. . .

''Jo...? Jo, please, say something.'' Mac begged her as he approached. One of his arms instinctively went around her waist and he could feel that she was shaking. He pressed her to himself and reached for the letter she was holding in her hand. The first thing that got his attention was the logo in the top right corner. Family Court. Then he quickly skimmed over the letter, instantly spotting the part that had made Jo so terrified.

''They're reopening the adoption case.'' Jo told him in a shaky whisper. ''He did it... He managed to do it. And now I'm gonna lose her.'' She uttered incoherently.

Mac gave up on reading and wrapped his other arm around her. She clung to him and he closed his eyes for a brief moment, trying to regain some composure. He hated seeing her so upset.

''Jo, you need to calm down.'' He told her softly. He felt that she wanted to pull away, but he didn't loosen his hold on her.

''How? How am I supposed to calm down?!'' Jo snapped. ''Mac, I could lose her! After all these years...''

''Shhh... That's not gonna happen.'' He said in a calming voice and tried to gently rock her in his arms. But it didn't seem to be helping this time. She pulled away more forcefully and finally he had no choice but to let go of her.

''I wonder what makes you so sure about it.'' She said, her anger rising. ''You don't know him, Mac. You have no idea what he is capable of. I do.''

''I think I have an idea by now.'' He murmured and gently stroked her cheek with his hand, directly in the place where only a couple of days ago the nasty bruise had still been visible. She slightly nuzzled her face against his palm, melting into his touch. But it lasted only a brief second. Then her eyes shot open again and she looked directly at him.

After everything that had happened to her over the past weeks, he wished he'd never see this look in her eyes again. But there it was. Once again she was feeling hopeless and scared. Almost broken. But this time she wasn't all alone to deal with it.

''Jo, you won't lose Ellie.'' Mac assured her. ''We don't even know if this letter is real. We have to contact the Court first thing in the morning. And if it is, then we have to find out the nature of the proceeding. I know the best family lawyer in New York, her specialty is adoption cases. She happens to owe me a favor, so if we need any legal help, I won't hesitate to ask her.''

Jo eyed him for a moment. Every time she looked into his honest, blue eyes, she felt an overwhelming calmness. This time wasn't an exception. The sudden shakiness of the world around her was slowly disappearing and everything was becoming steady again.

And this resounding 'we'. He used it in almost every sentence and every time he did, she frowned a little. It was so unfamiliar to her to hear it again. 'We'. She guessed that the last person who had used it like this was Russ. Although she barely remembered it, as it had to have been at the very beginning of their marriage. After that it had been only 'me' and 'I'. Then, over the past several years, she hadn't let any man get close enough to her to be able to use it. In the best case it was 'you and I'. But with Mac it was different.

''You won't lose her.'' He repeated and even though she nodded slightly, the fear hadn't gone away completely.

''You can't promise me that.'' Jo whispered in response.

''I can promise you I'll do everything in my power not to let this happen.'' He specified.

''It isn't exactly the same thing, you know.'' She murmured sadly, looking down. He gently took a hold of her chin and raised her head, making her look at him.

''It's not good enough for you?'' He asked. His facial expression was serious, but she was able to see playful sparks dancing in his eyes. They always made her smile and they didn't fail this time.

''No, no... It's actually a lot. Thank you.'' She whispered and then, all of sudden, she put her arms around his waist and cuddled herself to him. His arms were instantly around her once again and she let out a deep sigh.

''Mom?! Do we have some chocolate sprinkles?'' Ellie yelled from the kitchen and Jo tensed. She pulled away and looked at Mac.

''She can't find out about it. I don't want her to worry.'' Jo told him and he only nodded.


''Coming!'' Jo yelled back. Then she took the envelope and the letter from Mac's hand, folded it and put it in her pocket.

. . .

Mac had made them a quick dinner and the three of them had eaten. Jo had been unusually silent and lost in her thoughts, but it had escaped Ellie's notice as she had been too focused on texting her friends, even though Jo normally never allowed her to use her phone during meals.

After dinner Ellie went to her room and Mac busied himself loading the dishwasher. Only then did Jo sneak to her bedroom, with her phone in her hand. She scrolled through the contacts list and stopped at Russ' name. Somehow she couldn't bring herself to call him, to hear his voice. Instead, she wrote a short text 'I need to meet you ASAP'. Her finger hovered above the 'send' button for a moment, but finally she pressed it. She looked through the window, into the night and sighed. She didn't want to meet with Russ, but it seemed to be the only way to stop him. Before she turned around from the window and placed the phone down on the top of the chest of drawers, she got an answer. 'Tomorrow at 8 am, my place' it said. She swallowed hard.

