn't been for the mistaken notion that we were related, we would have still been together."

Chloe protested, "You can't know that. My mom said you were married so young . . . things might not have worked out."

Billy shook his head again, "I know we would have because I never would have let her go. The day she and I were married was the best day of my life. I would have never risked losing that feeling. Not ever."

Chloe rose again, her eyes glassing over, "So I guess that makes our wedding day the worst day of your life."

Billy sighed and rose as well, "I'm not saying that. I'm not trying to hurt you, I'm just trying to make you see why things were destined to end this way. I can't change how I feel or go on giving you false hope."

Chloe stood with her back to him now but remained quiet for a long moment. Billy thought she might be crying and he hated that he had caused it. He began to reach out as if to console her when she suddenly began to pack again and coolly spoke, "Fine. You said your peace. Are we done here?"

Billy was surprised at the change in her demeanor and attempted to call her on it, "Chloe, could we please . . ."

She though faced him again, her countenance as stoic as he had ever seen it, "There's nothing left to say. She's the love of your life. I hope you live happily ever after. That about cover it?"

Billy sighed knowing this last bit of news was not going to go over well but he sucked it up and went for it.

"There is one more thing you need to hear from me."

She held his gaze, "So spill it."

Billy inhaled, "Mac and I plan to be married once our divorce is official."

This time Chloe looked as though she had been slapped in the face and the tears she had been fighting to hold back pooled in her eyes yet he speech remained unaffected as she coldly replied, "I see. So that's what this visit was about. Making nice so I won't make a scene."

Billy wanted to say something soothing but she continued before he could, "Well don't you worry about me. I wouldn't give either of you the satisfaction. Go and have your "fairytale". Delia and I will be just fine."

She wiped at her eyes in defiance.

"Chloe . . . I really didn't want to hurt you . . ." he softly soothed.

Chloe, though, was having none of it, "Save it! You're selfish SOB and just remember what goes around comes around. Now leave."

He still hesitated but she ended anymore thought of conversation with a definitive, "Go!" Billy sighed once more before turning and doing as she asked.

He arrived back in the house and found Mac and Jack in the kitchen chatting over coffee. Both immediately noticed his saddened demeanor and Jack asked first, "I take it things didn't go well."

Billy shook his head, "About as well as I figured if not hoped."

Mac rose and went to him, embracing him warmly as she quietly spoke, "Just give her some time, Billy."

He nodded before pulling back some. Then with small smile, he said, "I'm just so glad to have you back in my life. I can handle anything."

Mac rested her head against his and returned his glow as she responded, "That goes double for me."

Jack could only smile and shake his head as he watched the duo get lost in that vaunted connection they always shared.

Chapter 24 . . .

After leaving Jack's, both Mac and Billy decided it would be best for them to tackle their respective parents individually. Billy dropped Mac off at the Estate and then proceeded on to Jabot. As he expected, she was in her office with her nose in a file. He studied her for a brief moment, trying to recover from his earlier bout with Chloe and brace for whatever his mother would throw his way. Finally, he cleared his throat, garnering her attention.

Jill smiled sweetly, "Billy, Sweetheart, to what do I owe this visit?"

Billy returned her smile, "Well, we haven't had a chance to really sit down and talk in a while and I was hoping maybe we could change that."

"I would love for us to talk. Is there something specific you want to discuss," Jill asked as she rose from her chair.

Billy moved further inside and took a seat on her couch. She moved over to join him there before Billy began, "Yeah . . . about my marriage."

Jill seemed surprised by his choice of topic but easily moved ahead, "Look, Billy, I know you married Chloe with the best of intentions but I think we both knew that was doomed to failure. Staying together for a child rarely works. There has to be more, a lot more to hold things together, especially when things get tough. Besides, Delia will be fine. She knows you both love her and that's all that really matters."

"Actually I was talking about my marriage to Mac."

This time Jill didn't stifle her surprise, "Mac?"

Billy gazed at her steadily as he replied, "Yes, Mac. You remember that day, don't you? Oh, no you don't because you didn't bother to come."

Jill inhaled sharply, "Billy, that was years ago. Why are you bringing it up now?"