''There you are.'' Mac said right behind her, startling her. Jo quickly closed the message, almost dropping her phone. ''Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you.'' Mac told her as he noticed her reaction. She turned to face him and smiled. His eyes dropped lower and he looked at the phone in her hand.

''I was setting an alarm for tomorrow morning.'' She said, silently cursing herself for feeling obligated to make excuses for using her own phone; that most certainly would arose Mac's suspicion. She eyed him for a moment, trying to figure out what he was thinking.

''Listen...'' He started and her heart skipped a beat. ''It's getting late. It has been a long day. I think you need rest.'' He told her. ''I'll be going, Jo.''

''Oh...'' She looked at him sadly, suddenly aware that despite everything that had happened between them over the past days, he still was a guest in her place. ''Do you have to?''

''I'm on call tonight, till 6 am. I don't want to wake you up in the middle of the night.'' Mac explained.

''I don't care.'' She protested. She was more than aware that if he went, she wouldn't get any sleep at all, tormenting herself over and over again with thoughts of every possible dark scenario. ''I want you to stay.'' She said firmly. ''Please, stay.'' She added in a sweet voice, which she knew always made him completely defenseless. It was no different this time.

''All right.'' Mac sighed and put his arms around her. She raised her head and looked up at him, a smile playing on her lips. ''Just don't get any ideas...'' He murmured. ''We both need proper rest... after last night.''

''If you say so...'' She answered with a chuckle.

. . .

Jo felt arms sneaking around her waist, holding her tight and she smiled lightly. Then she felt an open-mouthed kiss being placed on her neck. Followed by another. And another. They were hard and demanding. Her smile faded away as she suddenly felt uncomfortable.

''What are you doing?'' She asked, trying to sound casual.

''You have no idea how much I want you.'' She tensed upon hearing those words. It wasn't Mac's loving murmur. It was that cold, low voice, laced with insolence. She knew this voice too well.

She quickly turned around and met the stare full of mockery. She wished she wouldn't have to look into those eyes ever again.

''Let go of me, Russ.'' She said and tried to free herself from his hold. But there was no use.

''I never let go of something that is mine. And you're mine.'' He said with a smirk.

''No, I'm not. Let me go!'' She protested, as his hands raised her top and felt up the bare skin of her stomach. She tried to push him away, but he didn't even budge. Instead he pressed his body hard against hers, causing the edge of the counter to painfully dig into her lower back. Much to Jo's relief he let go of her waist, but only to take her face in both his hands. He forced her head slightly up and claimed her lips. The kiss was rough, almost violent and Jo felt sick to her stomach. She did the only thing she could to stop it – she bit down hard on his lower lip. She tasted his blood in her mouth and Russ pulled away. He hissed in pain and pressed two fingers to his lip. Then he looked at them and smirked as he saw blood. He glanced at her once again.

''Oh, it's like that, isn't it?'' He asked and his smirk grew, making Jo more and more anxious with every moment. His hand returned to its former place and then they both slid down, to her neck. Before she could react in any way he clamped his fingers hard on her throat. Her eyes widened in fear and pain. She raised her hands to his wrists, her nails digging into his skin and his flesh, but it all was too little to stop him. She started to suffer from the lack of air and black dots began to dance in front of her eyes. She made another, futile attempt to push him away, but she was growing weaker too quickly. She could only stare into cold, steel eyes which made her realize that he really did want to kill her. With that thought everything went blank.

. . .

Mac was startled by Jo's abrupt awakening. She took a sharp intake of breath, as if she had surfaced from underwater and shot upright to a sitting position.

''Jo? Are you OK?'' He asked with concern, sitting up as well. She raised her hand to her throat, panting and for a moment he was scared that she was having trouble breathing. ''Jo...'' He repeated her name and she finally looked at him.

''I... I had...'' She started, but her voice trembled too much and she couldn't calm down enough to speak. He reached out for her and pulled her close to himself. She was covered with cold sweat and shivering badly.

''It was only a dream. A bad dream.'' Mac whispered to her. ''It's gone. You're fine.''

He felt how she began to calm down slowly. He adjusted their position and her grip on his body tightened.

''Don't let go of me.'' She whispered.

''I won't.'' Mac assured her. He slowly lowered them down, still having his arms around her. She snuggled closer to him, burying her face in her favorite spot, in the crook of his neck. ''Go back to sleep.'' He told her softly, but she shook her head. ''I'll stay awake and chase all the bad dreams away.'' He said, trying to lighten the mood. ''Sleep. I'll watch you.''

He patiently waited for Jo to calm down completely, for her breathing to become even. Only then did he stop whispering to her and stroking her hair. But he stayed awake, enjoying her closeness and her peaceful dreaming, thinking about how he might bring peace to her reality as well.

. . .

The next morning Jo woke up unusually early. She glanced at the clock and saw it wasn't even 7 am. She wanted to get up, but a pair of strong arms held her in place. Still asleep, Mac snuggled to her back and mumbled his protest. It felt so good to be wrapped into his loving embrace, into his comforting warmth. His whole body was pressed so closely to hers, as if he didn't want to ever let go of her. Almost as if he knew...

Jo sighed deeply. She knew that if he was aware of what she was going to do, he would never let her do it. That's why she couldn't be honest with him, although she was more than aware that it wasn't the right thing to do.

She placed her hand over his and wished she didn't have to face Russ alone. But it was the only way it could be done. She knew what he wanted. And she knew what he would do if he didn't get it.

Some time ago she had had hope that she could change his mind by addressing that part of him that was still good. She knew it had been there, because that had been what caused her to fall in love with him. But now it seemed to be gone for good, as she couldn't change his mind, neither by a threat, nor by a plea. The only thing she could do was agree to his conditions.

The sudden beeping of her phone startled her. She checked it and groaned loudly.

''What is it?'' Mac asked with a hoarse voice.

''Crime scene.'' Jo told him. ''Damn...'' She swore as she realized that it meant she would have to cancel her meeting with Russ.

Mac let out a loud groan and pulled her back to himself. He nuzzled his nose against the nape of her neck and breathed in deeply. He didn't loosen his hold on her, but instead slowly ran his hands against the smooth skin of her stomach, making her muscle flex in response.

''Mac... You have to let go of me.'' Jo noted between sighs.

''You know what?'' He murmured, propping himself up on an elbow. ''I'll take it.''

''No, Mac... You're not on call anymore.'' Jo protested.

''I'm the boss, I can always change who's on the call and who isn't.'' He told her with a smirk and leaned over her.

''But what will everyone say?'' Jo asked. ''You won't tell them that you found out I got called in because we were together in bed, will you?''

''Maybe I should... They would get positively jealous.'' He murmured and kissed her shoulder.

''Mac...'' Jo half gasped, half laughed. He pulled away and looked at her more seriously.

''You had a hard night... Go back to sleep.'' He told her and ever so softly brushed his lips against her eyebrow. ''I'll be back before you wake up.''

''OK then.'' She said with a smile. ''Thank you.'' She added and pecked his lips. Then she snuggled under the duvet and closed her eyes. She sensed that Mac watched her for a moment, then he took his clothes and went to the bathroom.

When he left it after a couple of minutes, Jo pretended to be asleep. She heard him as he left the bedroom, carefully closing the door behind himself. She waited for a few minutes and then got up. She moved to the window and peeped outside through the blinds. She watched Mac exit her building and walk to his car. He looked up, at her windows and she backed off slightly, even though there was no chance for him to see her. She watched as he got into his car and drove away.

. . .

''Hello, Jo.'' Russ greeted her as he opened the door. ''I'm guessing something happened...'' He told her with a smirk.

''Drop it.'' Jo groaned, entering his place. ''You know exactly what happened. I got a summons to appear in Family Court; they're reopening Ellie's adoption case.''

''Really? They are?'' Russ asked, trying to sound surprised, but his smirk gave him away.

''Russ, I know you had something to do with it.'' Jo told him, losing her patience.

''But how? Please, tell me?'' He asked. She eyed him, hesitating for a moment, as she thought that maybe he didn't have anything to do with it after all and it was some terrible mistake. But then Russ snapped his fingers as if he suddenly remembered something. ''Oh... I met with a guy about a week ago. We've known each other since college. He's a very good friend of mine. He even let me bang his wife once. Darn, that was fun. She was totally my type... Dark-hair, pale skin, killer ass...'' He said in a dreamy voice and Jo winced. She didn't even want to know if that was before or after they got married. It didn't matter at all right now. ''But I digress...'' He added with a lewd smile. ''Anyway, we talked about work first, then somehow our conversation moved to a different topic. I told him how very lonely you made me feel, choosing this... what was his name again? Mac? Well, choosing him over me.'' She wanted to say something, as his silly talk was really starting to get on her nerves, but it was enough for him to raise his hand and she had an awful flashback of his fist colliding with her cheek, causing her to stay quiet. ''I might have told him something about you and what you did to be able to adopt Ellie.'' Russ added and his smile grew bigger. ''Oh, I forgot to mention the fun part – he's a DA. And he got quite interested in your case.''