"Because I have been reevaluating my life. I can trace a lot of what has gone wrong in my life back to that day. It was suppose to be the happiest day of my life. I was marrying my best friend, preparing to embark on an amazing adventure with her but something tarnished it . . . not just the mistaken notion that we were cousins but before that. When two of the three most important people in my life couldn't be bothered to come. It hurt me so much that you and Dad didn't show, that you couldn't put aside your doubts and anger and just be there for me."

"Billy . . ."

Billy rose from his perch and emphatically retorted, "And that's always been our problem, Mom. It was just too much to ask that you just be there for me. Even if you couldn't understand, even if you didn't agree. But that one day, that one day could have made up for all of it. But instead of having your love and support I get you showing up at my honeymoon suite telling me the only woman I've ever loved was someone I can never be with. I was completely devastated."

"I know you were, Baby. I never wanted to cause you that kind of pain."

Billy paused and looked down at her, "Yeah, I remember you saying that that night too but I always wondered if you really meant it. I mean you had been so against us from the beginning, a part of me couldn't help but to wonder if those words were simply platitudes."

Jill finally rose and looked at her child with hurt and concern. "I meant every word I said to you that night, Sweetheart. If I could have changed the circumstance back then I would have celebrated that union and embrace Mackenzie. I would have done anything to spare you that agony."

Billy remained quiet for a long moment before finally replying, "I wanna believe that, Mom, and that's why I'm going to give you another opportunity to prove it."

Jill furrowed her brow at his cryptic words, "What does that mean?"

Billy looked her in the eyes and calmly answered, "I have asked Mac to marry me again and she agreed." Billy now studied his mother's reaction. Jill quietly made her way back around her desk and took a seat there before finally looking back up at her son and replying, "Wow . . . you're engaged."

Billy nodded but didn't speak still waiting for her full reaction. She paused briefly and then continued, "I can't say I'm surprised. I've seen a change in both of you since the shooting. I knew you two were eventually going to work your way back to each other . . . I guess I just didn't think things would happen this soon."

"Honestly, Mom, from our point of view this has been a long time coming. We were ready to spend our lives together back then and had it taken away and then for six years we had to try to put aside feelings that wouldn't subside and when we finally learned the truth we had to fight even harder to get here. In my opinion this is long overdue. Now the question becomes are you going to join us in celebrating our love or attempt to be a further hindrance to it?"

His mother sat back in her chair but kept her eyes on him as she slowly responded, "I know what you're expecting me to say. I could list any number of reasons why this is an unwise decision. You've just gotten out of an impulsive marriage. You and Mac haven't been back together that long. There is no guarantee that this is going to turn out any better than the Chloe fiasco . . . but I also know you're response to all those rationales . . . I love her."

"Since we were kids. It's always been her," Billy sincerely answered.

Jill nodded this time before continuing, "I know you two have always had a strong bond. I was reminded of that earlier in the week by Mackenzie."

"Yeah, she told me about your "little chat"."

Jill gave a faint smile, "She made some good points about a lot of things but what struck me most was what she said about love. How it should be unconditional, especially a mother's love for her child." She rose again and moved back around to him.

With sadness but also sincerity in her eyes, she said, "I know I've made mistakes with you, Billy, more than I'd like to admit but I need you to know that I love you and all I ever want for you is your happiness even if I don't know what it is."

She paused again and placed a hand on his cheek as a bigger smile adorned her face, "You asked if I could embrace your love for Mac and share in your happiness . . . my answer is yes. After all we've all been through this last year, I don't want to waste anymore time fighting. If she is what makes you happy then I am happy for you . . .both of you."

Billy was stunned at her words and let it show as he cautiously asked, "Are you saying . . ."

She looked him directly in the eyes and with a sincere smile said, "Congratulations."

Billy gave his first smile since entering the room before embracing his mother and softly saying, "Thank you, Mom."

Chapter 25 . . .

Mac, unfortunately, was having the exact opposite experience with her father. After building up to her news and showing him the ring, she now sat in the sitting room staring at a less than pleased older man. They had been like that for more than five minutes when Mac finally broke the stalemate, "Dad, can you please say something . . . anything. I know you have reservations but . . ."