Jo sucked her breath in with a sharp gasp as it became clear to her that the reopening of the case was, in fact, caused by Russ. For a moment she had deluded herself into believing that perhaps it was just some unpleasant coincidence.

''You're a bastard.'' She told him through gritted teeth. ''Why would you do that?'' She asked. She hated the fact that her voice was shaking and that tears stung her eyes.

''You took my son from me.'' He said slowly, while moving towards her. ''Tyler disowned me because of everything you told him. He thinks I'm a monster. It's like I don't have a son anymore. It's the worst pain a parent can ever experience.'' He uttered with difficulty and Jo swallowed hard as she tried to imagine how painful it would be for her if Tyler turned his back on her. ''You have no idea.'' Russ hissed, as if he was reading her thoughts. ''But you will.'' He added with a smile.

Only then did she begin to feel dizzy. The whole room suddenly became terribly stuffy, as if all the air had disappeared from it. She leaned against the wall in order not to collapse. So that was what it was all about. He blamed her for Tyler's reaction. And he wanted to punish her by making her lose Ellie.

''It's not my fault that Tyler doesn't want to see you ever again.'' She said quietly. She barely finished the sentence when his hand hit the wall right next to her head.

''It's because of what you told him!'' He yelled.

''I only told him the truth.'' Jo said slowly, as it was the only way to keep her voice from trembling.

''Yeah, your version of the truth.'' Russ snapped.

''Truth doesn't have versions, Russ.'' Jo growled. ''I told him what you did to me. And believe me, I spared him the details.''

''Ahh, see... it's all about those tiny little details.'' He whispered, leaning closer to her. ''Did you tell him how you teased me the whole evening when we went out for dinner? Did you tell him how horny for me you were that night? I knew you were, I can always tell from the slightest glint you get in your eye.'' He said with a cheeky grin and ran his index finger along Jo's cheek bone, which caused her to turn her head away. ''Did you tell him how you were moaning my name? How you were crying it out? I bet you didn't.'' His hand moved lower, tickling the side of her neck. When it got to the side of her breast, she smacked it away.

''I told him how you beat me.'' Jo told him firmly.

''But did you tell him why? Did you tell him that I did it because you were mine and you were acting like a slut in front of Mac?'' Russ hissed and caught her by the wrist, immobilizing it. It was the same wrist he had twisted only a few weeks ago and when he realized it, he squeezed it lightly, causing Jo to whimper in pain.

''I was never yours. Not even when we were married.'' She said weakly. She knew it probably wasn't smart to make him angry. But she couldn't care less. ''What you did to me is unacceptable. You had no right to do it.'' She slowly uttered, trying to keep her voice as steady as possible. ''And you have to be completely out of your mind to think that Tyler would follow your sick reasoning.''

Russ glared at her angrily and tightened his hold on her wrist. Despite the pain it made the anger boil within her. With a quick movement she snatched her hand from his grip, even though his fingernails painfully grazed her skin.

''See, here's the deal.'' Russ started. ''If you want me to talk to my friend and convince him to leave Ellie's adoption case alone, you have to come back to me.'' He said bluntly.

''You can't be serious!'' Jo exclaimed.

''That's the only way to convince Tyler that we're fine with each other, that nothing really happened. Also, that's the only way for Ellie to stay with you.'' Russ said calmly. Jo closed her eyes and took a shaky breath. She couldn't risk that Ellie would be taken away from her. It would break her heart. She knew, she had to do everything not to let that happen. ''Do you want your baby girl to be taken away from you, Jo?'' Russ asked as he instantly figured out what she might be thinking right now.

''No.'' Jo shook her head, still keeping her eyes closed as she was afraid that if she opened them, Russ would be able to see her tears.

''Just think about it... We can rebuild what was between us. It can be just like it used to be. I know you were happy back then.'' Russ told her, his voice suddenly so soft and laced with emotion. She went back to those times in her thoughts. He was right, she used to be happy with him. At least at the beginning. ''I promise I won't hurt you ever again.'' He whispered and Jo frowned. She knew this pattern. Abuse, apology, promise. The vicious circle of an abusive relationship. ''I know I'm sometimes too possessive, but it's only because I care about you.'' Russ continued. ''I love you so much, Jo.''