"That's putting it mildly, Mackenzie. How many times have I watched you put your heart on the line for this man only to have it trampled again and again? And now you're asking me to do it one more time?" Brock retorted.

"I'm asking you to be happy for us. Be happy that we have another chance at being together for keeps. Billy and I have fought through so much to finally get here and all we want now is to enjoy it and share that joy with the people we love. Is that asking too much?" Mac returned.

"When it has to do with Billy Abbott, yes," Brock frankly returned.

Mac sighed, "Dad, you're not being fair. You act like Billy's lead me astray or something. We have both made our share of mistakes but we are now ready to move forward together."

Brock rose from his perch on the sofa and shook his head, "After everything that's happened what makes you think this time will be different? Why are you so sure you won't be disappointed again?"

"Because we have been through so much. Any of the things we've overcome would have brought most other couples to an end but Billy and I are still here . . . still fighting for us. We're only stronger for it," Mac passionately replied.

Her father looked at her unmoved, "Are you listening to yourself? Still fighting? Should something "meant to be" be such a fight? Love shouldn't be some battle."

Mac finally stood as well and fired back, "It's the most important battle and we have won it. We are ready to have the life we have been dreaming of all these years and we want both of our families to be a part of that."

Brock sighed again, "So you're determined to go through with this no matter what I think?"

"Dad, you know your approval means so much to me. I want nothing more than for you to embrace the man I love and be there to walk me down the aisle again."

"But if I can't do that?" Brock prompted.

Mac looked him directly in the eyes and pointedly returned, "Then that's your issue and not mine. I will not let anyone, not even you, keep me from finally being happy."

Brock was quiet for a long moment. Mac couldn't really read him either. He seemed upset and concerned that she didn't see things his way but also a bit hesitant to push further so Mac spoke again.

She gave him a tentative smile as she reached out a hand and rested on his folded arms, "This isn't an ultimatum, Dad. I love you so much and cutting you out of my life is not something I would ever do but I need for you to understand just how much I love Billy too. I don't want this to cause a rift between us but he is my future. I need the two most important men in my life to be able to coexist."

Brock's countenance appeared to soften but before he could formulate a response the front door opened and Billy appeared in the foyer.

Billy could sense instantly that he had interrupted and prepared to back pedal, "Hey . . . am I too soon? I can come back."

Mac gave him a warm smile while Brock stoically studied him before speaking, "Actually Billy, you're just in time." The older man ushered him further in and then looked to Mac, "Sweetheart, can you give us a few minutes?"

Mac hesitated, looking from one man to the other. Brock though moved to quell her concerns, "I promise to behave." That caused her to smile again, "Alright. I'll be right in the kitchen." She looked back to Billy one last time before exiting and leaving the two men alone.

Once Mac was out of earshot, Brock placed his focus back on Billy. The two men eyed each other for a long moment before Brock bluntly stated, "I don't trust you but my daughter seems to and so for her sake I'm not going to press the issue but if you hurt her again, Billy, you are going to have me deal with."

Billy measured his words carefully before responding, "I get it, Brock. I know I have messed up with Mac in the past but it was never my intent to hurt her and I promise to do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Brock appeared unconvinced, "Yeah, well I've heard that before too and things still seem to go south. All I know is that she has so much faith in you and that scares me because it means you have the power to destroy her. I've seen it more times than I care too and if it happens again . . ."

Billy cut in, "It won't. She is the best part of my life, next to Delia. I will move heaven and earth to make sure she is happy and secure with me."

"I hope so."

"I will and I am going to prove to you that you don't have to worry about her or us." Brock held his gaze but didn't respond this time.

Unsure if his assurance was getting through, Billy impassionedly concluded, "I love her just as much as you do."

Brock's demeanor finally softened some but before he could respond, Mac reentered the sitting room. "Safe to come in?"

Both men turned towards her and smiled as Billy returned, "Yeah, your father and I were just clearing some things up."

Mac came over to her fiancée side as she looked at her father, "That's what I was afraid of."

Brock sighed before finally speaking again, "We were just discussing how much we both love you and want your happiness."

Mac smiled as Billy placed a soft kiss on her cheek, "And?"