The last statement rang in her ears. It hadn't even been 24 hours since she heard it, coming from someone else. From someone for whom it meant something. When he had said it, it sounded true. Not like the rattle of snares that had been set to trap her.

She didn't want to trade something true, something valuable, for this. Whatever had been between her and Russ was gone a long time ago. It was insane to wake up the ghosts of the past with the hope that it would be as it used to be. It could never be done.

''No.'' Jo shook her head firmly. ''I don't believe you.'' She said and opened her eyes. ''I'll never get back with you.'' She added and instantly she was able to witness how his features changed. He clenched his jaw and glare at her.

''Then I advise you to prepare to say goodbye to Ellie. Because I'll do everything in my power to make it happen.'' He threatened. She pushed him aside and moved towards the door.

''And I'll do everything to stop you.'' She said strongly.

''You have no idea what you've just started, Jo. I'll make sure it'll get really ugly. You'll come back to me and beg me to be on your side, to be with you!'' He added, raising his voice.

''I doubt it.'' Jo answered back. Then she turned to him and added, ''You can do whatever you want. I'm not afraid anymore, because this time, I'm not all by myself.'' And with that she left Russ' apartment. She heard how he yelled his threats after her, but she wasn't really paying attention to them. Russ slammed the door behind her, startling her as the loud bang echoed off the corridor walls. She leaned against the wall and tried to calm herself down.

. . .

Jo quietly entered her apartment and took off her jacket. She was just about to hang it up when her eyes caught sight of Mac occupying her couch. He was watching her with a serious look on his face.

''Gosh, you scared me!'' She gasped and offered him a smile, although it didn't reach her eyes and Mac wasn't fooled by it. ''You're back already.'' She said matter of factly.

''Yes.'' He nodded, not taking his eyes off her. ''Easy case. Where have you been, Jo?'' He asked.

She quickly thought of any possible excuse. Grocery shopping? But she didn't have any bags. Dropping Ellie for school? It was Sunday. Getting some fresh air? He wouldn't believe it, as she would never give up an opportunity to sleep in.

She glanced at him and as soon as their eyes meet, she knew she couldn't lie to him.

''I'm sorry...'' She whispered. He rose from the coach and approached her.

''What are you sorry for, Jo?''

''I... I met with Russ.'' She admitted. She looked at him hesitantly, not being sure how he would react. But she couldn't read anything from his features, he kept his usual poker face.

''I had a bad feeling all night. That's why I didn't want you to go to the crime scene. I was afraid that something might happen to you.'' Mac admitted in a low voice. ''I thought you were safe, sleeping in your own bed, while you...'' His voice broke off and he had to take a deep breath to calm himself. ''Tell me he didn't hurt you.'' He asked pleadingly. ''Because if he touched you, I swear I'm going to kill him.''

''No, No. Mac, I'm fine. Nothing happened.'' Jo assured him quickly.

''Why did you even meet with him?'' Mac asked. ''What does he want from you?''

Her eyes dropped to the floor as she suddenly felt terribly guilty. She had lied to Mac. She had met with Russ behind his back. And what was even worse, she had considered leaving him for Russ. Even though she knew it would break his heart. She looked up at him again. She had to blink a few times, as tears blurred her vision. But before she spoke, he himself managed to piece the puzzle together.

''Tell me it's not true.'' He asked in a shaky whisper. ''Tell me you're not going back to him in order to stop him.'' He was more than aware that she would do that, that she would sacrifice her own happiness and safety for Ellie's well-being. She had already done it. He didn't want her to lose Ellie by any means. But he didn't want to lose Jo either.

''No, I'm not.'' She whispered back. Only then did he let out a pent up breath and pull her into his arms. ''I thought about it, but... I couldn't. I love you too much.'' She admitted quietly and put her arms around him as well.

''Thank God...'' Mac breathed out.

''But I'm so scared, Mac. What if they take Ellie away from me? I'm not gonna survive this.'' She told him in a despairing whisper.

''It's not going to happen.'' Mac assured her firmly. ''You're with me now and I won't let anything bad happen, either to you or to Ellie.''

. . .

A/N Many thanks to UrbanMuse, who corrected this chapter – not only she didn't lose her patience because of the herds of stupid mistakes, but also provided good advices how to make the story better.

I'm really happy that even despite the long break between updates you didn't lose interest in this story. I'm really grateful for all the reviews and feedback of any sort I got.

Keep it up, please ;)