"And as much as I love you, Sweetheart, I have to be honest . . ." he returned with an unreadable expression.

Mac was sure he was going to say he still couldn't accept this which would devastate her. Billy tightened his hold around her waist as the pair waited for him to finish his thought.

"I really hate the idea of having to give my little girl away again but I guess that's part of being a dad," he finished with a tentative smile of his own.

Both Billy and Mac waited a beat before Mac cautiously asked, "So does that mean . . .?" He exhaled, "I still have concerns but as long as you're happy, I'm going to be happy for you both."

Mac's smile bloomed as she released her Beau and went to engulf her father in a warm hug. "You'll see. Everything is going to be great."

"I wish that for you. I do," he softly returned as he caught Billy's eye over her shoulder. Billy mouthed thank you to the older gentleman and received his first smile from him since everything went down.

Chapter 26 . . .

Six months after they reunited, the pair was now preparing to share vows and begin their lives together. Billy and Mac stood glowing before a large group of loved ones including their families and close friends in a candle bathed sanctuary. They gazed into each other's eyes and smiled as the minister began his part of the ceremony.

Mac was dressed in a strapless, pale blue gown with a fitted bodice that melded into a floor length satin skirt which cascaded down to the floor. Across from her, Billy stood looking as dapper as ever in his black tux with a blue tie that accentuated his blue eyes and complemented his bride's dress.

Both were also as content as they had ever been. Not time nor distance or other people were able to erase or overtake what they had always shared. A love that would never let either one of them go, that made them willing to fight through all odds to finally regain it. Billy brought one of her hands to his lips and placed a soft kiss on it while Mac smiled as both thought about all they had gone through to finally make back here. As the minister finished his part and prompted the pair to share their own personal vows, each knew nothing and no one could ever compare to what they had found in each other.

"What can I say about the man who changed my world?" Mac began with a tearful smile. "When you and I found each other I had all but convinced myself that people, especially guys, could not be trusted. With my history, I was prepared to shut out anyone who tried to get too close but then I met you. You refused to let me give up or give in. You loved me and fought for us so hard."

She paused and wiped away a tear, "I'm so grateful you did. You, Billy Abbott, have given me more than I ever thought possible and I have to admit that sometimes I wondered if we would ever make it back here. As many ups and downs as we have been through . . . I had my doubts but not you. Even when I said I'm done, you kept believing."

"I was often amazed by your determination when we were younger. Why would someone like you would go through so much to be with someone like me? You could have had anyone but you chose me and through everything never wavered in that choice. And now here we are, all these years later, finally. I can only hope to spend the rest of our lives proving that your faith in us was worth it."

She paused again, tears now easily escaping her eyes as she concluded, "I love you so much and I know we are going to have a great life together."

Billy flashed that gorgeous Abbott grin as he reached out and wiped at couple of her stray tears. Then with a slight quake in his voice, he began his own vows to his beloved.

"Mackenzie . . . Mac, since the day we first met, I knew you were going to change my life too. Everyone thought we were a mismatch. I was too outgoing and impulsive and you were too reserved and guarded. But all I saw was my best friend . . . the one person who was on my side even when maybe I didn't deserve it but also who wouldn't let me get away with much. You are the best part of me. You are everything I am not which in my mind makes us perfect for each other. We complement each other and make each other that much better."

He fought back tears of his own now as he paused briefly. "I'm the one who is amazed. I'm amazed that someone so caring and compassionate loves me back. That you fought just as hard. You wouldn't let me destroy myself and always made me think things through. I am blessed to have a second chance with you and I know things won't always go smooth for us but believe this if you don't believe anything else I say to you . . . You and only you have my love. You are the love of my life and I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with you."

Both were now completely in tears, as were their guest. The minister smiled at the tearful pair as he continued the ceremony. After the exchanging of the rings and the pronouncement of them as husband and wife, the minister happily instructed, "You my now kiss your bride." Billy and Mac glowed as they leaned in and prepared to share their first kiss as husband and wife but just before they could connect Billy softly said, "To forever this time, Mrs. Abbott." She returned his smile, "To forever." And then as the crowd rose and applauded, the duo shared the first of what they planned to be many passionate exchanges as a married couple.

The End